Revealed: Secrets of The Apprentice

Former Apprentice candidates reveal the truth about how Lord Sugar's business hit really works

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Where do they find these people?

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With tens of thousands of hopefuls applying online to make it into Lord Sugar’s boardroom – in 2010 it’s understood that more than 40,000 began the process – how do you catch the eye of the producers? “Getting through the first audition is easy,” a former candidate says. The applicants are lined up and given 30 seconds to impress. “It’s just a matter of being the loudest, most obnoxious person in the room.”

Once down to the final 75, it appears that similar tactics in the mock tasks win the day. “The mistake that most people make is that they try to do the tasks well. The people who get selected for the show tend to be those with the biggest personalities, rather than those who perform best.”

Tell no-one – not even your sister

There’s a long time between being picked to be on The Apprentice and appearing on You’re Fired (or You’re Hired) – in some cases more than a year. The current series was filmed in autumn 2010, and the candidates were selected months before that.

All candidates are bound by a confidentiality agreement that prohibits them from telling any more than a few nominated confidantes what they’re up to. “I only told two people, my mum and dad. I didn’t even tell my sister,” explains Stuart Baggs, one of the class of 2010 and at 21, the youngest-ever candidate.

Successful candidates can be away from home, their job, friends and family filming the show for two months, so how do they keep the secret?

“I lied,” says Baggs. “I said I’d gone to an oil rig to install communications gear, and didn’t know how long I’d be away. Everyone has to come up with some sort of cover story.” Other popular excuses include jury service and foreign aid work.

Living the dream

So what happens when you’ve made it onto the show?

Oddly, the first thing you do is film your exit. “Everyone films that getting into the taxi shot almost straightaway at the beginning of the process,” says one former candidate. “So even the winner has one – it’s just never aired.”

And if you think that everyone on TV is making a fortune, it’s worth noting that the candidates receive a very modest fee for their participation. A former candidate describes it as “Just about enough to pay the mortgage for the time you’re away” – think less than £2,000 for eight or nine weeks in many cases.

However, get fired in the first week, and you’re quids in – that’s business nous, eh, Lord Sugar?

A week’s a short time in reality TV

Although the programme is packaged in “weeks”, the majority of the tasks last between three or four days. With very few “rest days”, being part of The Apprentice machine is no walk in the park.

Often filming can begin early in the morning and go on late into the night, leaving the candidates increasingly tired as the process goes on. Although we’re reliably informed that the arrival of the camera crews in the morning is what wakes the candidates up – not Lord Sugar’s “secretary” – the sleepy eyes and crumpled pyjamas are genuine.

“It’s really intense, and that’s something that doesn’t come across as you sit at home watching it,” explains Stuart Baggs. “You just think, what a bunch of idiots, and then you go on it and realise there are a lot of hidden pressures.

“The lack of contact with home, the lack of sleep, the lack of food… you’re under so much pressure for three months of your life.”

Once more with feeling

Four film crews operate while the candidates are on a task – one following each section of the two teams.

Although watching something as simple as Edna getting out of a car may not seem problematic, often these sort of shots are filmed two or three times from different angles.

Likewise, when the teams seem frustrated that they’re running out of time, what you don’t see is that a researcher has to run into every shop or office ahead of them and get permission to film before a candidate has the chance to push their shonky product or service.

And so to the boardroom…

In a studio in Acton in west London. Yes, it’s not really Lord Sugar’s office (which is in a business park in Essex). According to the BBC “a lot of cameras are needed” and “the director needs to work from a gallery.”

The good news is that Bridge Cafe, the venue for wound licking and the ruing of missed chances, is very much real and just around the corner from the studios.

It takes the best part of a day to film the boardroom sequence in its three stages, presumably because Ben Clarke from series five is still there arguing with his shadow.

But don’t fear, Lord Sugar’s for real. “Everything he says and all the decisions he makes are his own,” says the BBC. The outspoken peer has no earpiece, no script and isn’t interrupted by the production crew.

You’re Fired!

The suitcases the candidates wheel into the “boardroom” contain enough clothes for one night because when they get fired they’re whisked to a hotel. The next day they return to the house (which this year was rented from Welsh opera star Katherine Jenkins for a reported £50,000) to collect their possessions, but only when the house is empty. Zoe Beresford was only able to declare her feelings for Glenn Ward via a note on the back of a laundry form. 

The ex-candidate then returns to their real life and awaits the series’ broadcast, still bound by their confidentiality agreement. Apart from a return to television for You’re Fired! many months later (hence the often drastic change in appearance), they usually never hear from Lord Sugar again.

Unless, you’re Stuart Baggs, that is.

He received a phone call from the peer shortly after his firing was aired. “Lord Sugar told me to stop dicking around in the media. He told me to p*** off and get a job,” says Baggs.

And the winner is…

“Two endings are filmed to ensure the winner isn’t revealed in advance,” says the BBC. “Lord Sugar doesn’t tell the production team and the finalists who his Apprentice is until the day before the final programme is shown.”

So the winner and runner-up have both been told “You’re hired”, but for only one does it become a reality.

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So what happens to the two finalists between the end of filming and the broadcast of the show? Last year it’s understood both finalists – Stella English and Chris Bates – had a week off before going to work for Lord Sugar. Therefore, by the time the peer made his decision, he had observed both candidates operating in “the real world”.