Serious Stone wants job with Stewart

December 20, 2005|By CHASE SQUIRES | CHASE SQUIRES,ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

Dawna Stone had one mission: Get the job.

Though The Apprentice: Martha Stewart - NBC's festival of product placement - never exploded in the ratings, Stone has been burning up the screen from the start. Others played games, built alliances, schemed, cut up, got into shouting matches, got into unsavory predicaments and got drunk. Stone was a rock.

After treating every day of her two months on the Mark Burnett reality show like the job interview of her life, the St. Petersburg magazine publisher finds out tomorrow if her strategy worked. Stewart has narrowed the field of 16 to two. She makes the final decision in New York City, live, in the show finale. It's down to the savvy Stone against the loopy but creative natural foods chef Bethenny Frankel, 34, of New York City.

At stake is a yearlong job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and a $250,000 salary.

"I'm not nervous, not really," Stone said last week after watching the last of the taped episodes with about 40 friends and family members at the St. Petersburg waterfront home she shares with husband Matthew Dieter. "There's a clear choice, if Martha wants someone like Bethenny, then she doesn't want me. If she wants someone like me, then she doesn't want Bethenny. We'll see what she wants."

From the first episode, where she led her team to victory as a project manager, to the final taped segments, Stone, 37, who founded Her Sports magazine, has been the serious one. When she was in charge, she focused energies and took big risks. When she was a follower, she kept the peace and put her work ethic to the test.

She has been a top contender from the beginning, when in September the online gambling site Sportsbook.com listed her at 7-1, one of the two favorites.

Each time Stewart issued a challenge, Stone was seen straining to dissect every nuance. She narrowed her eyes to focus, and her face reflected determination.

"I was very serious the whole time. I looked at it like a job interview. Unlike some of the others, I was not there for a game," she said. "I was there for a reason. For me, it was all about working with Martha Stewart. In publishing, there isn't another woman I would rather learn from."

And in each competition, she came off as the rational one, surrounded by fellow competitors bickering, sulking, back-stabbing, gossiping and needling. As project manager, she nailed three consecutive victories for her team.

Back in St. Petersburg, Stone's broad smile and easy manner belie her intensity.

With a master's degree in business from UCLA and experience as a finance analyst for Morgan Stanley, as a strategist for Deloitte Consulting and as chief marketing officer for a $700 million publicly traded company, Marinemax, she does not venture into the business world of Martha Stewart unarmed.

She is in a brutally tough business, pushing a magazine concept - women's sports and active lifestyle - that publishing giant Sports Illustrated failed at. Her Sports is selling 75,000 copies an issue, and, after two years, it's profitable.

Her portrayal on The Apprentice distorts little about her, she said. She really was that intense through the two-month trial.

The cameras were part of daily living, she said. She woke up to find a camera focused on her face and she brushed her teeth with a camera filming her image in the mirror.

"That, for some reason, was the part that really bothered me," she said. "I just wanted to say, `Stop! I'm just brushing my teeth.' ... You eventually forget the camera is there."

Maybe, she said, she could have laughed more and tried to enjoy herself a little more. But the tests were grueling, and the schedule was draining. What viewers never saw was the pace participants endured. Sleep was rare. Food was an afterthought. Challenges forced competitors to pull all-night duty.

"I used to say, if I'm only going to get 45 minutes of sleep, I'd rather just stay up, push right through," Stone said. "Now, after that, I'll take the 45 minutes."

Normally a toned 112 pounds (and a triathlete), Stone said she dipped below 100, often forgetting to eat as she and her team were pushed into business arenas where they had little experience: writing a children's book, designing a showroom display for a new car, marketing a new detergent, making a promotional video for a doomed airline.

"What we were doing, literally, was starting a new business every day," she said.

Heading into the finale, the last task was for Stone to organize a fashion show for charity, while Frankel organized a charity circus. Each got to pick three past team members to help. Stone appeared to have a clear advantage. Her team appeared to respect her and got along. Frankel's people showed serious anger issues.

The task has been completed, with the outcome to be aired tomorrow, leaving only Stewart's final appraisal of the finalists' work - and her choice - for the live segment.

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