There are a couple of moments in The Apprentice Australia where businessman Mark Bouris buzzes his secretary in his foyer to tell her to send in his 12 candidates, all vying for the opportunity to be employed.
The young blonde lady looks up from her laptop on which she has been quietly tapping away and gives the waiting dozen the directive. Around the slick reception room everything looks fake. Behind her desk there are no drawers, cabinets, paperwork or anything remotely real. I’m not even convinced she’s even entering anything on her laptop (indeed, whether it is even plugged in).
In the Bouris board room it’s the same story. Here’s an enormous room with an even more enormous boardroom table. It’s so big a camera can fly over the table. The windows look phony too. If this is reality TV, so far there isn’t much reality yet.
But onto the content…
The point of the show, created by Mark Burnett, is for ambitious strangers to prove they have what it takes to win a $200,000 salaried position in Bouris’ Yellow Brick Road project. I don’t quite recall hearing what the company does, but everyone seems keen to meet this Wizard. As with the Donald Trump original each of the contestants travel is driven towards Bouris’ office. As a narrator sets the scene, Sydney does its best to look as wealthy (and important) as New York City. It doesn’t quite get there.
Bouris greets his 12 contenders and lays down the ground rules. In his first appearance he talks the talk, and off-screen he very probably walks the walk. Given I’d never particularly heard of him prior to the show being commissioned it’s hard to say. What is clear in this first appearance is that he is no Trump. Or Alan Sugar, either.
The teams are divided into male and female groups and sent to their mansion, a very impressive clifftop abode, overlooking the Pacific. As we hear more from the contestants they are determined, hungry and competitive. The youngest is 19, the eldest 54. Most are mid-20 to mid-30s. While culturally they are predominantly Anglo-Saxon, at least they don’t all look like catwalk or menswear models.
After they settle on names for their teams, Bouris assigns them their first task: to work as gardeners and raise as much money as they can in two days. Teams quickly strategise and head out to commission a mix of both corporate and residential work. Watched over by two of Bouris’ closest advisors, they quote on jobs and knuckle down to work.
With such a labour intensive challenge, it seems a somewhat unfair first task, but the women are determined.
As the format decrees, the pressure of the challenge begins to crack alliances. Personalities clash, individuals complain and some belittle one another as they race against the clock.
When the groups front up later to Bouris, he hears their excuses and takes counsel from his advisors. Listening to excuses he is abrupt with his patience. The camerawork and music do their best to amplify the drama, and magnify the canyons between success stories and failures.
FremantleMedia Australia has an exemplary track record with adaptations of international formats: MasterChef Australia, So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Project Runway Australia etc. Yet again they have shown they know how to package a reality format that looks like a Rolls Royce. Despite Nine’s earnest ads, thankfully they haven’t taken the show down the road of worthy contestants. This does stay true to its Burnett format (it even has Eden Gaha as a consulting producer).
At least this is a vast improvement on homeMADE and Australia’s Perfect Couple. But in a recession it remains to be seen whether Nine has timed this to the mood of the country. Everywhere else we’re being told ‘nice’ is in, backstabbing is out.
The other concern is Bouris himself. Most of his lines feel like they have been written for him. Trump was a man who improvised with passion. Alan Sugar had fire. Bouris has a flat delivery that feels unconvincing. Instead of giving the impression of puppetmaster he appears manipulated, uneasy with the theatre of the game. A New York drawl and a Cockney swagger run rings around a flat Australian drone.
And will the contestants ever match the defiant personality of someone like The Apprentice‘s bitchy Omarosa? Probably not, but there are a few who might go down in flames trying, which could be part of the fun of this most ambitious series.
If this is television’s idea of the ultimate job interview, I’d be advising everybody, including the boss, not to give up their day jobs just yet.
The Apprentice Australia works best on the ground with its contenders in challenges, than in front of an ‘acting’ CEO in an even faker boardroom.
The Apprentice Australia airs 9:30pm Mondays on Nine.