"I wouldn't wear it in public". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a yacht?” The Apprentice blog: series 10, episode 2

It’s the second episode in a week of the new series of The Apprentice, meaning the producers have really given it 200 per cent.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 1 blog here.


As the drop-shadow WordArt title graphic for The Apprentice rolls onto our screens for the second episode this week, viewers may be asking themselves whether they really possess the endurance for this. Do they have what it takes? Are they just a lily-livered passenger, not up to the task, or will they demonstrate the ruthless stamina required for watching 19 people trying to figure out how to make a glorified Christmas jumper?

Yes folks, hold on to your skill-sets, it’s a design task.

Those with institutional Apprentice memory will remember such stand-out inventions from previous series as the inapplicable app “Slangatang”, sexless dating site “Friendship and Flowers”, the “Book-Ease” that made reading more difficult, the useless utility belt “Pooch Pouch”, the million “Splish-Splash” screens Amazon declined to buy… the list is an endless production line of ill-conceived inventions.

This episode, in an echo of the Today programme politely investigating the “pre-loading” phenomenon among Young People, The Apprentice decides it should go all techy on us, a few years too late, by asking its fresh batch of non-trepreneurs to design and sell a piece of “wearable technology” to retailers.

“Wearable technology” brings to mind those gaudy rubber watches with lots of functions that make you fitter, happier, more productive, only ever really championed by twenty-something media industry insiders and the Chancellor. But this flies way over the heads – probably at peak Shard level – of the candidates, as they look more towards the superfluous-LED-infested-garments market.

The teams remain divided up into boys and girls, the latter exchanging their initial team name “Decadence” (a play on “decade”, apparently) for something more suitable, “Tenacity” (a play on “ten”, maybe? Let it go, guys). They are all woken in the usual way – hustled into a fleet of cabs at the dead of morning to pointlessly stand in a tenuously-related London location. Lord Sugar turns up at Imperial College to command them to make some wearable tech for the three retailers he’s inevitably “laid on”. Of course he has.

He suggests Robert – the “arty farty” one who tried to make hotdogs “so Shoreditch” in yesterday’s episode – be project manager for the boys, because of his modish east London ways. Robert duly shirks the task, insisting he’s too “luxury” for such an ordeal. But who then? Which of the boys could possibly lead a task on inventing a piece of wearable technology? I mean, there is Scott. He was only oddly specifically prepped for such a task by having attended a conference on the very topic of wearable technology a fortnight ago, but go on then, he’ll have a go.

"All women are wearing jackets". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

There is also reluctance among the women’s team to lead the task, as they each deploy their best hosiery- or scarf-based excuses for why they should avoid pioneering a fashion task. Eventually, marketing officer Nurun puts herself forward, only to insist later on in the heat of the boardroom that she was “coerced”, woefully lamenting that if the challenge had been to create “a burka that changes colours”, this would have been her remit. We all have our strengths, Nurun.

She proves unable to make any of the big decisions – like whether their jacket should have flashing lapels, a heat regulator, or a built-in pocket phone charger, so they go for all three. Why this garment in particular? “All women are wearing jackets,” is Lindsay’s explanatory – and only – contribution.

The jacket returns with some enormous plasticky epaulettes on each shoulder: solar panels. Wouldn’t they have worked hidden beneath the material, shielded from the sun, the team earnestly debates. “That’s one thing we didn’t ask,” their team leader sadly concedes. Karren Brady watches it all with her “I don’t have to deal with this shit in the House of Lords” face on.

A glorified Christmas jumper. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Sarah, the villain of episode 1 with her insistence on “females” being “more attractive”, does a sinister job of modelling the solar powered fairylight-cum-hotwater bottle invention in a pitch to a retailer, standing stock-still, hand on hip, as her pockets slowly warm up and lapels flicker with despair. “We can switch on a few lights, and help you attract someone that you like,” moots Ella Jade in her pitch, as civilisation shrivels up and dies.

The boys don’t do much better, shaking with suspense during Scott’s between-pitch pep talks. Jaw clenched, nostrils flaring, teeth grinding, in that harrowing bluish light reserved for gritty police dramas, he seethes “we’re gonna smash it”.

Like a convict psyching his fellow inmates up for a breakout, Scott sweats aggression into the whole task. “I’ve put my balls on the line,” he breathes. All this heartache for a creepy grey jumper with a spyhole and some Christmas lights on the front. “Privacy is history,” chirps Robert, merrily demonstrating the jumper’s attached camera as GCHQ softly places its orders.

