Remember when the world of work, which always seemed so monolithic and permanent, crumbled like a leftover Digestive in an empty boardroom? We always knew that corporate life was bollocks, of course; all those David Brents talking about how you should rise and grind at 3am if you want to get results (usually a heart attack, followed by a LinkedIn post about the importance of spending time with family). For a couple of months in 2020, though, it really felt like work was going to implode for good. Managers appeared on Teams with uncut hair and frizzy beards, looking haggard and sad after actually spending time with their families – which turned out to be the last thing on Earth they wanted to do. But even though the office closed, capitalism carried on like a cockroach after a nuclear war. And as always, following close behind, like an ill-gotten item of PPE floating in a puddle of oil on a fracking site, is The Apprentice.
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It seems that whatever happens, the show that spawned President Donald Trump – and is therefore indirectly responsible for the breakdown of democracy – will survive. After Armageddon, I could be leaning against the Mars Rover minding my own business and old hairy palms Sugar will beam in from a distant galaxy, talking about profit and loss. Last year I applied the modern practice of ‘quiet quitting’ to The Apprentice, thinking that surely we’re all past this now. But no, it just regroups in a breakout room in hell and spews out guys with LEGO hair called Stuart who run pest control companies in Welwyn Garden City and say things like “I one thousand percent believe I’ve got what it takes to smash it.”
However, the other day I realised with some horror that I was watching it. Why? Because they’re idiots, and idiots being idiotic are compelling. How else do you explain Boris Johnson? Obviously, though, when you dabble with your basest instincts, you can’t expect to feel good about it. So when you see them doing their pointless tasks, hopelessly, under the gimlet eye of Baroness Karren Brady, it eats away at your soul like a two-hour planning session at 4pm on a Friday.
The one tiny difference is that this series’ droopy corporate bellends are slightly different post-Covid. There are more side hustlers who couldn’t even crack the seven times table, let alone the high-flying world of international business. Most of them seem to be glamorous young women who look like they got their lips from a cracker and describe themselves as “aestheticians” and “online sweet shop owners”. I mean, I don’t know a profit margin from a tub of Flora ProActiv margarine, but when they were doing the bao bun task and ordered 1kg of fish to fill 250 buns, I felt like Forbes’ CEO of the Year. To be fair, team leader Megan from Hull did say she wasn’t very good with numbers, but they appointed her anyway. Dim sum, indeed.
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Everything else about The Apprentice, though, is business as usual. They’re still running around markets in South London screaming at each other, saying mind-blowingly stupid things like, “We need to align with our goal to make it fun.” And you can still watch them dumbly reaching for a little glimmer of creativity as they attempt to christen their teams – then inadvertently coming out with the names of every single budget hotel in the world. (“How about… Apex?”)