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.

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.