The best show on TV is back. Do not come at me with any other shows. The Apprentice is the best show. The Apprentice is the best show because it is a special competition rigged so everybody loses. And they lose catastrophically: everyone who loses this game loses in the most high-stakes, embarrassing way possible. A lot of these people leave their entire job for weeks on end to compete on this show (does Bake Off have such jeopardy?). They leave their entire families behind to go and pretend to do business (does Strictly have such dedication?). And then when they lose they have to put a big scarf on and get in a cab and go back to a life where they have no job and they have fucked up, hard and publicly, on TV, so that they are actively less employable now than when they started this process. Tell me The Apprentice isn't the greatest show. It's 12 weeks of watching the world's worst Tories ruin their own lives in slow motion.
All of this is held together by the tough-talking glue that is Alan "Lord" Sugar, Britain's conkeriest TV star. This is the twelfth year of The Apprentice, and still the man cannot convincingly point. Still every show opens with an expository shot of Sugar, in dazzling HD, slowly getting out of a Bentley then fucking about on a skyscraper roof. The Apprentice is the best show because it never changes; there are no gimmicks left to remain: first task, smelling what's selling. Second task: we're putting your design skills to the test. Third task: market research. Fourth task: we'd like you to turn raw ingredients into cooked food… then sell that food, to cunts, for £8 a tray. Week five they go to Belgium. On and on, the same dance. And through it all, Sugar gets increasingly grouchy: you're fired, you're fired, what is it you do, look, I've had enough: you're fired—
Yesterday the BBC unveiled the latest batch of contestants to be pressed through the machine. We know the beats of The Apprentice now, so it's possible to predict with near-perfect accuracy what is going to happen, who it's going to happen to and who is going to win. Shut your trap:
Andrew looks quite nice, doesn't he, which means he's doomed to be ignored by the male-only team of squabbling alpha lads for the first three to four weeks of the process until the teams are mixed among the genders again. You'll see Andrew in the back of a cab desperately trying to shout sense over speakerphone to a distant team captain saying "yeah". You'll see Andrew after he's been quietly delegated some non-task like "counting". Andrew posts up unimpressive but un-terrible numbers selling £8 pots of chilli to City workers. Most of the times you see Andrew will be: i. at the start of an episode, when he runs double time down the stairs in boxers to answer the phone at 4AM and tell everyone they need to leave in half an hour; or ii. at the end of the show, in cosy knitwear, lying side-saddle across the back of a sofa, wine glass full of orange juice, waiting for the doomed boardroom survivors to return to the house. Winning The Apprentice takes exceptional skill, but getting to the quarter- or semi-finals normally takes little more than "not noticeably fucking up", which is how Andrew will get there until, with regret, he's fired.
Anisa is going to be all about the BIG DECISIONS. Her tactic for getting to the final is going to be the hugely inadvisable tekkers of being very vocal and forthright all the time in the hope that it will make her seem driven, or "a natural leader". When she gets to be team leader in week four she will make a series of increasingly batshit decisions, without consulting anyone – leaving the cod out of her fish and chips in order to cut costs, locating the food van in Wapping, naming the stall Fish World, shouting: "Right, well guys, I'm team leader so ultimately it's my decision – alright ketchup is £17" down the phone at them from the back of a moving car. In the boardroom she will be, in Lord Sugar's words, "battered" by her team-mates, leading to a spiky exchange with Karen before the eventual, "I've heard enough from you, actually Anisa, you're fired."
"Bushra, I don't know what it is that you do" – Lord Sugar, a record-breaking 1,000 times this series; so much that they have to dedicate an entire episode of You're Fired to all the cut instances of him saying it.
He's even saying it on top of a skyscraper at the start of the show; he's saying it in that one episode a season when he doesn't bother to turn up to dish a task out and they just roll a TV screen in for him to deliver it, all the way through, so much it becomes a catchphrase: Bushra, and his hand paws at his teddybear head, eyes closed, hunched over, I just don't know what it is that you do.
Bow your heads and take the knee, as we pay homage to the most aesthetically pleasing Apprentice candidate in living memory. Charles – essentially Piggy from Lord of the Flies if he got off the island, got hench and started a search-engine optimisation firm – looks like this year's Big Character. The Karthik, the Adam Corbally, the Stuart Baggs (RIP, big man).
THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN TO CHARLES DURING AND AFTER HIS TIME ON THE APPRENTICE:
– He will ask to be team leader four times, and will be passed over on each occasion, sending him into increasingly fierce huffs.
– Eventually Lord Sugar will impose his leadership on the boys' team and he will go on to enjoy a fluke success, entirely down to an appalling performance from the girls' team.
