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The Apprentice: the reality behind reality TV

28 Jan

Shibby in the aftermath of his three weeks of reality TV fame.

As a fan of The Apprentice, I wanted to test my interviewing skills on Sir Alan – sorry, Lord Sugar (why does that sound like the name of a porn magnate?). However, apparently my journo credentials aren’t up there yet, so I ended up with Shibby Robati.

“Who?” I hear you ask. You know the guy – the one who got fired in Week 3 for turning up to a client with only 16 bread rolls instead of the 1,000 ordered. The one whose level-headed response to this crisis was: “Tell them to go on the Atkins diet”. The one whose soundbite – “My first word wasn’t ‘mummy’, it was ‘money’” – was replayed endlessly, perhaps as a warning to other budding reality show stars that, if it sounds witty in your head, it will probably come across as moronic on TV.

When I actually meet Shibby in the lobby of the Guildford Spectrum leisure centre (it’s a glamorous job), I encounter a down-to-earth guy who doesn’t fit his mildly ludicrous on-screen persona. Turning up in football kit in preparation for a kick-about with his old school chums, the 27-year-old former surgeon is keen to emphasise that he and fellow Apprentice candidates were “credible business people from a credible business background”.

“No-one goes in there thinking they’re just going to be on TV”, he says. “I approached the whole thing as a job opportunity. There’s a thorough criteria and selection process that can fish out the bad apples pretty quickly”.

Shibby is vehemently defensive of the show’s integrity: “Obviously you’re under extreme pressure and you’re quite vulnerable in the house. But the camera never lies. No-one was coerced into saying anything.”

He does admit, however, that while it is “fundamentally a business programme”, The Apprentice does have “TV obligations”:

“The balance was to find credible business people who also fit the role on TV.”

Of the controversial episode where a strong-but-dull candidate, Liz Locke, was fired, allowing a more ratings-winning character, Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs, to stay in, Shibby says: “You could argue it was a TV decision rather than a business decision”.

The manipulation for television was also evident in how the BBC played up Shibby’s northern roots. Despite having moved at age three to Guildford where he still lives and works today, he was described on the show as being from Leeds because the programme-makers didn’t want the candidates to seem like a collection of Southerners.

Each series of The Apprentice films two versions of the final results show, so that no-one knows who the actual winner is until the finalé is aired. The winners also tend to leave the job after six months or so, in spite of gushing in the boardroom about how they want to work for Sir-alun/Lord Sugar of Battersea until their dying day.

So, as with the Deloitte graduate scheme, you pretend that your life-long dream is to get the job, but once you’re hired, you whack it onto your CV and scamper off to do something better.

Shibby is in no doubt that the experience boosted his CV. “Since The Apprentice, I’ve had three promising job prospects from big organisations.”

Maybe this is just as well. His hopes that the show would raise his profile enough to land a more prominent role within his community – such as speaking in schools or business seminars – have not been realised. The faded reality TV ‘star’ who confesses to a “short shelf-life” is already past his sell-by date: even the Guildford local press consider him “old news”. Still, he made it onto this blog, which must count for something, right?…

By Luxmy Gopal


The Apprentice: has the world gone mad?

9 Dec

Now, we understand that a 12-week “job interview from hell” must take its toll. But does that really explain the madness of last night’s Apprentice? Yes, it seems no-one was beyond the realms of insanity in the latest tour bus task.

Tourists were not in the mood for a Cockney knees-up (Credit: BBC)

Liz tried to pull off Cockney impersonations (as we’ve established, she is in fact Footballers’ Wives Susie Amy and acting was never her strong point). Jamie thrilled tourists with his inside knowledge of Westminster Abbey: “It’s a church”. And Chris broke away from his trademark monotone to shower Stuart with expletives. Even level-headed Stella was reduced to singing a degrading rendition of Old Mother Brown.

But, as always, Stuart stole the show. Yes, after wooing tourists with lines such as “have a bite of my jellied eels” and charging them £35 for the privilege, we thought his time was up. This was, of course, before the boardroom speech of a lifetime.

“I’m not a one-trick pony. I’m not even a ten-trick pony. I’ve got a field full of ponies” – wise words from Stuart Baggs

Yes, the 21-year-old brand pulled out all the stops to secure his place in next week’s interviews. He regaled Sir Alan with tales of horses, declaring he was not just a one-trick pony but a “field full of ponies”. Even his shameful yo-yo antics came out of the closet, as he revealed the only money he’d ever taken from his parents was for yo-yo stock. Oh, and he’s going to start up a new company for Sir Alan (clearly not a fan of dodgy Amstrad electrics, then).

