Firing the fired

"You're Fired": apprentice regurgitated

For a show with a fairly simple premise – people trying to sell things – The Apprentice includes a fair whack of self scrutiny. We’ve got Alan Sugar weighing the contestants up, we’ve got contestants weighing themselves up (“I’m the reflection of perfection”), we’ve got a portentous voiceover throughout the show, and we’ve got a camera which forces us to hate everyone in it.

But it’s not enough to have an episode cut into bite-sized pieces, or even auto-digested: now it’s regurgitated in front of a live audience as a comedian sorts through the vomit with a novelty toothpick. This last bit is called “The Apprentice: You're Fired”.

The BBC2 spin-off is a "friendly" retrospective discussion in which the hapless contestant gets ripped to shreds all over again, only this time he has to pretend he's enjoying himself.  It looks like an odd experience for him, similar to a parent-teacher evening or perhaps a visit to a consortium of therapists. He’s so utterly the most powerless person there, and everyone talks over him, about him, trying to work out “what went wrong”. He's the butt of all the jokes – often much sharper than Alan Sugar’s put downs – but can’t fight his corner like he can in the boardroom, only grin sheepishly.

The worst thing, though, is that they’re not even all professional, legitimately superior business people. Half are amateurs or comedians (although they all wear suits). This leads to cutesy-mean, completely unanswerable remarks, like Jenny Éclair’s whimsical observation to fired contestant Michael:

"I don't know much about business, but I think sometimes, maybe, getting the taste right for a sauce is quite important."

Thanks Jenny, good to get a fresh opinion.

Last week the parent/teacher evening theme was carried further with a head boy-like contribution from Tom Pellereau, the previous Apprentice winner. In sharp contrast to the hapless Michael, he’s “doing really well”, a shining example to everyone: cue sage approval from the panel. Depressed, Michael gives up trying to get the conversation onto equal terms. The familiar therapy/school speech rhythms get to him, and he starts to apologise.

"I agree, I wasn't tough enough. I didn't fight my corner"

That's ok, Michael, that's ok. They gracefully accept his apology. They make more jokes. They look slightly uncomfortable. He gets a free toy at the end. It's actually very entertaining.

Dara: probably evil, Getty images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war