Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Apprentice: bad apples

Welcome to the first edition of a weekly spot on The Apprentice, series II. The UK version stars Sir Alan Sugar and his sidekicks Nick and Margaret, with 14 wannabe bootlickers vying for a job with the Big Grump himself.

Before we start, I should confess that I tried out for last season's show, and got through the first 4 interview stages before being shown the door (sans punchline). As it turns out, I wouldn't have been able to take part because filming was over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and in Sugar's immortal words from last year, "well I'm Jewish and I couldn't give a toss". During the course of the interview day, I chatted to dozens of other candidates, but one stood out as being particularly unexciting and process-driven, fitting the stereotype that BP folk have of Shell employees.

That was Lindsay, and she got on the show, whilst some of the more interesting and clearly innovative people I met never did. She garnered (according to a Daily Telegraph interview with Saira, another fired wannabe) a reputation for steamrolling dissenters. Sir Alan fired her for her constant bleating about her beloved data (where was she when Shell "misplaced" a few hundred million barrels of reserves last year?) which led her to push the unloved semaphore game in her particular task, instead of following the wishes of her team and the kids who tried the toys.

I mention this because my first reaction on seeing this year's line-up was that most of them were lightweights. I was slightly wrong; some of them are (one of them will even be dismissed later in the series with "you're a lightweight and you're fired"), and some are just fragile and potentially slightly nuts. Is it mere coincidence that the candidate fitting that description most aptly is an HR Manager?

Anyway, onto my impressions of this week's episode. The task was to buy fruit at New Spitalfields and sell it on for the most profit at a market in Hackney.

Well, the girls won it by using their sexual charms and female allure to get their fruit for free and sell it in bulk, then got a bit cross when Sir Alan pointed out that this was not the kind of method taught either on an MBA course or at the Amstrad School of Barrow-Trading. Funny, I think that the girls are to be applauded for making this tactic work for them, as with perhaps a single exception, they have the personalities and physical attributes to counter even the largest overdose of Viagra.

The boys were led by Ben - charming but a bit too posh and polite; kind of how they carried out the task. They sold plenty, having bought it for a good price, but were collectively unimaginative and lacking any daring in how they went about the task under his management. He had several run-ins with Syed, the cocky upstart who is apparently obsessed with the A-Team, but ultimately was ousted instead of Syed or that nice but quiet Jewish chap, because he was dull and a bit feeble.

So the show was off to a good start - Jo is clearly unstable, Syed is going to get a fat lip from someone (my money's on Margaret landing a haymaker on his pretty little face), Nargis dug a hilarious hole for herself by using the argument that the fruit they sold was substandard, and will no doubt produce some other pearls in future weeks, and most of the others look fairly lightweight as mentioned. Except for Ansell and Paul, who are clearly heavyweight by body shape if not by intellect and acumen.

I look forward to watching sweet Sugar rooting out more bad apples in weeks to come...

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