Interview blues. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“My CV’s probably under-exaggerated”: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 11

The final five candidates are interviewed by people even more obnoxious than they are.

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

Read the episode 10 blog here.
 

We’ve reached the interviews stage, and all our favourite interrogators – plus a new angry face – have been laid on by Lord Sugar to pretend they’re qualified to level cruel put-downs and personal attacks at the perpetually embattled final five candidates.

There’s good old Bald Man Frothing with Malice (special skill: looking things up on Companies House using his computer), the trusty Haughty Media MD with Glass Orb (special skill: looking simultaneously smug and slightly concerned about her desk ornaments), old favourite That Guy Who Owns Shortlist (special skill: “reading between the lines”, apparently. Probably not of Shortlist though), and surprise newcomer Stunned Former Apprentice Winner (special skill: being allowed on telly during his lunchbreak).

A double-edged Claude. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But before they face this high-altitude, low-quality recruitment process at the top of the Leadenhall Building (that’s the Cheesegrater to Londoners. And giants.), the contestants must put the finishing touches on their business plans.

This process involves each of the final five sitting separately looking perplexed over a lap of bumpf in a variety of showrooms in their Highgate mansion. Here’s Daniel, squelching over some projections beside a tropical plant and ostentatiously posing fruitbowl. There’s Roisin, her documents illuminated by a willowy statement lamp. Solomon pores over a page of figures on some ergonomic garden furniture. It’s a bit like a Habitat advert specifically targeting young professionals on the brink of redundancy.

The resident cameraman roams the house, asking each candidate how they feel about making it this far. In an emotional clip, Roisin weeps openly to camera about leaving her accountancy job “to do this”. It’s difficult to tell if she’s crying over how much the process means to her, or the stability, money and dignity she threw away by resigning.

Eventually, the five of them – Roisin, Solomon, Daniel, Mark and Bianca – gather in the twinkling Cheesegrater for a pep talk from his Sugary Lordship. Gesturing to their surroundings, he tells them, “like you, it’s not open for business yet,” in a rather obscene-sounding simile.

Roisin won't be choosing Pret's Classic Tomato soup for lunch. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

The candidates are told they will receive a grilling from Sugar's pack of aggressive advisers. “Sounds easy – NOT,” says Daniel, evoking the Nineties, as he swaggers off to his first interview. “Daniel’s the best to go first,” smirks Mark. “If you go after him, you look good, don’t you?”

What proceeds is a succession of people saying tragic things about CVs in uncomfortably-lit rooms. “I look at CVs day-in, day-out,” says Ricky Martin, a former Apprentice winner who sounds like he’s really living the business partnership dream. Living la vida loca, even. “My CV’s probably under-exaggerated,” says Daniel, modestly, having written that he won the Salesperson of the Year award – which he didn't. Sorry, I mean, "NOT".

Daniel won Salesperson of the Year. Not. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin doesn’t do any better in her interview with the Shortlist boss, as she is faced with a pot noodle of shattered dreams on his desk and discovers her “unique” healthy ready meals are already on the market. Or perhaps she’s just really distressed because she’s wearing all white – a bad time to negotiate a noodle dish.

“Ideas generation” advocate Solomon is asked to read out some ideas from his phone. He must have been Googling bed-and-breakfasts, because he suggests both a delivery service of food to one’s house for breakfast in bed, and a place where you can pay to go to sleep.

But his toughest challenge is when he ascends to the sky-high office of infamous long-eared Claude Littner, whose already notably long ears extend even further in fury at the 23-year-old’s eight-page business plan. “It’s a bloody disgrace,” spits Claude, as Solomon crumples like a puppy being kicked. “You can leave. Pictures of sail boats! Pictures of sail boats!” he yells, like a crazed ClipArt user. “You’re taking the piss. Please leave.”

Bianca's lament. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

And if emotions are running high in Claude’s cloud box, they’re even higher when Bianca faces Ricky Martin. It seems to be an executive decision going forward ­– probably via a group Outlook conversation in which the interviewers reach out to one another – that Bianca is “hiding behind a mask” and repressing her personality.

This consensus leads to her on-screen psychological disintegration: “Oh my God, am I hiding something? I don’t know.” She then weeps to Martin as they debate what should be included in the price of paying for a recruitment consultant. A sad lone piano tinkles in the background as she wipes her eyes, and it all goes a bit X Factor.

“I’m more confident than ever,” says Mark, who doesn’t seem to receive as comprehensive a rollicking as his competitors.

Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar’s advisers decide Solomon is a bit immature, Roisin and Daniel’s business plans are fundamentally flawed, and that there’s a lucrative place in the market for Bianca’s idea for different skin tones of hosiery (“I did some research, which I found quite pleasant,” grunts Claude, his ears lengthening lasciviously).

