THINK back to the early days of The Apprentice on the BBC. There were a hungry and ambitious mix of entrepreneurs fighting for a dream job across Sir Alan Sugar’s companies. Based on the rounds of a job interview, the process was laser-focused on whittling down capable candidates with a bit of TV magic thrown in.
The sorts of candidates that made it onto screens? Some of the best brains in Britain. You had Property Developers, Investment Bankers, Financial Analysts, Estate Agents, Lawyers, Consultants, Lecturers and even a Quantum Physicist. The personalities that were involved were engaging but also extremely intelligent. Series one was of course won by Tim Campbell who is now one of the on-screen advisors to Lord Sugar.
The likes of Saira Khan and TalkTV broadcaster James Max battled it out, both attempting to run intellectual rings around each other. Series two infamously had Ruth Badger in the final against the outspoken Michelle Dewberry. Series three winner Simon Ambrose went onto do amazing things in his chosen field. Adam Hosker might have been “slow, slow, slow” according to Katie Hopkins, but some of the new personalities make him look more like a Porsche sports car with a Turbo engine.
We look at who is making the cut now and gone are the days of razor-sharp business minds. In the latest series alone we have multiple wellness brand owners, two pie makers, two fitness fanatics as well as a jewellery maker. Not unrespectable, but the casting process has certainly gone in a very different direction.
Back in her season Luisa Zissman seemed like a breath of fresh air. In her audition tape she declared: “I’m not one for corporate jargon, I just do what I do.” On the programme she enthralled and entertained viewers with her philosophy: “I have the energy of a Duracell bunny, the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit, and a brain like Einstein.” Since then it has felt like bosses have just tried to get the most entertaining contestants possible, rather than the most capable.
Gen Z social media users often joke about the corporate environment and how some offices have the ‘personality hire’, lazy people with big personalities that are there just to lighten up the place. But for at least the last three series, that feels like it could have been nearly the whole cast.
In 2024, viewers were subjected to scenes where the seemingly incompetent contestants mistook dessert crumble with fishcake breadcrumbs.
The results were worse than disastrous and felt utterly cringeworthy – the ensuing chaos left me wanting to smash my TV in both rage and bewilderment. The once crème of the crop of entrepreneurs have been reduced a selection of Love Island wannabes that fancy themselves a place on a business show to get some air time and maybe some promotion for their Instagram brand.
Over the years the prize has of course changed too. A £250k investment is a lot of money, but it’s nothing in the £1.137billion fortune of Lord Sugar. Often now the winners buy him out in under two years after winning the process. The reputation of his companies and businesses are no longer in the line of fire. This effectively means the pressure is off to find a suitable candidate for the end, and there is far more emphasis on milking the process itself and getting the most entertainment value out of it.
The interview segments are less about actually scrutinising the individual credentials of the candidates, instead it’s an full-blown assault as the likes of Claude Littner make an example of their shortcomings by grilling them before kicking them it. Without a corporate job as the prize, the priorities of the show have completely changed, to the point where they are unrecognisable from the early days. The factual element has mostly gone out of the window in favour of a purely entertainment-first approach.
Previous contestants have also spoken out about the process itself. Just this week former contestant Ryan-Mark Parsons told The Sun that he felt some of the contestant’s business plans were completely fake, and only constructed for the purposes of the show. He revealed: “A lot of them were total bulls*****s and clearly they had ulterior motives when entering the show. Most of their business plans seemed to be as hollow as their performances on the show. In fact, some were completely made up purely for the programme.”
It seems to me that the show has lost its way over the years and is unwatchable now. Negotiation and bartering has been replaced by reality TV-inspired rows. Most of the time it’s not about which teams win the tasks, it’s about which team loses by a lower margin. Rather than being the best, it’s who is the least shambolic.
If The Apprentice is going to be taken even a little bit seriously in the future, it should go back to basics and focus on actual business. Otherwise, the audience might say … you’re fired!
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