There is a brilliant Mitchell & Webb Look sketch featuring two TV producers in a brainstorming session, wondering how to make their new show, The Apprentice more interesting. One of the producers wonders why it isn’t interesting watching talented people compete for a prestigious business job. The other duly agrees but then has a moment of genius. He responds: ‘what if we deliberately pick, 16 idiots, real idiots, and then we get to watch them screw everything up.’
It would appear Mitchell and Webb were prophets. A show which started out with one of Britain’s best businessmen embarking on a gruelling headhunting mission, whittling the contestants down through a process of fiendish tasks, testing them across the whole spectrum of commercial business. Pushing the cream of British business talent to the very limit with the grand aim of finding Alan Sugar’s new ‘Apprentice’ to join him and help him make even more money. Nine years later, this noble intention is long forgotten. Watching the latest season of The Apprentice, it is apparent the show has become a joke, reminiscent of the absurd comical parody imagined by Mitchell and Webb.
When we consider The Apprentice’s history, we don’t remember the hard-working, successful people that won the competition and achieved many things. Instead we dwell on the calamities, the lost causes, the rude, the arrogant and the downright stupid. Think Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs, the clueless Susan Ma, who wondered if the French loved their children. What about Michael Sophocles, ‘the good Jewish boy’ who didn’t know what ‘Kosher’ meant or the confrontational Tre Azam. And who could forget the notorious Katie Hopkins? (a crime the show will never be forgiven for is giving her the publicity she desperately craves). Each year, the contestants appear to get more and more incompetent, much to Lord Sugar’s dismay and to the bemusement of Nick and Karen (and Margaret, I miss Margaret). However this series, it would appear the producers have outdone themselves by selecting the most useless batch of candidates yet.
There had been the standard fanfare in the season opener, of the candidates making outrageous statements about themselves and their credentials. Highlights included Scott describing himself ‘as a mix between Gandhi and the Wolf of Wall Street’ and a rotund Columbian man called Felipe talking about himself in the third person. This pretty much set the tone for one of the most toe-curling and embarrassing parade of candidates yet. Usually there is one stand out contender that looks a safe bet to go far, or a dark horse who will emerge as a challenger. This year, there has been neither.
Each task has been characterised by colossal mistakes, poor judgement and utter idiocy. Teams have won purely on the basis that their incompetency was slightly less than their opponents. No victory so far for any team can be attributed to a brilliant project manager, surrounded by a supportive, enterprising group. Instead, we’ve had the repulsive Sarah Dales lead her team to victory on the philosophy that her female team should wear lots of makeup as a way to draw more sales, to cover up for her complete lack of business acumen. We’ve had technological clothing, which led to one team producing a garish jacket, with solar panels plastered on the shoulders, and then a subsequently awful pitch to try and convince retailers it was a good product. Del Boy, The Wolf of Wall Street, even Lord Sugar, would have failed to do that.
There was the cringeworthy YouTube channel task, in which both teams produced equally stupid videos; one incorporating the sort of slapstick and gurning humour a four-year-old wouldn’t even find funny, while the other decided to milk laughs by laughing at a fat man and making him do punishing exercises. It is this complete detachment and disregard of the candidates toward what genuine people would think and like, that has ensured that all of the tasks have been comical failures.
Clearly the candidates, as a collective, are useless but highlighted as individuals, thanks to the exceptional editing of The Apprentice, the true extent of their inadequacy and horrible personalities are displayed in great clarity. There was Steven Ugoalah, who contributed nothing but mad rambling and wild histrionics whenever he was (rightfully) accused of doing nothing. As mentioned earlier but thankfully now fired, Sarah Dales, the ubiquitous, whining airhead whom I still cannot fathom how she managed to secure a place on the show. The intensely irritating James Hill still survives, the archetypal laddish, wheeler-dealer geezer that you just pray Lord Sugar fires, especially with his pathetic begging in the boardroom. I think Lord Sugar will punch him before he fires him, as he is clearly furious with James having the audacity to compare himself to him on a number of occasions. And finally, Lindsay Booth, who fired herself before Lord Sugar even had the chance because her heart really wasn’t in it anymore. That pretty much sums up the standard of Series 10.
The Apprentice is sticking to the same formula it has had since its beginning. Admittedly, increasing the contestants up to twenty is a clever idea, as it allows the audience to revel in Lord Sugar erupting like a volcano on a more regular basis, while permitting him to dish out the much loved ‘multiple firings’. Lord Sugar must know that the original concept of the show is long dead and buried. It is no longer a show about finding the best of British business talent, it is about entertainment. On that note, that is where The Apprentice has put into practice one of the fundamental commandments it preaches in every task each week. In its mix of back-stabbing, arguing and idiocy, it is giving the audience, its market, what they want. It is why people, such as myself are still hooked, attracted by the perverse thrill of watching very arrogant people completely fail on national television.
If you want to watch a proper business show, watch Dragons’ Den. If you like car-crash entertainment and a very wealthy businessman shouting at pompous, deluded people, then stick with this series of The Apprentice.