The Apprentice 2008 episode 1 review

The Apprentice UK is back, and ... the new contestants have to sell fish? Simon's struggling to learn their names...

Over in the States, The Apprentice has long since departed from its original brief. Instead of being a reality show with any kind of business message, it’s long since descended into a Donald Trump ego-stroke (to the point where his kids are his “eyes and ears”, and everything he deals with, including his alleged hairpiece, is “huge” and “the biggest in the world”), while the contestants are increasingly erratic and reality TV-savvy. It pretty much admitted defeat this year, by launching Celebrity Apprentice. At least everyone on that can admit that they’re there to try and be a star.

The kick-off of the fourth series of Apprentice UK showed some similar warning signs. A parade of people who had clearly seen every episode of The Apprentice ever broadcast gave a series of eyeball-rolling vox pops where they talked about “winning”, “money” and “not losing”. We had the man who would sacrifice people for cash. A woman blurting on about how she was the best salesperson in Europe. And then there was the toff, who they bring along usually so they can fire them in the first episode. A barrister-in-waiting, too. He could have saved himself some time and simply not turned up.

But what The Apprentice UK has is Sralan Sugar, a juggernaut of a man who, when he’s stopped banging on about how he’s been in business for 3473 years, and how he started by selling pilchards or something, makes great telly. A snarling, British dinosaur, and all the better for it, he’s – as usual – the main reason for watching. Sure, I’ve never met a person who’d like to work for the man, but that’s besides the point. He’s the star here, he knows he is, but he doesn’t have the same tendency to buff up his ego in the same manner of Donald Trump. This is a very good thing.

First episodes, when sixteen people are running around, rarely make for Apprentice gold, and the same was true here. It started with nobody wanting to be a project manager, until two people nudged their way forward. That’s to be expected, but it’s always amusing to watch the posturing loudmouths suddenly go quiet when they realise they may be in the firing line.

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The task itself was selling fish, and naturally people priced product incorrectly, started selling things really quickly, and misidentified some of the ex-sea residents they were trying to flog. Truthfully, if I had to flog fish, I’d be stuffed too. It’s all too well giving people a sheet of pictures to identify the critters by, but in the pictures there weren’t covered in ice, dead, and with their mouths open.

Cue lots of shouting, and eventually, a focus on the boys’ team (a dead giveaway they were about to lose). So you had a project manager chastising his troops mid-task, and a team splitting in two. Consider it more sowing the seeds for what lies ahead, as – apart from a board room bust-up – things are still relatively calm thus far. But there was still enough bluster and egos being battered to give the episode its merit.

The business moral of the story was quickly dealt with (fish sold too cheaply, fools), and then it was off to the last fifteen minutes in the boardroom, and the inevitable procession towards the toff being fired. Was it just me who thought this guy had a big arrow above his head all the way through? He didn’t seem to do well, but neither did much of his team, but as soon as you found out he had a masters, a double-barrelled surname and a bit of silly facial hair, it didn’t take Einstein to work out that Sralan Sugar material he was not.

And that’s the slight problem here. Because he’s the kind of guy, surely, who was included in the show just as cannon fodder. When The Apprentice first started, the contestants were far less knowing, and in a way, so were the producers. You could draw a slight Big Brother parallel, where the intrigue of the first two series gave way to mutants parading their way on the telly. The Apprentice isn’t galloping down that path, but you can only hope it’s chosen its contestants for reasons other than them wanting to be on the cover of Heat, or because they’ll be funny on the telly. The next few weeks will tell.

It’s hard to tell who’ll be fired next week, mainly because a) it’s the early stages, and b) nobody knows anyone’s name for a good week or two yet. But the task seems to involve a laundry, and more shouting. Same time next week, then…