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The Apprentice

I watched a bit of The Apprentice on the BBC last night, the show featuring UK tycoon Sir Alan Sugar, who among other things owns a large stake in Tottenham Hotspur FC. The programme, like the American version, is engrossing and it nicely builds up the tension as Sugar confronts his teams of wanna-be businessfolk with their performance and fires one of them.

I have mixed views overall about the show. As pure entertainment, it succeeds in drawing the viewer in, although I am not sure in fact how well it really explains the qualities needed to be a good entrepreneur. The message seems to be that business is a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game in which if some people win, others must lose. Which is wrong since everyone benefits from trade, otherwise why else trade in the first place? If a person who is smarter than me gets a job I covet, then the overall economic pie gets bigger than it otherwise would, so we all benefit, even though I might feel disappointed.

The Apprentice also seems to celebrate aggression to a considerable degree, and yet businessmen and women in my experience come a cropper if they stop listening to what their customers want and refuse to learn from experience. A degree of humility is actually smart. A quality I do not see much of in the show is that of sheer courage in taking business risks, something that is not sufficiently appreciated except by writers such as George Gilder.

I wonder whether Sugar (what an ill-suited surname he has!) is really a great advocate of business, at least as far as this show goes. Yes, I can admire how he rose from nothing in London’s East End to become one of Britain’s richest men (he has a net personal worth of 800 million pounds, according to the TV commenter), but he comes across as a bit of a braggart, the sort of bore one might encounter in a pub bragging to his mates about how ‘ard he is and how ruthless he can be. Yawn. I suspect that many of the greatest businessmen, while undoubtedly workaholics, ruthless and driven people, have to be able to rub along with other people. Maybe in Britain’s anti-business culture someone like Sugar stands out and he feels the need to put himself about.

Or perhaps Sugar is just hamming it up for the cameras and is a delightful fellow. You can never tell with these sort of ‘Reality TV’ shows. I would certainly watch some of the other shows in the series.

23 comments to The Apprentice

  • 1327

    I don’t normally watch any of the reality TV shows but this one is an exception. Part of the enjoyment for me is seeing the types of people I normally detest (for instance the ones who manage to use the phrase “value added” in every sentence) set at each others thorats. You find as the series goes on these people are expelled from the show and the last few remaining seem to be nice well rounded people. Series 2 may be different however as the producers appear to have selected more extreme character types to put in the group than there were in series 1.

    Also unusually I thought the British series was far better than the original US series.

  • GCooper

    Alan Sugar?

    I don’t give a damn what size his stash of loot may (or may not) be. I look at the staggering success of the Amstrad e-mailer, cast round in search of an Amstrad anything in the stores, recall what he did to the once proud Viglen computer brand and end-up wondering whether wires haven’t been crossed at the BBC.

    Perhaps they’d really meant to send him an invitation to the Antiques Roadshow?

  • 1327

    GCooper – I take it you have also had dealings with Viglen’s so called after-sales dept 🙁 Viglen supply most of the British public eductation sector with PC’s which must be very good business for them.

  • Bernie

    This programme and others of it’s ilk, such as the Dragons, present a lefty view of business. Whether Sugar hams it up or not he comes across in the short spots I’ve seen as a nasty man and certainly not as a hero which he is, perhaps even in spite of himself.

    It is television after all.

  • Bernie

    I don’t think either program presents business in a left-wing light. I like The Apprentice because it shows that business is just as full of incompetents and annoying idiots as any government dept. Should give people watching a lot of hope that a business career is for them.

    It’s also a great program to play ‘Baywatch Bingo’. You remember, every time a good bikini shot came on from your particular girl, you had to drink a shot of vodka. Now each of you picks a contestant, and every time they utter a Dilbertesque corporatism, you drink. Watch out for pearlers such as “lets run it up the flag pole”, “looks good from 36,000 feet”, “strategic benefits”, “leverage my strengths”, “lets blue sky it”, bla bla.

  • mbe

    The Apprentice may suffer from ‘second series’ syndrome: I enjoyed the first series as the innovative approach meant people appeared to be genuine and interested in business. Admittedly most contestants did have a larger than average ego, which possibly attracted them to the camearas and not Amstrad.
    The second influx do appear to have been chosen more for the cameras, particularly Syed and Jo.