Daniel clearly sees the product’s shortcomings during his pitch, as he admits to the retailer: “You wouldn’t go in a public place with it. No, you wouldn’t go out and about.” It’s a rare moment of honesty in the programme, which nearly costs the pub quiz director (yeah) a rich future of lies and obfuscation.

Scott's face twists in a chilling rage. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But in the end, it’s Robert and Scott who get hit in a double firing. The former is dismissed prematurely as “dead wood” even before boardroom time – the Apprentice equivalent of detention without trial. Scott leaves in a more traditional firing, and by the wild look in his eyes probably goes on to punch a wall or hijack the black cab that picks him up and mow down the next wearable tech engineer he comes across.

I’ll leave you with Robert’s baffling last words: “You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a £250,000 super luxury yacht in the South of France, Cannes?” Well, to use a more traditional metaphor, you can’t sail anything when you’re up the creek without a credible business strategy.


Candidates to watch:


Her role model is Simon Cowell.

Quite quiet for the duration of the task, she popped up at the end to sternly insist the solar shoulder pads could be styled out as a stripy design, rather than the visible and cumbersome energy devices they really were. A positive thinker?



“Del Boy’s my nickname.”

This yappy yuppie was highly unpleasant and shouty during the entire task, giving the mild, bespectacled tech developer a bit of a fright when they met during a design meeting. He’ll start to get on everyone’s nerves in future tasks.



Is he... ok?


I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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No, J J Abrams – Star Wars was never “a boy’s thing”

Women love things that are “for boys” because these things are actually “for humans”.

In 1977, millions of people went to cinemas to see Star Wars: A New Hope, and afterwards, a good portion of them were suddenly rendered invisible. It didn’t matter that they rushed to line up for the sequels; it didn’t matter that they were eager to buy and play with the toys; it didn’t matter that they grew up to read the novels and explore the expanded universe and sit through the prequels and introduce their children to something they had loved as a child. They’re a group that overlaps with the invisible force that haunts comic book shops, or plays a lot of video games, or makes up nearly half the audience for superhero films, or, to one New Statesman staffer’s persistent, possibly-only-half joking incredulity, liked Doctor Who long before Russell T Davies got his hands on it. 

With less than three weeks before J J Abrams’s rebooted Star Wars hits screens, the director went on Good Morning America yesterday to talk in vague, broad strokes about his turn with the franchise. But the otherwise-unremarkable interview made headlines because of one segment, when Abrams was asked who he most excited to hear from about the film. He said:

“Star Wars was always about, you was always a boy’s thing, and a movie that dads take their sons to. And though that’s still very much the case, I was really hoping that this could be a movie that mothers can take their daughters to as well. So I’m looking forward to kids seeing this movie and to seeing themselves in it, and seeing that they’re capable of doing what they could never imagine was possible.”

That invisible group of Star Wars fans, who love that well-known “boy’s thing”? Women, who have spent the past four decades loving the franchise just as much as all those fanboys, even if no one else – the fanboys themselves in particular – seemed to take much notice. Abrams’s offhand remark coincided with recent headlines like Bloomberg’s “‘Star Wars’ Toys Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore as Rey Takes Over”, a reference to the female lead of The Force Awakens, portrayed by Daisy Ridley. Across the web, aside from stirrings by the now-mandatory Internet Outrage Machine, the overwhelming response seemed to be one of sad and somewhat resigned frustration, with women sharing memories of falling in love with the series, essentially saying, “We’ve been here this whole time.” My friend Lori Morimoto, in “An Open Letter to J J Abrams”, wrote, “I’d like to tell you the story of a girl who became a Star Wars fan. I hope you can suspend disbelief over my existence long enough to make it to the end.”

Star Wars is a universe populated by complicated gender politics, on and off screen. The three original films fail most facets of the Bechdel test (I laughed out loud here seeing the suggestion that A New Hope deserves a pass because the only two named female characters could have talked offscreen). Princess Leia’s enslavement and escape (and the bikini she wears while doing it) is a cultural touchstone that’s launched a complicated feminist dialogue over the decades. And it is perhaps because of the mostly-male cast in the films – and the long-held assumption that science fiction is a primarily masculine property – that the franchise has long been marketed exclusively to boys, despite the massive and loyal female audience.

