The Apprentice: Terrible business, entertaining television

I am become Sugar, destroyer of careers.

I am become Sugar, destroyer of careers.

THE APPRENTICE has been with us for ten years. For a decade, we have been confronted with the cragged face of Sir/Lord Alan Sugar revelling in his own belligerence and success as a self-made man. The formula has become pretty predictable, but in a way that many watchers of the show find comforting rather than tired, looking forward to the various challenges that come up year after year. The ‘interview round’ is a particularly cringe-inducing favourite.

So what happened in year ten? To start, Lord Sugar decided to increase the number of candidates he took on to 20, even though the show was to run for the same number of episodes as it has always done. Like many fans of the show, I don’t bother learning the candidates’ names during the first few weeks. They’re cannon fodder; the weak will be culled imminently and sent off on a lonely taxi ride to reflect upon what they have done, such as side-stepping the role of Project Manager when His Lordship decreed it should be so (I’m looking at you, Robert Goodwin, who was fired for such a decision without even making it to the boardroom).

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Rupert Goodwin with his now-iconic curls.

So yes, 20 was a lot of people to not bother caring about. The squabbles had more voices pouncing on one another and it was a lot of noise, but the editing of the show made it so that it was possible to pick out the frontrunners early on. It was also fun (especially for Lord Sugar, it seems) to have the power of mass firings linger over their heads, and once three had been fired in a single episode, you wanted to see him to do the same again. And maybe laugh maniacally whilst doing so.

There’s a viciousness to this program that leads to jeering at the poor decisions these supposedly intelligent people make. Clearly we could all do much better, and really, who let Del Boy wannabe James Hill take over the ‘entertainment’ for a coach trip? That particular incident, of a man in his mid-twenties singing ‘One Man Went to Mow’ to a coach of tourists who had paid good money for a historical tour, was highlighted by Karen Brady as a lowlight of the series. So, besides Nick Hewer’s excellent lemon-sucking reaction faces, what were the highlights?

Flustered Solomon attempting to leave a 45 storey building via a window after a crushing interview with bulldog-like Claude Litner instantly springs to mind. Canadian social worker Steven, who was fired early on, espousing to a restauranteur the ‘experience’ customers will have from eating just one of his potatoes is another. The moment ‘Fat Daddy’ creator Felipe shed a Hollywood-style single tear as he saw his team’s advert displayed in Times Square was actually heartwarming, as was Felipe in general.

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Just ask yourself:”What would Felipe do?”

I was also pleased to see the “Uhhh, no” reaction all of the women had when their first PM, Sarah, suggested they wear ‘short skirts’ to help sell in the first task (and I still can’t figure out why Sarah was so hung up on the idea of selling lemons in slices). Rosin’s brilliant diamond theft sparkled with the brilliance we all thought she had, and I maintain that if the show still took on its original guise, without the candidates wanting to start their own businesses with Lord Sugar, then she would likely have won.

I also admired swimming school owner Lindsay Booth for stepping back and saying the process wasn’t for her, leaving gracefully to return to more comfortable depths. I also can’t forget to mention the spitting and snarling Mark-Daniel rivalry. It was a huge motivation for them both, and drove the storyline across the 12 weeks. Arrogant Daniel did grow up a bit following his four boardroom conflicts with Lord Sugar, but sneaky Mark was to be crowned the overall winner.

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Bianca and Mark, knives being sharpened just under the table.

Going into the final, knowing their business concepts, I thought personal-branding expert Bianca Miller looked a strong contender. Poised, professional and equipped with an idea – tights for all skin tones – that filled a gap in the market. However, frustrations with her grew as the episode wore on as she struggled to take on board advice from market research, particularly where price was concerned. And all the while, Mark was working away, managing his team effectively and applying his knowledge of the competitive marketplace he wanted to go into.

I don’t think I realised just how strategic Mark was throughout the process, getting himself in all of the right places, making friends with everyone but Daniel. Perhaps this proves just how smooth a salesman Mark is (choking horribly in one of his most important pitches aside) and that Lord Sugar is onto a winner with his investment in Mark’s digital marketing agency. Or perhaps it shows how naive I am when it comes to the tactics some will employ to get where they want in business. Oh well, I’ll try again next year. Or look to a more valid source for solid business advice, rather than this gaggle of what-not-to-dos.

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Top Quotes from the series:

– “There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there are five in ‘individual brilliance.” – Daniel Lassman on his approach to teamwork
– “I believe I am right about everything. If I don’t know something, I’ll know it by tomorrow, therefore I do know everything.” – Scott McCulloch on… well, knowing everything
– “I eat food.” – Rosin Hogan on her lack of market research into her healthy ready meal product
– “The world is as big as our oyster.” – James Hill on who knows what really, it doesn’t make any sense
– “I don’t know what it means.” – Nurun Ahmed on the definition of the word ‘decadence’ when questioned as to why the girls called their team that.

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