The Apprentice: A platform for young entrepreneurs, or a breeding ground for fame-hungry wannabees?

Oliver Larking – Year 13 Student

Editor’s Note: Oliver produced this excellent piece of original writing as part of his A-Level English Language course. It explores how and why the cultural hit TV show The Apprentice has evolved through time, and then examines the extent to which it has lost its way and how it might get back on track – if indeed it needs to. KLK

Whilst producing a platform for contestants such as Saira Khan and Katie Hopkins, the show that took the nation by storm at first with its clever format and one liners, has become dominated by tactical game players and so called ‘big’ characters.

When The Apprentice was first launched on UK national television in 2005 the format was simple: come up with a sound business idea and Lord Sugar (or Sir Alan as he was back then) will give the winning candidate £250,000 of investment, and offer his guidance, experience and contacts for a share of their business.

Fast forward 13 series and it’s less about the sound business idea and credible business plans, but more about a popularity contest and who is the most marketable in the world of social media. The majority of previous candidates have been forgotten. Ben Leary? Adele Lock? Now, it’s all about popularity and the person who has put on the greatest act for the eight week duration ends up being the lucky one to benefit from Lord Sugar’s deep pockets.

Eye candy for the ladies, glamour for the guys, a joker, an argumentative type, a token northerner, and a cockney geezer…

It feels contrived: each year the candidates are handpicked to ensure ratings are high and the show gets plenty of press and media coverage along the way.  The line-up is replicated year on year: eye candy for the ladies, glamour for the guys, a joker, an argumentative type, a token northerner, and a cockney geezer… the list goes on. When it comes to business expertise and their actual business plan, the majority of them fall at the first hurdle and it’s car crash all the way. But ironically that’s what makes it so compelling as a show and what the British nation wanted to watch in the evenings. It’s not about celebrating the success of the candidates, it’s about glorifying the ‘characters’ and highlighting how dreadful they all are (standard format for a British reality ‘game show’). The show is almost as staged as the lady who sits at the desk in the reception, but that’s all part of the show… isn’t it? It’s a reality show at the end of the day and these are rarely associated with brains and intelligence; in fact, quite often the opposite. It’s becoming more and more similar to BGT and X Factor where often some acts make their way through to the final not based on their talent but on the media attention they are getting, good or bad!

There have been some successes, however, from the show; for example, Tom Pellereau, Ricky Martin, Dr Leah and not to forget Ruth Badger. The show has seen a number of innovative ideas being introduced over the years such as the curved nail file, the popular Tropic Skincare range, and Hyper Recruitment Solutions, which does suggest that the show on the whole isn’t all bad. A good proportion of the ‘post show’ fame though has not been for their actual business idea, more for their TV and radio presenting skills or controversial views such as with Katie Hopkins and Saira Kahn. The show has perhaps simply lost its way somewhat; but can it get back on track?

Therein lies the problem with this show: the overlap between fame and fortune and mixing business with pleasure, a recipe for disaster.

It doesn’t help that the high value and lavish property that the candidates live in throughout their time on the show, is dangling an unrealistic carrot for them all.  Is it now more about ‘winning the show’ rather than actually landing the deal with Lord Sugar? The harsh truth is that they make more money from magazine deals immediately after the show and making personal appearances at business events, than they will in the first year of launching their business. Therein lies the problem with this show: the overlap between fame and fortune and mixing business with pleasure, a recipe for disaster some would say.

Has it become too much about the money that can come with success rather than finding genuine entrepreneurs who can introduce fascinating new innovations? The fact remains though: regardless of the outcome, it is still an entertaining TV show that we all tune in to watch every year, to laugh and cringe at a bit – but do any of us really care if the next Lord Sugar is discovered?

Oliver Larking (13MMD)

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