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Apprentice 2012: Sterling Women or Squabbling Schoolgirls?

Posted: 22/03/2012 11:38

The most used clip from the opening episode of The Apprentice 2012 will probably be of Lord Sugar visibly wincing as Bilyana sealed her fate by going on and on about her "sob story" and hilariously citing her experience as Head Girl - echoes of "I've got a scholarship for Sandhurst". Yet for me, the defining sequence came earlier in the programme, showing women working together in a very poor light.

I'm talking about the sequence at London Zoo when four of the women tried (and largely failed) to hawk their wares. Bilyana strode amongst them looking for all the world like a supermodel playing Lady Bountiful. She was doing exactly what you would expect someone to do to make sales; strolling up to families with a smile, charming the children, beaming with friendliness. At this point she was coming across as very charming.

Meanwhile the other women on her sub-team huffed and jealously whined: "I thought we were taking it in turns". The editors caught them making a series of cutting remarks which Bilyana (Angelina Jolie starring in "Escape to Canary Wharf", the emotional story of one poor Bulgarian girl's ambition to be a Risk Assessor in the City) blithely ignored.

In these early days the Apprentices are pretty interchangeable: There's a blur of purple eye-shadow here, a particularly wince-inducing piece-to-camera there. In the early episodes, it's rare for someone to truly stand out from the pack and on the women's team it was all about the pack mentality. Bilyana was a lone wolf. Of course she would be fired.

A few years ago, Apprentice runner-up (now TV Presenter) Kate Walsh, got a lot of heat when in the interview stages she said she preferred to work with men rather than other women. What a let down for the sisterhood! Look, she's more interested in her make-up and flirting with boys than forging relationships with women, people sneered.

I wonder if Kate watched the opening episode of The Apprentice 2012 and if so, I would speculate that she turned round to Philip, raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow and said: "See, that's what I was talking about..."

I hope Kate was watching because my main impressions of the show were -

  • a) Hooray - we're back to business as usual with comfortably familiar task formats.

  • b) Boo - If I ever have a breakdown and decide to apply for The Apprentice, please do remind me how awful it would be working on an all-woman team.

To succeed in The Apprentice you must prove that you have the skills to survive the schoolyard politics of the show, it's as important as demonstrating your business acumen.

The women on Team Sterling lived up to the worst prejudices about what women are like when they work together without men. To be fair, no-one was completely horrific, but that somehow was what made it more depressingly 'normal', as if this was simply business as usual, so live with it.

No single woman could be singled out, this was a collective action that showed being in turns: shrill, petty, jealous, insecure, simpering and whiny.

Early baddie-in-the-making, Jane (Ronnie Ancona playing Evita) with her overbearing manner and passive aggressive denials about managing the sub-team stood out, but she wasn't alone.

The over-billed 'Blonde Assassin' Katie (Kim Wilde playing Bridget Jones), was nearly fired for committing the cardinal sin (flagged up by Lord Sugar) of 'hiding' on the task. Her sense of survival kicked in when she was taken into the boardroom and she joined in the chorus of complaints about Bilyana being difficult to work with.

I'm not trying to launch a kamikaze defence of Bilyana - her behaviour in the boardroom proved that she must be impossible to deal with! But, I think her swift exit illustrated the schoolyard mentality of the women's team - which is so different from my experiences of working on female teams in "real life".

Go back and watch the London Zoo bit and see how uncomfortable the other women look around this woman who just doesn't fit in.

Admittedly, the boys didn't come across as saints either, but we're supposed to find the majority of candidates utterly appalling, or just quite pleasant and therefore doomed to failure, at this stage.

Nevertheless, I would have preferred to have been on their team, rather than work with all the women, having to negotiate that minefield of unspoken rules and conventions.

Bring on the mixed gender teams ASAP...

I've made up a "just for fun" Apprentice Bingo game - see what you can tick off all ready...

 

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