Monday, April 16, 2007

Apprentice TV Show contestant at home in Jamaica

Attorney-at-law Muna Heaven strengthened national pride with her selection for the current season of NBC Television's The Apprentice. Residents of Mandeville, Manchester, the Belair High School family and all of Jamaica tuned in on Sunday nights to watch her progress and collectively rooted for her success. But last month, the dreaded "You're fired" came from Donald Trump, series creator, and she made her exit.
Home to visit her family, Muna spoke with Flair on a number of issues.
Muna is a warm-hearted and adventurous 29-year-old. Her inner strength shines through and her undaunted spirit is bolstered by very strong Christian beliefs. She tackles each challenge with a prayer, and no doubt, prayer will play a large part in her upcoming marriage to fianc Bertram Hill, brother of actor Dul Hill.
Now residing in New Jersey, Muna has been back and forth between Jamaica and overseas since age 15. She was a part of the student exchange programme in Belgium fresh out of high school. She did a year at the University of the West Indies followed by Princeton and McGill universities. She sojourned in France for a year then won an academic scholarship to Penn State University. After failing the bar twice, she went to Spain but returned to take it the third time when she passed it.
She recalls negative comments from detractors and doubtful utterances from some friends. Having never failed anything before, she went to rock bottom, but a change of attitude, approach and technique led to success.
What Muna knows for sure is that had things gone right way, she would not have heard about The Apprentice.
The former show jumper and athlete is also multilingual. One famous schoolmate is Sean Paul Henriques from whom she drew strength when she had down periods in her life. But her greatest source of confidence comes from her parents. Though divorced, they unite in their children's interests including planning her wedding set for next year.
The process
BE: When did you know you would get the part? Take us through the process that led to your participation in 'The Apprentice'.
MH: It came at a low point in my career. Things did not work out and I was temping, I had had trouble passing my bar exams, the job market was stiff. I was doing a bilingual translation for a firm for what should have been one week. But it lasted four. A Latino friend told me they were hosting an open call for The Apprentice soon.
I decided to try out and be done with it before going to work that morning. I also decided to dress in things I like rather than a conventional suit. I filled out my application on the side of the wall
Muna Heaven's competitive spirit began in high school where she excelled at sports.
while I waited. At the door, Mr. Trump appeared. He is huge, tall, wide, towering over everyone.
Having arrived early, I was in the second group of eight to be questioned. I called my mother and told her where I was and why. After a brief silence, she asked what time was work and would I make it on time. I promised to call when it was over. I began to feel nervous, the line snaked around the block. Egos, fashion - everything clashed.
Excitement mounted, news and camera crews arrived, and I decided to represent my true Jamaican pride and speak up when my turn came. We were asked by the recruiter to introduce ourselves. I was so excited, I said: 'Good morning, I'm Muna Heaven, and I'm very happy to be here. I'm from the little island of Jamaica, home of Bob Marley and many others and I wish you all a very good time.'
I had put Jamaica out there and felt proud of who I was and where I was from.
They threw topics at us, discussions got controversial and intense. I looked up at one point and saw sun rays. In that moment I said a prayer. I was as aggressive as the rest but did not want to lose focus so I prayed for peace. Mr. Trump came down to our table and asked me my name and where I went to school. When he learnt I was an attorney he said, 'very good', and moved on. I was the only one asked another question after that.
Did you make it back to work on time?
Yes, I was 10 minutes early and I called Mommy and told her what happened. The strange thing was I did not care whether I was chosen because I felt proud that I had stood up to both the recruiter and Mr. Trump and answered them with the pride of a black woman.
How long did you have to wait for the call?
The same day; the recruiter said I'd made it through to the next round. I thanked him and the following week I was in Los Angeles. Mommy continued to be my number one supporter. At first she was hesitant because it was unknown and unconventional but she was happy.
Tell me about the contract and how they kept the secret so long; what are some of the things you are not allowed to do?
I still cannot say, my parents and everyone who knew about it had to sign non-disclosure papers.
Who provided your wardrobe?
No one, we got neither wardrobe nor make-up. My parents flew up and replenished my wardrobe, it's not as glamorous as you think.
And what about accommodation?
That was provided - if you can call a tent accommodation. We ate ketchup and bread for breakfast, and I lost about seven pounds on The Apprentice. It was like the haves and the have-nots. In the mansion, we got whatever money could buy but in the tent, you had so much and no more. It was cold at nights and water seeped into our sleeping bags when it rained. It's not what you see. Mark Burnett made it very challenging.
Would you do it again?
Definitely. But rather with the knowledge I have now.
During the first few episodes of The Apprentice, many of us watching felt it a bit anticlimactic not seeing or hearing much of you, why was that so?
For every episode we filmed, I said and did the same as you saw on the night I was fired but it all ended up on the editing floor. Most of the shows were edited. I was strongly opinionated throughout. I had a lot to say from day one; I never changed. You have to be smart to play that game.
We learnt very quickly that less is more when dealing with Mr. Trump; he's a shrewd businessman.
Did any of you get a chance to develop a relationship with 'The Donald'?
