It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting colder and soon we’ll have our first frost. The leaves are falling from the trees and our Autumnal hues are disappearing. It’s dark at about 5pm. Oh, and Alan Sugar has once again assembled a cavalcade of halfwits for our entertainment. The Apprentice is well and truly back!
I have a love hate relationship with The Apprentice. I’ve watched it for a while now and would happily describe myself as an avid viewer. A fan, even. It can be genuinely entertaining television, and for that, I love it. However, I can also say that I genuinely hate it too! Even though I’m well versed in its nuances and know perfectly well what to expect, this year’s ‘introductions’ brought the same resigned sigh from me as every year.
With the annual splash of tabloid press coverage and the first couple of episodes generally devoted to introducing us to this year’s candidates, you find that you can’t avoid these people and if you hear or read anything of them you probably can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that this year’s halfwits are not a great deal different from any of the previous year’s. So just what is it that makes The Apprentice both compelling and cringeworthy in equal measure?
The most obvious port of call in seeking an answer would be to look at the people involved. And the least obvious way of looking at them would be to start by tackling the experts: Lord Sugar, Karen Brady and Claude Littner.
“what makes Claude so very watchable…is his wide array of facial expressions.”
Claude Littner is a fascinating character and who undoubtedly makes for compulsive viewing. Even the smallest bit of reading via Wikepedia gives you an amazing insight into his life. He was born in New York to Jewish parents who had fled the Nazis in the 1930s. He was the Chief Executive of Spurs, is a multi millionaire and at one point was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma and given 6 months to live. However, what makes Claude so very watchable on The Apprentice is his wide array of facial expressions. Despite the possession of a fantastic poker face, Claude’s feelings are frequently given away by the kind of facial expressions that suggest he’s either desperately hoping that the Immodium will kick in or is about to break into an almost certainly faultless impersonation of Kenneth Williams. Ooh, matron indeed. One minute we’re watching yet another hopeless pitch or a poorly thought-through idea and the next the camera will cut away to a clearly squirming Claude looking like he’s just ingested a bag full of Tangfastics in one go. Brilliant editing and definitely a dark horse in the race for the answer as to why we watch the show. And if you’re not hooked on Claude in the early weeks, then just wait until you watch him in the interviews!
Then there’s Karren. Baroness Brady, the vice-chairperson at West Ham United. Not a personal favourite of mine, but still the possessor of a fine selection of disgusted facial expressions as well as a woman who instinctively knows the value of a perfectly timed put down. She comes across as a bit of a ‘teacher’s pet’, always ready to tell tales to Lord Sugar when yet another hapless contestant is backtracking on their involvement in the latest monumental failure. If it was all about Karren, then the viewing figures wouldn’t be anywhere near what they are. However, she’s a vital cog in the whole Apprentice machine.
“You’re fired. You should be if you’re writing those gags.”
Lord Sugar himself is a fabulous reason to watch The Apprentice. But again, the reason for this, in my opinion, is not altogether obvious. In fact, when Lord Sugar is on screen, I’m often left cursing my eyes and ears. The reason for this is his seemingly inexhaustible range of puns and put downs. You’re fired? You should be if you’re writing those gags. Year after year they seem to get worse. And year after year, I continue to watch…and wince. I mean, look at this for a selection.
“I know the words to Candle in the Wind – it don’t make me Elton John… You think you can second guess or play me? Well let me tell you, I’m as hard to play as a Stradivarius and you lot, I can assure you, are as easy to play as bongo drums.”
Figure that out then. I mean, the first bit…well being Elton John makes you Elton John pal. And you’re very definitely not him. In fact, you’re unmistakenly Lord Sugar off The Apprentice. But imagine the week he turns up in the boardroom doing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. TV Gold, right there.
And then there’s, “How do you send people to a brewery that don’t drink? In Zee’s case particularly, he is as dry as a cream cracker in the bleeding Sahara Desert!” Now, I’m no expert, but does a cream cracker get drier because it’s in the desert? You could call it dry wit, I guess, but then again it’s not actually funny.
But it seems that being funny isn’t a really requirement in the world of Lord Sugar’s put downs. This next one is straight out of the playground and in fact, in telly terms, was last heard in a slightly different guise being uttered repeatedly by Jim Bowen back in the 80s on Bullseye. One contestant was genuinely told, “Fair? The only fair you’re gonna get is your bloody train fare home.” Face it, if that’s the way you’ve been fired then you’d probably be willing to pay him the £250k just to get out of there. And he could keep his train fare. How long though, before the £250k is withdrawn in favour of a caravan on a revolving stage with Lord Sugar telling the person fired, “Hey, look at what you could’ve won!”
