Before this year, the last time I saw the Apprentice was back in 2006. Watching the series 2 final in the living room was almost blasphemous. When it came to reality television, my family were of the firm side of the ‘we are better than they’ mentality, whereby all other shows were inferior to documentaries, BBC costume dramas and cricket. I remember seeing the formidable business tank that was Ruth Badger, and being gobsmacked that the willowy Michelle Dewberry won instead. I was more gobsmacked, however, that every contestant on The Apprentice was a walking, talking arsehole in a suit. It is an inherent part of the programme, as much as The Voice is about being as bland as possible, The X Factor is about being as evil as possible, and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings is about tapping into the nation’s collective apprehension about a) council tax evaders, b) perceived outsiders with customs different to our own and c) pink meringue dresses.
But perhaps to call the contestants on The Apprentice arseholes is a little unfair. I’m more inclined to call them pantomime arseholes. Having watched the current series religiously in the past few weeks, I feel in a good position to defend myself. Whenever Neil, desperate to replace Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, repeats his catchphrase “It’s time for Neil Clough to save the day”, I can’t help but shout “oh no he won’t” and then expect Lord Sugar to emerge into the boardroom dressed as the Wicked Witch of Capitalism. But then, pantomime arsehole-ry is just part of the package. It’s all I, as the viewer, get to see. Contestants might as well grow villain moustaches and cruella de-vil style haircuts. It would be far more subtle than comparing yourself to Napoleon or Machiavelli.
But is it just me, or has anyone noticed a bit of, well, gender exaggeration going on in this current series? It’s even more insidious than the arsehole stereotyping. Whenever there seems to be a bitchy “animosity” between the girls, a little like schoolchildren who pull each other’s pigtails, it seems to be flared up as a serious and inevitable yet ridiculously patronising problem. Yet on the LADZ team, whenever Neil stirs up drama it’s fine and dandy, or when Zee and Alex call Jason – Who I will from now on refer to in the blogging universe as Jason ‘Sad Potato’ Leech – a “silly shit” when he screws the task up, it’s all okay and it’s never picked up by any of the Sugar crew because LOL Manz will have ManBantz.
This week, however, was the worst instance of ManBantz gone wrong, when Kurt pretty much became as contemptible as Rupert Murdoch and his parade of Page 3 models. There was an audible groan from progressive-thinkers everywhere when Kurt dropped the man-ball good and proper, by encouraging one of the women on his team to be “eye candy” for the customers while the dudes sold a caravan. That’s right, folks. Kurt called Leah referred to as “eye candy”. IN ORDER TO SELL CARAVANS. I’m sorry Kurt, but, hideously antiquated and godawful sexism aside, sexiness will not sell campervans. Even the most gorgeous model in a swimsuit would not turn the head of a seventy year old woman looking for a new pop-up tent. In fact, the sexism was so bad that even Nick Hewer himself felt the need to step in and boldly call it at the board meeting, total feminist badass that he is.
Not that the girls seem to do much better: Luisa is the poster girl for the “I’m pretty but can also do business yeah?” kind of attitude, while saying things like “I hate the corporate world” and mistaking the smell of manure for some kind of perfume. A low point for feminism occurred last week, when CUPCAKES were made into a staple of a corporate away day. Luisa may have saved the task financially, but she replaced chocolate making – a silly task – with cupcake decorating, a cheaper but dafter task. Men and women around the table looked physically wounded by the ineptitude of the pink sparkly cakes in front of them. It’s like I’m being encouraged to pigeon-hole these women into whiny, clueless girls.
Karren Brady herself is definitive proof that women can be cool, calm, intelligent and totally awesome when it comes to business. And don’t we all remember Ruth Badger? We didn’t see no cupcakes from that woman. She was a bit more energetic, a bit more happenin’. If the cameras had tried to edit Ruth to look like a simpering teenager, she’d have probably leapt out of the set and demanded to see the head producer of the BBC. And then proceeded to rip his head off and eat it raw. With wasabi sauce. Because she’s a badass.
Regardless, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the representation of women on this series of The Apprentice. There’s certainly no business going on here. Just bitchiness, gender-stereotyping and cupcakes. GODDAMN PINK SPARKLY CUPCAKES.
And, as usual, Mitchell and Webb sums things up better than I can: