Different reality TV shows operate by different rules when setting criteria for contestants. The X Factor has never made any pretence of only selecting the best 12 singers, even if their justification for some of the acts making the live shows stretches credibility. The Great British Bake Off, on the other hand, relies on you believing that the final 12 are the best of the crop. Putting someone through just for entertainment value would ill serve their audience.

The Apprentice straddles between the two poles, veering slightly more towards the latter. A huge amount of the cache of the show is that these are all real business people and that Lord Sugar is only interested in the best. After all, his money and name are at stake every time.

If this is the case though, and these really are the best the audition process threw up, Sugar must be worried about now. Two episodes in and there seems to be very little genuine business acumen coming through. Of course, the first few weeks are always rough while nerves settle and the deadwood is removed. But this year it seems the contestants are particularly lacking in depth and skill.

The second episode was testament to this. Charged with creating an advertising campaign for Japanese denim, both teams committed a litany of errors around deadlines, logistics and failing to understand their market. Nobody had anything good to say, so it was unsurprising that both teams were judged failures by the boss.

Having said that, I have a certain degree of sympathy for them. Last year, this task revolved around cactus shampoo. The boys’ team latched onto the uniqueness of the product better than the girls and scored a convincing win. This time around, both teams made a stab at selling the Japanese angle to the jeans, albeit cackhandedly, only to be told by the grumpy teddy bear that the Oriental nature of the product was immaterial.

Anyway, with six candidates up for firing instead of just three, this seemed an ample opportunity for Sugar to remove a number of underperformers. There were solid cases for dismissal for five of them, ranging from being irritating, having a breakdown, and simply being non-existent. Yet just one departed, leaving some very underwhelming people in the process.

In fact, the biggest problem seems to be how few are actually speaking up right now. There are at least half a dozen candidates who seem to be content with being in the background. I genuinely couldn’t pick a winner right now. I don’t think I could even remember most of their names if pushed. Things best pick up soon, or Lord Sugar may find himself backing the least bad candidate to win, as opposed to the best.

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