It was enough to leave us all feeling a little bemused. But while ponies and yo-yos may have confused us mere mortals, he was clearly talking Sir Alan’s language. “It makes sense to me,” he told Stuart, as Liz faced the full force of the tycoon’s index finger.

So, as Stuart survives another week, we’re left wondering if there’s anything the young whippersnapper can’t do. If his bewildering patter does make him the next Apprentice, here are a few suggestions of what his next venture with Sir Alan may involve:

  • Translation service: As we’ve seen, Stuart is the master of many tongues. Whether it be French, German or Cockney, the brand can adapt himself to any given situation with a simple “Das ist wunderbar” or inconspicuous beret.
  • Diplomatic relations: Stuart’s diplomacy skills may be a little on the unusual side, but we can’t help marvelling at how his management style hasn’t incurred so much as a black eye. Reverse psychology proved to be his forté last night, as he told Chris, “Go on, hit me then,” and asked the tourist information office to report him to the police. Remarkably, neither happened. We believe he could use these skills to achieve feats such as Middle Eastern peace and a ceasefire between X Factor feuding couple Simon and Louis.
  • Horse racing: Livestock is one area Sir Alan hasn’t dabbled in, but Stuart has a field full of ponies to offer. Plus his canny intuition and knack for triumphing against the odds mean he will always back the winner.

Of course, all this will come under Stuart’s unmistakable brand trademark. Unfortunately, previews of next week’s interview suggest the Baggs brand is still not recognised by everyone…

Strictly’s Ann Widdecombe to perform barn dance

7 Dec

So recent events have proved Britain is no country for old women, with X Factor’s Mary and Ann Widdecombe deemed past their sell-by dates. But fear not Widdecombe fans: your next fix may be closer than you think.

The epitomy of grace: Strictly's Ann Widdecombe

Yes, the Strictly contestant has announced she won’t hang up her sorely mistreated dancing shoes. And this time she’s taking her talents to a far less discerning audience: cattle.

Ann has divulged that she will relive the waltz on her regular country walks.  “Before the startled eyes of roaming cattle, I shall dance around the damp, uneven ground, imagining myself in a glittering gown, waltzing in the arms of Anton du Beke,” she told the Radio Times.

Now, normally we would refuse to envy farmyard animals, but this proves there is an exception to every rule. The idea of Ann performing her own, confused-Granny-style barn dance is nothing short of genius. In fact, it could even better her all-too-literal interpretation of the sinking Titanic.

Yes, she may be a Tory and have a fondness for words like “jolly”, but her unique routines have won her a place in our bewildered hearts. In fact, all MPs should take a leaf out of her book. Would David Cameron not seem infinitely more appealing if Anton du Beke dragged him around the floor like a bedraggled, canary yellow mop? I rest my case.

So Anne, we salute you. In fact, words are not enough to convey our admiration. Please accept our song as a poetic tribute to your superior dancefloor prowess:

The Right Honourable Dancing Queen

(Set to the tune of Abba’s Dancing queen)

Saturday night and the scores are low,

Anne doesn’t know where she’s meant to go,

Whether it be rock music,

Whether it be swing,

She does the same dance.

Anton was meant to be that guy,

His smile was fixed and his patience high,

He looked out for another,

Anyone would do,

But it was Widdecombe.

And then she got the chance…

To be the dancing queen,

Two left feet,

Scoring seventeen,

Dancing queen,

Feels no beat,

From the tambourine.

She can’t waltz,

She can’t jive,

Even if to save her life.

Oooh see her dance,

Don’t watch her feet,

And she is a dancing queen.

(Fade to a scene of Anton carrying Ann in a characteristically unceremonious lift).

So Anne, you will always be our dancing queen, trophy or not. Now we can only look forward to your bizarre partnership with Craig Revel Horwood on tour…

No country for old women

6 Dec

Farewell Mary, and adieu Widdy. Last weekend saw a Great British public rejection of aged ladies, with Ann Widdecombe voted off Strictly Come Dancing, and Mary Byrne left in the bottom two by X Factor voters, finally ditched by judges in favour of teenage scowler, Cher.

