We are now three weeks into the sixth season of The Apprentice, and the initial field of 16 candidates has already been whittled down to 12. Now that we have gotten to know most of the contestants, here are my initial impressions based on what we have seen so far. (I have judged the participants based only on their performance in the episodes to date, and ignored additional info we know about them from the press.)
Pretty much the only thing I can guarantee at this point is that I will be 100% wrong, but here goes anyway. In alphabetical order:
The new Prince of Darkness
Alex Epstein: Unemployed head of communications, age 26
If Lord Sugar is looking for a modern-day Peter Mandelson to put some effortless spin on his PR, then Alex is his man. Articulate, numerate and creative – this is the man who brought us the Cüüli – as well as possessing 11 A*’s at GCSE, the unemployed head of communications is also available at the drop of a hat. In Sugar’s testosterone-driven world, he will fit right in with his known predilection for tassel-adorned ladies’ outfits. The only problem is, other than being handy with words and numbers, we don’t know if he can actually do anything yet.
Current rating: 6/10. Likely to get found out when required to do more than talk smoothly, but a decent bet for the interview stage.
The charisma vacuum
Chris Bates: Investment banker, 23
Didn’t come across well when he volunteered to pitch the Cüüli to retailers, when it appeared he needed written notes just to remember his own name. Then delivered a presentation which appeared to be more a homoerotic homage to his modelling colleague Christopher than it was an actual sales pitch. (“Look how cool Chris looks on the towel – see his bulging muscles”. Or something like that.) But he seems to pull his weight within the team, and is always up for wearing a silly human oven costume, which has got to be worth something. I’m not sure what exactly, though.
Current rating: 5/10. Not a natural salesman, with no evidence yet of leadership skills. A useful team member, no more. Top six at best.
The team man
Christopher Farrell: Mortgage broker, 28
Other than being a driving force behind Bikinigate, Christopher has generally kept his head down while being a solid contributor in every task. His highlight so far came in Synergy’s win in last week’s bakery task, which was largely down to his efficient organisation of the factory floor. An invaluable worker and organiser, but only time will tell if he has the leadership qualities Sugar is looking for.
Current rating: 8/10. A grafter who will always give 100% in the mould of previous winner Lee “now that’s what I’m talkin’ abahht” McQueen. A business leader? We shall see. Will either be in the final, or will trip up spectacularly when asked to be project manager.
The back-seat driver
Jamie Lester: Overseas property developer, 28
Jamie certainly isn’t lacking in confidence and seems to have some decent business instincts, but has yet to prove he can assume any kind of leadership role. He has often been shown to be quick to point out other people’s errors and tell them what they should be doing instead, which suggests he is being set up for a spectacular fall at some stage, probably in his first stint as project manager. I remain unconvinced, although his bravado will probably endear him to Sugar and see him progress deep into the series.
Current rating: 6/10. A good chance of making the interview stage, but needs to prove he can lead from the front as well as the back.
Joanna Riley: Cleaning company owner, 25
Like Melissa, Joanna could start a fight in an empty room, although she appeared to bite her tongue somewhat in week three’s bakery task. She has yet to show any clear business acumen, however, other than the ability to talk loudly and repeatedly over others, and being the creative mastermind behind the Book-Eeze. She also isn’t one to sit patiently and listen, so she is likely to come unstuck the next time she is nominated project manager, if not before. Given her lack of listening skills, Joanna will live or die on her own abilities – which means she’s in trouble.
Current rating: 4/10. An explosion waiting to happen. It’s a matter of when, not if, and whether she takes anyone else with her.
Laura Moore: Business development manager, 22
After her appalling performance as project manager in week two’s beach accessory task, Laura is already among the walking dead. She broke down into tears at the first sign of trouble – a guaranteed no-no with Sugar – failed to control her team, and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by refusing an exclusive deal with Boots. And she claims to be a business development manager. Business destruction manager is more like it. She is the second-youngest remaining candidate, and her inexperience shows all too often.
Current rating: 3/10. It’s only a matter of time before Sugar puts her out of her misery. Based on previous experience, expect tears.
