Data shows winning tasks on The Apprentice no longer matters

Our analysis proves winning or losing tasks no longer affects your chance of becoming Lord Sugar's business partner

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10:00:01 on 25/09/2018 - Programme Name: The Apprentice  - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **IMAGE EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 10AM TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER 2018** 
Lord Sugar with The Apprentice Candidates of 2018. Lord Sugar - (C) Boundless Taylor Herring - Photographer: Jim Marks

Just what exactly is Lord Sugar looking for in an Apprentice champion? At first this sounds like an easy question – after all, each episode starts with the business mogul declaring he wants “winners, not whingers”, candidates who “make me money and don’t p*** me off.”


However, how honest is he being here? Obviously, Sugar is looking for somebody with whom to build a successful business (with a minimum of p***ing him off). But winners? The candidates he’s hired in recent years show that winning tasks on The Apprentice is far from essential.

For instance, one of last year’s winners, James White, lost as many tasks as he won before being hired. Sarah Lynn, who also won series 13, only triumphed in one more task than James.

Then there’s series 12 winner Alana Spencer, who finished a third of her tasks in the boardroom. And that’s before we get to series 10 winner Mark Wright, who lost 70% of his tasks – a record still better than series seven’s Tom ‘inventor’ Pellereau, who lost a record eight out of 10 tasks.

But what happens if you take into account all degrees of winning and losing on the show – whether candidates triumphed or failed as project manager or not? What if, say, you could boil down the overall task performances for each of Sugar’s hired candidates into one number –  one total task score?

Fortunately, such a points-based system exists for The Apprentice, one we previously used to show how Daniel is statistically the best candidate of this year’s process.

And it’s simple enough: all you have to do is hand out the following points for a candidate per task.

  • +3 points for a win as a project manager
  • -3 points for a loss as a project manager
  • -2 points for an appearance in the final boardroom
  • +1 point for being on the winning side
  • -1 point for being on the losing side (and not being brought back to the final boardroom).

Allocate those points for each series winner and you get an Apprentice hall of fame table that looks like this:

The Apprentice winners scores

First thing you’ve probably noticed: there are a lot of minus scores, a strong indication past winners weren’t so triumphant when it came to tasks.

Secondly: there’s no ideal Apprentice score. You can be as bad as James from last year (who scored just one point) or as terrible as Ricky Martin (-6) and still win the show.

But there’s something more interesting at play here. The Apprentice didn’t used to be this way: winning candidates from the show’s first few series performed much better in the tasks.

Just take a look at the hall of fame for series one to six – the years where candidates competed to work for Lord Sugar, rather than go into business with him. Apart from Simon Ambrose, all champs have a positive score.

In fact, while the average score for hired candidates in the show’s later years is -3.1, the first six winners share an average of 4.

The Apprentice table

Simply put, it looks like winning or losing tasks mattered a lot more earlier in the show’s first few years, with Lord Sugar more likely to hire contestants with a proven track record.

And the reason might be a simple one. Since he was hiring somebody to work in an already established and successful business, perhaps Sugar was looking for candidates who would keep the ship steady. A capable but conventional employee.

Now you could argue that since Sugar is starting up a new business with the winning contestant, he’s looking for somebody who’s a bit more daring – a candidate that risks more on tasks, thus somebody more vulnerable to losses.

Not only is this good news for contestants who have dropped the ball in recent weeks (we’re looking at you, Sabrina) but it makes things more interesting for viewers. If candidates’ win/loss record doesn’t determine who’ll win this year, then the competition remains completely open.

Anybody ­– yes, even Khadija – could still come out on top.


The Apprentice is on 9pm Wednesday, BBC1

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