Lies, Damn Lies, and The Apprentice?

Or is Alan Sugar some kind of Calvinist God?


‘One in four entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 24 months…. Already in this process I have invested £1.25 million pounds in 5 businesses, and they haven’t failed, and the reason they haven’t failed is because they’re being mentored by me’.

Alan Sugar, introductory speech to this year’s Apprentices (2016)

While the first two statements above may well be true, the idea that the crucial factor in the last five winners’ enterprises succeeding is Alan’s mentoring is possibly nonsense – a more likely reason Sugar’s start-ups have all succeeded is that of the 18 candidates or so who start the show every year, at least 10 of them have been cherry-picked because they’ve got very sensible business ideas.

The chances are that of all of the start-ups Sugar ends up with would almost certainly have succeeded if the candidates had just sought out venture-capital, given that he’s got an enormous pool of genuine talent to start with (at least 6 are guff-candidates, but there’s always enough sense in there too), and that then gets whittled down further.

Here’s how we’re supposed to think The Apprentice works:

18 candidates make it through the vetting process to begin 10 (or so) rounds of challenges which gradually filter out the weakest candidates until we’re left with the two who have the best all-round business skills-set, as demonstrated by their performance in the previous 10 (or so) tasks.

In other words, the most able candidate based on their performance over the previous 10 weeks wins.

Of course we all know that there aren’t actually 18 viable candidates – some are clearly in there just for entertainment purposes – we’re not sure how many exactly – 4, 5, 6, maybe as many as half of them? But that aside, we’re given the impression that at least half the field have an equal opportunity to succeed.

This is almost certainly nonsense. 

Here’s how The Apprentice Actually Works 

Sugar is a businessman, and businessmen make decisions based on as much data as they can get their hands on – Sugar will know way before the show begins what kinds of sector are growth sectors, and of the 10 or so viable candidates on the show, he will have a short-list of maybe three or four of their business plans which are the most likely to be profitable given current market-conditions.


The one in the middle was fired – defo didn’t have a sugar compatible business plan, the two on either side may have….Rinse and repeat for 9 weeks.

Thus the show isn’t primarily about selecting the best candidate, there are really only a few of them that stand any chance, based on how well their business plans fit with Sugar’s ideas of what’s going to work for him.

It’s highly unlikely that all of the pre-selected top three or four candidates with Sugar-compatible business ideas will mess up one task so spectacularly that there’s no choice but to fire them all – usually there’s at least two or three people possibly responsible for a tasks failure – so if one of the Sugar-compatible favourites makes a mistake early on, it’s easy enough to find a legitimate reason to keep them in, by firing someone not on the original short-list. Of course within those four best business-ideas, one or two of the candidates might just be hopeless, in which case this will show up with persistent under performance and thus they can be got rid of.

Take the last series as an example of this – won by a plumber, which fits perfectly with Sugar’s expanding property empire (which obviously need plumbing). Coincidence? I think not.

We also need to consider a second basic fact which backs up the ‘pre-selected thesis’- The Apprentice is primarily a free-publicity vehicle for Alan Sugar, and it’s highly unlikely he’d risk his image going down the pan by selecting failures.

Of course this doesn’t stop the programme being entertaining – it’s compulsory viewing for me, and it probably does make for better viewing if you don’t actually tell the pre-selected who they are, and let everyone think they’re the select (kind of like Calvinism) – and there certainly is no shortage of egoism amongst your average intake of Apprentices, so really I’ve got little sympathy. Maybe lying to the deluded isn’t actually lying at all?

And in the meantime, Sugar gets his public profile polished every year, gets called ‘Lord’ a lot, and gets free advertising, he also probably makes a couple of million extra on that house the candidates stay in, there’s plenty of people with too much money who’ll pay over the odds for a house just ‘cos it’s been on the telly after all.

Rinse and repeat for another 12 years?

But of course we all knew this already anyway, right?



This entry was posted in Media, Sociology on TV and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lies, Damn Lies, and The Apprentice?

  1. Pingback: The Apprentice Final Five and Class Inequality | ReviseSociology

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