Posted in Commentary, TV Program

Opinions on The Apprentice Asia’s finale

The Apprentice Asia’s finale was one of the programs I managed to watch from my hotel room when I was in Spore recently. I wasn’t aware of its broadcast – sorry, don’t subscribe to cable tv at home – and happened to come across it as I was flipping through the channels. Watched part 1 as it’s aired and caught part 2 online. Notice the disclaimer?

Fortunately, half of part 1 of the finale was spent recapping the whole series from beginning till semifinal. It serves as a heads-up for me to get a gist of the program, the candidates and highlights included, although not so much on the final 2’s profiles or strength and weaknesses in particular. However, seeing from the way they speak, carry and present themselves, also from their disposition in handling, preparing for the final task and in dealing with the teammates they chose themselves, it’s pretty clear as to whom was likely to be picked as the first Asian apprentice.

But that’s MY opinion, which has nothing to do with how the show’s executive panel viewed them, who have been observing and monitoring since Day 1. I kinda expected a twist to happen because AirAsia boss Mr. Tony Fernandes said, “I’m changing my mind,” before pointing to one of the remaining two and declared, “You’re hired!”, as shown in the preview. If you’re following the program, you must’ve known who’s hired, which is not what I’m gonna discuss here. Instead, I’d be mapping out the contenders: Jonathan Yabut (Philippines) and Andrea Loh (Singapore). Battle of nationalities?

The final task is to organize and execute the black tie fundraising event for the AirAsia Foundation. That covers cocktail reception and projects auction as the main highlight of the night. As it’s not possible for them to man all corners themselves, fired contestants are as anticipated summoned to help them out. Team J looks cohesive and condusive; they brainstorm ideas, delegate tasks among the members, and one of them – Nash – voices out that he’s all out supporting Jonathan because his win feels as if he’s winning as well. Team A, on the other hands, looks static and disintegrated. Alexis gives off obnoxious aura and left a bad rep with that sly backstabbing move resulting in Celina’s dismissal, while Ningku and Dian seem very much reserved and jaded – Dian (Putri Indonesia 2003, currently resides in HK) apparently wasn’t in good terms with Andrea either.

Zooming in, viewers get a glimpse of Team J members’ contributions to the overall production, with the head acknowledging and showering them with praises, while Team A looks largely disinterested and uninspiring. At least that’s what shown and portrayed during the episode. I looked forward to being proven wrong; however, this trend continues in part 2, which covers the event’s rundown and concluding boardroom tug-of-war and assessment.

Team J readily and warmly welcomes distinguished guests, approaches and acknowledges each guest entering the room, connects with them through and through. Team A greets the guests, but sans personal engagement; they just stand at the sides posing as door greeters. Jonathan confidently steps onto the elevated platform and delivers his welcome speech smoothly, strongly, and well-articulated with effective pauses and emphases. His words are well thought-out and cleverly phrased to maximize impact – they grab attention and are easily intelligible.

Jonathan makes public speaking and networking with VIPs look so easy until we switch to Andrea’s side of the story. She reaches for the mic and tentatively takes the stage, addressing the audience a bit too meekly it gets largely ignored. Chitchatting subdued the moment Jonathan’s voice booms, the effect Andrea struggles to create. We can see her conviction wavers. Her nervousness is palpable — she regularly consults her script, breaking eye contact in the process, also speaks with fillers. She shows an opposing side of composure that Jonathan has. Team J focuses more on getting the guests to sign the pledge board containing double-negatives, while Team A explains more on the projects, takes a head-start in ‘selling’ the auction items.

Next: the auction. Jonathan starts off by introducing his team members one by one and warms the floor up to items before leading the bidding amount adeptly like it’s second nature to him. Andrea takes the ring afterwards and dives straight to the items, losing count and messing up the bidding amount, producing awkward silences. I’m mortified for her I had to look away several times. Thenceforward, she opts for open-bid price, “anyone for more than [blank]?” which manages to bring in RM400,000 for one of the highly prized item.

