The Apprentice

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 by

In a quiet episode, it was apt that it was the quiet man who finally got the chop.

Most weeks, it’s been possible to get a good sense of who is going to be in the firing line, simply by working out which small moments have been given special emphasis by the production team. However, in the case of Tuan Lee, no such gentle narrative prodding was required, as basically everything he did marked him out for failure.

Not that there weren’t other suspects in the frame. Given Sir Alan’s capricious attitude (making it often impossible for the would-be apprentices to discern what might be the right answer to his latest accusatory question), there was enough evidence on offer to hang almost all of them. Michelle (purposely restricting her team’s selling ability for her own ends), Ruth (why did she drop that crucial £5 on the last deal when it was clear the would-be tenant wasn’t going to walk away?) Paul (general sulking) and Syed (“Nicholas! … Nicholas! … Nicholas! … Oh, I thought that was Nicholas”) all could have bit the bullet; with only Ansell marking himself out for obvious safety through barely featuring in the episode.

But it was Tuan who had to go. As he freely admitted in the post-eviction show (c’mon let’s use the proper vernacular here), his heart was no longer in it. However he did make one last vain attempt at establishing for himself that most important reality TV show credential, namely that throughout the experience he remained “real”.

With the removal of Tuan, we also saw the demise of the final “thinker” in this series, leaving us with three rabid, ambitious salespeople plus Michelle and Ansell, who so far have simply flown under the radar. In fact given this week’s task was yet again heavily sales focused, you were left wondering exactly why the strategists had been allowed to make it through to the series at all. In this respect, this second run of The Apprentice has been a little less varied than last year’s, and whereas eventual series one winner Tim was able to prove himself a versatile performer, you sense that the 2006 victor will simply be the salesperson most able to refine their patter dependent to the product or service they’re trying to shift. For Sir Alan that might fill the job spec admirably, but for the viewer it’s a bit of a shame.

But with those gentle critical notes to one side, The Apprentice is still streets ahead the best weekday programme on telly, and there is a sense that it is about to shift up a gear too. The losing team’s straw-clutching observation that Sir Alan hadn’t given anyone a roasting when he announced that task results, proved not to be a portent for a gentle ride in the boardroom, but rather an indication that he was reserving his energies to get stuck in during the final sequence.

This was perhaps the most entertaining showdown of the series so far, although to be picky once again, that aforementioned Sir Alan capricious streak did serve to undermine the process slightly. What we like to see in the boardroom is an intellectual battle of the quick-witted in which those with the cleverest arguments survive. What we often get is salvation courtesy of Sir Alan’s whims. Previously, it didn’t matter so much, so that when Alexa got a stay of execution simply because she spoke up at the right time, you knew that she was for the chop soon enough. However, when Ruth was asked by the boss whether or not she was out for number one, there was no possible way you could discern what her response should be, and although on this day she was praised for her candour, had Sir Alan been in a less mercenary mood you sensed her admission could have been enough to see her get her the chop.

So while The Apprentice is still great, there is a warning to be heeded here. The more the criteria for a sacking appears to be solely based upon a candidate wandering into a verbal trip wire in the boardroom, the less meaning can be inferred upon the previous three-quarters of an hour of telly. If each candidate’s survival is only going to stand or fall on their performance in front of that big, illuminated table, it will turn the tasks into nothing more than the biggest preamble in TV outside of the sub-£1000 questions in Who Wants to be a Millionaire?


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