Lord Sugar might hate long words, but The Apprentice’s keys to success are Prokofiev & Schadenfreude

October 06, 2016, 5:24 PM UTC

It’s perhaps the most iconic theme tune on British TV today, and it was written for a 1930s ballet. Now after 12 seasons of The Apprentice, only a few opening notes of Prokofiev’s ‘Montagues and Capulets’ are needed to instantly alert the British viewer to the fact that an equally fierce rivalry is about to grace their screens, between competing clans with team names such as ‘Tenacity’ or ‘Instinct’, ‘Evolve’ or ‘Synergy’.

Buzzwords, clichés and dramatic music are the bricks and mortar of this show. But that’s exactly what viewers love about it. The show’s producers at the BBC have clearly recognised this fact, using the 2016 candidates’ most outrageous quotes to advertise the show. Presenting the new candidates in this way isn’t going to win them many friends, but does provide entertainment. Who wouldn’t want to find out what on earth Karthik intends when he states his ambition to become “the next billion dollar unicorn”? How will Lord Sugar respond to Natalie’s intention to “look VIP, act VIP, and be VIP”?

Here at YouGov we wanted to find out who’s planning on watching this series of The Apprentice, and what exactly they like about the format. Most viewers are in their late thirties or early forties, and presumably derive some pleasure from observing the foolishness of youth exhibited in the 18 ambitious entrepreneurs selected each year.

Apprentice viewers were significantly more likely to admit a tendency to judge other people than the UK average, at just over 40%. One wonders why the other 60% even watch the show if not to pass judgement on the poor candidates, whose exploits are so expertly edited to look as chaotic and irrational as possible.

When we asked about their sense of humour, Apprentice viewers were most likely to enjoy observational comedy on news and current affairs, as Lord Sugar attempts to mixed effect. They’re also more likely than average to find embarrassing or ‘cringey’ situations amusing, something that The Apprentice, sadly, delivers on repeatedly. Viewers are also more inclined to watch reality TV than most people, be this real-life competitions or scripted reality, or indeed some mishmash mixture of the two as The Apprentice has seemingly evolved into.

But it was when we looked into the backgrounds of The Apprentice’s fan base that we realised exactly who likes the show. On the whole they’re far more likely than average to describe themselves as well-educated, and indeed they’re significantly less likely to have left education before the age of 18 than the national average, instead opting for the degree-level education so reviled by Lord Sugar.

This audience base couldn’t be a starker contrast to the typical candidate selected for the show: a young, tenacious, school dropout, who’s prepared for the fierce competition by memorising a selection of hyperbolic soundbites and some choice quotes from Lord Sugar’s autobiography. Instead, The Apprentice’s audience enjoy the show for its schadenfreude, revelling in the mistakes, arguments and cringe-worthy one-liners of those apparently so unlike themselves.

Indeed watching the show it’s easy to forget that these hapless men and women are all talented business people. They’ve got experience aplenty, and the ambition to follow their ideas and find financial backing to make them a reality. Many of them readily admit to being ruthless to get where they want, a quality viewers loathe. 69% of those we asked stated that they wouldn’t ever use this approach.  But it is perhaps the show’s editors who exhibit this quality even more than the candidates. In making the show as entertaining as possible, they have made an art form of condensing several days’ worth of footage of moderately competent candidates, into an hour of humiliation, making these individuals seem as dislikeable, confrontational and incompetent as possible.

Some former contestants have sought to gain from this bad reputation. Indeed the most famous of all former Apprentice candidates is not businesswoman and columnist Saira Khan, or recruitment guru Lee McQueen. It’s ‘social commentator’ Katie Hopkins. In a survey YouGov conducted in January, Ms Hopkins was voted the nearest equivalent Britain has to Donald Trump, Lord Sugar’s counterpart on The Apprentice USA. The ‘bragadocious’ qualities attributed to Apprentice candidates through skilful editing might propel them to notoriety on social media, but are unlikely to contribute to a good reputation in the world of business.

A £250,000 investment is a hugely attractive sum to any budding entrepreneur. But when competing for it against 17 others, the contestant’s odds of getting their hands on the cash are slim, and the publicity they’ll receive while on the show will most likely be either negligible or bad. 89% of Apprentice viewers say they aren’t swayed by celebrity influence in what they buy, so getting one’s name on TV for a few weeks isn’t likely to drum up business in the future. So as the new series starts on October 6th, I’ve got one piece of business advice for this year’s hopefuls- there’s still time to apply to Dragon’s Den.