Fired Apprentice candidate Conor explains why he’d ignore producers if he could do BBC show again

‘They’re so convincing,’ he said

Jacob Stolworthy
Friday 14 January 2022 10:00
The Apprentice: Series 16 trailer

Lord Sugar surprised viewers of The Apprentice with his latest decision regarding who to fire.

For the show’s second challenge, the candidates were tasked with creating and pitching their very own electric toothbrushes for children.

Things didn’t work out too well for the 28-year-old sales executive and former rugby union player Conor Gilsenan, who was sent home after being brought back to the boardroom by project manager Aaron Willis.

Following Gilsenan’s firing, we spoke with the candidate about why he thinks Lord Sugar got it wrong, how he tried to avoid the use of cringe-worthy clichés despite pressure from the producers and why he thinks the series is like a less-deadly version of Netflix hit series Squid Game.

How are you feeling? Leaving in week two isn’t as bad as leaving in week one...

I’m licking my wounds a little bit, but that’s what I signed up for.

I’m surprised to see you leave at such an early stage of the process.

I appreciate that. That’s the sentiment I’ve been getting, so I guess it’s a small consolation for finishing 15 out of 16.

Do you think Lord Sugar made the right decision?

I honestly reckon I’d have a pretty strong case for unfair dismissal if I brought Lord Sugar to the courtroom.

Aaron made an odd decision bringing you and Nick back to the boardroom, didn’t he?

I have no ideas why Nick was there. I don’t think anyone really did. Aaron just closed his eyes and picked two people from the sub-team and then just did whatever he could to stay in the process. Me and Nick were honest and didn’t backtrack on anything we said – but it ended up being our downfall. Well, my downfall.

Conor Gilsenan says he wasn’t a’ggressive’ or ‘cocky’ enough to remain in ‘The Apprentice’

Aaron is a smart talker – there were a few times when he almost convinced people they were wrong for recounting what had actually happened.

It’s unbelievable. I remember leaving and being like, ‘I was sure I’d clarified that we’d do two characters and then, if not, we’d do a male character.’ I was like, ‘Did that not happen?’ and then, when I saw the episode, I was like ‘Oh, that’s fine, that is what i said.’ I’d stuck to the plan and did what was asked, but Lord Sugar decided to believe Aaron. It felt like he didn’t really have a full picture of what went on in the task.

Do you regret not speaking up for yourself more?

That’s the feeling that I left the process with; that I should have dug my heels in more and been more abrasive and aggressive, ‘cause that’s clearly what gets awarded in that process. But, when I went in there, my number one objective was to be myself – to enjoy it and let my personality and the way I do things in business remain consistent. So if I’d started pointing the finger at people and barking, I’d be kicking myself now watching it back. People that have never met me before would be getting the wrong impression.

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It’s fair to say you managed the feat of leaving The Apprentice without seeming like a nasty piece of work.

That means the world to me – that’s better than coming first. They tried so hard in that taxi to get me to say: ‘I’m going to be back and I’m gonna take over the world.’ I was like, ‘I’m just not doing that,’ I tried so hard to avoid all the clichés. Last week, I was quite nervous before episode one aired. I was sitting with my girlfriend, having a can of beer, and the first scene was me looking absolutely ridiculous. I said the cheesiest thing and thought, ‘Well, it can’t get any worse than this.’

Have you been getting mocked by your mates?

I’m getting hammered. But luckily, I’ve been in a professional rugby changing room for nine years, and you grow a pretty thick skin in there. They’ve all been laughing it up.

Aaron is to blame for Conor Gilsenan’s firing in the latest episode of ‘The Apprentice’

So, your downfall was due to a character named Wiffy. Did you not foresee that Lord Sugar might have an issue with the name?

There’s a funny bit of context behind this. I was very clear I wanted it to start with alliteration so it would be memorable for kids. All we could think about was Willy Wonka – but we knew we couldn’t call a wand that goes in someone’s mouth “Willy”. We were trying so hard to stay away from that. Then the only other name being thrown around was Wilfred, which, for me, isn’t a very fun name in the context of a child’s wizard character. So, when I said Wiffy, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, that works!’ Then we got completely blindside by the toothbrush looking like a turd. Self praise is no praise, but we had one day to create an app and a wizard that cures plaque in the form of magic is a good idea! I still stand by that fact. I was kicking myself for Wiffy at the time but. in actual fact, I’m happy about it now ‘cause at least I go out with something to laugh about.

