What were you doing in 2004? I bet you probably weren’t watching the first series of The Apprentice. Only 2.02 million people tuned in on BBC Two to watch Lord Sugar look to hire a new employee for his multi-million pound business when the format launched 10 years ago.
How things have changed a decade on. The show has grown enormously in popularity: after the second series, the show moved to BBC One and last night’s series opener attracted over 6 million viewers. Sir Alan became Lord Sugar and Karren Brady replaced Margaret Mountford as one of the mogul’s aides. The prize also changed to a cash injection of £250,000 into one of the candidate’s businesses to become joint business partners with Sugar.
Ten Years of Selling
You might think that by the tenth series of the hit show, audiences would have seen it all. Over-inflated egos, painful one-liners and idiotic business decisions were all present in Episode 1 as expected but there were still some ‘firsts’. This year, Lord Sugar decided on a bumper crop of candidates, opting for 20 rather than the usual 16 and promising multiple multiple firings (double repetition intended).
Another first for the show was Lord Sugar requesting that a team change its name. Nurun, in the girl’s team, proposed the name ‘Decadence’ because it sounded like ‘decade’ to tie in with a decade of the show. No-one knew what it meant (it’s to do with a decline or a decay in morals) but they chose it anyway.
Knowing, or at least having some knowledge of, how to sell must be a prerequisite for The Apprentice and in this first task, candidates were asked to sell products from the last 10 series for maximum profit. Sounds simple enough, but not for this bunch.
With 10 people in the standard initial Boys vs Girls split, it was difficult to really meet all of the candidates in such a brutal edit. Sadly, the stronger, more annoying personalities were given more air-time. It was definitely a case of too many cooks for episode 1 and perhaps the next couple of episodes if Lord Sugar doesn’t get his finger out for a mass firing soon.
Products ranged from flowers to fish-shaped balloons but it was Chiles in the Boys’ ‘Team Summit’ that found himself first in the firing line after his misguided decision to leave the printed t-shirts unsold.
The real appeal of the show is perhaps not the business side of things, but the interesting personalities (or as The Guardian calls them, ‘contossertants’) that we will grow to love and hate over the coming weeks. This year’s batch of contestants include a Columbian who refers to himself in the third person, a 6’7 colourful suit-wearer who thinks a £50k salary aged 40 is a nightmare and an over-excited multi-business nicknamed ‘Del Boy’.
Steven, a Canadian Property Manager, is destined for a sponsorship deal with M&S after the series with his line “It’s not just a potato, it’s an experience” when trying to flog some spuds. He is sure to provide most of the laughs with his outspoken nature and diva-ish tone.
Project Manager for the girls, Sarah, is already firmly established as the villain of the crop. She seemed to lack any kind of business integrity: she thought chopping lemons would sell better than whole ones, she split up her team down the middle using her hand and refused to help make coffees despite a long queue, claiming she needed to concentrate on ‘project managing’.
What’s worse is that she doesn’t seem to have caught up with the latest wave in feminism, saying that people will buy from women because “they are more attractive to look at” and insisting on short skirts and nice make-up for her team. She is also seen calling one of her female candidates “bossy” in a clip from a later episode. Pretty hopeless and already deeply unpopular.
It beggars belief how some of these candidates even made it to the final 20 with their ill-judged business decisions and childish comments. It’s almost as if the applicants are encouraged to be pompous and arrogant in the way they present themselves. An approach which does nothing for encouraging entrepreneurship among the general public.
What once showed signs of being a serious business programme, is swiftly being categorised as an ‘entertainment’ or even ‘comedy’ show about how NOT to do business. I still don’t understand why they thought they had to spend money to make money and the lack of creativity amongst some of them is shameful for a future business leader.
But there’s no point getting worked up about it by trying to take it seriously. Most of the time, it is fascinating and hilarious to watch the pickles the candidates get themselves into and the dramatic boardroom bust-ups that are unreflective of real-life. Bring it on.
Welcome back, The Apprentice. We’ve missed you.