The Apprentice 2008 episode 11 review

Has Sralan Sugar gone soft? Last night's Apprentice, the weakest of the series to date, left you wondering if he'd suddently lost his ability to pull the trigger...

Sralan Sugar and his two trust aides...

Last week, we argued that the annual interview episode of The Apprentice is easily the least interesting of any given series. Last night, the evidence was there for all to see, as the folks in the editing room once again ruined what could and should be an interesting part of the process.

This year, Sralan Sugar added Birmingham City managing director Karren Brady to his panel of ruthless interviewers, and thus it was a welcome return for Paul Kelmsley in particular, as well as Bordan Tkachuck and Claude Littner. Each candidate was then given a grilling by each of them, although you’d be hard pressed to appreciate that, given the way that all the footage was cut together.

Because, let’s face it, who stands a chance of coming out of that process looking good? Assume that each candidate gets to spend an hour with each interviewer. Thus, that’d be four hours apiece that they’d be grilled on camera, and by the time the show is cut together, just a few minutes of each under the microscope would be shown. Surely there’s not a human being on the planet who wouldn’t have the odd weaker moment under the glare of four hours of interrogation? And primarily by people who seemed to be in a bit of a shitty mood.

Interviewing is a real skill, but watching last night’s Apprentice it just felt like the whole process was designed to trip people up. And appreciating it’s a well paid job that they’re all going for, it nonetheless seemed an excessive, uncomfortable process, considering they’ve all sat there for ten weeks trying to win the position anyway.

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Only they haven’t, have they? Because with one episode to go, you can’t help but feel that becoming famous is the bigger goal than getting the job. And truthfully, can you blame them? Reality television is a mature industry now, and The Apprentice, along with many programmes of its ilk, suffers for it. Compare the remaining contestants in this year’s programme with those way back in season one, and they’re more camera-aware, and you’d wager that at least one of them will have a book out in the next twelve months, or a magazine column, or will be hunting out an “exciting daytime television opportunity”.

It didn’t help that after more than two months of the process, Sralan Sugar staggeringly lost his ability to make up his mind. Never mind that he had four business experts giving him pointers – admittedly in lots of different directions – but the only person of the five that he fired was the one who said that she wanted to go anyway? Who if the process had been taken off the television screens would arguably have been one of the strongest candidates? What’s happened to the man?

The five candidates going into the interviews were Claire (surely now the favourite to win), Alex (it still staggers us that he survived week one, to be fair), Lee (who did himself few favours you suspect in this episode), Helene (and what’s she’s still doing here is equally amazing) and Lucinda. Of the five, Lucinda it’s revealed is the one who has enjoyed the most business success and made the most money, and to be fair, she was also the one who articulated herself the best in the small snippets of interviews that we were actually allowed to see. That said, as soon as she said, in front of the other candidates, that she wasn’t sure she wanted the job, she was a dead woman walking for the rest of the episode.

We didn’t learn too much new about the candidates themselves, although perhaps enough to have made a decision or two. Lee did himself the most damage, and not just for his bizarre dinosaur impression. A bit of bullshit about his education on his CV backfired, and even though one or two of the interviewing panel thought that shouldn’t be the be all and end all for him, it’s nonetheless done him some damage. Helene, again on the evidence of what we saw last night (and you can’t genuinely believe that it’s the only reason she’s still in the competition – surely?), got through because she’d had a tough upbringing. This from the show that pretty much chucked one candidate out last year because she wanted to spend some time with her kids as well as work for Sralan. Nonetheless, Helene again reminded us of her testicles, insisting that she was “ballsy”. She’d told us that she had balls some weeks earlier, so this was no longer a surprise.

Then there’s Alex. Sralan has always been more generous with the benefit of the doubt when it comes to younger candidates (did you know that Alex was 24? Half the country seemed to by the end of last night’s episode), but he’s not actually going to employ Alex is he? He doesn’t seem to have delivered in too many of the tasks – save for last week’s – and comes across as a little bit of a whiner. But again, how much of that is true and how much is down to the editing room is a mystery we’ll perhaps never know the answer to. We’re absolutely certain that he’s 24, though.

Which all seems to be paving the way for Claire to emerge victorious, which would be some turnaround. The interviews went well for her, and that has to leave her in a strong position for next week’s final, even though she seems to have lost a lot of tasks over the weeks.

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Thanks to the power of those four interviewers, two trusted advisors and the mighty Sralan though, amazingly we have a final with four people in it, none of which you can realistically say you particularly want to win. It’s also the weakest selection of candidates in a final in the history of the show. Think back over the past few years, and at least there were people who you could understand why they made the final. This lot? With perhaps the exception of Lee, and that’s more because he’s avoided the boardroom rather than done anything spectacular, each of them could have been justifiably fired in the weeks beforehand.

The final at least has an interesting mechanic to it, in that it’s two teams of two, meaning Sralan has a process that will make half of his decision for him. Sadly, you suspect that if a candidate came along who lied on their CV, was gobby, was 24 and had a tricky upbringing, they’d be installed in Sralan’s organisation already.

Read our review of last week’s episode here.