The two’s personas are distinctly different: one displays professional demeanor with carefully selected verbiages and the other trails behind. On teamwork level, Team J is solid and in it to win it, whatever ‘it’ may be. The same can’t be said in Team A whose members seem forced to work together and that didn’t pay off. In times where they should’ve covered another’s asses and sprung into action without asked, they seem to leave it all out on Andrea, as if saying, she should’ve known what she’s doing. She’s the project manager after all. Dian is annoyed by Andrea’s last minute questions, deems them rhetoric (“Get real here!”), whereas Alexis is pretty much baffled at how Andrea hosts the auction (raising the amount by 1,000 per bidder instead of, say 5~10K, and her not mentioning the previous/current bid price).

Well, it’s easy to tell that Andrea lacks expertise in many areas it should’ve been wise of her more experienced members to give her advice and inputs in advance instead of perplexing her with on-the-spot proddings. There are many opinions of what didn’t go well in Team A while the advisors have nothing but positive comments to say about Team J. If that’s of any obvious indication as to who would come out victorious… or hired per this program’s jargon…

Which brings us to the heart-pounding showdown in the boardroom. Team J looks relaxed, Team A looks as stiff as board. The boss manages to crack a joke or two mostly with Team J tho’ the overall atmosphere remains tense. Both are convinced their members root for them, but are they really? Celina and Sam put forward definitive statements as to why Jonathan is a great leader and the better candidate to be sir’s apprentice; Ningku’s and Alexis’ sound more generic and less pointed. (I don’t believe Alexis, who scowls often, when he said commendations like “good job” because they sound perfunctory and insincere.)

Statistically, Andrea’s eclipses Jonathan’s. Expectedly, Jonathan argues that they are just numbers on paper, while Andrea stands behind the conviction that numbers don’t lie. They highlight the bottom line, which is the most important thing in result-oriented perspective, not so much on what’s happening in between. Each of them tries to convince the potential-boss of their worth as they answer “What’s your pridest moment?”, “What is your honest opinion of your competitor?”, and “Why do you think you’re a better apprentice than your competitor?”

It all boils down to passion vs. drive. One can feel Jonathan’s passion; he fires up and wears his heart on his sleeve. Oh boy, he’s a good, tactful speaker and thus sells merits like nobody’s business. He’s prepared for it, elaborating his points by unequivocal examples. Being a marketing manager, I got a hunch the last task favors him over Andrea who’s a lawyer. She’s driven and bright. That said, I expect her to be more crafted in her words and statements because of her profession. She must’ve prepared her responses well too, but they are looser, more surfaced, and adjectives-based which aren’t really self-explanatory (heart, fearless, potential, intellect, emotion).

Jonathan questions Andrea’s intention in joining the program (is she considering a change of career or is involved to prove that she’s the best in everything), Andrea picks at Jonathan’s alleged façade (is that the real him, not sure where he’s at) and propensity to risk-averse (only became project manager once, chose items with lower minimum bids). They’re both in 20s so they have a long way to go in terms of career advancement. Jonathan seems dependable and humble he’s pretty much shaped. Andrea is young and prideful she’s the rough diamond that needs to be polished here and there. At this point, I feel like my head votes for Jonathan and my heart roots for Andrea. I can see pieces of myself in her – did each given task to the best of ability, direly wanted to be appreciated, recognized, and given a chance despite the shortcomings and hoped that the works well-done speak of themselves without the need to be reinforced or flaunted verbally.

As stated in the episode, the role of the apprentice is to build future leaders and to be Tony Fernandes junior. It’s more logical to pick Jonathan as he’s fluid and expressed his heartfelt passion towards the job-to-be, or he’s willing to invest in Andrea, build her, and see her grow and reach her potential. He takes everything into consideration, not just the final task, and states he knew whom he’s gonna pick but changed his mind as they speak to the point that his decision “will probably surprise many people.”

Your thoughts?

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The reason why The Apprentice franchise, being another talent-search reality show, garners attention is because it’s way more relatable to public at large than singing, dancing, modeling, designing, cooking, weight-losing, or love-seeking competition. It’s something everybody will face when in the workforce, and they can learn a lot from the show. I foresee backstabbing, badmouthing, blaming other people, stepping on the others toes as one tries to rise and shine above the rest. (Hear Hendy Setiono’s defense as to why he’s booted out first in TalkIndonesia’s August 4 episode) That ain’t pretty, but I’ll most likely catch up on the preceding episodes and see how much my opinions of the finale would differ, when I’m in the mood for underhanded maneuvers and streaks of ultimate job interviews.

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