After 12 weeks of terse boardroom discussions, Karren Brady’s sneering and nonsense tasks (which included but were certainly not limited to creating dog food, bao buns and a kid’s cartoon), it was time for Lord Sugar’s big decision. Would he invest in Marnie Swindell’s boxing gyms or Rochelle Anthony’s hairdressers?
Watching the grand finale, I couldn’t help but feel… indifferent. Is this what it all came down to? Gyms and salons aren’t exactly new or innovative businesses. There’s one (more than one!) on every high street in the UK. Nevertheless, Marnie and Rochelle set about their final task: convincing the Apprentice overlord that their businesses were viable, scalable and, crucially, different from the competition. Good luck.
The joy of the Apprentice final is the return of the fired candidates, which this year meant Avi — enthusiastic, clueless, delightful Avi — was back. Every series needs a clown and Avi was more than happy to resume the position on Rochelle’s team, suggesting she call her hairdressing academy “Colour X” or “Diversery”. “What about Cutting Edge!” exclaimed a very pleased-with-himself Joseph, which was met with a glum but polite “I think that might have already been done,” from poor Rochelle. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she bowed out there and then.
Over on Marnie’s team, the main problem seemed to be Marnie herself. Unwilling to take suggestions on her logo which featured a closed fist rather than a boxing glove (“it looks like it might be bare-knuckle fighting,” warned week one casualty Sohail), there was a worry that her luxury gym with an amateur club vibe was erring too far on the “spit and sawdust” side of the boxing world. At least she had a clear vision.
After creating a logo, a 10-second-long digital billboard and a metaverse (don’t even get me started), it was time for Marnie and Rochelle to present their businesses to Lord Sugar, bow-tied for the occasion, his sidekicks Karren Brady and Tim Campbell, and a selection of experts from the world of boxing and hairdressing.
From the moment former candidate Simba introduced Marnie to the stage with his best Michael Buffer impression, it was clear she was going to win (as anyone who follows her on Instagram will have already worked out: her real life gym opened in February). Well-spoken, confident and, most importantly, entirely convinced of the strength of her business, Marnie proved herself — if not her idea — worthy of a £250,000 investment. Rochelle’s presentation was good enough, but she was obviously nervous and couldn’t quite distinguish the USP of her own salon from those owned by the experts in the audience.
While I’m happy about Marnie’s win, I can’t shake the feeling that both her high-low gym and Rochelle’s salon wouldn’t be given the time of day on Dragon’s Den. None of the fired candidates’ ideas — which ranged from flogging hair extensions, sweets, and a dessert café (a business far too similar to last year’s winner Harpreet Kaur’s) were much better, either. Have the candidates simply run out ideas? It would certainly seem so.
When The Apprentice launched in 2005, the prize was a high-flying, astronomically paid job with Lord Sugar. The show truly was a tough, extended job interview. Since Lord Sugar swapped the job offer to a £250,000 investment in a business in 2011, the series has undoubtedly gone downhill. Once a serious business competition, it’s now a straight-up reality series, as displayed in the final’s incredibly entertaining and very silly boardroom. Lord Sugar can’t expect us to believe that he is impressed by a boxing gym without a USP? I don’t trust that, without the pomp and circumstance of the reality competition, he’d give Marnie even a quid.
The Apprentice is at its best when it embraces the comedy it’s become, letting its oblivious candidates run riot, dying each other’s skin green with their newly created skincare and gabbing on about the history of canons (miss you Gregory). But something has to change to keep us interested. A new prize? A new format? A new… host? No, contrary to some opinion, I think Lord Sugar still has many years of puns and finger pointing left in him yet.
But one thing’s for sure: The Apprentice can’t keep treating its audience with as little respect as it treats its candidates. We’re smarter than that.