Apprentice Watch: Reliving the moment when I knew I couldn't win

By MichaelSophocles, May 21, 2009
He worked like a Trojan, but a wooden horse led to Ben Clarke’s downfall

He worked like a Trojan, but a wooden horse led to Ben Clarke’s downfall

Waking up in the small hours of the morning, I felt entirely alone and deeply disheartened. I turned on the harsh hotel light and looked at my sorry excuse for a face in the bedroom mirror. In all of my 24 years I had never felt or looked so exhausted. Then, from outside my door, I heard two booming voices, one male, one female, both very familiar. They were banging on about what an exciting prospect going to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham was, and how delighted they were to have got hold of the right kind of wedding dresses. Their words resonated with a sense of accomplishment and the expectation of imminent victory.

It was at this moment — one year ago — that I knew I would never win The Apprentice. I had only to take in the optimism in the voices of Lee McQueen and Claire Young coming from across the corridor, and then stare at my own dishevelled features, to realise that I barely had the energy to shave, let alone go on to secure a job working for Sir Alan Sugar.

Lee and Claire were always going to get to the final. Not only were they the shrewdest of the candidates, but they also had an enduring love of whole the process that I could never fathom. Lee in particular astounded me — how happy he was competing even in tasks I thought he would hate.

When we were asked by Sir Alan to travel up to the bridal exhibition in Birmingham to sell wedding products, I was bored to tears just thinking about. I just could not get excited about selling dresses and cakes to brides-to-be. Lee, by contrast, was full of enthusiasm. It takes a real winner to be like that.

The memory of our wedding task came back to me this week as I watched the current crop of candidates deal with a similar mission. The teams were told to go to a baby exhibition and sell two products of their choosing to the public. It was an area that project managers Lorraine and James should have been comfortable with — both have young children.

As with our task, what matters is not how good your sales skills are, but how accurately you have matched the product to your potential customers. As soon as Ben and the dislikeable Debra chose to sell rocking horses, I knew they would struggle to find buyers and therefore cost their team dearly.

Seeing the pair of them desperately trying to make a sale reminded me painfully of Sara Dhada and I trying every conceivable way to offload the wedding cake we were saddled with.

As it turned out, it was a comfortable victory for Lorraines’ team — not because they were better at the sales patter, but because they had chosen better products to sell.

When I looked into the glazed eyes of Ben Clarke after he was given his marching orders by Sir Alan, I felt nothing but empathy for him. I have come across many viewers over the past couple of weeks who believe that Ben reminds them of a certain Michael Sophocles. I personally have not been able to see any resemblance other than the fact that we are both vertically challenged. However, after seeing this week’s episode, I have changed my tune.

Sir Alan has his favourites — I do not think anyone could disagree with that. Between him and me, there was a kind of mutual respect, and, I think, the same goes for Sir Alan and Ben.

However, the unfortunate Mr Clarke found himself in exactly the same position as I was after the wedding task. Having sold nothing and looking totally out of place, he relied upon his feisty spirit to save himself in the boardroom. Sadly for him, in Debra and James he was up against two far more sturdy characters than I ever encountered, and so he had to go.

In my boardroom battles, I always came up against people who were less equipped to handle themselves than I was. Consequently, I probably survived longer that I should have. In this series, the right people have always gone at the right time. From the point of view of the competition, that is as it should be, but I cannot help feeling that some of the entertainment value has gone with them.

The Apprentice, Wednesdays, BBC1, 9pm

Last updated: 2:47pm, May 21 2009