Gather, children, it is time again. Just as the twisting face of the moon rolls pebbles into sand, so 18 people of indiscriminate intelligence have gathered to try to sell Lord Alan Sugar a weird app they've come up with.
The Apprentice is exactly the same television programme every single year. It's just the way of the world, that from now until the end of actual time – when Lord Sugar is literally a composite consciousness being projected onto the frosted doors of his office – the same 18 candidates, with slightly different names and slightly different haircuts, will climb Amstrad towers to be bollocked by a multi-millionaire pensioner whose face looks increasingly like an apparition in a bowl of porridge.
While his American counterpart is maybe about to become the actual president of America, Alan Sugar is doomed to live the same season of television, over and over again, forever. Here are this year's just-the-same-as-last-year candidates. Here is the exact order they are going to get fired in, based entirely on portraits of each of them and a load of information we've just completely made up.
Oliver, by the looks of things, is going to be this year's first casualty. Essentially a bloke who looks like a supply teacher. A poor, unsuspecting chancer the BBC have thrown into the lion's den, just to give Rhod Gilbert something decent to chew on during the first episode of You're Fired. The first task will see the boys (Team Synapses) buy loads of squids and scallops from a fish market at 2AM, and then fail to sell them outside a pub somewhere in Bermondsey. The other lads will trick Oliver into being the project manager by inflating his ego and telling him they trust him completely – of course, in effect, throwing him under bus when they ultimately end up only selling £12's worth of gone-off scampi to a child who later dies of complications from food poisoning. Oliver will be told in the boardroom by Lord Sugar that he's "bloody useless" and that while he "might have been selling pollock, he's more of a fresh pillock, to be honest". After he's been fired he will thank everyone for the opportunity like a bullied schoolboy thanking his older brother for a wedgie. — AH
Soft-handed posh cunts always go first. Goodbye, Oliver. — JG
Sofiane looks to be one of the most cliche-heavy candidates this year – "my motto is live the dream, but my dream's not finished" – which is why it's sad that he will go in Week Two, after royally fucking up some basic arithmetic and selling a load of cleaning products for a tenth of their actual worth, losing the task again for the boys (Team Renegade). He will try to palm his fuck-up off on his project manager, but will lack the skills of boardroom battle required to keep his head above water. He will also be laughed at by the entire room when Claude reads out some quotes from his CV in which he describes himself as being like a minotaur or something. In a last ditch attempt to save himself he will tell Lord Sugar he "started from nothing" and has "loads of potential" – playing to the deep stirrings in Lord Sugar, the part of him that hates people with A-Levels, love people who worked on markets once – but sadly his fate will already have been written by this stage.
"It's a no, Sofiane," he'll say, after keeping him waiting on an answer for what seems like hours. "You're fired." — AH
There is a tipping point on The Apprentice where, as the weeks wear on, you remember that these people are, in both title and in terms of hierarchy, gunning for a place as an apprentice, and sometimes they are just too old for it. It gets too weird. Michelle is 35 and has a husband and a son, and a career, and in her case it is weird.
It's weird, also, because she's weird. The thing with Michelle is that she pulled age and rank in Week One and was team leader of the girls (Team Succubus), and the girls won the task, so despite her leadership – lots of screaming while looking down at a phone book, lots of wearing a hairnet and telling Frances "I think I know what a prawn is, luv," lots of running up to businessmen hurriedly taking phonecalls on their lunch hour and desperately trying to sell them an £8 tray of cous-cous – despite that, she's still in the process. But then when it comes to her time to lose, when her head is on the chopping block and Sir Alan lifts his axe and cleaves it from her neck, and it rolls and rolls and rolls, and in the cab back to the train station she wears a big maroon scarf and says half-confidently, "You will hear from me again. You will hear from me again," you know – deep-down – that you will not hear from her again. — JG
Michelle looks like the type to get a bemused reaction cutaway out of Claude because of how manic her sales technique is. — AH
Week One and Sugar fires the team leader who led their team to defeat. Week Two he normally fires the guy who blamed Week One's leader for leading the team to defeat. Week Three, it's normally a direct fuck-up leading directly to a firing. There is no space for Sugar to hate anyone. No loathing. His first three firings are pragmatic: you mess up? You're Fired. You lost? You're Fired. There are no pockets of air for Alan Sugar's contempt for every single person in the process to truly breathe and grow gills.
