With the series finale looming this Sunday, The Apprentice has enjoyed another triumphant year, earning critical acclaim, TV awards and buoyant audience figures. But is it the best reality show on British television? We’ve decided to settle the matter once and for all by pitting it against The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in a battle royal and measure like for like using a scientific formula too complicated to explain. But think of it like a cross between arbitrary guesswork and Top Trumps.
Let the battle commence...
The X Factor is the runaway winner when it comes to the blunt instrument of sheer numbers of viewers, with a peak for last year’s final nudging 20 million. Score: 10/10.
Even after 10 series I’m a Celebrity still holds its own--12.4 million watched Stacey Solomon be crowned Queen of the Jungle. It has little in the way of competition, however. 7/10.
It’s been a while since Strictly boasted a bigger audience than The X Factor (it really did have at one time. Honestly, we remember), but it’s still the jewel in the BBC’s Saturday night crown. 8/10.
For a midweek show, The Apprentice excels. But fewer than 10 million means we can award it only 6/10.
A “£1 million recording contract” for the X Factor winner is hard to match. But we’re marking it down for two reasons: You don’t have to win to land a record deal (just ask JLS, Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd and, dare we say it, Jedward). And even if you do win, you’ll be dropped by Simon Cowell’s label at the first sign of falling sales and end up appearing on Popstar To Operastar. 8/10.
If we marked Strictly purely on the winner’s glitterball trophy, it would struggle to get into single figures. So let’s be generous and include the prize of a potential relationship with a sexy ballroom dancer, which seems to happen more often than not. 4/10.
A £250,000 investment and a business partnership with Lord Sugar is certainly more attractive than The Apprentice’s previous carrot, a £100,000 job working for him on a St Albans industrial estate. 5/10.
I’m a Celebrity’s victor gets a wreath crown, a big wooden stick and a double-page spread in Hello magazine. A charitable contribution, given to the winner’s chosen cause, is what redeems the shows points here. 9/10.
I’m a Celebrity scores high here too thanks to its brilliant Bushtucker Trials. Who could forget TV platinum moments supplied by the likes of Dean Gaffney and Paul Burrell? 9/10.
The Apprentice never fires blanks and achieves annual greatness with the interviews, foreign trips and advertising tasks. They get marked down for their irrelevance to actual business processes. 9/10.
You have to hand it to the Strictly celebs who put themselves through gruelling training just to learn a new dance for the nation’s entertainment, even if the result is John Sergeant giving the paso doble the dustman-on-bin-day treatment or Ann Widdecombe being spun around the ballroom by Anton du Beke like an industrial floor polisher. 8/10.
We’ll give The X Factor a bit of leeway here because the closest thing it has to tasks is the weekly theme of songs. But not much because they never stick to the theme--every show is Sing Whatever You Like week. Venus by Bananarama is associated most with Halloween, apparently, and Led Zeppelin is a “guilty pleasure”. 6/10.
THE FIX FACTOR
Only the public can decide the winner of I’m A Celebrity. Aside from how the show’s edited to skew their opinion, it’s all in their hands. 9/10.
The X Factor shamelessly manipulates viewers by changing the rules at the 11th hour to ensure the judges’ favoured acts go through. Remember Mary Byrne ditched in the semi-final by the judges after a previously unannounced sing-off, despite Dermot O’Leary the night before telling viewers “your vote and your vote alone counts”? 6/10.
In the farcical 2008 Strictly semi-final, viewers were unable to save eventual winner Tom Chambers from the dance-off after the judges had given their marks. So the BBC, deluged with complaints, put him through automatically to the final. We liken that old scoring system, which broke down the closer the series got to the final, to the laws of physics, which break down the closer you get to the start of the universe and time itself. Either that or we’re taking this all a bit too seriously. Nevertheless, Strictly has put its house in order and changed the way marks are awarded so it can’t happen again. 8/10.
