The brilliance of The Apprentice stems from its ability continually to supply its audience with the unpredictable. It is a winning formula as far as I am concerned.
But at the risk of sounding like the dull science teacher Noorul Chaudhary, that formula seems to have been tampered with.
This week’s task set by Sir Alan was all about product identity and advertising. These types of challenges always rely on the candidates displaying enough creativity to produce a strong brand coupled with an entertaining promotional campaign.
It is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off, as my dear friend Raef found out to his cost in last year’s series.
Most people fail to find the necessary creative spark and seize up completely (witness dreary Howard Ebison and Mona Lewis), while others throw themselves whole-heartedly into a totally misconceived idea (step forward Philip Taylor, doing his best in this series to carry on where Raef and I left off with last year’s tissue advert task).
The two project managers this week were appropriate choices. Leading team Ignite we had the self-proclaimed “rough tough cream puff” American Kimberley Davis. Directing team Empire was the attractive Kate Walsh.
Both had been largely background furniture in the first four weeks, so I was fascinated to see how they would fare, ready for a decent match between two ferocious contenders. It turned out to be more like Manchester United versus Brady Maccabi.
Kate led her team with conviction and diplomacy. She controlled some strong characters with effortless charm.
Kimberley, however, was the opposite, showing leadership qualities of a novice, and failing to control her team, continually arguing with the peculiar Lorraine Tighe.
I could tell from the outset that Ignite would crash and burn, and even the perverse pleasure of seeing total strangers at each others throats failed to provide the usual entertainment.
Perhaps I was suffering an attack of nostalgia. When Raef got fired for a task not dissimilar to this one, viewers were outraged. They saw him as reality TV’s answer to Moses and blamed me for ousting him to save my own reputation. People bought into us emotionally because we built up a strong relationship in the space of an hour only for it to be cruelly dismantled. What’s more, the outcome was always in doubt.
When Kimberley got fired I felt utter indifference, because it was all so disappointingly predictable. Still, next week should see the return of the surprise element — well, I hope so anyway.