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The Apprentice Episode 11 – Five Go Off To A Safe House



Final Five

The Apprentice Episode 11 – Five Go Off To A Safe House

The first thing to say about this programme profiling the final five is that every single one of them comes out better through these individual profiles than from anything we have seen them do in the previous 10 weeks. This does reinforce that nagging suspicion that the underlying purpose of the programme-makers is to carefully construct a stressful environment which provokes intelligent, substantial young people to behave badly and stupidly for our entertainment.

It is refreshing to find how normal and ordinary the backgrounds of certainly this final five are. It is humbling to see what they have achieved in a short while, sometimes against the odds of their home environment and childhood experiences. Our understanding for example of the fierce independence and self-reliance of Susan and Natasha is deepened when we see the life challenges they have had to meet in reaching this stage of their lives and arriving on the set of The Apprentice. Neither could have done what they have done in the circumstances they found themselves without an extraordinary degree of single-mindedness. So maybe they don’t listen well because they literally had no one they could listen to.

If the rigorous individualism and egocentricity of Susan and Natasha was primarily nurture-driven, that of Helen and Jim appears to be more nature based. Helen’s journey from introspective child through academic and career conformity; and then rebellious self discovery was fascinating to see. Perhaps more than any of the other four she is now the person she has decided to be rather than the person circumstances have driven her to become. Jim’s single-mindedness seems to be a natural alliance between his basic nature and using that focus and concentration as a means to channel difficult emotional conflicts into something positive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Admirable in fact.

Tom is as ever a special case: even before we had it confirmed by his posh-sounding but delightfully imperturbable laid-back mother, I think we all had the feeling that Tom was born to be an inventor. Part of his great appeal surely is that the little boy who was always taking things apart, putting them together again and building new things, is still there for all to see. The excitement at new ideas, the instinctive enthusiasm he puts into everything, even things outside his comfort zone, is likable and I’m sure for many women in his life lovable. He has also had the determination and commitment to develop an impressive range of intellectual, analytic business skills to reinforce his inventive instincts and turn them into practical results. Alan Sugar may not pick him – but he is his best bet.

Tom is the focus this week of two of the best illustrations of the nasty side of The Apprentice: one is harmless but mean; the other is shameful. I laughed with everyone else when having had the nodding dog debacle with Natasha and suffering with resigned good humour Sugar’s threat to put him in the back of his car if he didn’t stop nodding his head, the You’re Fired team edited the Tom-the-nodding-dog clip later on. And yet: as I laughed it occurred to me that in fact the joke was really on everyone else because what does nodding your head signify? It shows he was listening perhaps the most important and the scarcest personal quality on the show.

The worst comment of the week came from the most unlikely source. Nick Hewer comes over as an avuncular sort of guy with the necessary protective steel to survive working for Alan Sugar for so long: so by what hateful lapse of care with words or simple revelation of an instinctive mean-spiritedness did he say that the only problem with Tom was “that he has no backbone.” Programme or no programme, game or no game, this would be unacceptable even if it were true: which it manifestly is not. We have come to realise that Alan Sugar regards this kind of gratuitous abuse of authority – being insulting, sarcastic and humiliating to Apprentices, and I would guess real employees – as one of the perks of being a boss. But I had expected better of Nick Hewer. Like many such comments from Sugar himself, this remark tells us more about the speaker than the person he is talking about. As Mr Sugar did not see fit to pick him up on it or distance himself from it – we perhaps have confirmation of what I certainly have always thought: in Sugarland, courage means egotistical bravado; having ‘balls’ means those belonging to someone else tucked away in your pocket; and having guts means railroading the stupidest, half-witted, half-baked idea through against all reason, common sense, and sound business analysis. Winning the argument and losing the deal is a crap business strategy. One that the record suggests Mr Sugar has followed more than once.

Of all these Tom is mercifully innocent. He is a really nice guy with greatly underestimated talents, and a very real determination to work hard to get things right in order to succeed instead of relying on bullsh*t and bravado. That’s real backbone Mr Hewer. So maybe you should apologise.

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