On The Apprentice, only Lord Sugar can decide who he hires, a fact exacerbated this year with the subjective interviews round saved for the final. 1/10.
Exceptionally few reality shows are made great by the hosts themselves. I’m A Celebrity, with Ant and Dec, is one of them. 9/10.
The host of Strictly has long been accused of being doddery. But that’s really not fair on Tess Daly. Joking aside, and despite all his terrible one-liners, it’s hard to imagine the show without Brucie. The panel is ingrained in the programme’s make-up too, although question marks remain over Alesha Dixon’s inclusion and Bruno Tonioli’s excess of personality. 7/10.
Lord Sugar, fearsome and witty in the boardroom, is irreplaceable on The Apprentice. Right-hand-man Nick Hewer is immense, but Karren Brady, while settling into her role now, is no Margaret Mountford. 9/10.
It’s all-change on The X Factor panel, so we can only assess previous series. Panto villain Simon Cowell and court jester Louis Walsh were a brilliant double act (even better with Sharon Osbourne) but were let down by Dannii Minogue and an overrated Cheryl Cole. 7/10.
X Factor’s Wagner, The Apprentice’s Stuart Baggs “The Brand”, Strictly’s John Sergeant and Widdy, and I’m a Celebrity’s David Gest, David Van Day, Janice Dickinson and Shaun Ryder mean it’s a score draw. 10/10 all round.
Dara O’Briain rules the roost, making You’re Fired as good as, if not better than, The Apprentice. 10/10.
As companion shows go, Strictly’s It Takes Two gives fans exactly what they want--a well-packaged nightly fix of the programme in between the live weekend shows. 9/10.
We’ll forgive X Factor for handing Konnie Huq a disastrous stewardship of The Xtra Factor and remember how good it was with Holly Willoughby. However, the auditions shows are littered with acts not entertaining enough to make ITV1 and the live programmes are a turn-off after the immediate post-elimination reaction. 7/10.
As new co-host of The Xtra Factor (with Olly Murs), Caroline Flack will not be returning to I’m a Celebrity... Now, a companion show that could be packed with additional footage from the jungle but mostly revolves around Joe Swash being daft and Russell Kane’s miss-and-miss stand-up. 1/10.
The Apprentice wins this one hands down. The camerawork is exquisite and the dialogue brutally cut to expose the candidates as clueless morons. Great work! 10/10.
With an entire day to boil down to an hour in a tight timescale, the I’m a Celebrity backroom team do a terrific job. And they gave red-blooded males everywhere bikini shots of Myleene Klass showering in the waterfall and Playboy model Kayla Collins. 9/10.
Strictly has each celebrity’s weekly training highlights. That’s about all we can say. 7/10.
Auto-tuning was a stupid move by The X Factor, as was showing the same Cowell putdown to two different contestants at Boot Camp last year. But editing him out of shot whenever he nips out for a cigarette is no easy task. 7/10.
Here’s the crux. I’m a Celebrity has gone slightly stale after 10 series and relies increasingly on gimmicks like rival camps and elimination twists (which is where Big Brother went seriously downhill). 6/10.
The X Factor is undoubtedly a great format. But, although Cowell insists on keeping the show fresh, there’s a reason for the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Introducing a live auditions audience removed the tension of the small-room cauldron and, Wagner aside, the wildcards are superfluous. 8/10.
Similarly, Strictly has a brilliantly rigid structure--celebrities learn a tough dance in a week and then perform it on the night--which only falls down when the BBC gets too greedy. Sixteen couples was, to say the least, excessive, and non-elimination shows a waste of time, but the lessons seem to have been learned. 8/10.
The Apprentice in a nutshell: Grumpy man gives some bozos a task, they prove how useless they are, blame each other over polystyrene cups, grumpy man fires one of them. Perfect. No tweaking necessary. 10/10.
So, have you been keeping running totals? Well, the results are in:
A triumph for Lord Sugar and scientific evaluation of reality TV shows. All hail The Apprentice!