That is until Week Four. Week Four's the first hate-fire. This is the first one Sugar is doing just for him. Dillon says, "I am famous for my truth bombs" and essentially looks like he got lost on the way to a casting to be Gemma Collins' new best friend on a short-lived ITV Be daytime reality show and ended up on The Apprentice instead. And Sugar loathes him. Sugar's there pulling him back from a celebratory winning team bro-hug in the first week to go "… oh, and Dillon?" "Yes, Lord Sugar?" "I've got my eye on you. I want to see a little bit more from you next week."
Sugar's there, visibly deflated when Dillon leads his team (Team Surge) to victory in the scavenger hunt task. "And Dillon, how did Dillon do?" he's asking Claude. "Actually very well," he says, with soft surprise, and Sugar exhales like the world's oldest, saddest whoopie cushion. And then Dillon's on the losing team. And then Dillon's in the final three. Dillon's trying to boast about his sales record and Karen's quietly correcting him – a gentle, "But that's not what happened, is it? JD made the sales, you seem more preoccupied with the order of things on the sales stand." And you can see Sugar, throbbing and undulating like a coiled snake, ready to strike. "Dillon," he says, as trumpets soar to a crescendo behind him, "you mucked up. You're Fired." His farewell drive-to-the-airport mac and rollercase outfit will be so flamboyant that Ofcom get complaints. — JG
It's Chaos Week and Aleksandra is here, coming in like your auntie who always smells of lavender and never remembers your name. Yes: she's "kooky" with a capital "OOK", and does things like claim she can "speak cat" and will definitely put in an over-the-top acting performance during the advert week. Aleksandra will remain a loveable but peripheral character until Week Five, when she will be given that little bit too much responsibility under the watch of an over-zealous project manager [Grainne] and go rogue, leading a sub-team in a wild goose chase down the banks of the Thames, accidentally not selling anything, fiddling while Rome burns through the rest of the task by really intensely making something useful but irrelevant to the task out of felt. — AH
Aleksandra will be double-fired (Chaos Week!) along with Natalie. Natalie, who accidentally misspells every single word on a work-thru-the-night-and-design-it label on a new range of artisan mustards. "Must-rad, is it?" Sugar says, beholding Karthik's beetroot-choco mustard concoction. "Sounds like…" and he freezes, realises the joke writers have dropped a bollock – he's stuck here mid-sentence holding some pink-brown mustard in front of some idiots, only he looks the fool, he looks stupid… "Just fuck off, Natalie. You're fired." — JG
Mukai legitimately wears a bowtie, so I'm afraid right from the get-go that he is a bellpiece. Of course, this does not – as it never does – impinge on his business acumen: in fact, and I don't think it's beyond my remit to start suggesting scientific findings from studies undertaken entirely in my head, you can only assume being a bellpiece is a tactical advantage in business. You have to be a bellpiece to sell. You have to be a bellpiece to mark prices up. You have to be a bellpiece say "drive" and "expertise" and then try to sell someone a scavenged chair for £400.
Mukai is internationally-minded, a snappy dresser, and constantly speaks as though he is suppressing a loud series of burps, which makes him nailed-on to put himself forward as Team Leader for hipster week ("Welcome to east London," Sugar says, vaguely gesturing towards a tired dance hall. "I want you to sell sweet treats to these plaid-wearing Brick Lane wankers. They'll pay £6 for fackin' anything if you put a brown paper sticker on the cunt."). After a boardroom tussle with JD over who decided to put walnuts in Team Elegance's brownie mixture ("You were Team Leader. The buck stops with you." "But you actually put a whole bag of walnuts in after I expressly told you not to" "The buck stops with you, mate"), Mukai is dismissed. Due to a last-minute attack of dignity he does not make an appearance on You're Fired. His business idea was for a new range of pens. — JG
Oi oi, here comes trouble! Cheeky Courtney is an up-by-his-bootstraps Essex boy who Alan Sugar says "reminds me a lot of myself". Alan likes him: he's always smiling, always making snappy one-liners, always weaselling himself out of boardroom showdowns by making uneasy friendships with the Team Leader.
"Courtney," Alan says, like a proud-but-distant father. "I like you."