Are you quietly relieved you won’t have to project manage some of those candidates?

I went for a beer with all my mates after filming You’re Fired! on Monday (10 January), and they were all like, “It’s a blessing in disguise that you’re out of there.’ It was a lot of fun, but I have to say it was pretty exhilarating. I was so far outside my comfort zone. and it was so challenging. I’ve always been a massive fan of the show, so to say that I got picked out of 50 to 60,000 people is pretty cool.

Do you wish you’d kept a lower profile to begin with?

The thing is the producers tell you not to sit on the sidelines, and that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t get stuck in. They’re so convincing, which is what creates those explosive episodes. But, if I was to do it again, I’d strategically sit in the sidelines a little bit more. I wouldn’t put myself out there too much and would just contribute without making any defining decisions. It was tough ‘cause I did think that to myself going into it, but then, in the first task, I found I wasn’t being myself by not contributing. So I thought, ‘Screw it, I’m going to get stuck in and if it ends up in a ball of flames, fine.’

I thought Lord Sugar would have taken to your personality more than some of the others.

It’s the cocky abrasive style that gets rewarded in that process. I’m not short of confidence myself, but I do try to keep a lid on it as best I can.

With that in mind, do you think you had no chance of winning?

When I think back to people who I thought were really good on it, there was a guy called Courtney Wood [series 12 winner]. He was quite a relaxed, suave guy who had good ideas and got along with everyone and never got brought back in. I thought if I could navigate it like that, then I could do quite well. But I knew myself that I’d probably struggle in those dog-eat-dog environments and that’s ultimately what happened. Aaron was backtracking on some of the stuff and I just didn’t want to get into that. You’d hope that Lord Sugar could see through some of that stuff.

It’s the cocky abrasive style that gets rewarded in that process

Fired ‘Apprentice’ candidate Conor Gilsenan

Who are you predicting as the winner?

I don’t even think I got everyone’s name! I was in the front door and out the back door. Amy and Kathryn have two up and running businesses. They’re smart girls who I think will do well. I did think going in I would be up against it because, historically, Lord Sugar tends to invest in people whose businesses are running and mine was in an incubation stage at the time. Since then, it’s up and running - it’s a mobile bar and I’m very proud of it. Out of the guys, I was getting on really well with Alex and Nick, but they’ll probably end up suffering from the same thing as me – by not being as dogged as the rest of them. Funnily enough, I was getting on famously with Aaron in task one, so I was gobsmacked when he pulled me back in. I was like, “I thought we were mates!”

It sounds so brutal.

It’s a weird comparison, but I watched Squid Game recently and there’s so much of that show that resembles The Apprentice. You’re in these tasks and you don’t know what the hell they’re going to through at you. It’s survival of the fittest and then, when you’re not on a task, it’s this weird social experiment where you’re trying to make allies, but ultimately, those allies are going to screw you at some stage. To caveat that, obviously there are no fatalities.

What’s next for you?

I was feeling sorry for myself for a few weeks when I left, truth be told. I wish I’d kept all the receipts for my suits! But, I’d just built a really extensive business plan so I got in touch with one of my ex-team mates and we got the go ahead from a club to set up this mobile bar at their games. We had four weeks to do it – we bootstrapped a budget between the two of us - and set up this business. We’ve done six events, we’re hoping to get into Kingsmeadow for the Chelsea Women games, I’d love to get into Twickenham for the Six Nations. We want to be trading at all the main music and sports festivals during the summer. So, life’s good on that front. At the moment, though, it’s a side hustle, but who knows what’s gonna happen in the future. I got engaged over Christmas – it was pretty magical – and, since then, I’ve started a new job with a Fortune 500 company.

The Apprentice continues next Thursday (20 January) at 9pm on BBC One.

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