Don't bother trying to trick Paul Tulip into telling you who wins The Apprentice. He does not know. In fact, he says, not even the winner knows. Despite the fact that the filming of the thunderously popular reality TV series finished on 22 October last year, the BBC hasn't taken any chances. As with EastEnders at Christmas, it has recorded two endings. The finalists - straight-talking sales boss Ruth Badger and cold-fish telecoms consultant Michelle Dewberry - have both had their "You're fired!"/ "You're hired!" moment with Sir Alan Sugar and, in the battle of Blonde vs Badger - as one of the tabloids has dubbed the tussle - the winner of the £100,000 job with the grouchy Amstrad boss will only be revealed on Wednesday.
And if you think 12 weeks of being made to jump through humiliating hoops - designing calendars for Great Ormond Street Hospital, flogging fruit and veg in Hackney - to prove their business acumen was gruelling enough, then get this: both Blonde and Badger have had an extra six months of it. They've been working for Sir Alan since Christmas, and only this week will he hand one of them a contract.
The "12-week job interview" with "the most belligerent man you'll come across", who doesn't like cheats, bullshitters or schmoozers, is not quite what it seems. For the final two, there's a further half-year of scrutiny. Fair play to Sir Alan for not taking any chances. On the other hand, what a swizz.
"That just shows you what TV's like," says Paul Tulip, the bronze finalist, downing his pint. And that is not sour grapes, the 26-year-old says. Sure, he might have won seven out of 10 tasks. Yes, he was brilliant enough never to have to face a boardroom blowtorching. And he was "stitched-up" when, last week, Sir Alan's colleagues found him wanting in the one-on-one interview round. "I'm not going to say that because I didn't get the job, I didn't want it," he says. "But all the possibilities that have come to me mean I can pick and choose what I want."
What's more, post-Apprentice, his job as a Leeds-based headhunter has stepped up a gear: 94 per cent above his targets, and, as of last week, driving the company Porsche, he tells me when we meet in an east London hotel. In addition, now that he is "Paul Tulip off the telly", his clients can't get enough of him. Today, he is in the capital exploring various TV, radio and advertising offers that have come his way since being booted off The Apprentice. More TV? He would certainly like to "have a dabble".
It is a pleasure to report Tulip off the telly is like Tulip on the telly. He is a nice guy. He is still "the cheeky bloke who loves himself". As the crowd of kids who gather when he has his photograph taken prove, he was a popular contestant: "Oi, mate. You were wicked!"
While Syed Ahmed, the argumentative and slightly silly entrepreneur, and Jo Cameron, the rather nutty human resources boss, were top telly, it was Tulip who sold an apple for a fiver, danced like David Brent and got clocked on the head by a porch light while trying his hand at estate agency. Along with the Badger, he was a shoo-in for the final. "Everyone's saying, 'You threw it away, it was yours for the taking'," he says, a little sadly.
The penultimate episode found the four contenders, whittled down from 14 - Tulip, Badger, Dewberry, and Ansell Henry, the "nice guy" sales manager and former Millwall footballer - facing Sir Alan's gale-force CV-inspectors, Claude, Paul and Bordon. Tulip wilted in seconds. "I'm a likeable person that can get on with anyone," he flannelled.
"You're not getting on with me," barked Claude.
Reduced from hero to zero - or, as Sir Alan had it with a previous unfortunate, "You seem to have gone from anchor to wanker" - in the space of an episode, revelations about Tulip included the fact that he had no idea what Sir Alan's companies sold and that he considered Big Issue sellers lazy.
"The day I did my Apprentice application I was on the way to the gym and there was this homeless person. He blurted it in my face - "Big Issue!" - and I said: "Listen, mate, I will buy that off you, but you should start selling the benefits. It's a fantastic magazine for a quid. Take a bit of advice." Next day I went back and he was, like, 'Yeah, brilliant, I got a really good response', so I put it on my application." Having cringed watching last week's episode, Tulip says, he's going to use his recruitment background to help Big Issue vendors get proper jobs. Pure Brent.
But therein lies the genius of The Apprentice. Your sympathies pivot in an hour. While 4 million people thrill to the reality TV staples of screaming rows, backstabbing and last-man-standing conflict, its USP is its masterclass in editing. While you're never led to believe anyone's sacking is a foregone conclusion, you're somehow in complete agreement with Sir Alan when he jabs that fatal finger. That, says Tulip, is because they film absolutely everything. They can pretty much make you say what they want, when they want. Hence Dewberry becoming a real contender, playing her Sir Alan-wooing "tough upbringing" card, at the eleventh hour.
The reality of The Apprentice sounds even more stressful than it looks. Four hours' sleep a night and loads of waiting around. "It's all mind games," says Tulip. That 10 minutes in Sir Alan's "boardroom" is a day of the producers poring over footage with Sir Alan while the remaining victims lacerate their nails in the canteen.
Still, no regrets. "I had a really good time. And watching it has been great fun," he says. With that, he is off to meet Ansell for a pizza in Covent Garden. "We'll get swamped by autograph hunters, won't we?" He still has no idea what Sir Alan sells.
So who will win? The Blonde vs the Badger
"Based on tasks it would be Ruth all the way, but Alan must have seen something strong in Michelle to get rid of Ansell and me. Ruth will shift a lot of units, but Michelle would be good in her own way. He could say to Michelle: 'Listen, you haven't got a personality, so I'm going to do is tone down this and amp up that and that's the person you're going to be.' If he takes Ruth on, she'll do well, but how long will that last? But I think he's sold on Michelle's hard upbringing story. So I think she'll win it."Reuse content