    The programme that follows the The Apprentice on a Wednesday night , The Armstrongs, will have anyone who enjoys Dilbertesque humour rolling in the aisles. There’s a clip via the above link but be warned if you opt for any bingo games, you’ll need gallons of vodka!

  • Robert Schwartz

    To me the jig was up on “The Apprentice” in the US when a magazine ran a photo spread of the “Girls of the Apprentice” clad only in scanty bits of lingerie. They were clearly young women who had spent many more hours in the gymnasium than the office.

  • asan

    Series 2 may be different however as the producers appear to have selected more extreme character types to put in the group than there were in series 1.

  • riley

    Sugar gave up his share of Spurs after receiving death-threats.

  • watcher in the dark

    The Apprentice? It’s television so we sohouldn’t worry about it too much.

    It has the usual reality show mix of wholesale manipulation, pretence and artifice, a chosen-for-conflict bunch of contestants (and some early fall-by-the-wayside saps), lots of editing to give the viewer more or less of any one person or situation, engineered dramas and all topped off with an artificial setting.

    Still, in spite of all those things, it’s good fun to watch.

  • Verity

    Oh, god, mbe – that Jo looks like a blonde Anita Roddick! Spells her name Jo. Leftie. She sees herself, I am sure, as “unpretentious and grounded”. And she’s a “human resources” manager. Give me a friggin’ break! And Sayeed looks fat, oily and foolishly smug. That hair gell is a bad mistake. Although, so is Jo’s Anita Roddick hair.

    That said, I wish I could watch it.

  • mbe

    Verity, I’ll ask around for a download for you as she is so much more annoying in motion! True horror show.

    Sayed is smugness personnified but, fortunately, Sugar had him sussed in the first episode.

    It’s car crash tv!

  • I am quite happy to believe that there are plenty of bastards in business and that plenty of them are successful.

    That’s one of the strengths of a free society – it gets its bastards to do something useful. Whereas in an unfree society…

  • Verity

    mbe – Any fragments much appreciated. I like car crash TV. Otherwise, what the hell would be the point of television?

  • I saw one episode of Apprentice. Does the show go out of its way to find whiners, backstabbers, liars, and spineless doormats?

  • You’re spot on with your comment about Sugar the braggart. The demise of his beloved emailer seems to show that he lacks business judgement, though his (apparent) success as an entrepreneur suggests that supreme self-belief is more important than good business judgement. How utterly depressing.

  • Adrian

    I have never met Sugar so don’t know what he is really like.

    However, he comes across on the show as wooden, awkward and unnatural when playing the fire-breathing dragon, which suggests he is indeed hamming it up for TV.

    I recall last year he even secretly offered jobs to the losers, presumably thinking that they still had employable qualities even if they did not deserve to win the contest on the show. This gives some clues his private thoughts and conduct do not mirror his TV act.

  • I sussed Jo before the show began. Harridan.

    What is scary is not just that such people infest corporate life root and branch and have ‘life or death’ power over people and product, but that their superiors allow them to exist, nay, thrive.

    My money is on Tuan

  • mbe

    (and anyone else for that matter!)

    The Beeb have released episode 1 online here


  • Verity

    mbe – Thank you kindly. A notice comes up saying “Unfortunately, the content of BBC2 is only available in the UK.” But thank you for trying!

  • Clemens

    Are you serious? There you have the apparently smartest, wittiest and business savvy young entrepreneurs, (well, that’s what they say about themselves) and then you get to see something like last night’s show! These people even make common sense seem uncommon and lack of everything Sir Alan Sugar could be looking for in an apprentice. It is truly unbelievable that 13 “business people” manage to pitch (let’s not talk about design) a calendar without any idea of wholesale!?

    If I was Sir Alan I would have fired them all last night. A cast like this makes an engaging programme really look foolish.

    Sir Alan can not seriously consider employing one of these wimps at the end of the show, can he?!

  • this is quite a good reality show, people will learn great from it hard copy: The Apprentice!

  • ryan

    The Rivers women are facking absolutely the worst I’ve EVER seen. I really didn’t like them before but after this I’m repulsed. Annie Duke is a close second, only because you can peel her face off like the Rivers sisters.