The dark horse
Liz Locke: Investment banker, 24
In the words of the all-seeing, all-knowing Nick Hewer, Liz is hot (with numbers, that is). We know she can punch buttons on a calculator with the best of the contenders (which isn’t saying much), but other than that we have seen precious little of her other than to get the vague impression that she mucks in and pulls her own weight within the team. Many previous Apprentice winners have maintained a low profile in the early weeks before gathering momentum later on. We will have to see whether Liz is a dark horse, or just a well-concealed also-ran.
Current rating: 6/10. A potential finalist, or a potential bomb. We haven’t seen enough of her to tell yet.
The deflated soufflé
Melissa Cohen: Food business manager, 27
Modest. Non-confrontational. Takes responsibility. Puts her money where her (not inconsiderable) mouth is. All things that Melissa is not. Despite puffing up her expertise in the food industry, she backed away from being project manager in week one’s sausage task with unseemly haste. And when she finally agreed to lead the team last week in a task which should have suited her perfectly, she collapsed like a deflated soufflé, committing one basic error after another and being bailed out by the rest of her team. Her weakness has now been exposed – she’s rubbish – and don’t expect it to be long before she perishes in a spectacular blaze of schadenfreude.
Current rating: 4/10. Talked the talk, but failed to walk the walk. I wouldn’t employ her as a junior manager, let alone as a business leader.
Paloma Vivanco: Senior marketing manager, 29
Paloma certainly talks a good game, and as Shibby found out to his cost last week she is a formidable adversary in the boardroom. But behind the withering insults – “Clearly we were [on different wavelengths]. I’m a businesswoman and you’re a joke” – and all too smug comments to camera about the shortcomings of others, what has she actually done so far? Made sausages badly. Made bold guarantees her team couldn’t deliver. Pinned the blame on others. She is a marketer, and she certainly promotes herself well, but who will she blame when there is no one else to point the finger at? I don’t get the impression she has many friends in the house. Her time will come.
Current rating: 5/10. Will continue to annoy her teammates while evading expulsion from the boardroom. Likely to be shown up the moment she is forced to accept responsibility for her own actions. Top six at best.
The invisible one
Sandeesh Samra: Recruitment consultant, 26
Does little other than complain, and should consider herself very lucky to survive after Shibby was fired instead last week. Her continuing presence in the competition seems to achieve little other than drag her teammates down. Sandeesh has no discernible business skills, unless you call dodging responsibility, whining, packing boxes and having saucer-like eyes business skills. Laura may be incompetent, but Sandeesh is invisible – and that is her only real hope of surviving beyond the next week or two. A waste of space.
Current rating: 1/10. Will not be missed when she departs. After all, we barely notice she’s there as it is.
The front runner
Stella English: Head of business management, 30
Cool, calm and collected. Took over the ramshackle Testosterone Club™ that was Synergy and project managed them to a win, gaining the admiration of her male colleagues despite (disappointingly but perhaps understandably) backing down over Bikinigate for the good of the task. Stella seems to be a hard worker with good business skills and a thick skin – in short, a proper business professional. What the hell is she doing on The Apprentice? A shoo-in for the final, unless Sugar loses the plot completely, which he generally does at least once a series.
Current rating: 9/10. Competent. Assured. Not too full of herself. The early favourite.
Stuart Baggs: Telecoms entrepreneur, 21
Lucky to escape in the opening week with his rat-a-tat soundbites – “everything I touch turns to sold” – and his aggressive sales pitch, Stuart ‘The Brand’™ appears to have taken Sugar’s criticism on board and calmed down. In fact, his market stall patter last week was spot on and a million miles removed from the Plonker of Portobello Market’™ we had seen two weeks previously. Despite being the youngest contestant remaining he appears to possess some business nous, which is more than can be said for many of his housemates. Will he turn out to be the rebound story of the series, blossoming under Lord Sugar’s gentle tutelage? We shall see.
Current rating: 7/10. A potential rough diamond with shades of Sugar himself. But will he turn out to be more like Michael Sophocles or Lee McQueen? A strong candidate for the final four.
So, finally, here is how I would rank the final 12, based on their performances in the first quarter of the season:
As I said at the beginning, the only thing I know for sure is that I will be completely wrong – not least because a candidate can only be fired if they are on the losing team – but that’s half the fun of making predictions. What do you think?
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