You have to wonder how they get the opening bits for a new series of The Apprentice, those little soundbites in which the contestants offer a thumbnail sketch of their talent and aggression. It must go something like this: Sir Alan comes into the boardroom and says, "Right, your first task is to come up with a sentence that makes you look like the biggest twat in creation. It won't be easy. The competition is stiff. But when you've recorded your self-descriptions you'll be coming back to the boardroom and the least obnoxiously bumptious of you is gonna get fired". At which point the wannabee tycoons scramble like crabs in a bucket to outdo each other in entrepreneurial bombast.
"To me, making money is better than sex," declares Ben, a trainee stockbroker who looks as if he may not get a lot of choice about the matter anyway. "Being successful is more important than being popular," says Phillip, an estate agent who is presumably more than happy to take a break from the property market. He adds: "You don't need to make friends on the way up when you're not coming back down."
"I am a rough tough cream puff from New York and I am in it to win it," announces Kimberly, fatally undermining her bullshit with a smile that suggests she isn't 110 per cent committed. It's a novice's trap that Anita doesn't fall into: "I am the complete package," she says, face rigid with self-belief. "I've got the rainbow of skills that people want."
Sir Alan has to get his engine warmed up too – scowling in an appalled fashion when the apprentices file in, as if they're social delinquents back in court for breaching their Asbos. Worryingly his introductory routine this year smelt more than usual of scriptwriter's sweat. "I know the words to 'Candle in the Wind'," he said, telling the contestants that it would be deeds not words that counted. "But it don't make me Elton John."
Watch Anita Shah being fired from the competition
Even the traditional warning about the beady acuity of his judgement sounded a little hollow and overworked. "Believe me", he said, "I'm as hard to play as a Stradivarius and you lot are as easy to play as bongo drums." Perhaps he's beginning to get a little tired with the pantomime himself – or maybe he just needs the sting of still-fresh incompetence to really get his juices flowing.
If it's the latter I don't think the new series is in any trouble. The first task – to make money by offering a cleaning service – was a little dull frankly, even if it hinted at the lowered ambitions of recessionary times. But there were promising glints of comic potential as the 110 percenters struggled to match action to rhetoric. "This is like bleeding Sudoku or something," said one of the men despairingly, as he struggled with the notorious intellectual challenge of unrolling a hosepipe.
Watch a post-exit interview with Anita Shah
The women meanwhile had just discovered that nobody actually knew how to operate their expensively hired pressure-washer and – with an improvisational flair that will surely serve them well – decided that sticking a thumb over the end of the hose would have to do instead. Unfortunately the capital outlay on all that idle plant had dashed their chances anyway, and when it came to spraying blame around they turned out to have no problems at all.
The thing ended in a clamour of recriminatory clichés – plates not stepped up to and radar flown below – and a fatally miscalculated defensive parry by Anita "Rainbow of Skills" Shah. "We had a team of strong individuals," she explained, "and I did not want to be a strong individual too." Sir Alan decided that she'd more than met her target and pointed to the door. I suspect that this remains one branch of Sir Alan's empire that will not be forecasting diminished returns.
Watch the girls losing the cleaning contract for ten cars
Who'll get hired?
Rocky Andrews: 6/1
Bookmakers cannot take bets on the show's outcome as it is pre-recorded, but this 21-year-old sandwich shop owner is their hypothetical favourite.
Lorraine Tighe: 7/1
The female front-runner is a battling 36-year-old mother of two from London who left school at 16.
Paula Jones: 16/1
This self-confessed scatterbrain who dislikes conflict is likely to be an early object of Sir Alan's wrath.
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