The Apprentice review: Which is worse, Donald Trump or 15 series of Alan Sugar?

The US show made a hero of Donald Trump. The UK one gave us Katie Hopkins and Alan Sugar

The Apprentice (BBC One, Wednesday, 9pm), whose British version is now entering its 15th series, is a television franchise whose editing changed the world. Earlier this year, in a kind of trash culture parallel to the Mueller Report or the Impeachment investigation, people tried to fathom the role reality television played in the making of a US president.

Producers of the US Apprentice spoke candidly about how they edited the programme to make Donald Trump seem like a successful, credible and coherent businessman, which was no small task. Sometimes entire episodes were recut to give his final "You're fired!" the judicious appearance of Solomon and not the wild ravings of an unhinged narcissist. Imagine if Twitter did the same.

The BBC version might have launched Katie Hopkins and Jennifer Zamparelli into an unsuspecting media, but its effect on global stability has otherwise been less pronounced. Nonetheless, Alan Sugar, who plays the part of its judicious business tycoon, seems a little fed up with conducting business in this post-Apprentice dystopia.

Reflecting on 15 years at the helm, he remarks of its beginning, “back then, the word Brexit sounded like another Kelloggs cereal.”


The 16 new contestants, each a potential trove of personality disorders waiting to be revealed, laugh heartily at Lord Sugar’s dazzling wit and his potential investment capital.

Although it has made no difference to the title, contestants no longer compete to become Sugar’s apprentice, but rather his business partner, hoping to win £250,000 for a start-up in exchange for a mere 50 per cent share of the business.

This, gratifyingly, can only be achieved through a process of ritualised humiliations wittily referred to as “business challenges” for which they are hopelessly unqualified. “I worked in the UK’s best wine bar!” says the annoying librarian. “That’s what I do! I sell!” says the blowhard who hawks pillows.

For the first episode of the new series, this involves dashing to Cape Town, South Africa to work in the tourism industry. Split by gender, the men choose to sell a safari while the women opt for wine tasting. Fans of irony will notice that, in the ensuing palaver, the aggressively upbeat men are early to toast their success, while the politely fractious women seem ready to throw each other to the lions.

At least that's how it looks. That's how always looks after the bait and switch manipulation of The Apprentice's editing suite. Sure enough, the wine tasters had the bigger game, by a margin of £44, while the safarists corked.

Maybe it’s another feat of canny editing, but Sugar’s deliberations seem sound, firing some guy whose most egregious failing is being boring. This satisfies me in a way that is almost shameful to admit.

What does it say about the world that The Apprentice has given us that The Apprentice assures us all is right with it?