Can a Pinoy win ‘The Apprentice Asia'?
MANILA, Philippines - “The Apprentice Asia” made its international premiere on cable channel AXN Asia last Wednesday night, its debut somewhat dwarfed by the online uproar about novelist Dan Brown’s just-published infernal reference to Manila.
Still, the show should be interesting to a good chunk of local televiewers on at least two surface counts. One, it is an overdue Asia-wide iteration of the hit US TV show that made business titan Donald Trump even more famous. Two, it features not one but two Filipinos among its gang of contestants.
Celina Le Neindre and Jonathan Allen Yabut are the Philippines’ representatives in the reality competition, vying with 10 other Asian residents for a managerial post under Malaysian multi-business tycoon Tony Fernandes.
Fernandes, Apprentice Asia’s host-CEO, may be a less parody-courting personage than the odd-haired namesake of The Trump Organization, but the man is no small potatoes. Fernandes has holdings in a number of ventures, but he is perhaps best known in business circles for turning a hemorrhaging airline into what is now the highly profitable AirAsia.
For the record, this new show, shot in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, is the latest in executive producer Mark Burnett’s extensive Apprentice franchise, trailing a long line of adaptations that included versions by the United Kingdom, Africa, even Russia. It’s not even the first Asian edition, too, with exclusively Indonesian and Malaysian versions both having debuted in 2005.
Nonetheless, longtime Apprentice fans or of its series extension The Celebrity Apprentice would have a field day ticking off what The Apprentice Asia kept in or left out off its mother program’s template.
Directed by Robin Trump, who is likewise the director of The Apprentice UK (his relation to “The Donald” is unknown), The Apprentice Asia does not stray too far from its mother program’s template. For starters, as Asia’s Trump, Fernandes lords over the program’s “toughest job interview of your life” formats. Each of the eleven weekly episodes divides the contestants into teams undertaking the same business-related task, with winners selected according to the most profit generated or least loss incurred.
As with any reality competition show that does not have “celebrity” or “all-star” in its title, The Apprentice Asia features “real people,” as in non-actors who have never been seen by hundreds of thousands of small-screen viewers before. As with the original Apprentice, big boss Fernandes has two eyes-and-ears advisers, who quietly observe the contestants during the weekly challenges. In this instance, it’s Tune Hotels Group CEO Mark Lankester and Expedia Asia CEO Kathleen Tan who are handling the roles held in the US edition by Carolyn Kepcher and George Ross, and later on by Trump children Ivanka and Donald Jr.
Inevitably, Fernandes gets to end each “Asia” episode Trump style: by grilling the losing team in his boardroom, then grilling the team’s project leader and his or her two weakest-link choices, ultimately dismissing the episode’s loser with a pointy index finger and a stern “You’re fired!” (Yes, Burnett’s and Trump’s awkward legacy of firing people who are not yet hired lives on.)
Watch Tony Fernandes' teaser trailer here:
The one primary difference between The Apprentice Asia and the original show is in the contestants. That is, given the obvious regional scope, it’s a race among races—a virtual jostling for the plum prize among contestants of differing lineage and home country. Besides the two Pinoys, there are two Indonesians, two Indians, a bet each from Singapore and Thailand, a French expat based in China, and three Malaysians. (The one other Apprentice version with contestants hailing from several countries is Africa’s.)
Also noticeable about “Apprentice Asia” is the absence of the original’s adapted theme song: The O’Jays’ 1973 chart-hitting “For the Love of Money.” (“Money money money money…money!” goes its last-song-syndrome-inducing key line). Apprentice Asia instead features a jazzy instrumental with a lady vocalist scatting away.
Of course, to those familiar with the original show or even with Burnett’s flagship series, Survivor, The Apprentice Asia would be nothing without the emotional, hostile bickering among the contestants. And if episode 1 plus a montage of future episodes are any indication, it appears that our countryman Jonathan is truly fit and ripe to be on this show, in terms of task-handling, sharp analyses of his opponents and candid verbal jousts. (Yabut even has an active Facebook fanpage.)
In comparison, at least with what has been shown so far, French-Filipino Celine is rather restrained, perhaps even the most poised among the show’s female entrants. Yet if the show manages to be unpredictable throughout its run—and episode 1 did get to have a serendipitous mid-show twist that made predicting the winner not so easy—such first impressions may not necessarily linger. (Another case in point: Indian contestant Ningku Lachungpa, who pirated customers from the opposing team in episode 1, may not necessarily be this show's own Omarosa Manigault.)
Meet the Philippine contestants here:
While the show is an engaging enough diversion especially for those already acquainted with its Stateside predecessor, it should also prove interesting to business students and aspiring moguls—a weekly, if simulated, case study on the rigors of competitive profitability.
That the show is airing now is also quite timely, given that the economies of Asian countries, ours included, are on an upswing compared to those of the West—and it would be swell if the show would somehow touch on this macro-phenomenon in addition to its expected micro-concerns.
So, the big question is who will win and get to hear Fernandes tell him or her, “You’re hired.” (The shoots for season 1 have apparently wrapped up and the contestants are contractually obligated to remain hush-hush.) But the bigger question is if The Apprentice Asia would be enough of a success to merit a second season.
While said season 2 remains up in the air, here’s something local TV’s powers that be might want to mull over: The Apprentice Philippines starring, say, Manuel V. Pangilinan.
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‘The Apprentice Asia’ airs in the Philippines on AXN Asia every Wednesday at 9:05 p.m. Replays are on Wednesdays, 11:50 p.m.; Thursdays, 2:30 p.m. & 8:10 p.m.; Saturdays, 9:15 a.m. & 9 p.m.; and Sundays, 3:35 p.m. & 11:50 p.m.
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