Filmed last February, the program includes contestants Carnie Wilson, Laila Ali, Eric Dickerson, Brooke Burke-Charvet, American Ninja Warrior host Matt Iseman, Carrie Keegan, Carson Kressley, Lisa Leslie, Jon Lovitz, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Kyle Richards, Chael Sonnen, Porsha Williams and Ricky Williams all competing for a $250,000 prize awarded to the charity of their choice.
Neil is competing for the non-profit Keep Memory Alive, an organization helping people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and says participating on the show was an eye-opening experience.
"The hard part about the whole thing is the hours that you spend. You are up at 5 a.m. and don’t get back to the hotel at 10 o’clock at night," he says. "But everybody was so cool and got along. Jon Lovitz and I bonded. We had lunch every day and became good friends."
Schwarzenegger, he says, was at first an intimidating figure -- especially in the boardroom. "When you are sitting in the board room and he asks you questions, he stares you down almost, and it leaves you tongue tied, because the Terminator is staring at you. But he’s a funny guy. He cracks you up. He’s a smart man. What I didn’t expect was how nice he is."
Wilson, who is competing for the charity, Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America, says "she was always intimidated by Arnold," but was surprised to find how "bright and caring" he is.
"The guy walks in the room and everything stands still and all eyes and focus go on him, and that is just natural for him in his life," she says. "He does emit that energy but really when you get to talk to him he is extremely bright, caring, funny and focused. Ultimately, he was a perfect choice. He cares so much about every single contestant and charity. It was great to have the energy with this California vibe now."
While Neil and Boy George formed a friendship, Wilson and Polizzi bonded over a similar sense of humor.
"I love Carnie. She definitely has my personality," Polizzi says. "She’s sarcastic, she’s real, and tells you how it is. I got really close with her on set. She was easy to talk to. I felt like she was my Aunt. She was always there for me. She’s a great woman."
As for the challenges on the program, all three say that there is plenty of drama ahead due to the natural stresses of the show. The change to California, according to Polizzi, made it easier for teams to call in celebrity reinforcements for assigned tasks. Then there is Schwarzenegger, who looms in the background of every task: a far cry from the show's previous host, President-elect Donald Trump.
"I’ve watched The Apprentice before it was The Celebrity Apprentice, and there are subtle differences between Trump and Arnold," he says. "Trump didn’t go to the tasks, as far as I saw. His daughter and son were his eyes. But in all the tasks we were doing, Arnold was in the background blending with other people watching what was going on. He was hands on which was cool, but a little bit scary."
Wilson says he was also intimidating in the dreaded boardroom, where someone is on the chopping block and getting fired..or terminated, whichever the new catchphrase will be.
"Giving birth, doing Chopped and being in the boardroom are the three hardest things ever in life," he says. "I thought my artery was going to bust out of my neck. It is an incredibly tense place to be. The adrenaline is enormous, but being the kind of person I am I try to transfer any nervous energy into something positive and keep some humor. When I go into the boardroom I try not to take it too seriously, but there is a lot at stake."
Polizzi--who is competing for the North Shore Animal Leauge Alliance ("I honestly like animals more than people..and they support anti-kill shelters," she says)-- says that she at first didn't want to do the show, because "she thought Donald was on" and the serious nature of the show was not in keeping with her natural, fun personality.
"I like to go in and make friends and have fun, and that is all opposite of the show. I was nervous to say yes, and then I realized it was Arnold and I had to. I’m a huge fan of The Terminator, and that was the main reason I said yes," she says. "The boardroom was so scary. I thought I was in the principal’s office. I was shaking and so nervous. I felt like a little kid getting scolded again. That part I hated. But when we weren’t shooting, he was so cool and laid back, walking around in blue jeans with a cigar. In the boardroom, he was terrifying."
Wilson says that like previous seasons, the scariest part is being the project manager of a task.
"It’s teamwork and then it isn’t because everybody is out for themselves. It can get catty and it could be frustrating, and there are twists and turns and surprises and timelines. It is absolutely so hard and great at the same time," she says. "If you are chosen as project manager, it's on your shoulders, and as part of the team, you want to please that project manager because you don’t want to go back in that boardroom, so there is pressure constantly, because you are relying on everybody else."
In the end, everyone got along ("Vince is a sweetheart, doll," Wilson shares), but Neil says the intensity of the schedule makes for some classic Apprentice moments.
"Isn't that what TV is all about?" he says.
The New Celebrity Apprentice airs 8 p.m to 10 p.m. (EST) and runs until its conclusion Feb. 13.