The Malcontent On: The Apprentice

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The Apprentice is back on our screens for a seventh season, and judging by the first couple of episodes, the makers of the show have yet again excelled themselves. Each year, they somehow manage to select a more absurd cast of candidates than ever before. This year they seem to have succeeded in finding the sixteen most egotistical and, when it comes down to it, most unpleasant people in Britain (seventeen if you include Lord Sugar). Within minutes, a whole new set of preposterous metaphors for how amazing each of the candidates think they are has been invented, which will undoubtedly be repeated ad nauseam as the weeks go on.

With each series, the amount of airtime devoted to the actual tasks has gradually been eroded, as the famous boardroom scenes have become longer and longer. Once in the boardroom, it usually takes a matter of seconds for the contestants to descend into the type of mud-slinging that would not be out of place on Jeremy Kyle. Business acumen, or intelligence of any kind, so far as I can tell, has very little to do with who comes out on top in these verbal contests. It’s all bravado, backstabbing and bitchiness. You can practically smell the testosterone. And that’s just the girls’ team.

The Apprentice has gone the way of all reality TV. I remember when the show started back in 2005, it was a genuinely exciting and new concept for a reality TV series. It taught you a little bit about the world of business in an entertaining way, and it had a varied cast of characters. Some, even then, were obnoxious and arrogant. But there were others, who were charming rather than just bullish, unostentatiously competent rather than just self-promoting. There were characters you could like as well as characters you could like to hate. However, like all reality TV, its sole appeal now seems to derive from its relentless focus on the most vulgar, basest aspects of human nature. And of course there’s the sheer ludicrousness of the bragging itself, which makes for bizarrely compelling entertainment. The show has effectively become a parody of itself.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with all this, except that The Apprentice still claims to be in some sense better than Big Brother or Jeremy Kyle. Lord Sugar, we are told, is passionate about getting young people excited by the idea of going into business. The show is supposed to give us an insight into what it takes to succeed in the cut-throat world of business. All I can say is, if what it takes is what these people have, then god help us.

Richard Roberts