While watching tonight’s episode of The Apprentice, I worked out why I love this show so much. And by doing so, obviously exposed the formula for the success of the format.
Here’s what happens in The Apprentice: you take some of the most egotistical (but hapless) people in Britain’s business world. You let them run amok with a loosely-ordered task, failing to take instruction, failing to reach consensus and talking a whole lot of crap. In fact, you give them such free reign that when you bring them into the boardroom, it’s a shock to their respective systems when Alan Sugar shouts them down.
This exact thing happened when Synergy team leader Dan Harris walks into the boardroom. He’s so cocksure that he lounges in his seat…until Lord Sugar tells him to sit up straight. He’s not having an informal chat down the golf club now…
The Apprentice throws us right in at the deep end. This is the kind of show that introduces you to the candidates on the job. You’re getting to know them, essentially, by the mad, idiotic things they say at the start. Like:
- “Everything I touch turns to sold.” (Oh no, you did not just say that!)
- “I’m not just another corporate clone.” (Yes, you are actually…)
- “My first word wasn’t mummy, it was money.” (Hello, Yuppieman. How did you escape the 80’s?)
- “I am Stuart Baggs The Brand.” (Oh dear lord… *facepalm*)
Though with Alan Sugar throwing out his own dire warnings in the style of an early 90’s action hero, it’s hard to criticise. Sugar himself dropped this on the candidates: “It’s sink or swim, and I don’t do life jackets.”
The Task: Sausage Factory
The first task of the series was deliciously sadistic. Sugar calls the candidates to the boardroom at midnight and tells them they’re going to work overnight to manufacture sausages and then take them out to market the next day.
The teams are split by gender. The males call themselves Synergy, and the ladies pick Apollo for their name. Fair enough. We’re all so busy thinking up dirty sausage gags that this information is almost superfluous.
One apprentice in particular stands out straight away – Alex Epstein. This guy witters on in the back of a taxi cab about Britain’s Best Bangers. And every permutation of the concept that ends in the word bangers. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem aware that ‘bangers’ is a laddish word for a lady’s lady lumps. His colleagues in the car do know this important piece of information, so they unsuccessfully stifle their mirth.
Let’s whiz through the actual task. The girls make a risky move – they decide to tap the high-end of the market by making gourmet sausages which have 72% meat. The boys take the exact opposite approach and decide to make the cheapest ‘bangers’ they possibly can. They decide to pad their product out with a rusk mix that’s too dry to actually go through the sausage machine!
Highlights include – Synergy leader Dan Harris yelling orders at everyone without doing anything in particular himself. His colleague, crack salesman (meaning he thinks he’s great – not that he sells crack) Stuart Baggs aggressively attempts to shove his product at potential customers, scaring them away. It’s not long before Twitter has nicknamed him “Ball” Baggs.
Funniest moment in the whole ‘making the sausages’ bit was one of the guys yelling “Who’s doing the mincing?” I think if we were all honest, we hoped Graham Norton would walk in at that point…
The girls have a minor catfight when Melissa Cohen (who looks like she’s going to be the official ‘pushy madam’ this year) refuses to relinquish her customer to team leader Joanna Riley. Clearly intent on taking the full credit for closing the sale, Melissa shows a fantastic distrust of a team-mate and a lack of team spirit. That’s what puts her at the forefront of the Apprentice 2010 bitch list.
Despite their higher initial costs and even higher price point, the girls eventually win by a margin of only £15. They get sent off to enjoy the luxury apartment the BBC has put up for them.
Looks like the guys are about to get roasted (groan). The thing is, there’s really only one person who should feasibly be fired, and that’s team leader Dan Harris. He fingers his colleagues Stuart Baggs and Alex Epstein. Now, nobody likes Stuart “The Brand” Baggs, that much is obvious. He thinks way too much of himself but couldn’t close many sales. The problem for Dan is that he’d already been taken to task by Sugar for slouching in his seat at the boardroom table.
Wonderfully, Baggs and Harris bicker it out in the boardroom as Alan Sugar and the others look bemused. It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to work out who’s to blame for the team’s failure and he fires Dan remarkably quickly, but not without telling his flunkies that Stuart Baggs is living on borrowed time. He claims that he almost sent them both home. A double-firing? That would have been a beautiful Apprentice moment.
Tonight was a reminder why this show is missed. Even though it feels a little too ‘edited’ at times, watching so many people with inflated egos fail at simple business tasks is delicious television. It’s actually much more fun to watch while on Twitter, watching people’s often hilarious reactions in realtime. The Apprentice, like The X Factor is simply brilliant event-driven TV, well suited to 140-character banter that actually enriches your enjoyment of the show.