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The Apprentice 2017, spoiler-free first look review: ‘a meaty, moreish return’

It’s become one of autumn’s most comforting rituals. As the leaves turn gold, and the cafes start selling pumpkin-flavoured froth, a new batch of pinstriped plonkers appear on our screens all vying for a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar.

Yes, The Apprentice is back for its 13th series. The Telegraph was treated to an early glimpse of the first episode at a private screening room in Soho, but despite the glamorous cinema setting, it was hard to pay attention. One inconsiderate chap in the front row kept fiddling with his tie, lighting the room with his phone as he idly flicked through emails, and even chuckling at his own jokes. Lord Sugar (for it was he) isn’t an ideal audience member.

As a entertainer, however, he’s top-notch. The business tycoon’s reality show remains wickedly compelling, and this year has a particularly well-chosen lineup. They’re more accomplished than usual: one contestant already runs two businesses with a combined annual turnover of £3 million, while another is a former speechwriter for David Cameron.

But don’t let their impressive CVs fool you. Judging by how they handled the first task of the show – making and selling luxury burgers – most of them would struggle to land a job at McDonald’s.

After buying dirt-cheap meat, the women’s team produced a vile-looking burger mix with the consistency of glue. One contestant was reduced to frantically pummelling it with her fists. Deliciously, the two who hated each other most – Siobhan and Elizabeth  – were forced to flip burgers behind the same tiny market stall. It didn’t work out well.

The men, meanwhile, wasted valuable time squabbling over their team-name, before revealing none of them knew what “organic” actually meant. As an amuse-bouche, hinting at the season of chaos and incompetence to come, it was all terribly moreish.

The format remains much the same as ever, but there was one new feature: half a dozen previous winners – including last year’s luxury cake-monger Alana Spencer – were briefly wheeled out as role models for this year’s batch. Due to the BBC’s guidelines on brand promotion, none of them were actually allowed to say where they worked or what they did. As inspiration, it felt woolly at best.

Curiously, Lord Sugar tried his hand at topical comedy. “We’re in strange times now – we’ve got Brexit,” he mused, “But here I’m the one who’s going to decide who remains and who leaves.” Even in these days of uncertainty, though, you can always rely on Lord Sugar’s ego.

The Apprentice begins on BBC One at 9pm on October 4