The Apprentice: The new victims in the line of fire
As the contest returns to our screens, Gerard Gilbert meets its new stars – and finds out who'll be giving 200 per cent
I will literally roar my way to the top...", "I would call myself 'the blonde assassin'...", "I truly am the reflection of perfection..." – yes – cue Prokofiev, cue the London skyline, and come on down the latest batch of 16 wallflowers (among them a wrestler, an architect and a former show-jumper) as The Apprentice returns for another 12-week run.
And it's business as usual, or as Lord Sugar put it at yesterday's launch: "Why fix it if it ain't broke?" – the Labour peer once again offering a £250,000 investment in the winner's business. He's looking, he said, for a partner, not an employee – "The Marks to my Spencer, the Lennon to my McCartney". The Marx to my Lenin, he might have added with only the smallest of tweaks.
But don't expect anything revolutionary from his lordship, who used the press conference to attack "banker bashing", and to promote his show as instilling enterprise in the nation's youth. "One of the reasons I continue to do this programme is that I hope that it will provide a service to the young to try and dispel the fast buck culture," he said.
Nick Hewer and Karren Brady return, although there is one new star of the show – aerial shots of The Shard at London Bridge elbowing out Canary Wharf Tower, although if Sugar was hoping to imply that his boardroom was atop The Shard then the effect was rather broken by the incomplete apex of the skyscraper. And anyway, we all know the boardroom is a studio mock-up in somewhere far less glamorous.
The first task was the traditional boys vs girls, or Phoenix vs Sterling as the teams are to be known, decorating blank T-shirts, mugs and so on and selling them on at a profit. The boys made such a hash of their screen-printing that they might have been wiser to have flogged them outside the Tate Modern instead of to tourists on the South Bank. Future tasks include marketing English sparkling wine, "up-cycling" old furniture, and selling a Zumba-like fitness franchise.
Were there any off-screen romances, asked one journalist. Only Nick with the canteen lady, replied Sugar. "We couldn't help but note that he got bigger portions." Nick squinted enigmatically by way of a reply – not the sort of answer that contestants should give when quizzed by Sugar. Perhaps he should take note of the personalities that traditionally get the most screentime in the Apprentice arena:
The Bulldozer: They don't listen to their team-mates, and, rather more fatally, they don't listen to Lord Sugar when he tells them to shut up. Bulgarian-born "risk analyst" Bilyana Apostolova, 25, had better learn quick that discretion is the better part of not taking an early taxi home.
The Back-Seater: Sugar isn't going to tolerate shirkers this year. "We're not playing 'Where's Wally' here," he warned. However, the opening task leads to shouts of "Where's Katie", as 26-year-old Katie Wright, an "editorial and research director" from London, blends into the background.
The Back-Stabber: It's going to take a Machiavellian genius to beat Katie Hopkins's infamous hatchet job on fellow contestant Adam Hosker: "When your best friends are Mr Pino and Mr Grigo you wanna watch it." No early contenders have shown their hand yet, but then they wouldn't, would they?
The Blue Blood: It was traditionally assumed that Sugar was prejudiced against public-school accents, and certainly the likes of cravat-wearing Raif Bjayou didn't fare well. But last year's winner, Tom Pellereau, proved that a pukka accent need not be a disadvantage and that nice guys can come first.
The Buffoon: All hail Michael Sophocles, the Jewish lad who wasn't. During a task in Marrakesh, Sophocles turned out not to know what kosher meat was, instead asking a Muslim trader to "bless" his chicken. Sugar challenged him to prove his Jewish credentials by pulling his trousers down.
The Braggart: "Baggs the Brand" – aka the almost aptly named Stuart Baggs – got his comeuppance during the penultimate interview round in 2010. Promising braggarts this year include "recruitment team leader, Ricky Martin", who claims: "I truly am the reflection of perfection." Only the reflection, Ricky?
'The Apprentice' returns on Wednesday 21 March on BBC1
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