Filipino Jonathan Yabut wins ‘Apprentice Asia’

The Pinoy contender is the first ever winner of the business-oriented reality TV show

AND THE WINNER IS... Jonathan Yabut IS 'The Apprentice Asia.' All images from AXN Asia

MANILA, Philippines – He’s hired!

Jonathan Allen S. Yabut, one of two Filipino contestants in the TV series “The Apprentice Asia,” emerged as the winner of the show’s debut season. This was confirmed with the airing of the toughest job interview’s season-closing 11th episode on July 31 over AXN. 

READ: Pinoy makes it to ‘Apprentice Asia’ finals

The Manila-born Yabut, a former management trainee of Globe Telecom and most recently a senior product manager at GlaxoSmithKline Philippines, bested 11 contenders from a total of 7 countries — counting fellow Filipino Celina Le Neindre — to become a top-salaried apprentice for the show’s host, Malaysian business mogul and AirAsia group chief executive officer Tony Fernandes.

READ: What does ‘Apprentice Asia’ tell us about Asian business styles?

The show’s 10th and final task, as seen via the two-part finale, called for Yabut and fellow finalist Andrea Loh, a litigation lawyer from Singapore, to organize a charity black-tie fundraiser for the AirAsia Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, where much of “The Apprentice Asia” had been shot. 

READ: Can a Pinoy win ‘The Apprentice Asia’?

To accomplish this, the two finalists, in their final stints as project managers on the show, were each aided by a trio of previously “fired” contestants. 

A TOAST TO THE FINAL TWO. Jonathan Yabut and Andrea Loh are ‘The Apprentice Asia’s’ last two contenders standing

Yabut got to pick as his finale teammates Indian Samuel Rufus Nallaraj, Malaysian Nazril Idrus and Davaoeña Le Neindre. Loh had Frenchman Alexis Lothar Bauduin, a China-based expat who had been with Yabut, Loh and Nallaraj in the show’s final 4; Indian Ningku Lachungpa; and Indonesian Dian Krishna Mukti.

“Having seen The Apprentice’s US and UK editions, I expected that the final task would mean working with former contestants,” Yabut tells Rappler in an exclusive interview. “So the night before the final task was assigned to us, I already made a mental list of who to pick among the potential choices.”

READ: 6 facts about our ‘Apprentice Asia’ finalist

The charity ball featured a cocktail event and a charity auction which required Yabut and Loh to give a 4-minute speech relating their “Apprentice Asia” experience and talking about the foundation to 100 guest VIPs, many of whom were politicians and celebrities in Malaysia. 

While the auction was meant to raise money for AirAsia Foundation, Yabut and Loh were ultimately judged by Fernandes and his advisers — Tune Hotels CEO Mark Lankester and Expedia Asia CEO Kathleen Tan — on how well the competing pair organized the event and how well they talked about the foundation. 

READ: CEO in tune as ‘Apprentice Asia’ advisor

So, while Team Andrea raised more money from their respective auctions than Team Jonathan, Yabut and company were more successful in the overall execution of the task. It also helped that Yabut is a trained debater, the skill serving him well such as during the bidding round of the auction event.

The show’s final boardroom deliberation, where Yabut and Loh had their last chance to convince Fernandes of their respective merits, concluded with Yabut earning the AirAsia CEO’s much-coveted approval and being on the receiving end of Fernandes’ “You’re hired” handshake. 

GO, TEAM JONATHAN! Jonathan Yabut with his finale teammates: (from left) Sam Nallaraj, Nash Idrus and Celina Le Neindre 

Yabut’s victory comes 11 weeks since the show’s May 22 debut and after a gruelling succession of weekly group tasks where not just business instincts but also passion and persistence were key. The episodes were all filmed in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from February to April this year, and everyone involved were contract-bound not to divulge the outcome to the public.

READ: Filipino learns from Apprentice Asia defeat

Yabut’s victory was never certain throughout “The Apprentice Asia’s” run. He was sent back to the tense boardroom in episodes 2, 6 (or the “Pizza” episode, during which he was the project manager) and 8, and was thus in danger of being fired at least thrice. Yet he constantly manifested smarts and verbal acumen from episode one onwards. 

Moreover, Yabut constantly made sure to make his homeland known by sporting a Philippine flag pin on his suit — a fact that he brought up to the hilt in the boardroom deliberation of episode 9, a.k.a. the final 4 episode. 

PINOY POWER. Jonathan Yabut says he and fellow Filipino Celina Le Neindre worked well together

During the charity event as seen in this week’s final episode, he even got to wear a Barong Tagalog. “Before flying to KL for the show, I thought that if I made it to the finals, I would wear a Barong in the final boardroom scene, so I made sure to bring one,” Yabut says. “The producers nixed the idea, but I convinced them about wearing it during the final task, since the event was meant to showcase the best of Asian culture.”  

The finale’s premiere was marked locally with a viewing party held at Hyve, a bar-restaurant at The Fort in Taguig City. The AXN-hosted party was co-organized and emceed by Yabut and Le Neindre, and featured majority of the show’s cast. “This felt like our actual final task for ‘The Apprentice Asia’,” Yabut tells Rappler.

Joining them were Yabut’s fellow finalist Loh, along with former contestants Sam Nallaraj and Ningku Lachungpa of India; Nash Idrus of Malaysia; Dee Oeawpanich of Thailand, who quit the show in episode 3; and Nik Aisyah of Malaysia, who postponed her wedding after qualifying for the program. (“Nik is finally getting married this August,” Yabut relates.)

Noticeably absent at the viewing party was Bauduin, who was in the program’s final 4 along with Yabut, Loh and Nallaraj. “Alex’s CEO is in Shanghai now, so he couldn’t join us,” Yabut explains. “But Alex was gracious enough to have sponsored our drinks for tonight’s party.”

Here is the trailer for part one of ‘The Apprentice Asia’s’ grand finale: 

Having won in “The Apprentice Asia,” Yabut will now get to fulfill his aim of working for AirAsia. He starts working at Fernandes’ famed airline this August, under a one-year contract.

“I recall a quote by Woody Allen,” Yabut muses, “that 80% of success is [about] showing up. And my ‘Apprentice’ journey is all about showing up. I applied for it, kept at it and never buckled down from a challenge no matter how difficult things got.”

But Yabut asserts that, in the end, “This is not about me. This is about my country, about proving to the world that a Filipino can make it internationally.

“Not long from now, and once the show continues with a new season, I would have been forgotten. So this really is for the Philippines.”


‘The Apprentice Asia’ finale will be replayed on July 31 at 11:50pm; August 1 at 2:30pm and 8:05pm; August 2 at 9:15am and 9pm; and August 3 at 7:05pm and 11:50pm. 

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