Apprentice Watch: It’ll soon get ugly

The ex-candidate casts his expert eye over Sir Alan’s new crop of hopefuls as series five of the TV show begins.

By MichaelSophocles, March 26, 2009
Sir Alan Sugar and the candidates. Mona Lewis (far right) looks an early frontrunner, says Michael Sophocles

Sir Alan Sugar and the candidates. Mona Lewis (far right) looks an early frontrunner, says Michael Sophocles

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When I look back on my time on The Apprentice last year, I wish I had done things differently. But then again, I realise now that my mistakes were mostly down to a lack of experience; something, I think, for which I can be forgiven.

As I scan the latest bunch of Apprentice hopefuls, all vying for their chance to work for Sir Alan, I would like to think I am a little more clued up now — at least when it comes to this particular reality TV show. Judging from Wednesday’s series opener, all the 15 candidates were understandably petrified in their first boardroom encounter. If being confronted by Sir Alan was not enough to set their knees trembling, there was the awful prospect of spending the next 12 weeks teamed with a group of people they cannot trust but have to work with through gritted teeth and feigned smiles. I remember the terror so well.

Sir Alan’s introductory speech was as sharp as ever and the man was clearly in no mood for people who have the gift of the gab and little else. “I haven’t got time for people who talk a load of balls,” he growled. No change there, then.

One thing that must have struck him as he surveyed this group of wannabes was that they are a bunch of unattractive individuals. It is superficial I know, but someone went round with the ugly stick when casting for this series.

What was also noticeable was an unfamiliar international flavour with the presence of brash New Yorker Kimberly Davis and former Tanzanian beauty queen Mona Lewis. Stand by for some entertaining culture clashes.

To ease the candidates in gently, would Sir Alan make their first task simple and straightforward? What do you think? He asked them to do something some way beyond challenging — to start up a cleaning business from scratch. It was boys versus girls, with the team making the biggest profit the winners, and the inevitable sacking awaiting one member of the losing team.

At this early stage, I know that a candidate does not want to be squeezed out of the group by being too unassuming, but cannot be too forward either for fear of teammates labelling them an autocrat. Diplomacy — that is the name of the game,

Mona and Howard (Ebison, the “incredibly ambitious” retail manager from Surrey) volunteered themselves as project managers — a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. Both teams did reasonably well in tendering for the chance to scrub limos and Hummers. The boys even came up with a shoe-shining scheme (bright idea, Howard) .

You could see the cracks appear as the pressure mounted. The girls seem determined to focus on one-upmanship rather than teamwork. This, coupled with a rudimentary error from naïve Brummie Anita Shah, were the reasons the girls lost.

Poor Anita — all she did was what Mona told her to do and then not speak up when she realised the team had overspent on equipment. But in the boardroom debrief, Mona argued her corner with a passion and eloquence which Anita could not match. She was insipid all day, and Sir Alan always knows how candidates are performing. He has his spies. Her sacking was well deserved.

It is very early to pick out frontrunners and hopeless cases but I have a feeling that Majid Nagra is going to upset a few people if he stays in the competition. Nothing to do with his extravagant facial hair, everything to do with his evident sexist tendencies which he did not have the sense to hide.

Devious Debra Barr, a saleswoman and proud winner of her office’s “mouth of the year” title, will go far, but Sir Alan knows a rat when he sees one and she should ease off on the double-dealing. I have a strong liking for Mona. Despite losing the task, she defended herself valiantly against Sir Alan. But we will see. The great thing about The Apprentice is that you never know when a candidate will reveal their true colours — or whether they will even get the chance to.

The Apprentice, Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC1

Last updated: 1:39pm, March 26 2009