Young Apprentice: Semi-final preview

It seems like the series has barely hit its stride, and yet Monday sees the penultimate episode of Young Apprentice. The pressure is really on as the candidates must shine both as teams and individuals as they tackle one last task to determine who will progress to the final and who will fall at the final hurdle.

*** Mild spoilers for this week’s episode below ***

The task

If nothing else, this week’s task will see an Apprentice first. With only two candidates making the final, four – yes, four – of the final six will face Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™ in the series’ first ever quadruple firing.

The task itself is a familiar variant on the standard manufacture-and-pitch challenge. The rearranged teams are asked to develop and create a new brand of popcorn, and then pitch it to an airline, a cinema chain and a supermarket. The candidates have performed all three elements of this task already: in the opening week, they tackled manufacturing in making frozen treats, in week five they had to create their own deodorant brands, and in the second episode they pitched baby products to trade buyers. As such, I won’t bother reiterating the same ‘how to win’ tips I have done for previous weeks’ episodes.

Instead, let’s try to work out which two finalists we will end up with.

Six will become two

The fact that Sugar will shuffle the teams around again is an interesting one given that last week’s task left both Atomic and Kinetic with equal numbers. Of course, there is something to be gained by watching the dynamics between a different set of individuals in each team. But it also provides an opportunity to perform a convenient reset which allows Sugar to spread his bets by allocating his preferred candidates – and by now, you can be sure he has a clear picture in his mind of who his top two or three are – between the teams, to ensure that at least one of his ‘favourites’ ends up on the winning team.

We can expect the interpersonal tensions within each team to be higher than ever too. Even in earlier tasks, there has always been friction. Yes, the teams are working collaboratively towards the common goal of winning the task and avoiding the final boardroom, but within each team individuals are always looking to paint themselves in the best possible light, which creates much of the in-fighting we see in every episode. That is certain to increase this week, as all the candidates will know that a place on the winning team does not guarantee a place in the final and therefore cannot afford to take a back-seat. Everyone will be desperate to shine and therefore even more assertive/aggressive than usual, meaning people will push their own ideas and shout to be heard as the team becomes subservient to the ambitions of each individual. It could be carnage, with the more forceful and self-centred personalities such as Harry Maxwell and James McCullagh in danger of reverting to the kind of overbearing, over-the-top behaviours we saw in the early weeks.

As for how Sugar will select his two finalists, that is anyone’s guess. Will he simply choose two of the three members of the winning team? Or, on the assumption that every team member will do one pitch, might he select the two individuals who generated the biggest orders, regardless of which team they were on? He might even choose to obfuscate his choice by adding additional weight to the more subjective parts of the task, such as the creation of the brand, general teamwork or – most likely – performances on previous tasks.

I strongly suspect we are in for some surprises in terms of Sugar’s choice of finalist, which may well fly in the face of all logic. Ultimately, it is important to remember that Sugar is looking for a budding entrepreneur to back, which may not necessarily be the best all-rounder or the most likeable candidate. This is not an exam – the ‘best’ overall person in the eyes of the viewer is not necessarily the one who will win.

Rating the candidates

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Harry Hitchens

Win-loss record: 4-2 (0-1 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 1

Strengths: Intelligent, likeable and a good team player. A solid, businesslike and credible presenter, who is also calm, concise and articulate. A consistent performer who has been on the winning team in the last four tasks and has not been in the boardroom since losing as project manager in week one.

Weaknesses: Not so much weaknesses as missing strengths. His style is more corporate than entrepreneurial, and he has rarely shown a real spark to set him apart from the bunch.

Prospects: For me, the best overall candidate as an all-round businessperson – but that may not make him a finalist.

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Harry Maxwell

Win-loss record: 0-6 (0-1 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 3

Strengths: Persistence and determination. The best selling skills of any of the candidates. A nose for a good opportunity, as he showed in making impressive late deals in both the floristry and over-50s tasks.

Weaknesses: Autocratic leadership style. Can come across as patronising and condescending to teammates. Inconsistent – for every great call he has made in the competition, he has made two poor ones. It has rarely been his fault specifically, but his 0-6 task record is like an albatross around his neck.

Prospects: In no way, shape or form a dependable performer. But the most obviously entrepreneurial of the candidates. If his team wins this task, he will be in the final.

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Haya Al Dlame

Win-loss record: 5-1 (0-1 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 1

Strengths: A strong presenter who combines entrepreneurial qualities with the ability to be a good team player.

Weaknesses: Displayed poor project management skills in losing the over-50s task, in which she got her strategy all wrong and committed multiple errors. This led to her only loss and appearance in the boardroom, where she defended herself poorly and was lucky she had the hapless Lewis Roman alongside her to take the fall.

Prospects: Reasonable. A shoo-in if the final had included four candidates like last year. With just two, her chances are dependent on a good showing in this task.

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James McCullagh

Win-loss record: 3-3 (1-0 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 2

Strengths: A strong and engaging salesman and a constant source of ideas. Won as project manager in the over-50s task where he showed good leadership qualities and clarity of thinking.

Weaknesses: A tendency (particularly in early tasks) to dismiss other people’s ideas and to deny other team members appropriate airtime. Made a very poor call on pricing in the frozen treats task, and showed a lack of organisation in the deodorant advertising task. Clearly prefers to lead than follow, where he can be disruptive and overly negative.

Prospects: Plenty of flaws, but he is full of ideas, can sell and a sympathetic edit has shown he has steadily improved over the course of the competition. A likely finalist.

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Lizzie Magee

Win-loss record: 4-2 (1-1 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 1

Strengths: Hard-working and creative, and seems to have decent people skills. Listened to Hayley and Harry H’s advice on pricing in the floristry task, which was key to her victory as project manager. Has managed to be strongly opinionated without alienating her teammates.

Weaknesses: No obvious weaknesses, but like Harry H has perhaps not shown quite enough spark. Seems to have faded into the background on a number of tasks, although that could because she was just being quietly efficient, which doesn’t make for good TV. Lost control of Zara’s sub-team in last week’s discount buying task, which was the single biggest reason for their loss and her only boardroom appearance.

Prospects: A possible finalist, but I would rank her slightly behind Haya overall. Therefore I think she will fall short.

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Zara Brownless

Win-loss record: 4-2 (1-0 as project manager)

Final boardroom appearances: 2

Strengths: Arguably the most creative of the six finalists, with strong performances in the arts-inclined floristry and deodorant tasks. Calm and composed in the boardroom, speaks articulately and expert in deflecting criticism onto others. Impressed in week one with an eye to upselling ice cream add-ons to kids, even if her approach was ethically dubious.

Weaknesses: Has often hovered in the background, only coming to the fore in the advertising task which played squarely to her strengths. I would question how much contribution she has actually made to tasks – she always positions herself well, but I suspect this is more a triumph of style over substance. Attempted to steal credit from Harry M about his idea to phone a library in last week’s discount buying task (although lying has never put Sugar off hiring a candidate before – see Lee McQueen).

Prospects: The brochure looks terrific, but I fear the actual product is somewhat hollow. Dig beneath the surface of her performances, and she has the least proven business credentials of the three girls. Deserving of being in the final six, but no more.

So there you have it. The identity of the finalists depends greatly on the outcome of this penultimate task, but my guess is that it will be two out of Harry H, Harry M, Haya and James. In the absence of any further previews of Monday’s episode, I’m going to predict a James versus Harry H final. But do not be surprised if ‘winless wonder’ Harry M sneaks into the final. Sugar has always loved a great salesman with an eye for a deal.

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Monday at 9pm.

Link: BBC official website

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