But then novelty gift salesman Courtney is put in charge of a task – the task is literally selling novelty gifts – and falls apart. He's in the back of a cab sweating and shouting into a hands-free phone. He's accidentally spent £200 on a tub of wind-up dentures because he forgot the live-and-die-by-it mantra, "Smell what's selling." The entirety of Team Surge has backed him into the corner of a Westfield pound shop and is yelling at him about the customer journey. "Courtney," Sugar says – distant, hopeful fantasies of them businessing together, lunching together, skipping hand-in-hand through golden fields, all dissipating to the dust – "You're Fired." — JG
Courtney is the best bet for Celebrity Big Brother 2017, where he will have penetrative sex on television with someone off Ex On the Beach. — AH
Trishna, Week One: "I'm a hard nut to crack. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to show Lord Sugar what I'm made of. I won't hold back until I've got what I want." Week Two: nothing. Week Three: nothing. Week Four: has Trishna been off ill, or something? Do they need to start taking register at the start of each task? Week Five: nothing. Week Six: there's a bit at the start of the episode where Trishna is the one who runs downstairs at 6AM in a towel to answer the phone, but then more-or-less nothing. Week Seven: Alan Sugar remembers she exists. "Trishna," he says, laser-beam focus all-eyes-on-her. "We haven't seen much from you. Next task, you're Team Leader." Week Eight: fired. — JG
Oh boy, here he is: it's definite fan favourite Karthik. Whatever happens over the next 12 weeks you can be 100 percent sure that this will be the best You're Fired montage. He's Adam Corbally, he's Alex Mills, he's Alex Epstein. He's the character who will be sitting in the back of the car asking questions like, "Guys, what's a wok?" He's the guy who gets dressed up as a dog in an ill-advised attempt to liven up a pet food pitch to three major supermarkets. He's the guy who keeps mentioning his eyebrow in the boardroom, leading to Lord Sugar making the joke, "I bet that raised a few eyebrows, or eyebrow in Karthik's case," on at least one occasion (I'm serious, if Lord Sugar doesn't make that joke, I will enter the process myself next year), but he can't last. Karthik will fall down on a task that he will have confidently put himself forward to lead, saying something like, "It's computers, it's sales, it's everything I do in my personal business," only to totally end up not knowing what an ethernet cable is. Standing ovation on the set of You're Fired. — AH
While Karthik "you're a nice guy, Karthik, but you tried to wholesale bacon in a synagogue" is quietly getting fired before the task winner has even been announced, perennial boardroom agitator Jessica is biding her time. Jessica has been on the losing team eight weeks out of nine: she's been down to the last three seven times. Sugar's arms are folded, week after week after week, saying: "I don't know what you do." But Jessica is an online fashion entrepreneur, and that scares Sugar. He's never really cracked "the web". He's too afraid to fire her because she knows what Instagram is and he doesn't. One week she escapes firing by just locking eyes with him and slowly saying "viral marketing". The hot streak can't last, though: it is with regret that I must announce that Jessica is kooky, and we all know kooky can't last long in this process. Like a hothouse orchid, she is sent back from the Derbyshire hellhole from which she came. "I think I were just too full-on for Lord Sugar," she says, bouncing around the farewell cab, before turning to the backseat GoPro. "BYE, HATERS!" — JG
Alana – with a slight shake in her voice and a flicker of humanity in her eyes – will be this year's "it is with regret" candidate. Every series there is one candidate who is really nice and quite good, but Lord Sugar decides doesn't have the killer instinct/acumen/experience/workplace-related one-liners to win. Despite her best attempts at sounding savage and single-minded, she will come across as far too normal, vulnerable and relatable to actually win. Alana will do well – she'll probably design an actually good bath toy at some point – but, after floundering around the Week 10 mark by allowing herself to be pushed around, will then be told she still has a long way to go. Lord Sugar will assure her "he sees a lot of potential" and that she reminds him a lot of him a few years ago, but that she isn't quite ready yet, so – and you hear it coming, like jet engines in the distance before the bombs even drop – it is with regret that, Alana: you're Fired. — AH
Frances is really keen that people don't underestimate her just because she is short and beautiful, which is why thus far she has navigated each challenge with a sort of icy-veined detachment from true reality that borders on the psychotic. To be honest, the only real reason Sugar fires her in Week 10 is because he's taken a peek at her business plan (new range of high street beauty salons) and already has doomed visions of the moment he incredulously asks her, "WHAT'S A FACKIN' VAJAZZLE WHEN IT'S AT HOME?" getting turned into a meme. She has to go. — JG
It's THE INTERVIEWS, and Samuel will be the first to go after his business plan is revealed to be something like personal trainers for parrots, or luxury alcohol-free cocktail parties for under-fives, or high-end mouse mats, or Uber for boats, or bouncy-castles with an interactive twist, or flashing keyrings, or an online peer-review database of dry-cleaners, or something to do with events. He will spend the entirety of the interview episode being asked, "Do you really think this is a viable business model?" and his answer will sound less and less convincing every time. He will consistently be the best dressed.
