'Beauty and the Badger' battle for the chance to be Sugar's apprentice

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The Independent Online

They have been dubbed "Beauty and the Badger". Tonight, viewers will find out which of the two finalists in the BBC2 show The Apprentice will hear Sir Alan Sugar utter the immortal words "You're hired".

One thing for certain is the winner will be a woman, but the young hopefuls Michelle Dewberry and Ruth Badger believe that their success has nothing to do with their sex.

Brimming with the kind of confidence required of them in the 12-week challenge to win a job with a six-figure salary at Sir Alan's company Amstrad, the pair insist that the best candidates triumphed.

But six months after filming ended, having had a chance to watch their performances on television, Ms Badger and Ms Dewberry are surprised at the gulf between their experience and what has been broadcast.

The two, who profess to be best of friends in real life, have contrasting on-screen personas.

Ms Dewberry, 26, is a cool, attractive blonde from Hull described as an "ice maiden", who overcame a tough upbringing including stints as a checkout girl to win a £100,000-plus job as a telecoms consultant in London even before she applied for The Apprentice.

With the exception of an episode in which she was seen swilling champagne when she was supposed to be overseeing a team selling clothes in TopShop, Ms Dewberry rarely stepped out of line. Her critics say she has not proved herself outstanding either and has schemed to stay in the running.

The altogether feistier Ms Badger, 28, developed her "take no prisoners" approach to business as a head of sales in Manchester. After leaving school at 16, she worked as a bar-tender, a football steward and a Department for Social Security administrator before turning her hand to selling. "It's a big achievement for both of us," said Ms Badger. "I've shown I really want the job. I've participated 100 per cent in every task."

Ms Dewberry said: "I'm a very strong character. I've got a lot of determination, a lot of drive. I've proved myself a good all-rounder.

"I think the two strongest people are in the final. It just so happens that we are women. Everyone is different. I'm a feminine woman and that's me in business and out of business."

Explaining the appeal of winning, Ms Badger said: "Sir Alan's a self-made man. He's a true entrepreneur, a multimillionaire. I want to work for him, because I want to be a millionaire."

Neither are concerned that future employers might be put off by the exposure they have received, although both emphasise how heavily the programme has been edited. "I hope that potential future employers are aware that situations have been heavily edited," said Ms Dewberry. Ms Badger said: "The way they cut it is nothing like reality. I'd make it less Big Brother-ish next time."

Before the show began, Sir Alan made it clear he did not want any "media wannabes". But Ms Badger said some of her fellow contestants were "without a shadow of a doubt" in it for the fame. "On camera, people's voices change and postures change," she said.

Since filming ended in October 2005, both women have been working for Sir Alan. But until yesterday even they did not know who was going to be hired on a permanent basis.

In the course of three months, Ms Badger, Ms Dewberry and their 12 fellow contestants - whittled down from an original 15,000 applicants - were set tasks by Sir Alan including selling fruit on the street, organising an event on a cruise ship, letting flats and selling second-hand cars.

The second series of the show, adapted from the US version, has attracted regular audiences of more than four million, rising to 4.8 million for the penultimate episode last week.

How last year's star pupils fared

TIM CAMPBELL winner

Is still working for Sir Alan at Amstrad, where he has just launched its first healthcare product, the Integra face-care system, sold online directly to consumers.

SAIRA KHAN runner-up

Khan is making a BBC daytime show Temper Your Temper, writes a column for the Daily Mirror and has a publishing deal for her self-help book.

JAMES MAX runner-up

Has just launched a new show on LBC, has a weekly business column on Times Online, is a presenter on BBC2's Working Lunch and addresses company launches.

PAUL TORRISI runner-up

After selling his company for £4m, Torrisi has his own show on Sky. He has taken acting lessons, been offered a part in a film and hosted Celebrity Bargain Hunt on BBC1.

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