Matt Iseman didn’t beat around the bush when speaking with the Tribune about how he landed a starring role in “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” the eighth installment of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
The show, a spin-off of the hit NBC TV show “The Apprentice,” focuses on 16 celebrity contestants attempting to highlight their business savvy through a variety of tasks involving promotion, branding and competition, with the ultimate goal of raising money for a charity of their choice.
“There really was a bit of nepotism in place,” Iseman said during a Tuesday phone interview. “I host ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and I got the call from NBC 10 days before they started shooting. Clearly, I was one of the last people they called.
“They knew they had enough people in place for good drama on the show, and I think they wanted to call me because they knew I would put in the work on the show. They knew I would do my homework, and I’ve worked with NBC for a while now so they know I can be the utility player they need me to be.”
While the name Matt Iseman might not resonate with some, most are familiar with the television show “American Ninja Warrior,” where some of the best athletes in the Unites States jump, swing, climb and crawl through ridiculously challenging obstacle courses.
Iseman serves as the show’s host, exuding personality and excitement which has resulted in him becoming a keepsake on the show, however, “American Ninja Warrior” commentary only allows Iseman to show one side of himself, he said.
It doesn’t show that he is a licensed medical doctor in the state of California, a comedian, former NCAA Division 1 baseball pitcher, a Daytime Emmy Award-winning television personality and a cancer survivor. It doesn’t show that he’s dealt with the chronic condition of rheumatoid arthritis since 2002.
Watching the show, people would also never guess that he knows his way around Fremont, where his grandparents, Paul and Marcella Christensen, resided until they passed in 1995 and 2005, respectively.
Paul and Marcella Christensen were key donors for the land that became Christensen Field, and the Christensen family provided funding for what is now known as the Christensen Family YMCA Camp.
“When I was growing up, I visited Fremont two or three times a year,” Iseman said during a Tuesday phone interview. “I remember running around and eating at Zesto’s and Runza. I really have a lot of fond memories of being in Fremont as a child.”
Iseman was recently named the winner of “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” where he met, worked with and competed against numerous celebrities. The show’s host was Arnold Schwarzenegger, legendary bodybuilder, actor and former governor of California. Schwarzenegger was joined by a group of professional advisers, which included the likes of Jessica Alba, Tyra Banks and Warren Buffett.
The 15 celebrity contestants Iseman competed against include: Boy George, Brooke Burke-Charvet, Laila Ali, Lisa Leslie, Carson Kressley, Ricky Williams, Porsha Williams, Chael Sonnen, Vince Neil, Jon Lovitz, Kyle Richards, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Eric Dickerson, Carnie Wilson and Carrie Keagan.
While Iseman is certainly a celebrity in his own right, being surrounded by such talent was a little overwhelming, especially meeting Schwarzenegger, one of his childhood heroes.
“Arnold is amazing,” Iseman said. “He is really like the most charismatic guy in the room — just a larger-than-life personality. He’s been through a lot in his life and accomplished so much. He made millions through real estate and then went on to be a famous actor and the governor of California.
“He’s a self-made man, a hustler and just a hard-working guy. I did my homework on him before coming on the show, and everybody knows about the bodybuilding and acting, but I learned so much more about him through my research.”
Throughout the duration of the show, which was shot in January 2016 over a five-week course in Marina Del Ray, an unincorporated seaside community in Los Angeles, Iseman said he worked his tail off competing in a variety of tasks.
For those five weeks, Iseman said with the exception of Sunday, cast and crew members worked from 7 a.m. through 9 p.m. daily. Following shooting, cast members were allowed to go off of the set and could do whatever they pleased. They simply had to make sure they were back where they needed to be the following day.
And although Iseman’s home is only a 12-mile drive from where “The New Celebrity Apprentice” — which aired Feb. 2-13 — was filmed, he never had the energy to make the commute after shooting. In Los Angeles, that 12-mile drive routinely takes upward of an hour.
“I was so exhausted that by the time I got back to the hotel I would just go right to bed,” he said.
It was so exhausting because he was constantly critically thinking, moving and learning, all while attempting to raise money for his charity, The Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis isn’t always something too many people think about, however, it’s the No. 1 cause of disability with more than 350 million people worldwide diagnosed, more than 40 million of whom reside in the United States.
All told, after winning “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” Iseman donated $973,000 to The Arthritis Foundation, something he is very proud of. He understands all too well how vital research is in regard to finding manageable treatment, as well as ultimately possibly finding a cure for disease.
“The medication I am on gave me my life back, and I know that was possible because of the work and research that was done before I was even alive,” Iseman said. “It was awesome to give back, try to help future generations and say thanks to all the people who came and dealt with this before me.”
And anybody who thinks it was an easy task raising the funds on a “reality” television has another thing coming.
“I’ve been on reality television for over a decade and been in shows, but it was so much different competing,” Iseman said. “Now I was the one competing, and the one who could be embarrassed and the one who could make an idiot out of myself.
“I also was completely shocked by the amount of work we had to do. There was no pretending, there was nobody holding our hand when things were tough and stressful and there was nobody putting in work for us when the cameras flipped off. I was really stunned by all of it.”
Now that “The New Celebrity Apprentice” is complete, Iseman is getting ready to host season nine of “American Ninja Warrior.” He also has been filling in on “Hollywood Today Live.”
He loves his job, and with the new exposure received through his most recent venture, he is ready to tackle whatever is thrown his way.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Iseman said, “But I know that I’m excited.”