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The Apprentice Has Jumped The Shark

by Gareth Dimelow
26 April 2012 8 Comments

Boring tasks, a tired concept and idiotic contestants have summed up The Apprentice in recent years, having become a shadow of the show it once was.


We’ve all heard the term ‘jumping the shark’. It’s generally used in TV circles whenever a well-loved show makes one too many attempts at refreshing its format, only to lose sight of the thing that made it great in the first place. Not everyone knows where the phrase originated – it was actually coined in honour of a scene in a season 5 episode of Happy Days, when Fonzie attempted to jump over a shark whilst waterskiing.

What most people don’t realise, however, is that this particular episode occurred halfway through the show’s 11-year run. So although it represented a nadir for the writers, it in no way impacted the long-term popularity of the programme. Most people seem to assume that ‘jumping the shark’ is the tipping point when an audience begins switching off. But as Happy Days proved, viewers don’t always recognise when the producers have stopped trying.

Pop cultural history aside, let’s take a look at the Apprentice. Now in its eighth series, Lord Sugar’s search for a business partner shows no signs of slowing down in the ratings. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that its best days are, like for Sugar himself, far behind it. A few too many tweaks to the concept have left it feeling like a shadow of its former self. So let’s take a look at the changes, and decide whether Lord Sugar is ready to strap on a leather jacket and some swim-shorts, and see if he can’t clear a hungry hammerhead.

Cast changes

The departure of Margaret, to be replaced by Karren Brady, was the first sign that the main cast were starting to get bored with the format. Sure, Karren might work a fitted two-piece better than La Mountford ever could. But given that her formerly agreeable personality has changed to make her into a younger version of the formidable battleaxe, it serves to confirm the suspicion that everyone here has come straight from central casting. This may be a game show, but the move still smacks of Lucy Robinson being shipped off to New York, only to transform from a dumpy tween into a hot blonde underwear model.
The Apprentice is becoming so formulaic that the official BBC website could just do away with its ‘Meet The Candidates’ page, and replace it with a grid of those generic blue and white Facebook silhouettes.
Bullshit BingoBack in the early days, it was possible to watch The Apprentice and perceive the candidates as credible professionals. But as the editors have gradually exerted their influence over the show, it’s become increasingly clear that the contestants are recruited for their unwitting comedic value, rather than their ability to turn a profit. Whether it’s Azhar talking about his organic business start-up, or Stephen’s goggle-eyed enthusiasm for meaningless brand names, the candidates are little more than figures of fun.

Pointless concept

Once upon a time, the purpose of the show was to help Lord Sugar recruit an impressive new employee to join his fading business empire. Unfortunately, after several years of miss-and-tell exclusives, it’s become clear that the career prospects were as imaginary as Sugar’s Canary Wharf-based headquarters. Apparently, most high-flying executives are looking for something a little more challenging than selling digital signage. So now, Sugar’s looking for a business to invest £250,000 in. Aside from the fact that it renders his well-loved ‘You’re fired’ catchphrase utterly meaningless, it does force us to question the logic of selecting a potential investment opportunity based on its inventor’s ability to sell old radiator parts on Brick Lane.

Apparently, most high-flying executives are looking for something a little more challenging than selling digital signage
Same-old, same-old

The advertising task. The bargain hunter task. The aggressive interview. Been there, done that, bought the overpriced, poorly-printed Union Jack t-shirt. Nowadays, Lord Sugar can’t even be arsed to come up with a convoluted introduction to the tasks. On tonight’s show, he just rocked up at their Bayswater mansion to interrupt their Wii tournament and told them all to fuck off to Edinburgh. Then again, I wouldn’t have even bothered mentioning Edinburgh.

Cliched characters
The brassy northern lass. The arrogant alpha male. And enough regional accents to curdle a carton of non-dairy creamer. Tonight, we enjoyed a double-dose of the latter, as Adam and Jenna honked and bleated their way through the street-food task, sounding like someone trying to play the paper and comb. When they weren’t putting the finishing touches to their ‘Gorrrrrrrmehhhhhhhh’ offerings, they were making inane statements like “What if people come to the stand and speak Scottish to us, will you be able to understand what they’re saying?” Still, they can’t really be blamed for doing what the show expected of them. If you’ve seen The Cabin In The Woods, you’ll know all about our love of archetypes when it comes to accessible characterisation. The Apprentice is becoming so formulaic that the official BBC website could just do away with its ‘Meet The Candidates’ page, and replace it with a grid of those generic blue and white Facebook silhouettes.


