Posts in: the apprentice

Apprentice 2013, Episode 6: Shambles Incorporated

The Business Away Day sounds like a discount railway ticket, but rarely delivers anybody to a worthwhile destination. And the journey – to use my nomination for the century’s most over-used word to date – can be pretty lacking too. Yet this is their task. Lord Sugar has lined up two clients, who will provide a budget, and the contest will be judged on profit and customer satisfaction. (Mindful of the importance of establishing clear evaluation criteria at the outset, I wondered how that might be measured, but I’ll avoid a spoiler: the answer is too obvious.)

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Apprentice 2013 Episode 3: A Box Of Frogs

The most startling moment of this episode - officially called, with blinding insight, Flat-Pack - happened a few minutes in, and I’ve been trying to have my retinas repaired ever since. Earlier in the series than usual, The Apprentice played the ‘everyone was relaxing at home on a day off, with a camera crew – as you do’ trope, and the remaining 14 contenders (I use the word loosely) suddenly found themselves with thirty minutes to reapply the bling. Girls scampered along luxury corridors, hectically searching for trowels so they could re-do their eye make-up. Meanwhile, not content with flashing his abs at us in a towel last week, Myles decided that the most appropriate way to behave on camera in a men’s dorm is to wiggle across our eye line in a thong. In a programme with no audience voting, I was left wondering which bottom line he was most eager to demonstrate familiarity with. His own, possibly? Fundamental mistake there, Myles. Oh well, maybe he was just showing us his best side …

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Apprentice 2013 Episode 2: A Barrel of Laughs

The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …

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Apprentice 2013 Episode 1: A Catty Affair

And so, painkillers and pizza in hand, to Episode 1. It’s midnight in the boardroom. (Thankfully no-one overdubbed the horror movie strings, but the timing screamed ‘artifical tension’ regardless.) The plucky candidates are, in their self-effacing fashion, dressed for the dodgier kind of Moscow nightclub. Lord Sugar, meanwhile, is speaking for the nation when he says that he’s fed up with “All those usual clichés”. But he’s sadly undermined by his scriptwriter when he tells us that “Actions speak louder than words”. Not for the first time, I glance at my watch: we are 9 minutes in, and all we’ve had are words. Hundreds of them, and all as empty as outer space. Words were in plentiful stock, and only the BBC were buying them. In more ways than one.

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The Apprentice Final: Does Sugar Take Him?

The title never really belonged: whatever the programme has ever been, a structured learning programme with constant mentoring isn’t it. The task format worked while it was about picking an employee, but has not been amended now that it’s about identifying a partner to invest in. As The Telegraph pointed out, this year and last year’s eventual winners were both the candidate in the final who had been on the losing team the most often. (Although this criticism also overlooks the factor that annoys me: the worst or weakest performance can easily be on the winning team, while someone else must be fired.) The selection process may introduce a ‘reality tv’ level of suspense into the series, but as a model of business selection criteria it needs a stern word in its ear. (Claude, do you have a moment?) As models for assessment centres go, It’s A Knockout is an unusual choice. Interestingly, the ‘The Final Five’ and the ‘Why I Fired Them’ programmes gave the viewer rather more beyond slapstick and buffoonery than the actual episodes: they had moments of a sober reflective quality that reviewed business strengths and personal qualities in ways that the tasks themselves have not. And as Lord Sugar reminded us in them, the process is also about the person: as well as an investor, Lord Sugar will be a business partner with the eventual winner. Good luck with that, as they say. And are you sure you didn’t want that dog?

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The Apprentice Semi-Final: Sugar, all things nice and puppy dog’s shaving balm

We’ve introduced you to the runners and riders for this penultimate hurdles challenge of the season, and let you review their form in the paddock. So let’s get the cameras rolling and take you to West London for the Burlington Arcade Handicap Chase. And who better to set the scene than contemporary business’ very own Burlington Bertie from Bow? Lord Sugar, for it is he, sets up the challenge to create affordable luxury items. Roll up, roll up, get yer entrepreneurs ‘ere, ladies and gentlemen. (One of the candidates makes a remark about the final heat being the one to sort the men from the boys. I’d man up if I were you, Jade. Or cuff someone.)

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The Apprentice: The Final Five

As a programme that showed all five candidates in less comical/critical lights (it was far more sober and reflective than the task episodes, much to its merit), all emerged as more likeable, personable human beings: it is hard to dislike any of them. Ricky and Adam have the most to prove in terms of overturning impression already created; Tom and Jade must show their strengths and avoid falling prey to their downsides. Nick must actually create an impression. Were I a betting man, my fiver would probably be on one of the latter three, although the interview round can always spring surprises. (Think who is least likely to have oversold themselves on paper, and can give the best verbal account of themselves in a tight corner without resorting to aggression.) The prize is as much for four of them to lose as for one of them to win, and – unlike last year – I don’t feel myself rooting for one of them.

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The Apprentice, Episode 10: I’ll be right with you – just polishing my petard

One of the central conundrums of the last two series – and we’ve said it before too – is that the prize is an investment in a business plan. Not only are the candidates not apprentices (a title that should have its cab phoned before the first series got commissioned), they’re not candidates either. They are suitors, each wooing Lord Sugar for the opportunity to invest in their prospective enterprise. I can see a link to the ability to build and market a brand, but the ferreting about in scrapyards and the flogging stuff that’s beyond your ken has to stop. Who goes into a new business to sell something they have no knowledge of? Especially when the business’ product is something they have designed.

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The Apprentice, Episode 9: Old Wine in New Bottles

In showing that – in real life – winning is sometimes a matter of losing less thoroughly than the others, the episode has sounded a rare note of actual reality. By avoiding a mercenary ‘counting the float’ judgement, it’s also chosen to avoid making decisions on the basis of a very flaky simulation of actual business practice. As a recruitment practice example, I’m still scratching my head a little. Steve and Jenna should both have been shown the door in no uncertain manner, preferably by having their heads slammed into one. Of all the contestants, only Gab emerged with any real glory by making a good contribution despite circumstances. Nick’s lack of questioning of the slant of the website should have attracted more attention. Jade continued to be better at criticising others than offering a better alternative. Ricky’s input was fine, but his faith in Steve and Jenna was misguided and he needed to rule with a firmer fist. Adam ‘choreographed’ an uninspiring video: he didn’t mess up, but it didn’t strengthen his case either.

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