Thursday, 7 July 2011

Day 277

If you're a real TV fan, you can't shirk from reality TV. Steve Merchant said on the radio that reality TV used to be like observing ants in their nest and now it's like putting the ants in a jar and shaking the jar violently. But those ants are still smeared on most pages of the Radio Times. You can't avoid them.

When I was 13 there was this reality TV show called Bedsit. It followed the lives of twelve strangers who became flatmates in a London house. What they didn't know was that the vast majority of them were moles/actors. Brilliant.

Also remember watching The Carrot and The Stick. Bunch of people in the army, one group is punished for their wrongdoings and have their achievements ignored, and the other group is rewarded for their achievements and have their wrongdoings ignored. Also brilliant. (And the results of the experiment were pretty obvious: the carrot group became happy, lazy, egotistical and low achieving, and the stick group became very high achieving but very dogged and sort of glazed).

I never watched Big Brother when it was about observing ants (I was never allowed!), but I did get into it on the first "Big Brother goes bad" experiment in 2004. The jar-shaking, then.

I love TV, I think both directly and indirectly it controls the universe including all the twinkly bits. I hadn't been watching enough reality TV recently so I made an active decision to commit myself to two shows this year. The first was Britain's Got Talent. The second was slightly higher in the brow area.

The Apprentice is a 12-episode BBC series in which belligerent business baron Lord Alan Sugar sets a group of businessmen tasks, then fires one each week until he's left with a new employee. Apparently this year it's not an employee he's looking for but a business partner, which ups the stakes and supposedly the calibre of the contestants too.

The contestants are strange. They use email talk in real life, like "I look forward to hearing from you", and "many thanks for the opportunity". They also say things like "I'm confused dot com", and "I'm going to put 110% into this". I HATE people who say "110%". There's no such thing as 110%. You can't have 110% of a pie. That's impossible. And if you're going to say 110%, why not say 112%? Or 200%? Or 445843354%?

Alan Sugar himself is not as horrific as I was warned. On the contrary, while he is very strict and frank, I also found him logical, fair, diplomatic, and open to changing his mind and listening to people. And the famously unforgiving "*points* you're fired" is often proceeded by "you're very nice and very talented, but --" or "I'm sorry to say this, my friend, but --" or "I greatly regret this and wish you the best of the luck for the future, but --"

Lord Sugar is not personable, but he does strike me as reasonably polite and not at all abrasive.

As for the contestants, we're past week 10 now, so down to the final five.

There's Tom Pellereau, who is literally an Inventor with an evil laugh. He's batty but beguiling, and his weakness seems to be that he's too nice and humble. He seems to rely on the mistaken assumption that being Lord Sugar's business partner involves a learning curve, but actually Tom doesn't need a learning curve! He's clever, determined, open, and talented. He's just a bit of a mouse.

Another mouse is Skincare Entrepreneur Susan Ma, who was born in the 90s, which is a revolting fact. Her young age seems to be a bit of a complex. She brings it up often, which reminds everyone else of it, and it's very much turned into a weakness. I don't doubt for a second that if she's fired, Lord Sugar will cite her youth as a contributing factor. It doesn't help that she's very consciously small and sweet. Nor that she'll go down in history for the unbelievably earnest question: "are the French fond of their children?"

Also in the running is Sales and Marketing Manager Jim Eastwood, who kind of resembles a sexy toad. He reeks of charisma, but his hypnotic nature is down to the fact that there is no soul behind his "Irish eyes". His greatest talent is manipulation. He bends people to his will, it's a bizarre talent to watch. Jenny Eclair describes him as Derren Brown gone bad.

I also liked Executive Assistant Helen Louise Milligan up until she recently proved herself to be crap in the most recent episode. She has won the most tasks in The Apprentice, and is distinctly sane. She's diffused a fair few situations and seems to be very sharp. But she's a bit stiff and strange. I sort of imagine she has loads of kids but has never had sex. See, look at her eyes.

The fifth remaining candidate is Recruitment Manager Natasha Scribbins, and I think the fact that she's still in the running is evidence that the elimination process isn't stringent enough. She's the one who used the phrase "I'm confused dot com" with a straight face. She's extraordinarily corporate. I think she probably makes a great manager, but I thought they were looking for unique people for The Apprentice. I think she's the next to go.

I want Susan, Tom or Jim to win. But Susan's a bit naïve, Tom is too humble, and Jim is literally evil.

One of the things I enjoy most about The Apprentice is that there is no excruciating personal stuff. Sometimes I do want more. Sometimes I think, do they share bedrooms in that big house? Do they get days off to meet up with their families, or is it 12 weeks locked in? Do they get help from the internet? Do they make little packed lunches for the tasks? Do they get to bring their own cars? Do they film pick-ups? When someone's fired do they get to say goodbye behind-the-scenes? Do they socialise a bit with Lord Sugar or his aides? What about the production team? When do the cameras arrive in the house? Are those suitcases really packed when they go to the boardroom? Because I think they're not.

... okay so obviously it would be fun to know this stuff, but at the same time it would feel oddly inappropriate. The Apprentice is not Big Brother. It's entertainment, but it's also a genuine real-life interview process, albeit televised. It's distinctly business-orientated.

I Googled some of the candidates early on, but I quickly backtracked upon discovering that a frighteningly large number of candidates, past and present, have battled cancer. I don't know why such a high percentage of people on The Apprentice have, and I have no idea what it means. But I do know that it's far too personal. Click cross, and flee back to the safety of the show itself.

The Apprentice isn't voyeuristic, it doesn't stick its greasy nose against the windows of their personal lives. It's faced-paced and interesting, and different every week. It's a good TV series, and the best reality TV I've ever... made myself watch. And it's not about shaking ants in a jar, it's about squishing them one by one until you're left with one giant super-ant in a business suit. Great fun.

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