“Success and money motivate me. My first word wasn’t ‘Mummy’ – it was ‘money’”. This came from the deluded mouth of Shibby Robati, one of the latest bunch of wannabes to appear on The Apprentice (BBC1). The programme brings together sixteen of “Britain’s brightest business prospects” to compete for a job with a “six-figure salary” working for entrepreneur Lord Alan Sugar. Each week, the contestants are split into teams who compete to win a task, usually to promote and sell a product. Someone from the team which makes less money is ‘fired’ at the end of each episode, until Lord Sugar is left with his new apprentice. Contestants fall into two categories: those whose ego outweighs their talent, and those whose talent is outweighed by their ego. Take, for example, Stuart Baggs, presumably an eight-year old who’s sneaked onto the show, who boasted that “everything I touch turns to sold”. Or Melissa Cohen who, with all the self-awareness of concrete, said “I’m charismatic. I’m intelligent. I’m a damned good businesswoman. I’m at the top of my game and I’m unbeatable”, before she got fired in week four.
Laying into these charm-vacuums is easy because they put themselves forward and are therefore ‘fair game’. But any criticisms should be accompanied by a little guilt, because there’s something sad about how those taking part in The Apprentice have been shaped by the business world. Even allowing for the selective editing to emphasise their faults, none of the contestants are likeable. There’s hardly any warmth on display – you wouldn’t want to go for a pint with any of them. And if you did, instead of a chat they would start pitching to you about how they would market Guinness. Sugar-daddy Alan at least has some wit to lighten his boardroom eviscerations, but who would aspire to the iciness of his co-judges Nick Hewer and Karren Brady? Unfortunately, the young contestants have fallen for a narrow, corporate definition of ‘success’, which hinges on how sharp your suit is and how many people you can trample on. The result? A winner who is 20 percent mannequin and 80 percent smugness.