– He will shout "GET IN" after said success, receiving a stern glare from old Claude, and a warning from the Lord of Sugar "not to get ahead of himself".
– During the treat after said success – cheese and wine tasting at Neal's Yard – he will clink glasses with everyone, before telling the camera his win puts "egg on the faces of a lot of people in this room".
– The following week he will have a screaming argument with his team leader in Trafalgar Square while dressed as a dog with a sandwich board.
– Later he will rap the jingle for a cough medicine advert, calling himself MC Sneezes.
– He will squeal the words "Lord Sugar if I can just…" 450,000 times in the boardroom until everyone else finally shuts up, only to say: "I am not a part-timer, I will give this my all."
– He will be fired during treasure hunt week for not knowing what a magnifying glass is.
– One year later he will spend a week in the Celebrity Big Brother house, dabbing and bickering with Wayne Lineker.
– He will disappear forever.
Non-playable character in an underwhelming fantasy game has burst out of the village you saved from Baol the Unknowable Dragon and now he's trying to sell you some 200 percent mark-up hair extensions. Wins praise from Sugar for rolling his sleeves up in Week 1 and manning a burrito stand or whatever but loses marks in Week 4 after sweating too much during a big pitch to Tesco. He's got "Daniel, you've never won yet, have you?" "No, Lord Sugar" "Do you do anything right?" "Yes Lord Sugar ificouldjust—" "You're Fired" written all over him.
Elizabeth here looks like she thinks she's a lot harder than she actually is. Look at those clenched fists. She'll be full of fighting talk in the first episode introduction VTs – lots of chat about "kicking butt" and "showing the kids who is boss" – but it will quickly become apparent that she's actually just a Very Nice Lady who is in no way cut out for a televised mud-slinging contest with a bunch of roided estate agents. She will garner some praise after pitching an exercise ball with handles to Argos, before her failure to sell anything on the gourmet popcorn task results in a "I wish you all the best in the future, but with regret… you're fired."
Ah mate, have you ever seen anyone Torier than this? Look at his face. "Please mate, can I have thirty more grand please?" "Oh Bolly? Oh yah yah yah yah yah: Bolly." The little fucker even interned for David Cameron. That, for Sugar – viciously Labour for ages until Corbynmania made him something akin to neutral – is going to be too much to bear. He's going to toy with him for a few weeks – hover the finger over him, watch him visibly flinch, fire the person next to him – then hand him leadership for the make-a-TV-advert task and watch him fall apart completely. Proper "actually cry after a bad day" thing. "Emergency meeting where he tells the team he's electing Joanne as leader" instead. And then, when they so inevitably lose, Sugar will lick his lips, like a lion pouncing on a wounded lamb. "You little cunt," he'll snarl, "you absolute little cunt. I hate you. Get out." He won't even say "You're Fired". He'll just yell until Elliot leaves.
Going to say "I'm an alpha male" a lot in his pre-roll, anoint himself team leader of the boys' team in Week 1 and fuck up something spectacularly – accidentally pays £400 cash for a single lobster at Billingsgate Fish Market that he then desperately tries to up-sell in the warm dank heat of the day, or something: accidentally calls Karen a "tart", before leading Team Tremendous to disastrous failure. Will talk over Sugar attempting to fire him three entire times before he's issued with a sharp "SHAT AP" and summarily executed.
Jade is the female protagonist in the now-traditional "tabloid story about two of the contestants hooking up", which means i. she won't win, no way; and ii. she will at least make it a fair number of weeks in without getting fired. There's no point whipping up titillation for a Week 1 exit: no need to attach a sex story to someone Sugar is priming for business success. Jade could lift most of this year's boys clear over her head and she tells them as such in Week 4, when she's the first cross-gender team leader. Charles keeps trying to butt in on the design-a-baby-bath-toy task — "I just… hear me out: I really think it could do with an LCD screen" — and Jade's cool demotion of him to subteam leader, watching him sweat and toil deep into the night, twitching behind a graphic designer while loudly creating an incredible, ugly box – will impress Sugar. "You've surprised me," he'll say, before sending the team out on a paragliding treat. Makes it to the semi-final but fucks the interview when she can't explain to Mike Soutar what "net spend" is.
There's always a shiny-faced lad with long hair and like 5 percent too many teeth who spends the whole intro saying how good-looking he is and then actually turns out to be a good salesman, the little fucker, which is what James is this year. Going to go quite well through the contest until he's given a task specifically related to his job – "This week, your teams are going to set up a recruitment agency," Sugar beams, from the grey, knackered-looking Adecco in London Bridge, "James: you're task manager" – and he's going to panic under the pressure, go mad, "right the first thing we need is a logo", that sort of thing, put himself forward to pitch to a room full of experts despite having three proven pitchers better than him on the team, accidentally sends an IT professional to spend a day doing human resources. "James," Sugar says, "listen, I like you. But you messed up. You're Fired." Shags up a storm at the end-of-season afterparty, first vote out on this year's I'm A Celeb.
