The outburst comes without warning.
“It’s that girl! You know, the one from The Apprentice.”
A group of businessmen and professional women outside of TJ’s in The Jefferson hotel now wait like star-struck teens, hoping Maria Boren will walk past again on her way out.
Boren, one of the final eight contestants in the second season of the NBC program in which aspiring junior execs compete for a job with real-estate baron Donald Trump, is still surprised when people recognize her. She says she didn’t know she’d achieved celebrity status until New Yorkers started speaking to her on the street.
There’s no doubting her celebrity now: As one of the contestants on The Apprentice, Boren has appeared in dozens of publications, including People, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly and Maxim.
It was the Maxim coverage — or lack thereof — that caused a few raised eyebrows. On the cover of the magazine’s December 2004 issue, Boren appeared wearing a cleavage-baring jacket, panties, a garter belt and nothing else.
“I was caught off-guard,” Boren admits. “There were fewer clothes than we were supposed to be handed. NBC had orchestrated the deal. They had said we would be more clothed, but at the end of the day, they didn’t step up to the plate.” Boren had told her husband, her friends and her coworkers that she would be appearing in the magazine. She says she called her husband the minute she finished the shoot to explain the situation. Fortunately, she says, he got to see the cover and the magazine online before it hit the stands, which ironically was the same day she was fired from the show.
Marketing vice president for Richmond-based Cornerstone Realty Income Trust, Boren divides her time between Richmond and Virginia Beach, where she lives with her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Duane Boren, an F-18 Navy pilot stationed at Oceana Naval Air Station. Boren, who is lunching at TJ’s, is a natural attention-getter. From her ultra-short, sleek tresses — she’s been cutting her own hair since high school — to her designer clothes, there’s nothing average about her.
Before sitting down at the table, Boren slips off her fur-trimmed cream wool coat to reveal a camel-colored Yves St. Laurent suit, worn with a multistrand pearl necklace featuring a gold-and-diamond flower pendant.
Although her clothes reflect her passion for couture, Boren adores shopping at consignment shops, thrift stores and small boutiques. She says she finds many of her outfits at Baggio, an upscale designer consignment boutique in the Gayton Crossing Shopping Center. She also likes to wander through small clothing shops on Cary Street, such as Lex’s of Carytown and vintage shop Bygones. Her favorite designers, she says, are Dolce & Gabbana, Yves St. Laurent and Tracy Reese. During New York’s Fashion Week this February, she modeled for New York designer Yeohlee. When it comes to shoes, Boren lists Saks Fifth Avenue, Coplon’s and The Shoe Box as her favorite haunts around town.
Kristina McGann, casting director for The Apprentice, sees thousands of women each season. “I pick out people who stand out and make an impression,” she remarks. “Maria was an easy one. She has a presence that makes you stop and say, ‘Who’s this?’”
A Hero or a Goat
McGann, who was the first person to interview Boren at the show’s open-call auditions in Austin, Texas, also was struck by Boren’s confidence and energy. McGann looks for contestants who have Type-A personalities and are typical overachievers. “Maria seemed like someone who stands up for what she believes,” she observes.
Boren demonstrated that Type-A personality on her last Apprentice episode — she was labeled controlling and difficult for chastising Wes, the project manager, for his lack of leadership. On that last task, Boren’s team was asked to design a promotional marketing piece for Levi’s. The team had to set up a photo shoot, come up with an original layout and pitch the marketing piece to Levi’s. “We started feeling pressure about the photo shoot,” Boren recalls. “The [team] meltdown was associated with the fact that we were all doing as much as we could possibly do. The [graphic] designer was working very slowly.” Boren admits she made a mistake by not communicating to her team the fact that she felt they weren’t going to meet the deadline because of the designer. “I tried to protect the designer and let him do his job.”
During her weeks on the show, Boren made a mistake or two, maintains fellow Apprentice contestant Sandy Ferreira, a bridal-store owner in Rockville, Md., but she wasn’t alone. “We all made mistakes, but she bounced back. On her final task, Maria took a lot of accountability, and I commend her. She wasn’t scared to take ownership of certain parts. Unfortunately, we lost. They edited her in a hard-to-manage role. Had we won, she would have come across as a heroine.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Duane Boren agrees. “In the Navy, we have a saying, either you’re a hero or a goat. That was kind of this situation. Had they won, everybody would have praised her for being strong. Since they lost, it was the opposite.”
Shy to a Point
Boren, 32, who grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., wasn’t allowed to watch much television when she was young. “We could only watch approved shows,” she explains. “My parents felt that it was more important to be productive, to do something valuable [than to watch TV].”
Boren’s mother, Faye Grant, then a home-economics teacher, now a nutritionist, introduced Boren to sewing and cooking at an early age. “I grew up in fabric stores,” she says.
