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The Guardian's top 10 Apprentices

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    Posted: 05 Oct 2010 at 15:52

The 10 best Apprentice contestants

As a new series begins on BBC1, we look at past business hopefuls

Ruth Badger 

The best Apprentice contestant that ever was or ever will be. A supernaturally talented hustler, the Wolverhampton management exec could clear a car park of its cars – she did, just about, flogging six secondhand motors during a task midway through series two. The tragedy was that Badger didn't win the show that year, pipped by dreary Michelle after a final task that involved staging a corporate jolly inside Tower Bridge. It was the first of many inexplicable final boardroom decisions by Sir Alan (Lee over Claire in series four, Yasmina over Kate in five) but remains the one that rankles the most.

Kevin Shaw

Any child watching series four must have spent most of it jumping up and down and pointing at Kevin, squealing "I want one!" Yet the rubbery-cheeked Woking bank manager was pretty near witless, his brain visibly straining during a breathless interview in which he boasted about owning a Porsche and two houses. Taxed during a task to manage an Italian dinner service (was carbonara made with "bacon… or ham… or chicken"?), Kevin struggled to resolve whether coffee counted as a dessert or not, and eventually lost the task. Though he was able to claim in his defence that his "ciabattas sold like hot cakes".

Debra Barr

Last series's standout villain, sales consultant Debra was seriously frightening; you often wondered whether she was about to give up on the backchat during boardroom arguments and just have at opponents with her teeth. Sir Alan had an obvious soft spot for her, reasoning that she was young (23) and thus impulsive, but she had to go when even the referees she'd listed on her CV warned that she was a nightmare to work with. After an emotional penultimate-episode firing, Debra called Sugar's decision "the biggest mistake of his life". Time to get another layer of Kevlar on the Bentley, Sir A.

Raef Bjayou

"The spoken word," Raef Bjayou told us in the opener for series four, "is my tool." Useful tool, too, for the show's producers, who milked this dandy's every haughty utterance. "If I am faced with a situation that may cause mere mortals to quake? I don't." He was eliminated in episode nine for failing to correctly sell paper handkerchiefs. That episode, incidentally, included the creepy scene in which Raef and fellow contestant Michael began listing to each other their achievements in amateur dramatics, eventually singing showtunes to each other. "A load of hot air," concluded Sir A when Raef was fired.

Tre Azam

An incidental delight of The Apprentice is the exhaustive discussion candidates go through every first episode just to come up with team names; hours and hours on whether "Impact" has more merit than "Empire", "Stealth", "Bazooka"… In series three marketing consultant Tre Azam nearly ruined this, suggesting a team name ("Certus") he'd cribbed from a previous employer. Reprimanded by Sir Alan, the unsmiling Tre still survived all the way to the penultimate episode, a highlight along the way being his ruckus with colleague Rory about who was who's boss. Rory: "I am your boss." Tre: "You're nothing to me."

Miriam Staley

Back in the programme's early days, an Apprentice candidate didn't have to be a huge idiot to be considered for inclusion. Miriam – series one's unassuming hotel manager – may not have shown the furious selling-fire of fellow contestant Paul, nor the zingy smarts of eventual finalist Saira, but she was a damn good egg. And she was also better than her week-10 firing (for botching a video sales task) suggests. Sir Alan later wrote to the axed contestant admitting – presumably after meeting some of the monsters subsequent series would throw at him – that he'd made a mistake getting rid of her.

Katie Hopkins Puke

The brand consultant distinguished herself early in series three by having an intra-candidate love affair, the show's first, with hapless military-man Paul. (To this viewer she seemed similarly intent on ensnaring Sir Alan, pouting through every appearance in the boardroom.) But Hopkins could be very funny when backed into a corner. On lolloping car salesman Adam: "Someone put the wrong speed-dial in when they created you, sweetie." On suntanned saleswoman Kristina: "Too orange to be taken seriously." The general consensus was that she wanted to be on telly more than she wanted a job for life with Sir Alan. Well they all do – most just hide it better.

Lucinda Ledgerwood

She spent a good chunk of each episode wandering about in a beret, the bemused expression on her face suggesting she'd shown up at the BBC to audition for something light such as Cash in the Attic before ending up on a ruthless business show. But Lucinda proved to be a bit of a hero over her 11-week run in series four. The risk manager knew nothing about laundering, computers or cars (essential to tasks in weeks two, four and 10) yet nevertheless managed to notch up the most task wins in the show's history. Sir Alan's savvy assistant Margaret Mountford still dismissed her as all "hats and cleavage", mind.

Nargis Ara

Her inclusion might be moot: series two's Nargis Ara had little chance to show much character over her two episodes. But her entry is merited by the orchestration of the single most entertaining sequence in Apprentice history: a hideously ill-judged pitch to Virgin Megastore for the cat-based calendar Nargis and her team had created. Her gambit ("Did you know that there are 6 million cat owners in the UK alone?") was met with pained silence. Her conclusion, a moment of pure, golden insanity. Nargis: "Ask me any question." Potential buyer: "What sort of retail price are..." Nargis: "I haven't finished speaking!" Fired.

Simon Ambrose

It was like the scene from a movie. Tasked to create a youth-appealing TV advert for a pair of trainers, the series three candidates needed a breakdancer. Should they hire one? Step forward Westminster-educated Mensa member Simon Ambrose: I can dance! "I'm a dance-man!" Donning a shellsuit he did just that, breakdancing his team to glory. Over the series he proved to be a man of indestructible dignity – farting, singing, unicycle riding – and after surviving a terrible shopping-channel appearance (bouncing on a keep-fit trampoline "like a pillock", according to Sir Alan; making an on-air masturbation reference) he won the show outright.


Edited by Alex - 05 Oct 2010 at 16:04
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