Friday, 7 November 2014

07/11/14 - The Apprentice

The Apprentice, in its current guise, is brilliant television. Just brilliant. This may seem like an odd thing to say given that so many elements of it are so fundamentally terrible (and, of course, it’s so toe-curlingly cringeworthy that you spend half the show hiding your face behind your hands and howling ‘Noooooooooooo!’), but the producers have got the concept totally nailed over the last decade. When it first came to the BBC back in 2005, the format was slightly different to what it is now; today, the prize for the winner is a £250,000 investment in the candidate’s business idea, with Sir Alan Sugar as 50% owner. In 2005, the prize was a £100,000p/a job at one of Sugar’s companies. (We’ll come on to why that’s a shit prize later.) The first series attracted a group of applicants who were all, by and large, successful in their respective fields, and saw the challenge as a potential springboard to greatness. They gave up their jobs in the hope of winning a sort of business X Factor. It was genuinely interesting to see how these groups of people from different disciplines devoured the disparate tasks they were given, each more eager than the last to excel, succeed, impress…

…but of course, that’s not how reality TV works. We don’t want to see people succeed, not any more. We want to point at them and laugh when they fuck up. And so the very nature of The Apprentice has shifted, the producers expending huge effort in hand-picking the most hapless, cretinous, downright stupid individuals to hold up as a comical showcase of human ambition gone wrong. The show used to be a weekly contest to see, in essence, which of the two teams would win; now it’s about celebrating the lesser of two failures. None of the wallies involved, of course, have any awareness of this – they get their egos kicked around the boardroom, they’re given some sort of prize for being slightly less shit than the other lot, and then they all rush out whooping and hollering, high-fiving each other as if to say ‘Yeah, we’re so good at business!’. Berks.
The peculiar thing is that this utter lack of awareness is shared by every contestant, and presumably everybody they know as well; after all, they applied to go on the show in the knowledge of how the contestants are portrayed. No intelligent person would willingly submit themselves to that sort of public ridicule, no matter what the reward – every single one of them must have entered the process thinking ‘Yeah, but I’m not stupid like the others are, that’s why I’ll win,’ and no-one’s told them otherwise. This is the kind of humiliation that will resonate through a career in perpetuity. If somebody you knew announced that they were applying to go on The Apprentice, your first response would presumably be ‘What, as a joke?’. On discovering that they were serious, you’d try and talk them out of it. ‘No Dave, you’re better than those pricks. If you want to make a go of this business idea of yours, just talk to your bank manager about it. You don’t need to be shamed in this arse’s gallery of haplessness.’

Ah yes, and the prize itself. The whole programme is so thoroughly British, isn’t it? In the American version of the series, the participating numbskulls are trying to impress Donald Trump who, reprehensible bastard and prize-winning arsehole as he may be, is at least quite a successful businessman. His net worth is about $4 billion. But we have Sir Alan Sugar, amusingly addressed as a gabbled ‘Yeslordsugar’ by his acolytes, who – and let’s be fair to him – is a complete gimp. OK, his net worth is around £900 million, which isn’t to be sniffed at, but he’s hardly a paragon of business excellence. I mean, when’s the last time you used your Amstrad E-M@iler? Or flew on Amsair? And do you remember what he said about the iPod in 2005? ‘It’ll de dead, finished, gone, kaput by next Christmas’? Yeah, that’s a man who you want to learn about business from. You could ask him about when he went bankrupt. Twice.
Or why not take a hint from the winners of previous series? Tim Campbell, who won the first series, worked at Amstrad for a couple of years before leaving to pursue better opportunities. Michelle Dewberry won the following year, but she only worked for Sugar for four months. Series 3 was won by Simon Ambrose, who worked for Amsprop for about three years before it broke him. The next winner, Lee McQueen, also only lasted a couple of years. Series 5 winner Yasmina Siadatan was almost immediately impregnated by an Amstrad colleague, went on maternity leave, then handed in her notice (although to be fair, she’s probably the smartest of the bunch here. That’s a canny plan). Stella English was given a job she referred to as a ‘glorified PA’, then had her contract terminated. And so on. Hardly living the capitalist dream, is it?

Next time you watch the show, why not try the perennially enjoyable JuicyPips Apprentice Drinking Game? Simple rules – take a slurp every time somebody says one of the following:
‘Put myself forward’
‘Step up to the plate’
‘It’s not my field of expertise’
‘At the end of the day’
‘I gave it 110%’
‘You’re not listening to me’ [while talking over someone]
‘The bottom line is…’
‘I’m in this to win’
‘I’m not a passenger’
‘The gloves are off’
‘I mean business’
‘Someone’s got to man up’
‘This is business’
‘Can I just say... can I just say… can I just say…’
‘Give me this chance’

Actually, no, don’t do that. You’ll die.

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