One thing we have to give The Apprentice credit for, is the way its production team manages to keep the results a secret. Eight years in, and I can’t remember a single time when someone has leaked the results ahead of the broadcast. However, the show’s not entirely spoiler-free. The editorial team’s love of ironic foreshadowing is now so prevalent, that the outcome of the task can usually be determined twenty minutes in. The moment someone congratulates themselves on a job well done, before it’s actually been done, you can be sure that those words will come back to haunt them. Tonight, it’s was Stephen’s turn, as he celebrated his own brilliance for securing an exclusive deal with a bus tour company: “That’s a task-winner that is. High fives all round.” From the get-go, they were as doomed to failure as the horror movie character who tells his girlfriend “I’ll be right back.”

The bags

Every week, the candidates all have to cart their luggage into Lord Sugar’s holding pen, in case they’re the ones to get the chop. But we’re not stupid. Even Tarzan would struggle to force ten weeks’ worth of outfits into a small carry-on bag. So why are we expected to believe that the these flashy business types have crammed enough business suits (and in Katie’s case, a foam pizza costume) into their hand luggage?

Lord Sugar

With every passing year, Sugar becomes an increasingly inconsequential reminder of his own former glory. A couple of shit jokes (“£5.99 at a Herts match for meatballs. They don’t pay that for a striker.”) and some painfully poor grammar, is about all he can muster these days. And let’s face it, if he no longer gives a solitary shit about the show, why should we?

More stories you need to read

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The Apprentice Week One Reviewed: “I Was Born in a Shoe in Chernobyl”

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Harry Futile 12:48 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Missed last two eps cos of ITV football, but couldn't be arsed to record / iPlayer, as Sugar's ship has sailed. Maybe Murdoch should do a show, looking for a trainee hack ... that WOULD be worth watching.

Withnail 1:35 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Well-written article. They should try Hilary DeVey instead of Sugar, that would refresh things, at least in the short term.

Blake Carrington 5:21 pm, 26-Apr-2012

Spot on is this Gareth. I'd watch it again if the programmes producers started recruiting sensible young business people rather than over characterised bunch of half wits that have been on over the last few series.

Bunny 11:24 pm, 29-Apr-2012

first series was as good as teevee has been in recent years. It's now a crappy parody of itself, populated by utter clueless and classless whoppers.

Dean 10:30 pm, 3-May-2012

Somewhat harsh I think. Sure the Apprentice is not the show that it used to be but it's still very entertaining and continues to be the best reality TV show out there at the moment.

Studman 10:58 pm, 3-May-2012

If you're going to have a go at Lord Sugar for his 'painfully poor grammar', you might want to check for typos before you publish, seeing as there's about 350 miles' difference between Herts and Hearts. (You meant the latter, by the way.)

Gareth 6:25 am, 4-May-2012

@Studman Yes, you're quite right there. Blame it on lazy fingers, or a complete ambivalence towards football. You was quite right to bring it up. As Lord Sugar might say.

Bob Clobbert 2:56 pm, 1-Jun-2012

Hmmm. The piece says no one knows where the phrase to "Jump The Shark" originated then explines in the same sentence exactly where it did. Then is goes on to say that the term means the point at which people start swicthing off. It doesn't, it is the point at which the user of the phrase deems that the show has lost what it once had. That semantic point out of the way I agree with the gist. These kind of shows lose what they had almost after the first series because subsequent contestants start to realise how they are being watched so start to act accordingly such as framing other people rather than doing their best in the tasks, and the editors feel the need manufacture talking points to keep the ratings up. I'd say this show was worthy for 2 series, it's farce now, and Alan Sugar's dsimissal speeches tend to be contradictory, illogical and delivered with an increasing lack of interest on his part. He is after all nothing but a TV personailty now, he hasn't sold anything or increased his wealth for two decades. He's 'Jumped The Shark' himself!!

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