And then finally, who could forget, “Call yourself an ice-cream man? Well I’ve got you licked, mate!” Having trouble remembering? No wonder. I just made that one up, but you have to admit that you could hear him saying it and it certainly doesn’t look out of place. The put downs continue to be terrible and yet, we still continue to watch.
Undoubtedly though, the reason for our avid viewing will always come back to the talent vacuum that is the candidates. In the interests of staying current, let’s have a gander at this year’s line up.
First out this year was Sarah Byrne, 29 apparently, although let’s just say that there’s more than a hint of a showbiz age. Sarah seemed to have imagined that being loud and Northern was exactly what Lord Sugar would be looking for in a business partner. Unfortunately though, she’d seriously underplayed the necessity for any business acumen and/or personality and as such just came across as an annoying gobby Northerner – and I say this as what some might call an annoying gobby Northerner. As far as I could tell she was one of those people who live their lives believing that they’d make good viewing for others. In fact, even an hour’s air time was too much. There are an endless amount of different reasons as to why Sarah was first out, but the less said about Sarah, the better.
“Sadly for David it turned out to be a case of going, going, gone.”
Next to face the firing finger was David Alden, a tax advisor from Yorkshire. A cross between Elmer Fudd and, well, a tax advisor from Yorkshire, he said that his friends called him the Duracell Bunny due to his boundless energy and tendency to ‘just keep going’. Sadly for David it turned out to be a case of going, going, gone. He has also said he had the ability to talk to anyone about anything. A shame then that ‘anything’ didn’t seem to stretch to ‘anything to do with business’.
Third to be fired was Frank Brooks who had claimed to be ‘brutal in the boardroom’. Strange then that when confronted with the boardroom he magically transformed into human jelly. He’d told the press that he was ‘two steps in front’. And he was right. He was two steps in front of the first two losers to be sacked. Just a shame that there were so many people still left in the competition, who as it turned out were at least a week in front of Frank.
After Frank, we lost Alex Finn, a 21 year old IT analyst from the Wirral who claimed to have the gift of the gab, but then insisted on asking the inventor of some fitness equipment whether it was insured in case it got lost in the post as part of his bid to be able to sell the product. The bloke decided against Alex as an option, as did Lord Sugar not long later.
A few weeks in and we were saying goodbye to Rick Monk, who’s name has to be rhyming slang for something, although I couldn’t possibly think what. Rick was the classic Apprentice candidate who doesn’t really seem to do anything, other than occasionally talk rubbish. Ultimately these candidates always get found out, either by being forced to become the Project Manager or being forced to answer a really simple question that they really simply can’t answer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rick who at least seemed to have the good grace to accept that when it came to business he made a very good halfwit.
So who else has me watching the telly through almost closed eyes? Well if you watched week 1 the name Khadija would surely spring to mind. Khadija managed to be pushed into being Project Manager in the comic book task, leading her team to produce the comic featuring an MC who rapped their way around the world learning different languages. They opted for French for their first comic. The snag was that neither Khadija nor her team knew more than ten words of French. So, smart move then.
“In terms of leading, this was much more dictatorship than democracy.”
Khadija, who considers people skills to be her most valuable business asset then proceeded to bark orders at her team, talked over them and basically made them feel like their ideas weren’t welcome and that they should just do exactly what she herself suggested. In terms of leading, this was much more dictatorship than democracy. And of course this inevitably led to her being compared to Kim Jong Un. Harsh? Not in Khadija’s eyes when she told us that if everybody was talking about this Kim Jong Un fella, then he must be doing something good! And of course, she’s correct. I mean that’s why we’re all talking about Donald Trump. And Hitler, Piers Morgan, Negan and Satan, right guys? Guys? Maybe not, eh Khadija?
Another ego seemingly functioning sans brain seems to be Daniel Elahi who describes him as the owner of a lifestyle brand. Now this always happens with The Apprentice. The tendency to talk bulls**t about what it is they do. Firstly, I don’t want my lifestyle branded – it would be called ‘Incredibly Dull’ if it was branded, but secondly I don’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. Luckily though, he gets infinitely clearer when he talks about himself, describing himself as being like Daniel Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. Good call, Daniel. Inspirational. A bit like saying, ‘In terms of being a bloke, I’m a bit like the Yorkshire Ripper’ when actually what you should have said is, ‘I’ve got a beard’. In truth, the only Wolf you can compare to is Wolf from Gladiators, mate.
Brilliantly though, Daniel didn’t seem to think that his ‘Wolf’ comment went far enough and went on to describe himself as having ‘beauty and brains…I was blessed with both in abundance.’ Daniel there, a man in love with mirrors, but unable to clearly see his own reflection. See you this time next year, on Celebrity Petrol Station pal.
Having watched for a few weeks now there are still a number of candidates who I still don’t really know. You know the ones. You watch them for weeks but can’t remember which one they are. Two such characters this year are Camilla and Sarah Ann.
Now, I think Sarah Ann has been a project manager, but I genuinely can’t remember on what task. I’ve been too busy trying to figure out other things about her. The first thing was whether or not she was a mackem (that’s someone from Sunderland, for the ill-informed or those just lucky enough to have never heard of Sunderland). Turns out she’s from Teeside, which is better, but in reality, it’s just a bit like being from Sunderland. Next I found myself captivated by her eye. Not eyes. Eye. In terms of, ‘what’s that thing near her eye?’ It seems she has some bizarre piercing, like a bolt near the corner of her eye. Now I’m no fashion expert, but I never thought I’d see the dawning of Frankenstein chic. Sarah Ann obviously had different ideas though, which in a way is a good thing, because I can’t think of any other reason why viewers would notice her on The Apprentice.
Camilla has blonde hair. That’s all I’ve garnered from watching her for the last few weeks. A bit of reading tells me that she considers herself to be a ‘serious adrenaline junkie’, the kind of label that always sends a shiver down my spine. It’s the kind of thing that people seem to say in order to make themselves sound more interesting. But why should I feel interested in the fact that you enjoy feeling scared? Tell you what, next time I see you heading my way I’ll hide and jump out as you pass screaming ‘BOO!’. Deal? Good. Now could you just get off my telly, please?
“…he seems like a decent enough bloke.”
While there are always characters that you barely register are there, there is always at least one dark horse when watching The Apprentice. For me – and I’ll regret this when he stumbles his way through the next pitch, insults a major retailer and spectacularly loses his team the task – Tom is my dark horse. Now Tom is a tree surgeon which doesn’t immediately strike me as the type of profession that we associate with an Apprentice winner. However, when it comes to his credentials as a bona fide knobhead he’s severely lacking. And this can only be a plus point when you look around at the numerous knobheads he’s working with. It seems to me that Tom is active in all tasks, talking common sense, but staying just about low profile enough to survive. And he seems like a decent enough bloke. Now, I’m no business expert. In fact I really don’t know the first thing about business. But I sense, in Tom, someone who might just have the credentials to win it this year. Unless of course his big business plan is revealed as investing £250,000 in just chopping down more trees. I’ll be watching with interest.
From the sanity of Tom to possibly one of the most absurd idiots ever to appear on the show. Kurran Pooni. Kurran is a 22 year old law graduate who, before appearing on the show told the media that, ‘I’ll be honest, I don’t eat, sleep, breathe business, but I do eat, sleep and breathe success.’ Now, I’d struggle to believe that even without the ‘success’ bit at the end. It strikes me, having watched him for the last few weeks it’d be far more accurate of Kurran to say something like, ‘I’m dead lucky that I’ve got a rich mam and dad’. He seems to have spent almost all of the last few weeks simply strolling around the place. While others get on with the task at hand, Kurran seems to just go for a wander. He might have a little look at himself in the mirror, or the window of a shop. He might ruffle his hair a bit, play a bit of pocket billiards, but the nearest he gets to the actual task will be to mutter some kind of comment either disagreeing with the idea or giving some spurious reason as to why he’s doing nothing.
“You’re not exactly Stormzy are you?”
His performance in the shoe task beggared belief as he disagreed with the design concept and went for a wander. But the best was yet to come. The concept of the shoe was ‘urban heel’ and it seemed to be working (although the team would later lose). Not good enough for Kurran though who simply wandered about claiming to understand ‘the street’ and everything ‘urban’. Really though Kurran? Your dad founded an airline mate. Hardly the beginnings of some kind of urban legend. You’re not exactly Stormzy are you? And I’m not sure a double breasted suit is a style choice made by those on the street. Unless it was a homeless bloke who found one in a bin.
Kurran survived by a whisker in the boardroom and mainly because Lord Sugar made the extraordinary decision of dragging the whole team back in order to fire the person he wanted, rather than anyone that Jackie had brought back. However, forced into the position of Project Manager this week, he finally bit the dust. His failure – and, to be fair, that of his team – was spectacular and he was forced to walk, ill fitting clothes, sling, bouffant and all. On exiting the boardroom he simply sat down, smiling inanely and no doubt thinking that Lord Sugar didn’t know what he was doing, that he’d live to regret his decision and that the hilariously named ‘Jet Pop’s’ promotional video was in fact a work of genius. Whatever he thought, I feel that in the great tradition of these type of shows this was very definitely the last we’ll see of Kurran.