But the modern Star Wars empire is helmed a woman, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and when she revealed that two-thirds the story team behind the newest film was female, she also pledged that there would be a woman in the director’s chair before too long. And since one of the leads in The Force Awakens is a woman, her character, along with a black male lead – portrayed by John Boyega – sparked anger from the reactionary white guy corner of the internet in recent months (sorry that the SJWs ruined your movies, guys!). For films that once portrayed a place so alien that only white men were allowed to speak to each other, the widening of representation in this reboot apparently looks to some like a political – or, to them, a politically correct – act.

The welcome diversity of the leading cast highlights all the good intentions in Abrams’s statement: that this new film promises more than a panoply of white guys, that girls and people of colour can see themselves reflected back in these new heroes. All the girls who thought the movies weren’t for them because they only saw men onscreen, or the endless line of male action figures on the shelf, have a point of entry now – that’s what representation means. And that’s certainly worth cheering for, even if it only took us 40 years to get there. But it’s hard for all the people who aren’t white men who’ve found other points of entry over the years, who managed to love it without seeing themselves there. I can speak from personal experience when I say that a lifetime of media about white guys hasn’t stopped me from finding characters and stories to fall in love with.

Here’s a theory: you might not have noticed that you were surrounded by female Star Wars fans all these years because you were the one who rendered them invisible. Women who like things such as Star Wars, or comics, or anything else that leads journalists to write those painful “not just for boys anymore” trend stories, have had to take it from all sides. Enthusiasm for something seen as the province of men clashes with mainstream perceptions of femininity. Even women liking this stuff in the context of traditionally feminised fan spaces, like fanfiction, find themselves fending off assumptions from men and women alike, perhaps the accusation that they are sexualising something too much, or they are placing too much weight on the emotional elements of a storyline. Basically, that they’re liking the thing the wrong way.

But women’s enthusiasm for perceived “male” spaces is always liking the thing the wrong way. The plainest illustration of this is the Fake Geek Girl, in meme and in practice: the barriers to entry are raised immeasurably high when women try to join in many male-dominated fannish conversations. The wonderful Noelle Stevenson illustrates this beautifully – and then literally, when a guy challenges her on her work. I’m sure that just by writing about Star Wars, I’m opening myself up to the angry gatekeeping-style pissing contests that men like to toss at women who claim to like the things they like. (Let’s get it all out in the open here: Star Wars isn’t my fandom. I saw the three original films on dates with my first boyfriend – our first date: Star Trek: First Contact, because we were clearly the coolest kids in town – and upon rewatches as an adult nothing grabbed me. But I am also a fandom journalist, so that’s kind of how this works.)

There’s a persistent myth – and I say persistent because I keep seeing these deluded boys get mad in new viral posts – that women who claim to like geeky things are just pretending, the somewhat confusing notion that they are doing it for attention. (And then there’s the inevitable anger that in this supposedly desperate plea for attention – why else would a woman claim to like their beloved characters?! – these women still don’t want to sleep with them.) And what never seems to occur to any of these gatekeepers is that these women were there all along, liking these things just as much – and are finally being given the cultural space to be open about their interests and passions. But that space is given haltingly; plenty of women, tired of waiting, are going out and taking it. The result is the tension (and, at times, outright hostility) that has marked certain corners of the fannish world in the past few years.

Women love things that are “for boys” because these things are actually “for humans”. There are many reasons that people love Star Wars, and most of them are universal things: the themes, the characters, the archetypal struggle of good versus evil. Most of the time we default to the white guy; he struggles with things we all struggle with, but somehow, he is deemed most relatable. Abrams, Kennedy, and everyone behind the new films should be applauded for their efforts to give non-white guys a turn at the universal story – I think these are incredibly valuable choices, and certainly will make the films vastly more accessible, particularly to children.

But we don’t just need Rey on screen and Rey dolls on the shelves for mothers and daughters – those same mothers and daughters have found plenty to love without many women to look to on their screens. We need boys to love the female heroes as much as we’ve loved the men over the years: we need universal to be truly universal. And when we express that love, the default reaction shouldn’t be a challenge: not, “You don’t like this thing as much as I do,” or, “You don’t love this the right way.” Isn’t it easier to say, “Oh, I’m so glad that you love this, too!”

Elizabeth Minkel is a staff writer for The Millions, and writes a regular column on fan culture for the New Statesman. She is on Twitter @ElizabethMinkel.