Ever since they changed the format of BBC One’s The Apprentice from rewarding the winning candidate with a 50-50 business investment rather than a job with Lord Sugar, the series has generally ended with four would be entrepreneurs being tested by Lord Sugar’s trusted advisers at the interview stage. This year has changed the game slightly, with the interviews back to being the penultimate trial for the potential winner. Rather than one candidate winning, three were fired and two proceeded to the final stage where it seems like they will have to set up, brand and pitch their future businesses.
Any chance to see Margret Mountford and Claude Littner grill the candidates on all their supposed achievements is welcome, whether it is the penultimate episode or the final. And, quite possibly, there has never been a group of candidates who needed this kind of intense grilling more than these five. Luisa Zissman, Leah Totton, Francesca MacDuff-Varley, Neil Clough and Jordan Poulton have all been rather dubious in the past. Jordan consistently won tasks but didn’t really seem to excel in any one area. Neil was good at selling but appeared arrogant throughout the competition. Francesca, to claimed to be fair and struggle with the game playing in the process came across as a bit of a hypocrite when it was reveal that she made up figures on her CV. She disliked game playing but was willing to dupe her potential employers into believing she was more capable than she was. She didn’t even seem particularly remorseful about it on The Apprentice: You’re Fired with Dara O’Briain afterwards. Jordan, on the other hand admitted he should have signed the equity deal and better explained his potential business. Although there was still no chance of giving Lord Sugar only 15% of the cut.
At least, Neil seems to have been humbled by the entire process, coming across as genuinely gutted on the You’re Fired show. In the beginning, Neil’s arrogance and stubbornness alienated both team members and viewers but around week six, on the “away day” task, Neil’s natural charisma and personal background seemed to win people over. No one is saying that what happened with his father and him not being around to see his son isn’t tragic, but unfortunately it doesn’t take away Neil’s insistent belief in himself. Self-confidence is one thing but when four of Lord Sugar’s trusted advisors are telling you that the plan is flawed then you know something is wrong. His constant reply was that he could make it work, which only suggests that he hadn’t really become any less stubborn over the past eleven weeks. He just got better at hiding it.
Arguably the tell tale signs of Francesca’s failure were evident from the very beginning. When attempting to work how the various quantities and percentages of the ingredients in the beer task, Francesca messed up the amount of rhubarb flavouring twice, leading to two unusable kegs. The mistake wasn’t the main reason for the team’s loss on that task but in hindsight it seems like a clear indication that she has trouble with figures, going so far as to cherrypick 5 million as her turn over because, in her words, it was easy to divide. As far as the game playing goes, she was quite willing to throw Jason under the bus in, when his over 50’s idea was praised by Lord Sugar and could have potentially won had the other team members gotten behind it. Personally, I’m not impressed by her business proposal anyway as I fail to see how her business would be distinct from the various dance studios that are already established.
Way back in May, I tipped Leah Totton and Luisa Zissman as possibly the two most impressive candidates from the first two tasks. Luisa has suffered generally in the same way as Neil, coming across as stubborn and arrogant, but unlike Neil, Luisa did seem to genuinely change throughout the process. She has always had good business sense, proving early on that she could sell and leading Evolve to their first win in week four. Admittedly, she does seem to have a problem getting along with people, such as struggling when paired with Jason, but appears much better mannered and amicable when paired with stronger team members, such as Neil. Lord Sugar won’t have anything to worry about in that regard. Her business plan is impressive too, identifying a need in a largely family run industry and conceiving of a potentially profitable solution. The only risk here does seem to be Luisa herself.
The safe option is certainly Leah. Though she lacks the business experience of the other candidates, she works in the medical industry and her business plan falls under her area of expertise. It can’t be said that she was the best seller, the best leader or the best creative mind throughout the competition but she has always gotten involved in some area of the tasks. And despite being in the losing team six times, she was only ever brought into the boardroom twice, once by the allegedly sexist Zeeshaan Shah and then on the ready meals task. In the latter, Alex only wanted to bring in Myles and only brought in Leah because he was forced to do so. Her business plan does propose its own set of problems though. It does have the potentially to be immoral and manipulative of the beauty obsessed culture of our youth. However, throughout the previous eleven weeks, Leah has never really made any unethical decisions, possibly suggesting that she is being completely sincere when she insists that he isn’t trying to take advantage of anyone.
Each woman will have to launch their prospective businesses and design branding and campaigns to wow a room full of industry experts. This is where it will become clear who actually knows what they are talking about and who is all talk. I still think that Leah is the favourite to win, but Luisa remains a dark horse that could slip into the lead if she can keep her cool during the final task. Leah, on the other hand, may know the medical side of the business but she will need to prove that she can adequately handle the business end of things as well. Only one can win though, and in the end it will just come down to which candidate and which business Lord Sugar feels most confident in. And we all know that Lord Sugar has been a bit of a risk-taker in the past.