The Apprentice: UK Version

The penultimate episode of Alan Sugar’s search for a business star gave us the biggest shock of the series. But was it all staged?

The world of reality television has become so saturated with variations on a theme that it rarely surprises us anymore. The supposedly ‘shock’ turnaround at the end of the show (the expert house hunter pulls Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs’ dream house out of the bag at the last moment; the failing trainee cellist suddenly finds his muse and plays to a delighted and amazed crowd) is so obviously set up that the story being told frequently becomes jaded and entirely predictable. This is why Katie Hopkins’ shock exit from The Apprentice on Wednesday was such a refreshing change.

Katie was the fourteenth out of sixteen hopefuls to leave ‘the job interview from hell’ with the boss from hell, Alan Sugar. The job on offer is a £100,000 post in one of his companies. Every week this self-made millionaire set up tasks testing the candidates’ expertise in all fields of business. Selling tea to the French, trainers to hoodies or art to the Notting Hill set – nothing was off the table. Every episode ended with Sugar yelling the words ‘You’re fired’ at one hapless young hopeful.

Katie Hopkins was the most ruthless and aggressive wannabee of the lot. While she shone in the tasks, and no one could doubt her ability to do the job, questions were being raised about her integrity and motivation for entering The Apprentice. Was she just out to win for the sake of winning? In Wednesday’s penultimate episode, she won a place in the final. Seemingly a dream come true – but all she could do was blanche and go puce at the same time (quite a feat in itself). Within five minutes she had left the boardroom. The reason? Uprooting her young family. ‘I realised that I’d have to move my whole world to Brentwood the next week’.

This was absolutely astonishing. Here we have an incredibly forceful, overbearing career obsessive, excelling herself as top dog in a cutthroat competition. And (almost) at the last hurdle, what let her down was failing to realise that Essex is, in fact, just a little more than a five-minute drive from Devon.

The interesting question is: was it staged? With the three remaining candidates in front of him, and one to fire, logic dictated that Sugar would have put Kristina Grimes – the stronger candidate – through first. This would have left a well-worn cliffhanger of a decision: Katie or Simon Ambrose (more nervous, but with that rather mundane quality, integrity). Putting Katie through first left the cameras focused on the rather novel sight of this (by now highly uncomfortable) woman squirming in her seat. Alan Sugar is nothing if not observant and he, like us, could almost see the thought bubble forming: “What the hell have I done?” After a brief reality check of a conversation, she stood down.

If it was a set up, Katie was unaware of it. Although the words ‘I felt it was the right and more honourable thing to step down’, when coming out of her mouth, seem out of character, her entire body language told the truth: she just couldn’t go through with it and she had only just realised this. Perhaps Alan Sugar could smell her indecision; perhaps a team of psychologists had worked out before she did that she would fire herself. Whatever the truth of the matter is, this episode of The Apprentice gave us a rare treat in the world of reality TV: a genuine twist in the tale.

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