THE APPRENTICE“No poor businessman is prevented from creating a fortune”The slow-motion, double-bluff demolition of Katie on last night’s The Apprentice was, if painstakingly staged and extensively edited and maybe even re-edited, one of the most chilling things I’d seen on TV for a long time. Throughout this series in particular, despite Sugar’s repeated protests that he was looking for “proper” candidates instead of tailor’s dummies or showoffs (as though, if you wanted to succeed in 21st century business, you could opt out of being either), the overall impression is one of a dread created by the gradual realisation that in business, there is no plot, no conspiracy, no overriding arch of supposed global progress – all we have are millions of “headless chickens” running around, not quite knowing what the rules are, or even whether there are any rules, and improvising rules as they see fit, with the presumed freedom to discard these rules when they get in the way of profit or visibility.This series of The Apprentice has depicted cold rationalist capitalism as a grossly inflated playpen of overgrown, overfed infants likely never to learn to run or crawl, or even think; planning is replaced by luscious whims (that one-artist exhibition of lips in various stages of close-up; did Katie have her eye on the chairmanship of the ICA at some unspecified future date?), the hard steel of EC4 by the cushioned fluff of SW10 (and there of course is no difference) – and yesterday’s episode was a steady, delicious destruction of all those sweatily retained façades; Tre, the token spiv, had his illusions systematically wrenched from his argumentative stubble – far from running a global conglomerate, he helped run his father’s business out of his bedroom and sometimes sold product to other countries, as opposed to having other offices/bedrooms in them; a chancer routed by a connoisseur of chancing (what would an Amstrad IPod look like? Two half-empty tins of baked beans held together by a feathered beak of a needle? Why does someone with a fortune estimated at 800 million – and the programme never specifies (800 million of what? Dusters?) – have to do a programme like this in the first place?).But then Sugar has come across as very tired, not really willing to hold on for another circuitous ride around the dodgems of modern business practice. Did he want someone who was “drop dead shrewd” or someone who was capable of dropping a dead shrew? It’s hard to know if he cares. His outbursts appear increasingly rehearsed and pat (“You was told to sell the best of British produce!,” “I dunno about 50 Cent, you’re more like 2 Bob!” etc.) and his eyes close steadily further with the turgidity of torpor every week.Then Katie; the smugly secure Thatcherite who thought she could bring the working class “you was” sauce of Sugar to heel and crush it with her pert refusal to accept, she for whom there is indeed no such thing as children, only individual atoms of ambition (aiming at what? Or whom?), who saw life as a long, luscious Fulham Road – no doubt her idea of the Wild West is Hammersmith – and mistook stubbornness for persuasion, aloofness for openness, brick walls for perseverance. Sugar unexpectedly offered her a place in next week’s final “just to prove I haven’t lost my faith in human nature” and she looked slightly stunned and somewhat less than elated. After that, Tre was summarily dismissed. Faced with the other two remaining contestants, both of whom were palpably eager to get the job, her face mutated into stone. Sugar gently compelled her to express whatever was on her mind, knowing full well that he expected her to swallow the poison being offered to her. Unable to commit to moving herself and her children to London (Sugar again pushing her along with an abrupt jibe about his having no time to wait for her to make a ‘phone call) she finally stuttered out an admission that she had not in fact asked her parents to look after her children for her and without that courtesy she felt she had no option but to stand down in favour of the pair “who really wanted the job.” It was abundantly evident that Sugar wanted her to fire herself, that the “you’re in the final” promise was a double bluff, and she was systematically cornered into admitting to uncertainty, doubt and even a little scrap of humility. “Thank you,” concluded Sugar with the assured bearing of the expectant hangman. No Village, no exotic locations – just this windowless bunker whose inmates were forced to progress to numbing nakedness. The salt – or sugar – of the Earth played his erstwhile rulers according to Hoyle, and triumphed.
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