Widdecombe and partner Du Bec

In the shadow of Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly being turfed out by BBC bosses for not getting Botox, was the weekend’s result a ringing endorsement by the nation that there’s no place for women on the telly if they aren’t in their twenties, or at least look like someone whose face has been lifted, stretched and pinned back into their twenties?

Mary Byrne could have been the new Susan Boyle (or at least, the Tesco Economy version, without the Demi and Ashton Twitter-following). The 51-year-old belted out songs with a Bassey-esque voice, but viewers preferred youthful-but-bland Rebecca, man-flu victim Matt, and One Dimension, sorry, Direction – the gang-ling that resembles the cast of a Gap Kids advert. True, the final decision was cast by the judges, but was their verdict a reflection of popular will? Or was the only perpetrator of ageism here the fickle music industry, attempting to play God (or, as Simon Cowell calls it, attempting to play Simon Cowell) as they do in all Pop Idol genre shows?

Indeed, Strictly Come Dancing viewers have kept in grandmother of two, Pamela Stephenson. She is only two years younger than 63-year-old Widdecombe, yet comes across as Fiddy compared to Widdy’s Biddy (ok, that was a stretch). So, it wasn’t a vote of age discrimination: just a sign that the voters had tired of Widdecombe’s lumbering attempts at dance routines – routines which made John Sergeant’s stomping-toddler-dragging-teddy-behind-him moves look Billy-Elliotly elegant. Turns out people no longer want to spend Saturday nights watching a scene akin to a yellow, sequinned sack of potatoes being heaved around by Rob Brydon’s Twin.

Then again, on Strictly, too, did the judges play their part. While they had no casting vote over the bottom two, last week marked the first time they made unanimously negative comments towards Widdecombe, with even praise-generous Alesha Dixon saying “The honeymoon’s over”, and Len Goodman comparing the former Tory MP to the recent snow: fun at first, but eventually you get sick of it. For the first time this series, all of the judges were saying in effect, “Go home, Ann”. And for the first time, the voting public chose not to save her.

Equally, the X Factor judges seemed to have written off Mary Byrne before the voting lines even opened. During her second performance, when she broke down with emotion because the song had been her late mother’s favourite, they interpreted the tears as her saying “Oh woe is me. Lamentably, this is the end of the road, old fogey that I am!”. Cheryl Cole et al commented that this wasn’t the end, she’d still have a career, with Cowell reassuring her that she would not be returning to the Tesco payroll. It hadn’t crossed their minds that she might perhaps go onto next week’s semi-finals, and maybe even win – heavens no! Not when she is practically the same age as the other contestants combined.

So, the gains of last year’s Susan Boyle movement were short-lived. There is no place for you on the box if you’re an oldie. Lest we forget, Strictly’s judge, Alesha, was brought in to replace middle-aged Arlene Phillips, amid cries of ageism. The BBC never explained their reasons for doing so, but avid advocate of alliteration, Arlene, would probably call it the disgraceful discrimination by dirty TV execs, ditching dames in favour of damsels, damn them. Or something like that. The message is clear. Female twenty-somethings: the voting public may not mind you, but if you don’t want to be at the mercy of TV bosses, your time is running out.

Luxmy Gopal

The Apprentice – even when they’re shit, they’re good

2 Dec

It was the quote that summed up Stuart Baggs’ entire stint on The Apprentice. Last night’s edition of You’re Fired saw ‘the brand’ tell the house: “How great is that – even when we’re shit, we win!”

Yes indeed, even when Stuart is aimlessly driving around race tracks, confusing Germans and telling them he has a white sausage, Stuart always manages to pull it out of the Baggs, so to speak. Which left the whole nation wondering: how? Is he just plain lucky? Or is he covertly using hypnosis on Karen and Nick (with Stuart, any skill is possible) to fiddle the figures?

Either way, he’s becoming compulsive viewing. Last night being French emerged as one of his many hidden talents, which so far have included a surprising number of voice-over personas and a complex German vocabulary. Then, on his trip to Paris, he stunned us once again by ordering wine with a suave “s’il vous plaît” and skipping around Paris in a beret. It’s times like this when we wonder why Anglo-French relations are so sour.

