Apologies in advance if you're not a fan, but I am a complete addict. Series six of The Apprentice began a few weeks ago on BBC1 and for me it's compulsive viewing.
Right from the off, you're sucked in. The strings and brass burst into Suite No. 2, Op. 64ter Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and instantly command your attention. It also has the side-effect of instantly compelling those watching to hum, "dum de dum" or whistle along, which can get interesting on the high notes. Personally I'm a "dum de dum"er, or on occasion a "doo do do"er, mainly because my whistling skills leave a lot to be desired.
But yes! The dramatic music strikes up and the camera pans across the London skyline, looking shadowy and intimidating. Then we get our glimpse of all these "hot shot" apprentices, usually walking purposefully along, wheeling their suitcases behind them. There's always a moment of "ha!" or "aww!" when they show someone who has already been given the boot (for better or for worse) but there is also a sense of anticipation: who'll screw it up the most this week? Who'll say something cringeworthy? Who'll square up to whom? Who will fail spectacularly? Who will we want to punch?
Note that we don't ask ourselves who will succeed, who we'll like or who we want to do well. This is because, essentially, the success of The Apprentice is mainly due to our inclination towards schadenfreude and our desire to see those who think they are brilliant fail spectacularly. And why not? Everyone needs taken down a peg or two at some point in their lives, but these people generally need to be taken down ten.
With this in mind and with the music gone, we await the arrival of the man himself: Lord Sugar (formerly known as Sir Alan, correct pronunciation "Suralan", and now dubbed by my mother "Lord Suralan"). And like Santa's grumpy cockney cousin, out he comes to reveal this week's task. Sometimes this is done in video form, which I think must be a little awkward for Nick and Karren (his henchmen), who inevitably have to stand on either side of a big flatscreen TV on wheels and look as solemn as if they were standing beside the man himself.
The tasks are usually pretty much along the same lines - make something and/or sell something, which is fair enough in a show about business (that being pretty much the overall aim of businesses in general). There's always a bit of a fight about who wants to be the Project Manager (although in the first week it's usually a case of "no way, you do it!") and then they're off, racing around London to accomplish their goal, usually unprepared and mostly without a modicum of common sense between them.
There's usually someone who has said all along how brilliant they are at business and then seems to have no ability to actually do anything when faced with a business decision. There's usually someone mouthy who doesn't know when to shut up already. There's usually someone who fights with everyone and is generally destructive. And there are usually people who are quiet, stay in the background the whole time and make you wonder "why on earth did you apply for this if all you're going to do is stand there, and who actually thought you would make a good contestant?!" The contestant who got the boot this week, Melissa, managed to encompass an impressive three of the four categories above. I have wanted to slap her repeatedly for several weeks now and I was entirely delighted with Lord Suralan pointed at her and said those magic words, "you're fired!", not to mention when the audience of Dara O'Briain's The Apprentice: You're Fired! show created a sea of red "Fired" cards when asked to vote whether or not Lord Suralan made the right decision to throw her out on her ear.
See that's the thing about The Apprentice - when you actually sit down and give the show your full attention, you feel genuinely annoyed when someone is not pulling their weight, genuinely embarrassed for the über failage on display and genuinely delighted and relieved when the team you wanted to win the task actually pulls it off. A lot of the time you don't actually really "like" any of the contestants (I think you have to have a fairly big ego to be considered suitable for a show like that and narcissism is rarely an attractive quality), but you certainly cultivate dislikes for specific people as the episodes go by and start to think that you wouldn't really mind if others won. Of course it's all cleverly edited to make you feel that way, but in fairness if someone says or does something stupid, it's going to be pretty evident no matter what bias you try and put on it!
As for this series... well, two of the three contestants that I deeply disliked have now been fired (Dan and Melissa) and I can't imagine the other is far behind (Sandeesh). I quite like Alex and Stella but no-one else has really shone for me yet, although Liz did phenomenally well in tonight's episode and Jamie didn't completely piss me off, so perhaps there's hope for them yet.
All I know is that my Wednesday evenings from 9pm to 10.30pm are reserved purely for this televisual sadistic treat and there will once again be a Lord Suralan-shaped hole in my life when the series finishes. If rumours are to be believed it seems that series seven won't be too far behind (sometime in 2011), and perhaps before that there'll be the American version. Donald Trump doesn't have have the same appeal as his twinkly-eyed, grey-bearded, British counterpart but the contestants are usually even more full of themselves and therefore even wider open for ridicule, so it's all good. And so before I go to sleep (long past my bedtime), I leave you with this thought:
Dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dummmm dummmmm....