In the firing line

The Apprentice is back, undoubtedly replacing the social life of thousands, as once again business hopefuls from across the country battle for the prestigious prize of working with business tycoon Sir Alan Sugar. The fifth series looks set to top the previous four, with more dramatic contestants, bigger challenges and even more classic one liners courtesy of the infamous host.

The Apprentice, which calls itself the ‘interview from hell’, is a competition with the ultimate prize of a £100,000 job working with Sir Alan Sugar. At first glance, The Apprentice seems like something that only business-types and parents would have any interest in, but I’ve been hooked since I watched a few episodes from the second series.

The fifth season starts of with fifteen contestants (one contestant bottled before the series even started) who compete in two teams at a variety of business-minded tasks. The losing team each week must enter the ‘boardroom’, A TV set decorated as a mocked-up business boardroom, where Sir Alan and his helpers Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford interview the losing team, ultimately leading to the famous dismissal.

What really makes the show so special, though, are the mistakes, which occur with shocking frequency. From thinking the cost of a £700 scent is actually £5, to suggesting that £300 is an appropriate fee for cleaning three cars, to the horrific idea that togas are attractive, this year’s slip ups make for great entertainment.

Of course, the show also puts a huge emphasis on Sir Alan himself, the self-made billionaire renowned for his gruff attitude and puns such as “Never mind making soap, this sounds like a bleeding soap opera”.

With a new ten minute opening and numerous scenes containing Sir Alan’s helicopter, we are constantly reminded that Sir Alan is the real star, and it is him that has to make the final decision. I find great irony, though, in watching through the eyes of Nick and Margaret. With brilliant come downs from Nick, and Margaret’s incredible raised eyebrows, it’s easy to see that they know exactly where the contestants are going wrong, making things all the more humorous.

This year’s contestants don’t deviate much from the line-ups of previous seasons. There’s the cocky annoying one in the form of Ben, an angry and ambitious trainee stockbroker. He definitely makes the show entertaining, with claims like, “To me, making money is better than sex,” which, considering his work so far, probably says more about his sexual prowess that work ethics. Somehow he has escaped the boardroom twice already, which I can only assume is because he is needed to keep up conflict and drama in the show, rather than because of any actual intelligence.

Then there is Kate Walsh, the obligatory hot one. Reminiscent of Sex and The City’s Samantha, her ballsy approach sets her apart from some of the other contestants.

The worst contestant still in the running is clearly Noorul. A former science teacher, he seems to lack any business acumen, sales skills or leadership skills. In fact, I struggle to see how he got this far, and am certain he will be fired as soon as Sir Alan gets him into the boardroom. My favourite so far is Yasmina, the grim-faced London restaurateur. Despite looking a bit like Lord Elrond from the Lord of the Rings, she seems to generally have the focus and intelligence needed to succeed in the tasks.

The tasks so far have ranged from catering, to cleaning, to creating a piece of sports equipment. The contestants have been challenged in a huge variety of ways, but it seems the key way they fail each and every time is the costing.

I have no idea why so many of these contestants have applied for a role as a business apprentice when it appears that none of them can use a calculator. Anita, Rocky and Paula were all fired due to their inability to control costs, and Paula even stated, “I’m useless with finances”, which begs the question of why she thought she would succeed in the first place. Sir Alan’s cutting response, “You know how to work out redundancy on a calculator, don’t you?” was brilliant.

This series of the Apprentice is set to be even better than the last. And hey, during the busy exam period, at least this is one programme I can claim is slightly “educational”.

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