Here we are again. As reliable as hay fever, The Apprentice has rolled around once more - a programme so noisy and full of untrammelled egotism that television sets around the nation regularly explode on transmission. (Wouldn't it be amazing if that happened? Imagine, during PMQs, your telly self-combusting as David Cameron patronises and pontificates his way through another half-hour of British politics.)

The Apprentice, like all good reality TV, cultivates grotesquerie. With it, the BBC has created a playground for self-aggrandising idiocy, hand-picking nonsense merchants and shouting in their ears: "Entertain us!" The title of the show, you quickly realise, is ironic. Apprentice comes from the French apprendre, meaning to learn or teach. As an adjective
it means "unskilled, inexperienced". The Old French aprentiz means "someone learning". But you have only to watch the programme for five minutes to realise that no one is learning a darn thing.

The opposite, in fact. These are people who say in their auditions: "Everything I want, I get" and "I have an unprecedented amount of business acumen. I'm a proven model within my industry. I'm best of breed." (These are direct quotations. I watched the audition tapes. I don't recommend doing this unless you're in the mood for an injection of violent arrogance, or so bored that you are contemplating eating your bottom lip.)

The idea that becoming an apprentice was once about admitting your lack of experience and harnessing yourself to a wise teacher seems remote from this lot. But then, which of them seriously wants to harness himself to Sir Alan Sugar? What can you learn from a man whose company is pioneering the "2nd generation of em@iler superphones"? (In case you were wondering, the superphone is "a state-of-the-art home/office telephone, jam packed with features, making it a must-have product". Is there any expression in the lexicon of advertising more dispiriting than "must-have"?)

But, like it or not, Sugar's done good. So, apprentices, look to your French forefathers. Admit your inexperience. Admit your lack of skill. Learn! l

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 23 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Obama 2.0