Quitting, refusing taxis, warring with producers, “fixing” and “blackmail” claims: the great Apprentice revolt of 2015

As one quits and another accuses the show of “fixing” a winner, why are The Apprentice candidates rising up against their televisual oppressors?

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We all assume The Apprentice is kind of set up, don’t we? It’s pretty clear that mischievous editing, ridiculous tasks and arbitrary restrictions (no internet use, transport restricted to black cabs, etc) set the candidates up to fail. And they themselves aren’t exactly chosen simply for their fine business minds...

But this year seems to be the one where the contestants have had enough. No longer slaves to the ratings in their starched polyester uniforms and chained by their little silver wheelie suitcases, they are taking the show into their own hands and causing havoc for the producers.

First, it was Scott Saunders. The story has leaked that in a future episode, the sales manager becomes so frustrated that he quits the show, in spite of being in the winning team. This walk-out, according to a source in the Sun, is because Alan Sugar and his aides “tore apart” his performance, calling it the worst in the show’s history.

Then, it was Selina Waterman-Smith, who publicly ranted about the programme, calling it “crap”, the producers “dreadful”, and alleging that “the whole show is fixed” in a series of tweets that have since been deleted.

The events agent, who is still in the process but broke her contract with The Apprentice a month ago – announcing that she would not appear on the spin-off show You’re Fired – tweeted: “The finalists are picked from the start; the whole show is fixed and set up.”

An Apprentice spokesperson rejects her accusation: “The final two candidates are decided on by Lord Sugar in the boardroom at the end of episode 11.”

But a candidate on this year’s series speaking to me anonymously claims that “the tasks were manipulated” to contrive a winning and losing team.

They allege that the producers “blatantly lied” to the candidates in some of the tasks about things that were going wrong. For example, in episode 1, some of the candidates blamed producers for engineering the losing team’s defeat, by holding up its progress with interviews and “deliberately locating” the team miles away, so that they would miss the lunchtime rush to sell their products at a market.

“It’s absurd,” they tell me. “It’s deliberately done in order to create this narrative of one team winning and the other losing.”

My source also reveals that in an episode yet to air, one candidate discovered that the producers had deliberately hidden four high-vis vests he had ensured would be available on a building site he was visiting for a task.

“I knew they’d manipulate in terms of edits and stuff because that’s what TV producers do, but I didn’t think the tasks themselves would be as clearly constructed as they were. It’s unfair, but obviously there are bigger things in life and it’s just a TV show.”

They describe tension behind the scenes between production and contestants: “The atmosphere in The Apprentice house is very much ‘us and them’. But not one term versus the other; it’s the candidates versus production.”

When Scott Saunders quit the show, he refused at first to take part in the departing taxi shot – the classic end sequence for the final interview with a losing candidate. He was eventually forced to comply with the format in order to be given back his phone, money and other possessions that are confiscated from candidates when they go on set. “They blackmailed him into doing it!” reveals the candidate I speak to.

Other candidates on the show have threatened to walk out over tensions with producers and “general discontent”. To avoid dissent, they are apparently not allowed to talk to one another inside the house when off-screen without a minder present.

“In order to prevent you from finding stuff out, they prevent you from talking to one another,” I'm told. You’re not allowed to have a conversation with another candidate when the cameras aren’t on. They make you sit in silence. There’s cameras everywhere, and when there aren’t, you’re watched all the time by production because they have minders. It’s horrible.”

An Apprentice spokesperson explains: “Candidates are free to talk but must not discuss tasks in private in order to make the competition fair.”

I hear that at one point, a senior producer had to visit the house in Bloomsbury where those remaining in the process live together to warn them against criticising how the show is made.

But an Apprentice spokesperson responds to these claims, strongly denying the allegations made against the show's producers:

“The show is in no way ‘fixed’ and we strongly refute any insinuation to the contrary. The format of each task is outlined clearly in exactly the same way to both teams from the beginning, and the candidates’ progress is at no point manipulated by the production team . . . We strongly refute [the allegations about task fixing]. Each team is treated equally and fairly throughout the process. At no point did anyone from the production team hide high-vis vests during any task. Production have never blackmailed any candidate during the process. At no point during filming were candidates warned against criticising how the show is made.”

Catch up on Anoosh's Apprentice series blog here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.