Jeff has got "in-house favourite" written all over him. He will prove to be every other candidate's best friend, thanks to his warm manner and impromptu break-dance performances. During episode one's introductory chat in the boardroom, the following exchange will 100 and thousand fucking percent definitely happen:
LORD SUGAR: Jeff, I hear you are a bit of a break-dancer?
JEFF: Yes Lord Sugar.
LORD SUGAR: I see. Well, try to keep that to yourself while you're in here, not sure we've got room with this table.
JEFF: I could always teach you some moves if you like Lord Sugar?
*Everyone sniggering and darting their eyes around like they're in school and someone just burped during assembly*
LORD SUGAR: That won't be necessary.
Will go out with a spring in his step around week seven, for some vague crime like "failing to go that extra mile" – code for being a bit naff – and his best bits compilation on You're Fired will be soundtracked by "Moves Like Jagger".
Joanna works tangentially in social media which means she's safe for at least ten weeks, because Lord Sugar i. fundamentally does not understand social media; but ii. does understand there's money in it, somehow, and he's waiting for the right person to come along to unlock that potential to him and also carefully explain how to access his Twitter DMs. Joanna could be that person, but falls agonisingly short when she fails to sell a single hot tub at a hot tub expo and then, after being spared the axe in Week 8, does that classic Apprentice fuck-up when a northerner gets baffled by London geography and ends up in a cab up by Heathrow on speakerphone to a Props Department asking desperately if they've got an "Aladdin-like rug". Will get the most thirst-follows on Instagram, which is sort of like winning, in a way.
Introducing Michaela, this year's fun/mad/bubbly/crazy/kooky/chatterbox candidate – the one who will be tasked with hosting a drinks reception and evening's entertainment in a safari park, and will network so well, so hard, that her team will win, despite their only "entertainment" being Charles in a monkey suit doing forward rolls. In the boardroom she will talk really quickly and get herself into a flap, queueing to multiple cutaways of Lord Sugar looking bemused. Sadly her downfall will come during the treasure hunt week, when she slips over the banana peel item – gets confused at what a "trivet" is, that sort of thing; accidentally ends up driving out to Watford to spend £400 on a type of knife – and costs her team the game. "Michaela," Sugar says, "you're fun", and she smiles, flushed with relief, before, "but I don't do fun. You're fired." Will have a catchphrase of some kind – something like "you didn't?!" – and there'll be a wacky supercut of her saying it on You're Fired.
Ross's only stand-out moment in the entire series will be 15 minutes into episode one, when every single girl in London will realised they've been negged by him on Tinder and his name will trend on Twitter as people post the screenshots. Bit too underwhelming to make any impact on the boys-only team, melts further into the shadows on the mixed teams, Sugar notices him after he fucks up a batch of treacle toffee during Week 6 and gets rid of him in a triple-firing. Doesn't turn up to the You're Fired screening, so his role is played by one of those meerkat toys dressed in a child's oxford shirt.
Sajan looks the type to meet lots of footballers after the series ends and post photos with them on his Twitter.
Sarah seems like a very viable candidate – smart, quick-thinking, unabsurd, good talker – but I could also see her being the one who is completely blown apart during the interviews by some sort of catastrophic secret from her past or a massive glaring oversight in her business model.
CLAUDE: So it says her you turned over £50,000 in 2015.
SARAH: That's correct.
CLAUDE: In 2015?
CLAUDE: Do you think this is a joke?
CLAUDE: Do you think this is a bloody joke?
SARAH: If I could ju–
CLAUDE: Do you know what turnover is?
SARAH: Yes can I–
CLAUDE: Do you know what gross profit is?
CLAUDE: Do you know what money is?
CLAUDE: You didn't turn over anywhere near £50,000, I'm looking at your business accounts now.
CLAUDE: You can leave now.
SARAH: Can I–
CLAUDE: You may die.
Sarah-Jayne is here to quietly get her head down, roll her sleeves up, get stuck in, team lead if she has to, support if she doesn't, become a sort of friend-to-all consigliere type who gets occasional approving women-in-business nods from Karen across the boardroom, and then go absolutely fucking mental during a task and have a proper hold-her-back screaming fit at someone – doing that "I've started a business what haVE YOU EVER DONE" at a baffled Ross – and somehow getting him fired when they're both summoned to the boardroom. Not to be fucked with.
THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN DURING SIOBHAN'S TIME ON THE SHOW, NAILED ON:
– Very literally elbows every other candidate out of the way on Week 1 to announce herself team leader for the girls' team;
– Somehow leads said team to a narrow and unlikely victory despite doing something mad like buying £400 worth of fidget spinners;
– Says "ooh, I could get used to this!" while chinking a glass of champagne during the first treat, swaddled in an enormous white fluffy gown;
– Sleeps inexplicably in a full avocado mask that cracks and contorts when she screams "LORD SUGAR'S HERE!" in that one week when Lord Sugar turns up to the house;
– Defends herself during a particularly fraught boardroom by stopping the conversation to list her qualities, counts out "I'm passionate" on one finger then freezes up entirely—
– Loudly insists geese are fruit;
– Fails on the sales expo task because she erroneously insists she is a big ticket seller and not the small ticket seller we all know she is and tries to sell a caravan to a 67-year-old so sexually aggressively that he makes a complaint to the BBC;
– Says "this won't be the last you see of me!" in the cab out of there
– Is the last anyone sees of her, ever
WHO WILL ACTUALLY WIN THOUGH? – AS DECIPHERED BY THE APPRENTICE WINNER'S MATRIX
Obviously it would be impossible to work out exactly who is going to win The Apprentice based solely on their picture. That would turn an article like this into little more than pre-show fluff, a sort of banal exercise of self-congratulation, basically an overlong opportunity for two writers to show off about how funny they think they are. Luckily, this isn't that at all. We have maths on our side, specifically the Apprentice Winner's Matrix. Here, we can deduce exactly who the winner will be, based on their points across a series of categories. The candidate with the most points has the highest likelihood of winning. The categories are:
GOB: The winner will have just the right amount of gob. The quiet ones always get bodied after a few weeks when Lord Sugar realises he "doesn't even know where they've been all this time", but equally the over-loud ones normally get wiped out when they shout at Claude and get the "not in my boardroom" treatment. You want around a 7.5 on the GOB scale.
JOB: It is very important you don't have a job. Lord Sugar despises employees and only respects people who have their own businesses. If you have a job you will be dubbed "Mr Corporate" and be fobbed off immediately.
RUB: Equally, the winning candidate must tread very lightly when it comes to "rubbing people up the wrong way". Those who are too scheming, too argumentative, too confrontational, will be reported back to Lord Sugar via Claude or Karen, and will be told in no uncertain terms: "I hear you've got a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. If we're going to be working together I can't be worrying about you being rude to potential clients." Once this has been happened, once the "rub" narrative has taken hold, there is no amount of I-can-change-Lord-Sugar-ing that can save you. You cannot rub off the rub. You will be fired.
THE LORD SUGAR HORNINESS SPECTRUM: Ah ha! This is a trick section. It matters not how attractive or beguiling you are, because Lord Alan Sugar is never horny. He has never been horny. Horniness would prove itself only a distraction from business. His brain merely thrums with the concept of buying things at quite a low price and then selling them to people for a higher price and thus making a profit. It is the same concept he was seduced by as a pink, jowly boy and it still bangs within him like an ancient drum. Lord Sugar is never horny. He has never had sex. All of his children were miraculous conceptions, realised after his wife sat in the back of his van – the selling chamber – in the East End in the early 1980s. Their true father is business, Lord Sugar is the conduit, preaching its word and raising its children. He considers all Apprentice candidates his "children". Like Abraham he understands many of them must be sacrificed. Lord Alan Sugar is never horny – except for this one time when he sort of tried to chirpse Karen Brady's daughter on Twitter, but look how bad he is at being horny, who says "wow" when they are horny? – the only thing he cares about is Spurs and selling aerials, the end.
SCHOOL: Finally, it is vital that the winning candidate isn't university educated – licking his lips: Mr Culture Vulture, Mr Arty-Farty, Mr Clever Clogs, I might not have a degree but I know when I see a bad deal – and they will have preferably dropped out of school aged 16. Your chances will be even higher if you spent your lunch-times selling rubbers to rich kids.
Based on all of these factors the eventual winner of this series will be: Sarah-Jayne. Looks confident but knows when to shut up, owns her own business, team-player, HORNINESS N/A, and I don't know for sure about her education level but she just seems like she might spit out a brassy "— and I didn't need a degree, either!" during a tense boardroom-off with Elliot.
And as for Lord Sugar? The old goblin king will give the boardroom table a spit and polish before clambering back into his nest atop the Shard. From there he will tweet things like "shut your mouth up prat ratings still bad then piersy?" at Piers Morgan, and dream of Billingsgate Market, until he hears the violins and the search begins again.