A University of California Irvine graduate who was raised in Palos Verdes is among the 16 contestants on the first non-celebrity version of NBC's "The Apprentice'' since 2007, which premieres Thursday with a two-hour episode at 9 p.m.
Nicole Chiu, 27, is among a cast an NBC executive described as mixing "talented and bright prospects who have lost their jobs with no hope in sight'' with "recent college graduates who currently have few if any prospects.''
All the contestants have "been hit hard by the economy and are fighting back,'' host and executive producer Donald Trump said.
Chiu told City News Service she had hoped to work as a prosecutor or in a city attorney's or county counsel's office after graduating from Loyola Law School and passing the bar exam.
However, with California government entities laying off employees instead of hiring them, Chiu was forced to turn to the private sector, being hired in May 2009 by a downtown Los Angeles firm, which she declined to identify.
Chiu began work in November, mainly handling insurance cases, but said it wasn't "the right fit for me.''
"I learned a lot while I was there,'' Chiu said "I just was doing a lot of behind the desk work, where I wanted to get in court experience.''
In April, Chiu went to an open call audition for ``The Apprentice'' in Universal City.
"I'd always considered working for Mr. Trump a great opportunity. That's why I competed in his pageants,'' said Chiu, the fourth-place finisher in the 2008 Miss California USA Pageant, part of the Miss Universe Organization, a joint venture of Trump and NBC Universal.
"There's no better person to know in business than Donald Trump,'' she sad.
Two hours after leaving the open call, Chiu said she was called back, "which led to a pretty intensive application and screening process.''
Chiu said she underwent multiple interviews with producers, had a psychological evaluation and screen tests.
Chiu was told in the third week of May she had been selected for the show, resigned her job at the law firm the next day ("I felt that it would not be good integrity to stay employed when I went on a job interview that would be seen by the rest of the country,'' she said) and left for New York the following week.
Chiu said she hoped being an "Apprentice'' contestant will help her realize her dreams, which include working for Trump and being a television anchor or host.
"I went on 'The Apprentice' because I wanted to pursue every opportunity that came my way to find a job that I would love,'' Chiu said.
"The Apprentice,'' which premiered 2004, will have what NBC described as "a re-directed focus aimed at improving the lives of all of the candidates with more meaningful rewards.''
Each winning project manager will receive a one-on-one meeting with one of the nation's best-known business leaders or chief executive officers. The contestants will have the opportunity to network with sponsors, executives and guest stars in an attempt to create potential new career opportunities.
Production has been completed on all but the finale, which will be shown live in December, Chiu said. Her contract prohibits her from disclosing details about her experiences on the show.
NBC had originally scheduled the romantic comedy anthology "Love Bites'' for Thursdays at 10 p.m., but announced on July 1 that it was replacing it with "The Apprentice.''
NBC Entertainment Vice President of Program Planning and Scheduling Mitch Metcalf said that "for a number of reasons, it now makes sense to showcase 'Love Bites' a little later in the season.''