The Apprentice: There’s no Business like Show-Business

Since it started in 2005, I’ve been a committed viewer of The Apprentice. Critics argue that the programme has somewhat lost its way in recent years, that the ‘candidates’ are there for the media exposure rather than the job itself. When I think about who I would have hired out of this year’s candidates I tend to agree.

Anyone who watched this year’s series will have cringed as much as I did when Joanna Riley failed to name the companies owned by Lord Sugar, let alone explain the nature of his business. Her ignorance was exposed during the interviews episode: a highly grueling, highly entertaining stage of the process, accordingly saved for the climactic semi-final. I don’t know of many organizations that would leave it to the penultimate stage of a lengthy application process to clarify a candidate’s knowledge of their business. Then again, there’s no business like show-business. With fifteen minutes of fame guaranteed, are any of them genuinely interested in the job they’re applying for?

To be fair, I was impressed by both finalists in this year’s series. With his monotone voice and dull delivery, it would be difficult to accuse Chris Bates of entering the process with hopes of being the next big TV personality. Unlike Stuart Baggs, he never made big claims about what he could achieve, but spoke frankly when confronted in the boardroom. Like Jamie Lester, he demonstrated some excellent business decisions, but avoided countering these with business blunders. Likewise, Stella English outshone her opponents. Her management skills stood out in the second episode, where she effortlessly led a team of egotistical men to success, and she continued to impress throughout.

Of the two, Stella would also have been my winner – her consistency, determination, and business experience far outweighed Chris’ reliance on his academic record. Where Joanna failed at the interview stage, Stella emphasized that she was there for the job alone.  Stella joins Lord Sugar’s organization as the only current employee recruited via The Apprentice. None of the previous winners remain, most having left to pursue other careers, some even in TV.

For all its scripted lines and careful editing, I maintain that The Apprentice makes great television. Whether it’s an effective method of recruiting committed employees remains to be seen.