The Apprentice was first aired on BBC2 in 2005 and is a reality TV series that gives aspiring young business people the opportunity to work for Lord Sugar, the founder of Amstrad. The show was an instant success and went on to run for a further 8 series with a 9th commissioned for 2014. In the first series the prize was a £100,000 a year job where the winner would be employed at Amstrad which was an electronics business founded by Alan Sugar in 1968.
The show was billed as 'the job interview from hell' with the contestants sharing a house for the duration of the competition. Each week the contestants are split into 2 teams where there is a team leader for each team, who is chosen by the teams themselves or by Lord Sugar. The teams are then assigned a task in which their skills will be tested. These skills include requisitioning, sales, teamwork and negotiation. During the tasks, the teams are shadowed by Lord Sugar's trusted advisors Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer who take notes and report back to Lord Sugar. Upon completion of the task the teams were brought into the boardroom where analysis was made of their performances, strategies and personalities. Contestants have to justify the decisions they made and assess the performance of the team leaders. This frequently led to minor arguments and buck passing. Nick and Margaret also added their opinions on how the individuals in the teams performed and usually questioned many of the decisions that were made. The winners of the episode, were the team who had made the biggest profit. The winning team were then rewarded with a special treat which could be something like a day at a luxury spa. The losing team would then be asked to leave the boardroom for a time. They would then be invited back in and have to explain themselves with often, a great deal of acrimony between the contestants. At the end of the discussions at least one of them would be fired, with Lord Sugar using his catchphrase 'You're Fired!' That person would then leave the competition. The remaining contestants would then return to the shared house to regroup for the next task. Margaret Mountford left the show after series 6 and was replaced by Karren Brady.
When the number of contestants is whittled down to 4 or 5, they are interviewed individually by different people who have been chosen by Lord Sugar and who are trusted to give their honest opinions. In series 1 - 6, 2 finalists were chosen and had to carry out on final task with teams made up from the fired contestants. At the end, one of the finalists is chosen and told 'You're hired!' However, the winner was not necessarily the one who won the final task, it was the one who performed best over all the tasks. They were then offered the job. In series 7, the prize was changed from being offered a job to a partnership with an investment of £250,000 from Lord Sugar. Another change in this series was the final round task which was dropped and the winner is chosen following the interviews.
The Apprentice format has been sold to a number of other countries and has led to spin-off shows The Apprentice: You're Fired and Young Apprentice. In the UK, the series is pre-recorded and great secrecy shrouds the outcome.