As an idea, a junior version of The Apprentice doesn’t hold much appeal. The contestants in the adult version tend to behave like children anyway – boasting absurdly about their minimal talents, squabbling among themselves when they should be co-operating with each other, sulking when things don’t go their way. Could the show get any more juvenile?
Well, surprisingly, this school-age offering is worth a look, because the teenage hopefuls, despite their liberal sprinkling of spots and Primark suits, are really admirable. It certainly helps that they’re also too young to be truly pretentious. Arjun Rajyagor proudly announced his GCSE achievements as if he’d won the Nobel Prize, while the most cut-throat activity Kirsty Cleaver could lay claim to was cheating at board games.
It’s impossible not to smile at these wannabe Sugars with their flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, but don’t underestimate them. Faced with shifting a ton of pricey cheese in week one they got stuck into the task with minimal fuss and a fluid exchange of good ideas.
Usually this is the point on the grown-up Apprentice when you realise that the candidates might have told a few whoppers on their CVs, as they all start bickering and making bizarre decisions. Yet within a few hours of the challenge being set, the enterprising teens had a couple of snappy business names, stalls in bustling London markets, and were hard at it flogging stock they’d clearly never heard of, let alone tasted.
The stand-out performer on this one was Zoe. Zoe really knows how to close a deal, and it’s certainly not down to her feminine charms, as Nick rather ungenerously suggested. Just as business was easing off, she moved in on a fellow stallholder – who should definitely have known better – and off-loaded the remainder of her stock for five quid less than her opening offer and 25 above his. A dazzling result by any standards.
Even in week two, as the team spirit faded somewhat under the pressure of designing a thrilling new item of camping equipment (surely a contradiction in terms), the teens opted for good, honest face-to-face debate over the usual, futile Apprentice back-stabbing.
So I don’t envy Lord Sugar when he has to poke his gnarled old digit into one of those optimistic little faces and utter the dreaded two words. It’s easy to judge these novices by adult standards and sneer when they get it wrong – as in the case of the cardboard gaming table/shoe rack – but I’m fascinated to see how they’ll develop as they’ve got loads of ideas and bags of passion – and as the good Lord Sugar says, passion is what it’s all about.