Life & Culture

Apprentice Watch: My advice? Never be afraid to look stupid

Michael Sophocles on The Apprentice


I have always tried to live life without fear. My friends have often said that I must be either very brave or very stupid and, on reflection, I think my antics over the past 26 years have fallen into both boxes.

My time on The Apprentice certainly reflected my fearless side, but I knew there would be moments on the show when I would come across as a prize idiot. To accept your faults, no matter how embarrassing they are, is an integral part of being a success on the show, and in business generally. Sir Alan is looking for a candidate who can be objective and honest about their flaws.

But there is something far more important at stake then winning his affections. To regret is to suffer. I approached every task happy to make a fool of myself as long as I could look back on the 10 weeks and feel I gave everything I had.

Of course, there were times when I watched myself and my toes curled with sheer humiliation. But that is a small price to pay for some tremendous times and some priceless memories.

Why am I telling you this? To explain why it is absolutely pointless for candidates to go on The Apprentice with the aim of being cautious. Sure, at the start of the process, faced with an intimidating and alien environment, it is wise to go easy. But when you are given the chance to express your personality in front of millions of television viewers, you should damn well make sure that you grab the opportunity.

This week’s boardroom casualty was a prime example of someone who failed to do that. Howard Ebison may be a fundamentally decent guy, he may well be an efficient businessman, but I am sure his presence on the show will be forgotten in the time it takes to say “you’re fired”.

Having said that, his departure was the culmination of one of the most enjoyable episodes for some time. The two teams were told by Sir Alan to pick products to sell live on a television shopping channel, a task which has been done before with humorous consequences. Although being project manager at this stage is really an irrelevance, it is worth noting that the leaders here were Howard and the consistently reliable Yasmina.

This task, similar to the one last week, is all about choosing products that will be attractive to the channel’s audience. It is also crucial for the salesperson to stay calm under the pressure of presenting on TV. Not easy.

Clearly relishing the challenge was the increasingly entertaining James McQuillan. In a year where the candidates have been severely lacking in charisma and humour, he has been one of the few who has made me laugh. I can recognise when Sir Alan has a soft spot for someone, and James has defiantly had a lot of joy playing the likeability card with the millionaire.

The show itself was highly amusing, featuring enjoyable slip-ups from the candidates and a reasonably emotional boardroom where, it has to be said yet again, the right person got the boot.

It was on this same week a year ago that I was fired, but after my final confrontation with Sir Alan, I knew I had done all I could to stay. I took risks, I had confidence in myself and I had a personality that shone through. As soon as Sir Alan labelled Howard a “Steady Eddie”, I knew he was a gonner. There is nothing more of a turn-off than someone who stays in their comfort zone, and for me, Howard has all the makings of a corporate cog.

So we are left with the final five. The female force is apparent with no fewer than four women reaching this stage, leaving only James to represent the men. Out of this group I can only see three candidates who are good enough to win — Lorraine, Yasmina and Kate. James, affable as he is, does not have enough business substance, and Debra is just not the sort of person I could imagine anyone wanting to work for.

Still, when it comes to the interview round, things can be disclosed that change your view of someone in an instance. Stand by for revelations.

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