Daniel does his final signature clench-pout, before he’s booted off because no one wants to use his weird online wedding planning service; Solomon goes because his “fulfilment” business doesn’t fulfil Sugar’s criteria; Roisin is fired because she doesn’t seem to understand the basic fact that, “to fight for the space in the chillers in the supermarket, it’s like golddust, like Mayfair real estate”. Think of that next time you reach wearily for a treat from Dr Oetker.

Mark and Bianca survive for the final, as the dawn rises in gold-tinged hope over the Shard: God smiling upon us in the knowledge that there’s only one bloody episode left.

Two's company. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

 

Candidates to watch

Mark

Because he’s in the final.

Bianca

Because she’s in the final.

All the rest

Because they come back for the final.
 

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 instalment every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Prime Images
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The Sad Part Was: this story collection puts the real Bangkok on display

Thai author Prabda Yoon descends into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters.

In Bangkok’s budding literary scene, Prabda Yoon sits at the centre. Born in 1973, he’s the scion of a well-known family (his father Suthichai Sae-Yoon is the co-founder of the Nation newspaper) and is known in Thailand as not only an enfant terrible of letters but as an illustrator, screen-writer and director (his first film, Motel Mist, was shown at European festivals in 2016).

His reputation rests mainly on a collection of short stories published in 2000 entitled in Thai Kwam Na Ja Pen, roughly translated as Probability, and it is from this early collection that most of the stories now collected in The Sad Part Was are derived. Translated with cool elegance by Mui Poopoksakul, they are among the first modern Thai stories to be published in the UK.

As Poopoksakul points out in her afterword, she and Yoon are the products of similar backgrounds and epochs: upper-middle class children of Bangkok who came to consciousness in the late Eighties and Nineties. Often foreign-educated, fluent in English and conversant in global pop culture and media – Yoon did a stint at Parsons in New York after prep school at the Cambridge School of Weston – this new generation of Thai writers and artists were born into a society changing so fast that they had to virtually invent a new language to transcribe it.

In The Sad Part Was, the result is stories that one could glibly label as “post-modern” but which, in reality, perfectly match the qualities of the megacity where they are set. Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture. The whimsical and playful surfaces of these stories have to be read against the high-octane anxieties and surreal dislocations of what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Yoon uses the short form of the ten-page story to descend into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters: a schoolgirl and a beautiful female teacher who form a platonic lesbian infatuation while riding a daily bus in “Miss Space”; a couple making love during a thunderstorm whose activities are interrupted by the dismantling of two giant letters, which fall onto their roof in “Something in the Air”; a young man who meets a mysterious older man in Lumpini Park called Ei Ploang, who forces him to consider the intertwined nature of good and evil. In “Snow for Mother”, a mother waits for her little boy to grow up so that she can take him to Alaska to experience the real snow, which he never knew as a little boy in the tropics.

In “The Sharp Sleeper”, a man named Natee obsesses over losing his shirt buttons and is led into a strange reverie on the nature of dreams and the competing qualities of red and yellow pyjama shirts (Thailand’s political culture is riven by two parties popularly known as Red and Yellow Shirts). The commentary slips into effortless sarcasm:

Natee has proudly worn the red pyjama shirt several times since then, and his dream personality hasn’t altered at all. On the contrary, the shirt has encouraged him to become a man of conviction in his waking life. As to what those convictions were supposed to be, Natee wasn’t quite sure. But it was safe to say that a night shirt so principled wouldn’t drop a button so easily.

Since these stories were written, Bangkok’s political schizophrenia has lost its former air of apathy and innocence, but Yoon’s tone is quietly prescient about the eruption of violent irrationality a few years later. It’s a reminder how precious the subtlety of fiction is when set against the shrill certitudes of activism and reportage.

My favorite story here is “Something in the Air”. Its dialogues are written with hilariously archaic, bureaucratic formality, while delving into the disorientation of sexual and romantic hopes in the present century. After the couple’s love-making is interrupted, the young man suggests insolently to the woman that they resume in the open air, exposed to the furious elements. She agrees. They then notice that a dead body is lying on the roof nearby, crushed by the giant letters.

While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman sits quietly and describes her future, a happily married future in which her current lover will play no part whatsoever. He listens in melancholy astonishment until the couple are called to give their testimonies about the dead man. The officers then suspect that the couple themselves have done something scandalous – and so, stung by shame, the woman considers breaking off the relationship and setting in motion her own prophesy.

The Sad Part Was is unique in the contemporary literature of Bangkok – it doesn’t feature bar girls, white men, gangsters or scenes redolent of The Hangover Part II. Instead it reveals, sotto voce, the Thai voices that are swept up in their own city’s wild confusion and energy, and it does so obliquely, by a technique of partial revelation always susceptible to tenderness.

Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist living in Bangkok. His next book, “Beautiful Animals”, will be published by Hogarth in August

The Sad Part Was
Prabda Yoon
Tilted Axis Press, 192pp, £8.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder