The Apprentice: Alan Sugar fires former Leinster rugby player Conor Gilsenan

TV review: The Irish self-described ‘corporate panther’ exits the backstabbing BBC show

British reality television has historically proved a welcoming environment for Irish people. From Maura Higgins on Love Island to Jedward in X Factor, the genre has provided a dynamic launchpad for those from the old sod eager to make a name for themselves overseas.

Latest to try their luck is former Leinster and Connacht rugby player Conor Gilsenan. The self-described “corporate panther” enters the world of besuited back-stabbing on The Apprentice (BBC One, 9pm), a series that has somehow survived the great recession, Brexit and a pandemic. It is truly the BBC’s unkillable franchise.

Gilsenan (28) was anonymous in the first episode, in which the guys’ team lost to the women’s in a challenge that required them to develop a wellness brand for an ocean liner.

But he’s straight into the firing line in part two, as the lads come unstuck once again when their design for a child’s toothbrush is revealed to bear an unfortunate resemblance to a turd. That is bad enough – but the nasty odour is compounded by Gilsenan’s disastrous idea of creating a digital mascot named “Wiffy the Wizard”.


"Conor said he was an expert in apps," tuts Karren Brady, gimlet-eyed lieutenant to hirer-and-firer megaboss Alan Sugar. "It's quite dangerous in business when you claim to be an expert."

Westmeath-born Gilsenan’s really big mistake is to ignore team lead Aaron’s request for a gender-neutral app to go with the toothbrush. He designs one for boys. His excuse is that, with more time, he’d have got around to a girls’ one, too. With the brush-fire raging, Aaron elects to bring Conor and team-mate Nick to the boardroom for the final firing. Sugar brings a finger-pointing row among the three men to a close, by firing Gilsenan.

A million years ago, The Apprentice pretended to be a serious show about business (joining Brady as one of Sugar’s assistants this season is Tim Campbell, winner of the very first series).

In 2021 it is upfront about being a comedy. There’s that Curb Your Enthusiasm-style soundtrack brimming with amused melancholy. And those endless close-ups of contestants looking flummoxed and peeved.

But if silly it’s nevertheless hugely watchable. This year’s crop include Amy, an American flummoxed by the Brits and their corkscrew-tongued negativity, and aforementioned finance manager Nick – a self-confessed “animal in the boardroom”.

The one element that hasn’t changed is Alan Sugar, who continues to deliver scripted puns with all the flinty ardour of Del Boy Trotter flogging plastic Rolexes from the back of a Reliant Robin.

This week he appears in the digitised form of a grumpy tooth fairy in order to give the teams their task. And to fire off a dad joke about looking forward to “sinking his teeth” into the toothbrush prototypes.

The CGI Sugar that flutters around is merely one more reminder of how ridiculous The Apprentice has become. And yet, as the sugarplum mogul flaps across the screen and everyone tries to keep a straight face, there’s no denying that, 15 seasons in, The Apprentice still has wings.