The Apprentice 2013

2013 proves to be a classic year for this long running show

2013’s series of The Apprentice has been the best one for some time managing to successfully mimic the pattern of a tv drama springing several surprises and coming up with some interesting characters. It also scores because it remains one of the few series of this type where the viewer gets no vote and if forced to listen to people who know what they’re talking about even if that does often manifest itself in Lord Sugar’s barely literate pronouncements OK. 
Lord Sugar tries out some Zumba moves

2013 then brought us two female finalists which must have had Lord S quaking in his shiny shoes having just been sued by a previous female winner. He seems to get on with the blokes better- in fact his clear favourite to win this year was Neil Clough who matched the legendary football manager for self belief. `Cloughie` as even Lord S started to call him (he never resorts to nicknames) was easily the most capable candidate through the various tasks with a steely eye fixed on the prize.

Unfortunately his business plan was rubbish. He wanted to help people sell their houses on their own. The reasoning behind this concept- he’d done it. In case anyone thought he’d forgotten estate agents existed he also wanted them to get involved. You could see the blood drain from Lord S’s face as this spectacularly unviable idea was paraded before him prompting the most apologetic firing the show has ever seen. The other male semi- finalist Jordan had already actually set up his business with a mysterious third party so he was dumped as well. With Lord S seemingly not knowing that people like to Zumba (or indeed what Zumba is) Francesca’s dance related idea was ditched leaving just Leah Totton and Luisa Zissman in the final.

Anyone cynical enough to think they made it through because they were the most attractive missed their razor sharp business sense. Leah- a doctor in real life which seems a rather precious occupation to want to throw away- was not one of those candidates who waffle. Her focus remained sharp. Luisa on the other hand came over as even bossier than Neil and seemed to fall out with everyone. Yet often she was right and when it came to the round where they were selling things on a market stall her strengths became obvious as the other team floundered with bizarre crockery.

The two finalists jostle for position. Leah (right) won because she out stared Lord Sugar

The tasks this year seemed designed to make good television, unlike some of the duller ones of recent series. An early one had the teams rushing around Dubai looking for items whose name they could not pronounce and whose function they could only guess at. Amusingly the candidate who had actually lived there was the one to go on this task. Another week saw them tasked with inventing an away day for business people. Anyone who’s been on a motivational course or weekend retreat will know just how teeth grindingly patronising and embarrassing these things can be and the candidates managed to capture that. Other highlights included setting up and promoting a dating site and creating a new packaged meal. In both these tasks Alex shone for the wrong reasons. His bizarre Welsh idea for the food is already a legend and his performance in the dating video is actually  properly funny as Lord S would put it.

The show’s central motifs have become more exaggerated than ever. The phone to get the candidates out of bed- they all appear to live together Big Brother style in an expensive London house- are earlier and there is always someone different up and about to answer it even at 5am. Lord S’s entrances are grander and he keeps everyone waiting even longer in lines like a school assembly; even Nick and Karen are starting to look a little peeved at that. His assessments are more corrosive than ever as his thoughts on a piece of furniture one of the teams had designed and a strange item another put on their market stall demonstrate. When he gets tired of them, he still says “I don’t wanna hear any more” and his response to an impassioned plea from candidates is a bored “mmmm.” The losing team still get sent to the tiniest café in the world who must be grateful for at least a handful of customers each year. In fact one suspects this isn’t a real café at all as a careless exterior shot seemed to locate it on what looked suspiciously like a film studio. We already know the boardroom isn’t really Lord S’s boardroom apparently- but is the secretary who says “Lord Sugar will see you now” really a secretary?

There was one new thing this year when a team leader resigned half way through a task but the often argumentative team discussions made for interesting results. With no public vote none of the candidates necessarily need to come across as nice and any talk of “my journey” is restricted to the end of the process. Thus they can be their unpleasant, self-centred selves and it is always very watchable.

In the end, Doctor Leah was the winner, her business proposition involving ethically concerned cosmetic enhancement selected by Lord S despite his doubts that he would get himself into hot water (you could tell he’ll relish the fight). Luisa’s baking idea was a safer bet but rather like the dancing, someone of Lord S’s age and experience can hardly be expected to realise how popular baking and dancing are at the moment. Perhaps if Luisa had combined the two she’d have won.

For a programme that people thought was past it’s sell by date (this was the ninth series) the 2013 run has been vintage, one of the top three according to some who’ve watched them all and now people are looking forward to next year’s. Being a proponent of the “smell what sells” Lord S must know too that the concept still has strong legs. Now if only someone could come up with a business plan with the tagline `Sell What Smells`

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