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Just for a change, I've been watching the UK version of The Apprentice.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference between the two is that Trump is a natural showman and seems to be totally comfortable doing "his" show, whereas Alan Sugar is a "hired hand" who is playing a role.  Trump relishes the power he has, and the boardroom is frequently more about who says the right thing rather than performance on the task.  Sugar appears somewhat uncomfortable in the boardroom, and the exchanges are therefore somewhat stilted and the verdicts delivered without the flourish that Trump provides.   

Secondly, as this is a BBC show we don't get the overwhelming volume of product placement that the NBC original manages to pack in to every show.  It also means we are spared the horrendous puff pieces where Trump babbles on about his great friends in Company X and then asks them their names.   

Structurally, the BBC haven't changed very much at all.  They have added a narrator to tell us what is happening, and the teams are in a house in Notting Hill rather than in Trump Tower.  That's about it, and everything else seems very much the same - I read one review that said that the UK version was better because we see the teams on the task, but clearly that also happens in the US original, though we do get to see more of the tasks because a 1 hour slot on the BBC is significantly longer than on American TV (and less time is devoted to the reward).

Some things never change - as usual, in the early weeks there were some terrible performances by many of the contestants, most obviously the project managers

The first two project managers were Jadine (who volunteered) and Andy (who did eventually volunteer, and then did a private deal to back someone else, only to be elected by the rest of the team).  Then Sugar swapped the two project managers around, so that Andy was in charge of the girls' team and Jadine in charge of the boys.

Frankly, both did a terrible job.  Andy was great at the back-slapping stuff, but failed to come up with a strategy and then neglected to monitor how things were going.  Jadine thought that managing a team meant a lot of shouting by her whilst the team listened quietly, but also seemed to have no idea what she was trying to achieve.

The task was to sell coffee in Islington, from a van and a fixed stall.  There were fundamentally two things that needed to be planned - a location, and buying the stock.  The boys' team (Eclipse) did find a good location on Islington Green, only for Jadine to pull them out of it for no good reason.  The girls' team (Stealth) took a pitch in Chapel Street market - which was totally hopeless, and Andy seemed not to keeping tabs on what they were doing so they just stayed there doing nothing.

As for the purchasing, self-proclaimed "girl geek" Sophie calculated that Stealth needed 200 litres of milk, and was eventually persuaded to reduce this to 65 litres, which was still far more than enough.  Andy correctly pointed out that they could buy milk from a local supermarket when they needed it, but didn't actually ensure that this was what happened.  Eclipse bought the wrong coffee, but managed to sort that one out and otherwise seemed to have got the purchasing part right.

The other part of the task was sales (as usual), and Tre and Simon sold 55 coffees in 1 hour from the van in is original location, but after Jadine pulled them back they couldn't go back there - they did find somewhere else, but could only stop for 20 minutes (during which time they sold 30 cups).  Bizarrely, Janine then pulled the van back to base because she was not happy with the branding on the coffee they were selling, even though the sales were good.

Over-thinking is a common problem in The Apprentice, and Jadine seemed to be convinced that they needed to "sell the experience" by putting a Chocolate Eclipse shape on every coffee, rather than just selling as many cups as possible.  If they had stayed in the same place on Islington Green and sold 50 cups an hour (with or without an Eclipse logo) they would have won easily.

Stealth made almost all their money from the stall.  After selling 11 cups of coffee in the first two hours at Chapel Street Market, Andy pulled them back but (as far as I could see) they never went to another location, so they lost a lot of potential revenue.  Sugar correctly pointed out that a good location near to the City was what they needed.  Instead they ended up desperately trying to sell off their surplus stock at knock-down prices.

It wasn't even close.  Stealth managed to spend £315 on their stock, whereas Eclipse only spent £159.  On top of that, Eclipse also achieved higher revenue (£519 vs. £427) and so won easily.

In the boardroom, Sophie denied that she was in charge of purchasing even though she had obviously gone out and bought 65 litres of milk and 400 snack bars that they didn't need. Gerri also tried to wriggle out of responsibility for the poor location.   

However, Andy was a terrible manager and if only one person was going to be fired then it had to be him.  Not a difficult decision for Sugar to make, but the real problem here (as ever) is not finding someone to fire, but figuring out who deserves to survive.

As we saw in week two, when the teams had to design and then sell a pet-related product.  Eclipse duly "brainstormed" and came up with a few ideas, but then the PM imposed his own stupid idea, which he insisted on even though it was rejected by the focus group.  The rest of the team were understandably annoyed by this, especially as the focus group had been quite positive about another idea.

They were selling to three retailers - a speciality store, Harrods, and a large chain.  It should really have been obvious that the only way to get a large order was from the chain, and most of the effort should have been concentrated there.  Stealth sold to the first two retailers in small quantities but nothing to the chain, whereas Eclipse only sold to the chain, but in much larger quantities.  The hapless Eclipse PM was fired along with one team member who did nothing on the task in spite of having design expertise.

In week three the teams were given free rein to do whatever they wanted to make money, and frankly it was a shambles - the girls ended up selling kisses in pubs and the boys singing for their money, but somehow project manager Tre managed to record a victory for Eclipse.  Sugar could have fired almost anyone on Stealth, but Gerri couldn't really have too many complaints after fouling-up on the location for a second time in 3 weeks.  We saw endless footage of her and two other contestants driving around Richmond chatting and laughing and then arriving at a school just as the children were leaving.  Doh! 

As for the verdict on Sugar vs. Trump, it's clear that Donald Trump has the chutzpah to pull it off, but Sir Alan Sugar does not.  Would anyone really want to be Sugar's apprentice if it wasn't for the TV show?  I think not.  The BBC's mistake is to copy the original so closely - it would work just fine if they found someone with more gravitas than Sugar and made the whole thing a bit more serious. 


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Having forced myself to watch an entire episode of "The Apprentice", I realised that the show's popularity can only be because human beings like watching others making idiots of themselves, others attacking others and others being humiliated and destroyed. The Coliseum is famous for that.


Watching programmes like The Apprentice is a bit like watching very unlovable cripples in a 19th Century circus.

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