Grainne. Grainne is one of those contestants who takes words like "drive" and "determination" and makes them sound like threats. She'll talk about her upbringing like she was raised by wolves, and take any challenge to her legitimacy as a candidate as a threat against her family. Grainne is a mother and she will mention this a lot. One week, she will pitch a new type of nappy – called a Happy-Nappy, with a picture of a puffin shitting and smiling on it – to Mothercare, open the pitch by telling them she is a mother, and go on to make £750,000, breaking all previous Apprentice records. However, at the interview stage, her business plan will be scrutinised with intensity by that Scottish bloke, who will reveal in startling scenes that Grainne has fluffed the maths. "It says here you turned over £60,000 last year," he'll say to her. "That's right," she'll reply. "Why then, when I spoke to your ex-business partner, did he tell me you actually failed to turn a profit at all in your first two years of trading?"
"Oh," she'll say. "Oh."
Then we come to JD. I'm finding just looking at photos of JD comforting, because when I look at photos of JD I know exactly how I'm going to feel for the next 12 weeks. I know the lovely glow that is going to fill my belly when he says, "I'm happy to be team leader on this one, guys," during the week they go abroad somewhere. I know how much I will rejoice when JD tries to paraglide as a treat for being on the winning team (Team Sorcery) on the perfume task. I know how much I will smile when JD trundles back down the stairs in week 12 to assist one of the finalists. Look at JD, he is the Kritios Boy of Apprentice candidates – a proportionally perfect specimen, comprised of high-blood pressure, bravado, idioms and aftershave.
I can already hear him growling, "Guys, seriously, can we cut the bullshit now?" in Week Four, while everyone argues over what their ready-meal brand should be called; or in the boardroom, reminding Lord Sugar over and over again about the one decent day of sales he did in Week Two. JD is that classic type of "decent bloke" candidate who bulldozes his way to the semi-final like a book of motivational business quotes with a sledge-hammer. Sadly, in the interviews, he will have his pants down for not knowing the difference between profit and revenue, only to be told by Lord Sugar that "he's a very nice guy", but lacking "the proper commitment I need in a business partner". After The Apprentice has aired, JD will have an admirable stab at a career in broadcasting, which will last around 12 days. — AH
Week 10 Daily Mail hit-piece reveals JD was having a torrid affair with Grainne throughout. "They grunted like pigs," a production assistant will say, anonymously. "Like animals. Like pigs. We had to keep topping up the communal condom bucket with caramel-flavoured sheathes. Like pigs, they were. Pigs." — JG
You know that "you're the perfect combination of sexy and cute" line that originated from Crazy, Stupid, Love and immediately became the kind of thing fedora-wearing pick-up artists yell at the full moon when they run out of super likes on Tinder? Well, there's something to the idea of a formula taking you far, and no more is that so than on The Apprentice. Rebecca makes it to the final by being soft-edged, diplomatic and chatty (winning over the Hunger Games-esque girls' team in the first few weeks), good-with-numbers and quick-thinking (wins a pitch by retorting something to an ASDA executive that makes them all pull a face and mark something on a laptop that they later say "impressed them" in whispered conversation with Lord Sugar) and just generally very good at tasks (somehow magics up a full suit of armour during the scavenger hunt week) and ascends with ease to the final. Sadly, hamstrung with a blast-from-the-past team of JD, Jessica, Sofiane, Grainne and Karthik, she cannot topple the undefeatable monster that is: Paul. — JG
Paul is going to win, basically because he provides Lord Sugar with the two things he needs: a narrative and a really boring business plan. Firstly, Paul is going to start the process off being a real billy-big-balls loud mouth, shouting at the likes of Mukai and calling Sofiane a "wet ponce". However, as the weeks progress, Paul will get more and more boring, and around the Week Eight mark he will lead his team (Team Archangel) to a stunning victory selling fitness programmes to gyms. In front of everyone, Karen will tell Lord Sugar, "Actually, it wasn't really the product they were impressed with, the main reason they invested was because they liked Paul." Paul will do an unassuming but really smug smile and Karen will continue: "They said he was exactly the sort of collaborator they were looking to work with." Lord Sugar will then say, "Well! Paul, that's a bit more like it."
This is it – this is when Paul actually wins. But first he has to get through three more weeks before he actually claims victory. Then, after competently presenting his dead-boring business about insoles for running shoes to a room of Nike and Adidas bosses and Lord Sugar – who always spends the presentation evening being treated like the Queen of England or the Pope, entering the room late and being advised by courtiers – finally Paul will make one last sell in the boardroom, featuring an emotional plea specifying his graft and lack of education, before being crowned Lord Sugar's new business partner.
Then the lights dim, Sugar is packed off in cab back to his retirement bungalow somewhere in Surrey for another year, where he will sleep and dream of helicopters. The End. — AH
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