From the endless bitching to the back-stabbing and trophy-hunting, all the rhetoric about how women are often the biggest barrier to other women succeeding in business was lent credence in a fast-paced montage of appalling antics. We should have expected it, really: the opening credits contained the usual witless, self-aggrandizing maxims: ‘When it comes to business, I can be like an animal,’ shouts Gabrielle, showing all her teeth. ‘I would call myself the blonde assassin,’ adds Kate. Both sound more like they’re auditioning for the new Hunger Games film than The Apprentice.
And it wasn’t even one of those complicated, risky tasks that calls for such dog-eat-doggery. We’re at the ‘team’ stage of the game. The premise was so painfully simple that there really wasn’t room to shine as an individual - just to get the job done.
The two teams (Phoenix and Sterling, boys and girls) had to set up a print business and make a profit flogging their products. The boys’ teddy bears and jute bags would have made even the souvenir hawkers of Piccadilly Circus cry, but they were focused on margins and – in the main – on behaving like a cohesive whole throughout. Bad products with good strategies always win in The Apprentice. It was crazy that the girls, eyes still square from their research on previous series, didn’t remember that.
Their product was quite cool, though. A picture of a tiger, a penguin and something else or other, scrawled by creative bod Jade, was screen printed onto T-shirts, bibs and bags. But that’s where the good work finished and the brawling began. They fought over sales, ‘It’s my turn to sell. Stop stealing my pitches,’ squealed the Irish one. They bullied a shopkeeper to tears. They turned on each other in a desperate search for a scapegoat. There was endless jargon, squealing, and verbal diarrhoea. In fact, these women did everything short of clawing each other’s eyes out and tearing their hair. It was the devolution of the businesswoman, live and in colour.
Of course, not everyone who appears in the public eye is a role model. It’s not as if models never fall out of clubs, nostrils daubed with white powder, or that actresses are always squeaky clean in the face of sex scandals. But as Thea Green, founder of Nails Inc, commented in The Apprentice: You’re Fired, this is one of the few glimpses of women in business that reaches a vast audience, and you’d hope for a better showing.
But then, with viewer figures for the new series at a record low, it’s possible that people no longer care about the wallies and wimps that pass for entertainment on The Apprentice any more. Only 6.4 million tuned in, two million fewer than the show received at its height in 2008. In its eighth series, The Apprentice seems to have got the contestants it deserves.
But for those who did bother to watch, one positive message at least was driven home: the women’s team lost the task, trailing the lads by hundreds of pounds. These days, it’s the nasty girls that finish last.