As a child, Boren was introverted. It wasn’t until her sophomore year in high school, when she was nominated as a representative from her class for homecoming court that she broke out of her shell. “I accidentally won,” she says, still surprised at the outcome. “The student body voted on it. That was the turning point in my life.” After that, one of her teachers encouraged her to take a speech class and to consider public speaking. “By the time I was a senior, I was student-body president,” she says.
While attending Pensacola Christian School, where she majored in business and minored in home economics, Maria met Duane. The two, she says, are very different. “I’m outgoing; he’s reserved. He has an analytical side; I’d rather think about other things.”
Duane describes his wife as a “sweetheart. She’s very kind-hearted, very giving. For instance, when she was getting her master’s degree and working, our neighbor’s wife needed a dress hemmed. Maria came home late and stayed up until 3 a.m. to hem the dress.”
Before marrying in 1994, the two had an honest conversation about Duane’s Navy career. “Before a woman marries someone in the military, she needs to be happy and OK with being alone,” Boren says. “I’m definitely not typical. I’m fine with being by myself.”
The couple moved to Virginia when Duane was transferred from Miramar Naval Air Station to Oceana. During that time, Boren worked in various advertising and retail sales-management positions, did volunteer work, and eventually got her MBA at Regent University in Hampton Roads. At the same time she was attending night school at Regent, she took a position as a regional manager for Cornerstone. “I was looking for a vice president position,” she says. “I moved into that role and have been in that role for two years.”
Almost a Domestic Diva
Last year, Boren wanted a new challenge. While she was contemplating enrolling in a doctorate program, friends urged her to send an audition tape to the Today show’s “Domestic Diva” contest. She sent in a tape and then heard about auditions for The Apprentice. “My husband got addicted to the show during season one,” she explains. Boren decided to try out but cleared it with her boss first.
“She came to me initially and told me that she would like to try out,” recalls Jay Olander, president of Cornerstone Realty Income Trust. “If that’s what she wanted then I endorsed what she wanted to do. When she told me she was one of the 18 chosen, I wasn’t in the least surprised. It was terrific.”
Already in Dallas on business, Boren hopped on a flight to Austin to attend the show’s open call. “I was standing on the streets with 2,000 strangers at 6 a.m.,” she recalls. “After an eight-hour process, they told us we may or may not hear from them as to whether we had made the cut. The next day, Boren found out she made the cut. At the same time, her “Domestic Diva” try-out video was shown on the Today show as one of the favorites.
After a second screen test for The Apprentice, Boren worried that she would be cut. “They called me a neurotic perfectionist,” she comments. “They said, ‘You respond like a journalist and look like a perfectionist. You will never survive.’ ” After a few minutes, she was called back into the room and told to go home and videotape herself without makeup, wearing sweat pants. Also to be taped — her closet and car. “I messed up the closet [it’s normally organized by type of clothing] and took a photo,” she says.
Boren was one of 50 called back to Los Angeles, where she was sequestered for seven days. “We had psychological and intellectual testing as well as a medical exam,” she explains, noting that by now the producers knew her better than she knew herself. At the end of the seven days, 18 contestants were chosen. The show started filming four days later.
The Best Drama
Filming the season took a total of eight weeks. “Every third day we were in the boardroom,” Boren says. “Every fourth day we would start a new task.” Contestants got little sleep. “It wasn’t a healthy environment. Everyone got sick because of lack of sleep. I got the flu twice.”
Ninety-eight percent of what audiences saw was creative editing, Boren says, noting that the men’s battles for power were left on the cutting-room floor, while nearly every skirmish between the women made it to the air. For the most part, contestants got along well. “When we weren’t getting along is when we were passionate about a particular piece of the task,” Boren says.
During her time on the show, Boren became close to Ivana, Sandy, Kelly and Kevin. “I had the luxury of working with her for 10 tasks,” Ferreira says. “We have a common bond that will never go away. We’ll be lifelong friends.”
The final show — Boren’s swan song — didn’t hurt her personally, she concludes. “My friends called me and said ‘There’s nothing on the show that they could tell us or show us that would change our minds about who you are.’
As far as working with “The Donald,” George H. Ross and Carolyn Kepcher, the power trio involved in deciding who gets the boot, Boren says, “Trump is definitely a nice guy. He’s not all about business.” She believes George is easier to work with than Carolyn. “She seemed to be anti-women, like she was ripping women down. I had a different impression the night of the finale. She hugged me and we walked around together.”
While she was on The Apprentice, Boren set up her own Web site — MariaBoren.com. “It gave people the opportunity to find out more about me and to share something with me. They could tell me if they loved me or hated me,” she says.
Going into The Apprentice, Boren knew the show had its upside and its downside. “I would go after something like this, no matter how big the downside was, if I believed the upside would be better,” she confides. “I will be the happiest if I can find a way to combine my business side with my domestic side.”
Currently, Boren is talking with a production company about her own show. Word of advice to Martha Stewart, who’ll soon be starring in her very own spinoff of The Apprentice: Watch your back, girl. Boren means business.