16 candidates begin their quest to win a business partnership with Alan Sugar
One of the remarkable things about the proliferation of reality contests on TV is the seemingly bottomless supply of goons to go on them. Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice both arrive on our screens next week, showing there are still plenty of showbiz wannabes out there. A few days before, on Wednesday March 21, The Apprentice returns for its eighth series. Surely there can’t be more besuited blowhards and ego-addled cliché-spouters out there who think they’re God’s gift to business? Fortunately for our viewing pleasure, there are. At least 16 of them, to be precise.
From the very start of next Wednesday’s series-opener, the boasts come thick and fast. “I’m the blonde assassin.” “I’m the master puppeteer.” “I’m like an animal and will roar my way to the top.” “I truly am the reflection of perfection.” Naturally, they're soon squabbling in the back of people carriers and making jaw-droppingly daft decisions, like all the other years.
This year’s candidates include a Bulgarian rollerblader, a showjumper, a shark-owner and two dyslexics. One has skated with Torville and Dean, another has played tennis against Tim Henman at Wimbledon. There’s even one named Ricky Martin who is a recruitment manger by day, professional wrestler by night.
The boss, Lord Sugar, is in typically pitbullish mood. “I’m not looking for a friend,” he tells the assembled hopefuls. “If I wanted a friend, I’d get a dog. I’m looking for the Marks to my Spencer, the Lennon to my McCartney.” Sadly, neither underpants nor Sixties pop figure in the first task. Instead, the two teams (Boys vs Girls, who are a particularly glamorous bunch this year) must start their own print business.
This year’s well-appointed accommodation is a four-storey townhouse in Bayswater, kitted out to resemble the Big Brother house. The candidates repair here with their wheely suitcases to come up with the traditional terrible team-names and try not to get elected project manager.
They’re soon coming up with terrible designs, over-spending, underselling, droning on about “margin” and dashing round London like headless chickens. One team has to refund a customer after selling stained, faulty goods. The other descend on a potential client “like a pack of baying hyenas”, as Sugar’s squinty sidekick Nick Hewer puts it.
When it comes to the boardroom face offs at the end, Sugar is on particularly fine form. At one point he barks tetchily: “You're talking like a bladdy City strategist. This was a two-bob outing. Buy a bit of stuff, print it, flog it. It’s not a takeover of Goldman Sachs.”
Yes, the Apprentice is back and as brilliantly, infuriatingly compelling as ever. As the narrator says at the climax: “One leaves. Fifteen remain. The battle for Lord Sugar’s £250,000… has begun.”