The Apprentice is ostensibly about finding Sir Alan Sugar a new employee. But it is a sit-com in which the "sit" is business. As the series draws to a close, the workings behind its glossy facade are peeking through.
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine
The "job interview from hell" is nearing its end. Next Wednesday, Amstrad entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar will jab his finger at either Kristina Grimes or Simon Ambrose and bark "you're hired" in the final of The Apprentice.
Unlike rival reality TV shows, in which contestants do little else than talk about themselves, each episode tells the story of a task and how the various characters set about it. It is almost as if the candidates were generated, suited and booted for the show. Episode one is Year Zero and their backstories start and stop with what they did for their last job.
Kristina, centre, is in the final
Previous episodes revealed that Jadine, Tre and Ifti had children, that Paul was ex-Army and Rory a bankrupt. But that was about it until Wednesday's penultimate episode offered a rare and prolonged glimpse of the remaining five candidates as Sir Alan's rottweilers grilled them in turn.
As the picture of their private lives built up, so too did we get glimpses behind the window dressing of the show itself. So what do we now know about the would-be apprentices and The Apprentice?
1. They have families. Parents, children, wives and boyfriends, to be exact. Tre has a lovely wife, Lohit a supportive boyfriend and Kristina an 18-year-old son, born when she was just 17. But perhaps most startling of all is the revelation that alpha female Katie has two small girls, both born during a short-lived marriage to her boss. And she too is ex-Army.
2. Tre looks like he's sniffing sour milk for a reason. It's not just his aggressive personality, he is in constant pain after a nearly-fatal car crash 10 years ago. There are steel plates in his back and pins in both legs. "I have pain all the time," he says, adding that he draws strength from his religion - Islam - which he says promises great rewards in the afterlife for those who endure suffering.
There's a reason he looks like this
3. Can't place Lohit's accent? It's from Dubai and New Zealand. His family emigrated to the United Arab Emirates when he was tiny, and when he was 13, they moved to the Antipodes.
4. Business speak says so much, yet so little. Simon is habitually referred to - and not just by himself - as an internet entrepreneur with an interest in property. What this actually means is that he runs a website selling lighting equipment to schools. And business is not booming, by his own admission. And his property portfolio? He lets rooms - and sleeping spots on sofas - in his house.
5. Location, location, location. Despite the gratuitous shots of Canary Wharf - visual shorthand for the world of business - Sir Alan has no office in London's Docklands, or, for that matter, the City. Amstrad's head office is in Brentwood, Essex. He has a base in the inauspicious environs of the Mile End Rd, an office in swanky St James and Viglen - where Wednesday's interviews were conducted - is in Hertfordshire.
6. Props maketh the man. The boardroom is a studio mock-up of Sir Alan's Brentwood HQ (no real-life boardroom has lighting that looks that good on telly). He owns the yacht prominently featured in the opening credits, but not the helicopter. It's chartered from RotorMotion, a company which does brisk business among flash types in the City.
Fly with me
7. Timing is everything. The series is filmed in autumn. Newspaper headlines glimpsed in early episodes date from October, and two candidates came a cropper when trying to sell food to Muslims during Ramadan, which ended in mid-October. Last week's episode showed presenters on a home shopping channel wearing Remembrance poppies.
8. There's time and then there's TV time. "One of the first things that we tell them is 'Look, you're gonna be away from home for 12 weeks'," Sir Alan said when Ifti claimed to be off-form because he was missing his family. But filming takes about two months. And the final two work for Sir Alan before he decides who stays and who goes. Former runner-up Saira Khan has criticised the show because "the final decision is not based on the programme that people see, his final decision is based on these two people who have been working with him for the six months".
9. Spotters of continuity errors don't have to look further than the long walk to the taxi after each candidate is fired. These are all shot on the same day, early in the filming. While the most glaring discrepancies are avoided by buttoned-up coats - which the candidates are told to buy before filming begins - the shoes are a giveaway. Katie fired herself in a black suit, but under her coat as she climbed into the taxi was a white suit and pink heels.
10. The past never happened. Sir Alan lost his apprentice Michelle Dewberry just four months after she was chosen. In Wednesday's episode he made great play of the need for commitment, but made no mention of why this had become such an issue.