Review: Selling Yourself

I know what I’m supposed to say about Five‘s new extreme-jobhunt reality show. It’s ripped off Dragons’ Den, it’s ripped off The Apprentice, it’s even got bits ripped off Masterchef Goes Large. And it’s not as good as any of them. Case closed.

But there was something compelling about watching this bunch of obnoxious nonentities compete for a job as an estate agent. It was like seeing beered-up chavs competing to fart the loudest.

After the break: There’s Only One Rachel Elnaugh

Of course Selling Yourself is ripped off Dragons’ Den. So much so, it’s like watching a French and Saunders spoof. Intimidating staircase, panel of frowny proto-Cowells in Moss Bros, sour brunette sitting on the left: all present and not quite as glossy.

And of course it’s ripped off The Apprentice, though without the budget to take over QVC for a day. Meanwhile, the “… but one of them won’t be going through” format is pure Masterchef Goes Large (from the same indie production company, fyi), though without the judges chatting about their reasons.

Selling Yourself can’t hold a tealight to any of those programmes. But I’m a sucker for a good reality format, especially one that doesn’t involve Abi Titmuss getting off with someone, and which might even help me be less rubbish at the whole self-marketing thing. So, originality-snobs be damned: the Series Link button has been deployed.

Course, the whole thing was riddled with flaws. Chief flaw is (I quote from Five’s website) “the merciless Sam Landes, who runs a top London recruitment consultancy”. Right. I’m sure she’s very good at her job. She’s horrible on telly, though. The two main reaons are the squint, and Rachel Elnaugh.

On Dragon’s Den, investor Rachel manages to be both telegenically candid (that is, hard as nails) and charismatic enough to seem likeable. Sam, bussed in to be the Rachel of the piece, is so lacking in charisma that you wonder how she ever got where she is. She’s achieved what I thought impossible: making Gillian McKeith look good on TV. And I know the squint isn’t her fault, but at least House Doctor’s Ann Maurice makes hers seem charmingly eccentric.

Apparently there was someone called Rod Cornwell there too, and apparently he was a body language expert. Now this could have been fascinating: a lesson in how to Derren Brown someone into giving you a job just by sitting the right way. But all we got from whassisname was “his hands are too low”. The chap with low hands got the boot, so that must mean low hands are bad. But what are you supposed to do with your hands, Rod? Don’t leave us hanging on this vital piece of information.

The first series of The Apprentice succeeded partly on the strength of its casting. You may not like shouty Saira, but you remember her; and some deep, secret part of you can’t help but wish her well. The line-up of Selling Yourself interviewees was… well, I suppose when you’re looking for people whose life’s ambition is to be an estate agent, the personality bar is set fairly low. Very low.

So we had the chap with the low hands, who, when asked how enthusiastic he was, said “urr” in a Homer kinda way (Simpson not Iliad), and then launched his hands into the air with a yelp of “this much!”. It was one of those moments when your soul crumbles. Still, his hands weren’t low any more.

Then there was a blond bloke who introduced himself as: “I have a business degree from the University of Bath” — as though saying “the University of Bath” is more impressive than plain old “Bath University” — and thereby lost me completely.

But he was a vision of creativeness and humility next to Tammy, who presented her “60 second pitch” with one hand on her hip (Rod the body language expert approved of this) and the killer opener: “I… have to tell you… I won’t make a good estate agent. [Dramatic pause.] I… will make… a fantastic… estate agent.” She half-slurred her words in the manner of posh boarding school girls, and was so wholly vile that it’s amazing she wasn’t offered the job on the spot.

She didn’t even make the final two. The finalists were Martyn, the only one of the five you wouldn’t jump through reinforced glass to escape if he sat at your pub table, and Susanne, a woman so lacking in edge, likeability or individuality that she was declared the winner.

Susanne’s pitch and interview technique were straight out of Gareth Keenan‘s Book of Management Bollocks. It was just a string of non-specific platitudes about being a team leader but also a team player, working well under pressure (completely contradicted by her behaviour) and: “I can assure you that I’m going to give you 110 per cent, if not more.” Colemanballs from start to finish.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Susanne had rolled away on tiny little droid-wheels, but her special walk for the camera was the one notable thing about her. She swayed her hips as though on a catwalk, or the Reeperbahn.

You might say that Susanne’s emptiness made her the perfect estate agent, but I wish to differ. I’ve encountered many of these creatures in my career as a property magnate, and the ones I “employed” were the ones I liked. The ones I wouldn’t mind getting phone calls from, or getting on the Tube to see every bloody week for endless months. Not the genetically-modified marketing twats like Susanne.

Perhaps future episodes of Selling Yourself will treat us to a more engaging line-up of contestants, and a covetable winner’s prize. Six-figure job with Alan Sugar? Nice. Job in a pro kitchen and enough telly exposure to guarantee a book deal? Having that. Being an estate agent? Thanks but…

* Selling Yourself, Five, Tuesdays at 8pm

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