He came with us on a few of the rewards, he golfed with us; he loves it; his stroke is magnificent and his swing unbelievable.
Many people want to know about his much-discussed 'comb-over'; I saw them ruffle it on Larry King Live one night but you know how make-up can achieve anything. Did you see his hair at close range?
I did not get that close but I do get that question a lot. I can tell you that his favourite colour is pink. Every now and then he wears a pink tie. But he wore yellow when he fired me.
How did you feel about that?
That entire episode was charged with emotion. I knew my team and when they started to be evasive I knew they were plotting for me; it was my time and I was going down. They are smart people but I helped save us a lot. Ironically, they always used my strength in public speaking so it was funny that they said I could not be understood in the video we made. We had to speak very fast on tape to get the storyline done in the required time and the tape was edited to fit the time frame. I still have the same accent I went into the show with. I was still proud of how I handled myself in the boardroom with Mr. Trump . There were aspects of both my parents' personalities that came out in me.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt?
That you should try to stay true to your purpose. I was upset at the end but it did not show. I vowed going in not to embarrass my parents and not do anything that would prevent me from speaking to students in Jamaica.
And the best memory?
The realisation that if I stepped out on faith, I could beat the odds. Who would think that a little country girl from Mandeville would dine with Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump and world- famous chef Wolfgang Puck? It's all humbling.
Who else did you meet?
Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion. He's an astute businessman; Kareem Abdul Jabar, Phil Jackson, Regis Philbin, James Worthy, and Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth who has since called me to say she thought I did a good job and was proud of me.
Were you made to feel like a so-called minority?
No. First of all, the word implies that you are less than - and I don't go into anything feeling that way. Yes, I am another competitor, yes I am the only black woman and yes, I am the only Jamaican in The Apprentice - full stop.
How do you think it will advance your career?
I hope employers have seen me as a solid candidate, flexible, open to different job offers.
Do you have an agent and have you received any calls from other interests?
Yes, I have a publicist who is working on a few things. I had an offer from the founder of the international hospital for children based in Richmond, Virginia. They are a non-profit organisation that lends surgical talents to developing countries. I was offered a CFO position but I will not take it. I cannot uproot my family. I love living in South Jersey and I work in New York. It's a two and a half hour commute daily (each way) but I love the city.
Where do you work?
I work for the Government as a litigator in child-neglect cases; we file petitions and I am in court everyday. I get to hone my public-speaking skills because you have to be quick on the draw; judges are tough.
But, had I passed the bar exam the first time, I would not have been in the temp job next to the Trump Tower to get the opportunity. Nothing happens by chance. That temporary job was just for week and it lasted longer and led a co-worker to tell me about the television show.
And what does your fianc do?
He's a banker - the assistant vice-president at Credit Swiss in Boston, he also has a long commute - an hour and a half.
When do you get quality time to connect, you speak of a family.
Yes, Julian has sole custody of his seven-year old son, so I'm now a mom too; he's my little munchkin and I love him. He called me mommy for the first time the other day and that felt good. We have been together just over 18 months. It's good to be able to come back to the tranquility of New Jersey. We get together on weekends and Julian is looking forward to being a big brother.
What if an offer comes along that requires you uprooting the family?
The good thing is that it will be nothing new to the Hill family. My fianc's mother was a ballerina; she started the boys in show business early. They have been in plays and Dul Hill (West Wing and Psych) is now on location away from home so it's not as difficult as it could be.
How much were you paid to be on The Apprentice?
I have not yet received any money, I hear rumours but to date no money.
Made any friends from the show?
I speak with Heidi and when she's in New York we go for coffee. She has forgiven herself now and Derrick has been a good friend.
Muna drinks plenty of water daily and keeps a bottle wherever she is. She cooks healthy meals for the family and gets some exercise by walking on the job. She just uses a little powder on her face. Her major priority is to do her hair weekly. Hadiya Barbel who is a celebrity stylist uses great products but her secret is a great cut that will fall back no matter what element it encounters.
She is also not caught up with designer labels nor does she make several trips to the mall, preferring instead to buy good quality. For suits she likes Mexx as well as Donna Karan and she likes BCBG, Franco Sarto, and Bandolino shoes.

Muna's parents are Fay Heaven, a former Air Jamaica purser and currently a businesswoman, and her father is the former head of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers' Association, Trevor Heaven. Fay told Flair she was at first hesitant about Muna being on The Apprentice but gave her the necessary support having never doubted her before.
"I watched the first episode seeing her but not believing it was real. I have received many touching comments about her role and I am proud and overwhelmed," she said.Like other mothers, she loves her children but Mrs. Heaven also likes them for their discipline, love and respect and even if things go wrong, the children love each other all the time. She describes the bond with their father as very strong also. He has always been an excellent dad.


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