Speaking of Jackie brings up a lot of questions. She seems to be the candidate that you can’t work out. Do we like her or hate her? Is she rude and arrogant or just a bit forward and someone who actually knows what she’s talking about? And where is she from? Is she American, Canadian, a little bit Irish? What is that accent and when will it settle down? So far she seems to have performed fairly well, making thousands of pounds worth of sales as the Project Manager on the last task, albeit in losing the task and generally working hard at everything she’s been faced with. Her performance in the shoe pitch, as some kind of representative of ‘the street’ was totally cringeworthy, but let’s just thank the lord that she didn’t do anything as stupid as try to rap. Let’s face it, it’s the kind of thing that’s been done before and left you wanting to disappear down a hole on their behalf. She followed this up with another terrible performance in the airline pitch, which you imagine is marking her down in Lord Sugar’s estimation.
The final word on Jackie has to go to focus on one of her pre-show publicity quotes. “I’m not intimidated by anybody, or anything.” Seriously though? I think we have a candidate for next year’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ Bring on the fish eyes, crocodiles bollocks and kangaroo wangers! Let’s see you front up to those bad boys!
“Wow. Where to start?”
Perhaps the polar opposite to Jackie would be 22 year old, Sabrina Stocker, the owner of a tennis events company. Now hang on. Tennis events? Does that just mean playing tennis. Does she own a company that organises tennis games? Sabrina seems to be a bright, bubbly blonde. She describes herself as ‘a mix of Willy Wonka drinking an espresso martini…classy and sophisticated on the outside; inside, a little bit crazy and wacky but full of brilliant ideas.’ Wow. Where to start? Sabrina sounds like just my type of person. Indeed, there’s nothing I like better than someone who describes themselves as wacky and has to point out how much fun they are. It’s good that she’s reaching out to the common people though with a reference to an espresso martini, a drink that I’d never actually heard of. And there’s something not quite right about a 22 year old who describes themselves as classy. When I was 22, it would have been a fairly kind to describe myself as ‘a bit of an arsehole’ or ‘still acting and dressing a bit like I’m 14’. I was fresh out of university, with out of control hair and attempting to corner the market on the look that could only be labelled ‘Primark Stone Roses’. In short, I was probably a bit of a mess. What I definitely wasn’t was classy. And at 22 year, neither is Sabrina. Classier than me, definitely, but essentially just posh.
Sabrina was, however, the winning Project Manager in the latest task. It’s safe to say though that this was very much a team effort, with the likes of Jasmine, Tom and Kayode holding things together. In fact, Sabrina’s insistence on including ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ as the soundtrack for an airline launch very nearly cost them the task and showed her up as naïve, rather than classy. That decision, in fact, was classic Apprentice. A shining example of a candidate with so much self confidence and arrogance and such a desperation to be responsible for a decision, any decision, that they simply ignore the blindingly obvious fact that they couldn’t be more wrong, because they couldn’t be more convinced that they couldn’t be more right.
Another young candidate is Kayode, who in my opinion has missed a trick in not labelling himself a business Jedi and temporarily re-naming himself Kayoda. I mean, this is The Apprentice after all, where previous candidates have made claims such as, ‘as a salesperson, I would rate myself as probably the best in Europe’, ‘Everything I touch turns to sold’ and ‘I am the champion thoroughbred that this process requires’. So being a business Jedi named Kayoda isn’t even that outlandish. Like I say, the lad’s missed a trick.
“…another attention starved candidate begging for attention.”
Kayode has actually proven his worth at times during this series. He’s sold well, pitched well and never hidden from a challenge. Certainly, he wouldn’t be a surprise as a winner. In the grand tradition of the show though he’s proved that he has a natural ability to act like a d*ck. His insistence on including what was a tedious and misplaced joke in the airline video was nothing short of stupid. Again though, it was classic Apprentice – another attention starved candidate begging for attention. Any attention. And hang the consequences.
Finally this year, we have Jasmine and Sian. Both are proving themselves to be strong candidates, but once again both are proving themselves to be more than capable of coming across as clueless and completely lacking in any sense of self awareness. The perfect recipe for making you watch television through your fingers. Sian – the owner of a swimwear brand that no one’s ever heard of, or surely she wouldn’t be on the show – has already declared herself to have beauty and brains, which of course are two of the toppermost ingredients that Lord Sugar looks for in a business partner. Meanwhile Jasmine, who has the job title of Learning and Development Manager – me neither – has told us that ‘All is fair in love and war…and business is war’, which when you actually think about it, doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.
As it stands we’re down to the final ten candidates. Incredibly, again, one of these people will benefit to the tune of £250,000 in terms of an investment in their business idea. All of these people will, at some point or several points over the run of the show, be shown up as the kind of person you probably wouldn’t fully trust to boil your kettle. And yet, year after year, one of them will invariably shine through and prove themselves as a worthy winner. Now given the profile of some of the field of competition, there’s not always an awful lot of shining needed, but still, it’s some achievement. And it’s the kind of achievement that has millions watching year in year out. Even if it is through their fingers and very often – especially in my case – while machine gun shouting expletives at the telly.