Tom wins The Apprentice 2011 – but was the process right?

Quite apart from the fact that this series should’ve been called something other than The Apprentice since Lord Sugar was looking for a business partner and not an apprentice, it’s been another enthralling 12-week campaign of power struggles, unashamed egotism and hissy fits.

It was a great series full of great characters and memorable moments (my personal favourite was when Jim came to the rescue in the beauty treatment task and offered his help in massaging one of the two young men who looked like they were there just to get on the telly). Awkward.

I must admit, I was a bit surprised to see Tom chosen as the man to go into business with Lord Sugar – and I’m not bitter about the fact that I backed just about every other candidate at some stage to win the competition except him. Only at the very last minute, when Lord Sugar was dithering, did I quickly realise it was going to be Tom, but at that point it was far too late to switch allegiance.

Ironically, in hindsight, it seems to me that Lord Sugar earmarked ‘Hindsight Man’ Tom as a possible finalist right from the start. After only winning three tasks all series there were plenty of opportunities to fire him – not least because he was often chosen by the losing project manager to come back into the board room following each failure.

However, it was only after the final episode and during The Apprentice: You’re Fired that it was formally acknowledged that this was a totally different set of circumstances. Lord Sugar pointed out that if it had been any other series of The Apprentice then Tom would have been sent packing much, much earlier. If it was a totally different set of circumstances then why did everything else feel exactly the same as a typical Apprentice series?

Perhaps it’s just me that didn’t quite ‘get’ the change – but it seemed particularly harsh that someone like Helen, who won 10 of the 11 tasks, didn’t win it. It’s a dangerous precedent because the won-and-lost record of candidates won’t count for anything since it didn’t count for much here. Ultimately, it’s lost all relevance.

Some of Lord Sugar’s reasons for firing people were a bit obscure too, such as the time he said to Glen: ‘I’ve yet to come across an engineer that understands business,’ and firing Ellie Reed in week five because she worked in construction. These comments seemed totally detached from what actually happened in that week’s challenge, not to mention unfair on the candidates themselves because of Lord Sugar’s prejudices.

For someone to win the competition having lost on so many occasions it seems to me that the Apprentice formula didn’t suit Lord Sugar’s task at hand – namely that of finding a business partner. Tom failed on so many occasions that it’s only reasonable to think that this process wasn’t the right one to pick a ‘business partner’ and left a lot of viewers – including me – a bit baffled.

If the BBC and Lord Sugar are going to persist with this business partner strategy then they need to break away from a format that only works to identify apprentices – and they may need to do something about that title.

But with millions of viewers already in love with the current format, I doubt that will happen.


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