Rowan Pelling: Bless this Badger, red in tooth and claw

Dainty blonde or hulking ball-breaker - who will win the final showdown in 'The Apprentice'?


Are you team Badger, or team Blonde? If you haven't got a clue what I'm talking about and actually heeded Why Don't You's advice to "switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead" in the 1970s, then I'd stop reading now; none of the following will bear any relevance to a fascinating life spent making wireless sets out of Scalextric and an old toaster.

The rest of the nation (especially the feral schoolchildren with a plasma screen where some of us might have a window) have only one topic on our minds. Well, two or three - we're also quite preoccupied with whether David Tennant will tone down the super-arch facial tics and snog Billie Piper when she's not possessed by an invasive life form, and when we're not thinking about that, we're guiltily suppressing the heretical thought that My Name is Earl is a wee bit funnier than the second series of Green Wing (even if it doesn't star the lickable Julian Rhind-Tutt).

But, after the weekend, we'll be gearing up for the big one: the final showdown of BBC2's The Apprentice. And - thank you God - what an all-girl, pasta-wrestling bitch-fight it's become.

In the blue corner is lightweight ice-maiden Michelle Dewberry. The impenetrable, blonde 26-year-old telecoms consultant with the whiny voice has been resolutely average in every task demanded of her, but has an enviable talent for eliciting male sympathy and keeping her nose clean. Like last year's winner, the super-nice but underwhelming Tim, Michelle's place in the final is due to a sympathy vote on the grounds of her underprivileged background.

In the red corner is Ruth "bruiser" Badger, the heavyweight 27-year-old sales manager with all the mercy, restraint and humility of Boudicca leading the Iceni. Setting "the Badger" on a task is like watching Saruman unleash a legion of orcs . In one assignment for a letting agency she rented out five flats; her team mates managed a total of zero. Like all the great sagas, this is an epic clash between the bland, goody-two-shoes forces of the light (or, in Michelle's case, the taupe) and the amoral, manipulative, yet charismatic, forces of the dark. It's Melanie Hamilton versus Scarlett O'Hara; Jennifer Aniston versus Angelina Jolie. Where you align yourself depends, it seems to me, on one thing: is the most empathetic part of your soul with the victim - or with the predator? Unless you're a man, of course, when it's all about whether the most empathetic part of your anatomy prefers dainty blonde or hulking ball-breaker. But we all know which they'd respect more in the morning - or in the boardroom.

Either way, you can bet your life's savings that the greatest body of support favours Michelle Dewberry. This is because all too many women still espouse a punitive version of the Cinderella story - the one illustrated by all the workhouse orphans and crippled ballet students in Mandy mag through to Princess Diana and poor old Teri Hatcher.

In this narrative, a heroine goes from abuse and deprivation (emotional, physical or financial) to stardom and riches, but only at the price of vulnerability - and a ruinous love life. Why else do six times as many women buy "team Aniston" T-shirts as "team Jolie" ones? Why are so many women addicted to the saga of Liz Jones' marital diary? Her readers don't resent her wealth, her designer wardrobe - because her husband's a cheating, bragging, unkind slob.

Men (particularly unattractive ones) who are nervous with beautiful, powerful women, often adopt the same attitude. The most beautiful and clever of all contestants in this series, Edinburgh lawyer Karen Bremner, appeared to have blagged all the gifts from the good fairies. She came from a comfortable background, was professionally impressive and happy in her own skin, so Sir Alan Sugar punished her with an utterly inexplicable early sacking.

So we shouldn't be surprised that we were told about 10 times in last Wednesday's programme that high-earning Michelle came from a tough background and first worked as a check-out girl. Conversely, the Badger's monolithic quality suggests she sprang from the womb teeth bared, fully-formed and invulnerable. Both finalists are working-class lasses from two of Britain's dreariest cities north of Watford, who can claim only a clutch of GCSEs between them, but the Badger has made the potentially fatal error of not admitting to feminine frailty.

Yes, I admit it, I am partisan - I want the Badger to win. I love, love, love it when she flushes red and shows her incisors. She's the only woman in this series to tackle the men head-on and come away triumphant. She's the only female to whom every male contestant has tremblingly attributed the word "respect". She's been wrongly traduced for "snitching" and "bitching", when she's just returned fire with fire in the most gloriously unfeminine manner.

And I don't buy this nonsense that Michelle's "nicer" than our Badge. She's a classic example of the pent-up, passive-aggressive Hitchcock blonde, who'll be seducing you up until the second the knife sinks into your back. At least with the Badger you know the beast you're getting. In short, she's the only person who could sell Amstrads to Sir Alan - or anyone, come to that.

But, sadly, I can't see her winning unless she takes a lesson from another indomitable woman, Hillary Clinton, and is persuaded to have one stage-managed moment of public humiliation. And who would wish that on such a noble creature? Even so, she is assured her place in the nation's heart. Like beloved British battle-axes Hattie Jacques and Ann Widdecombe, Ruth Badger has the potential to be a national treasure. In years to come I predict mothers will tell naughty children: "Be good, or the Badger will get you!"

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