The Apprentice

Wednesday, May 3, 2006 by

To use Sugar parlance, we’re into the “burn down” now.

Just like last year’s penultimate leg, tonight the 12-week job interview turned into a 60-minute one. For the remaining four, it was time for the betrayals to come from somewhere much closer to home – their CVs. And yet, unlike everyone else in the country, it seemed that when the phone rang in Millionaire’s Row (“Who’s this?” quipped Paul dancing towards it. “Who’s this, this time of night?”), the business hopefuls were ignorant as to what was about to happen.

“It’s a wrong number,” continued the 26-year-old headhunter from Leeds, still joking after he replaced the receiver. “No it weren’t”, countered Michelle dully, failing to see the humour in the situation. And, as it happens, it would be Paul’s levity, and her lack of it, that would divide the pack.

With the quartet given orders to ship up at Amstrad Towers the following morning to be interrogated by a trio of Sugar’s ugliest friends, they still seemed woefully ill prepared. Ruth and Michelle rubbed their lucky conkers, and the lights went off at the house. The next day, they trudged out to the limo like a finely gelled, pastel tie-sporting funeral procession.

It was fast turning into Paul’s episode. “Everyone who knows me has said to me, ‘I never met anyone like you in my life’,” he confided to camera. “And I’ve never met anyone like me, and I don’t think the world could cope with two people like me. There’s only ever going to be one Paul Tulip, and that’s what Alan Sugar can get now. And if he doesn’t get it, someone else will. So it’s not: why do I want to work for him? It’s why should I work for him?”

On hand to help this very singular Tulip out with his dilemma was Alan’s crack squad of corporate bastards: Claude Litner, Sugar’s global trouble shooter; Bordan Tkachuk, CEO of Viglen Computers; and Paul Kemsley, property investor, Tottenham Hotspur director and Sugar stunt double. Unsurprisingly, it was the latter who first succeeded in punching through Paul’s veneer, pretty much from the off. “25-years old [sic], currently earning £25,000 a year. Hardly setting the world on fire, are you?”

From hereon in, it was a spurtfest for the show’s best performer on paper (seven wins out of 10) as his previously winning sense of humour and (never overly-serious) line in self-aggrandisement led him lurching through a cat’s cradle of tripwires. “Success isn’t measured by money,” he declared, “it’s about how much you enjoy your life. And I really, really enjoy my life.” “So why do you want to change it?” countered his inquisitor. “Because I want to see how much money I can earn.” Ouch. And then there was the matter of the accuracy of the dates on his CV. “My resume was very much filled in at the last minute” he flannelled. “I’m just a likeable person who can get on with anyone at any level”, he stumbled off on another sortie. “You’re not getting on with me,” came the inevitable retort.

Could this really be the man who’d managed to flog a Cox’s Pippin for a fiver 10 weeks ago? Who’d piled on the cheese for a dancing competition advert and then gleefully shimmied his huge arse off the screen? Was it really the same person who’d pretty much consistently managed to predict the outcome of each week’s boardroom battle, and who’d been name-checked as the only person to have earned the respect of the mighty Syed?

“Paul’s very good at sales,” murmured Michelle during one of her grilling sessions. “He’s very good at being funny. But, I’m not kind of sure what else.”

And thus, despite the fact he stood equally shamefaced alongside his rivals when it came to being “kapooned” for failing to know one single thing about Sugar’s business interests, by 25 minutes into the show it was clear he was already in the departure lounge. His crack about Big Issue sellers and that soggy confrontation with the boss merely confirmed his seat reservation.

Naturally, he was quickly followed by the hugely uncharismatic Ansell (“I think I’m doing okay … I’m in the mix”) and we were left, as we always knew we would be, with Ruth. Dressed in her one suit, with her jaw set at a determined angle, she’d – well – badgered her way through to the end game, seemingly with a vocabulary that only consisted of “basically”, “actually” and “without a doubt”. Alongside her was Michelle. How on Earth had this happened? Chameleonic to the point of invisibility, she’d been at her mettle during the interrogation and displayed a surprisingly adept nose for the right answer. Asked by Sir Alan if she looked after her siblings, her response seemed to delight him. “They get what they want”.

Suddenly, The Apprentice has become a rather neat little homily: The Tortoise and the Hare. While Paul had streaked ahead for the past 10 weeks, Michelle came good at the last moment, and clinched the race. Well, this leg of it. There’s one more week to go, remember. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite sure how The Tortoise and the Badger is supposed to end up.


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