Footballers' Wives Chardonnay

But while we could wax lyrical all day about Stuart’s talents, a far more pressing matter has come to our attention. Yes, it seems boardroom favourite Liz is actually an impostor. According to our sources (by sources, we mean us) Liz is the exact body double of Susie Amy, best known as Chardonnay in landmark trash TV series Footballers’ Wives.

We believe Susie is hoping to escape her shameful Footballers’ Wives past by reinventing herself as business-minded “Liz”, a serious contender in Sir Alan’s boardroom. Only this will ever win back the respect of her colleagues, who reportedly shunned her after the end of her on-screen marriage to Gary Lucy.

The Apprentice's Liz Locke

The question is: will Sir Alan still champion “Liz” after he discovers her X-rated past as a Footballers’ Wives glamour girl? He doesn’t seem the type to approve of her character’s antics, which have included not-so-tastefully-done bondage sessions and several brushes with plastic surgery. Still, only time will tell.

Stuart Baggs: the man behind ‘the brand’

26 Nov

So another week, and it’s another eye-wateringly embarrassing moment for Apprentice candidate Stuart Baggs. Yes, the one-man brand – a self-confessed “adrenaline junkie” who frequently reigns in his “extreme masculinity” – this time took his dubious talents to Germany. And what talents they were.

Yes, anyone who doubted his claims of superior memory and intellect were soon proved wrong. No sooner had the entrepreneur learned to count to zwanzig, than he showed his ability to insert the classic German GCSE phrase “Das ist wunderbar” into any given situation.

Are there brains behind 'the brand'? Credit: BBC

Despite his past grumblings, Germany appeared to bring out the optimist in Stuart. Failed appointments, communication breakdowns and sheer bewilderment were all met with an enthusiastic “wunderbar”. (Sadly the same couldn’t be said for Chris, who proclaimed “I hate the Germans” before even beginning the task. Cheer up Chris – whatever you’ve got against the Germans, surely exporting the Baggs brand is enough retribution.)

And finally, Baggs capped it all off with a rare moment of self-awareness: “I’m sure I look like an idiot to them.” Yes Stuart, das ist truly wunderbar.

Still, these powers of perception prompted us to look further into the enigma that is Stuart Baggs. Who is the man behind the brand? Could his powers of memory really render the written form redundant? And how does he respond to the rumours of his dodgy yo-yo selling past? This is what we found:

  • Stuart started wheeling and dealing as a young nipper, selling yo-yos in the playground. It was the beginning of a career full of ups and downs (sorry, it had to be done)….
  • His classmates clearly didn’t take kindly to his yo-yo peddling, as one of his school pals described him as an “egomaniac”.
  • At the tender age of 18, Stuart set up Isle of Man’s BlueWave Communications, which describes itself as “THE Island’s Communications Company”.
  • His antics on The Apprentice have prompted Ricky Gervais to brand Baggs the new David Brent. Does this mean we will see the boardroom’s first robot dance? We sincerely hope so.

Reluctantly, we have to admit a telecoms company and a David Brent comparison isn’t bad for a 21-year-old. So is there method behind Stuart’s apparent madness? Perhaps, as fellow 20something professionals, we should all take a leaf out of his book? Here’s our guide to doing business the Baggs way:

  1. Don’t write anything down: For Stuart, lists are a sign of weakness – the entrepreneur claims to store all

    Ignore facts and notes: business the Baggs way

    the information he needs inside his head. If colleagues doubt your powers of memory, simply show your pity for their writing habits by throwing around words such as “corporate” in a disparaging fashion.

  2. Facts are overrated: Facts, like lists, are for the weak. As Stuart said, he didn’t get where he is today by listening to information. All he needs is a strong sense of intuition, at its most acute when driving around Brands Hatch for no apparent reason.
  3. Talk about yourself as a brand: Stuart is no mere mortal, but a brand in his own right. When in work situations, talk about your superior qualities as if describing a product. Note: when you start using phrases such as “smooth taste” or “sparkling shine”, you’ve probably gone one step too far.
  4. Tuck your clothes in: Never one to neglect his appearance, this week’s Apprentice saw Stuart start a one-man campaign to bring back the anti-fashion of tucking clothes into jeans. When confronted by Stella for his unusual choice, he retorted: “Well, I’ve got to make an effort, haven’t I?” Our thoughts exactly, Stuart.

Disclaimer: Life in your twenties does not accept any responsibility for “accidental” injuries inflicted by colleagues while adopting the Baggs business model.