The Apprentice Asia: Tony Fernandes to pick Jonathan?

REALITY competition shows are now aplenty and I am a fan. From ‘American Idol’, to ‘The Voice’, ‘X Factor’, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘The Bachelorette’, I have followed them all.

Even ‘Beauty and the Geek Australia’ is quite an entertaining show. Hey, geeks do fall in love too, you know. It’s easier with a beauty, of course.

For those who enjoy watching the tougher side of life at play, there are ‘Top Shot’ and the ‘Ultimate Soldier Challenge’. Now and again, you do find a female contestant shooting it out with the boys. And she is usually quite a looker too. Now, this is what I call a hell of a show.

The latest addition is ‘The Apprentice Asia’. I missed a few episodes since the series started in late May but I managed to update myself as I started to enjoy the new show at a later stage.

I actually found the first few episodes pretty boring with the contestants in the selling fish challenge and later, the marketing of items like a bicycle and rice cooker. Those were kid’s stuff.

But it got more interesting with the Hilton Hotel week and the live commercial challenge. The contest to design new uniforms for AirAsia staff was also a rather enjoyable episode.

‘The Apprentice Asia’ is the regional adaptation of the US reality series based on the format created by reality TV guru Mark Burnett. They share the same tagline: The Ultimate Job Interview.

It must be some 10 years ago that ‘The Apprentice’ aired its first season. Who could forget the big boss, Donald Trump, and his most fearful words, “You’re fired”, thundering in the ears of the contestants?

In the Asian version, our very own Tony Fernandes has done Malaysia proud again. The entrepreneur extraordinaire, more popularly known as Mr AirAsia, is in the hot seat as the host.

As the airline chief searches for his apprentice among the top 12 business executives in Asia, he has to fire all but one. That’s the name of the game. The last man (or woman) left standing is the winner.

The prize – a top-notch position in one of Tony’s many enterprises. And the monetary value — did I hear someone say a US$100,000 annual salary?

The host is the main guy in ‘The Apprentice’. He is the centrepiece of the show. Its success hinges primarily on him. Donald Trump has made a success of ‘The Apprentice’. Has Tony Fernandes followed suit?

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to compare Trump with Tony. The American real estate magnate is probably 30 years ahead. He was already a billionaire in that era with several high-rise buildings in his name while Tony was an ordinary employee earning a meagre salary in the struggling music industry in Malaysia and with nothing in his name. Tony only started having it good five years or so ago.

Trump is also a well known television personality in the US. He has his own TV shows and owns the glittering Miss Universe franchise. He is at the top of the media world of power, fame and beauty.

Tony Fernandes’ only connection with the media is perhaps his Twitter and Facebook accounts, that is if you subtract all the advertisements from his many companies.

But what the heck! Tony is surprisingly gifted in front of the camera as ‘The Apprentice Asia’ can testify. He says the right things, walks in evenly-paced steps and gives the correct expressions. Aha, he even folds his arms at the perfect angle.

Whether that was scripted or coached, it didn’t matter. Tony is the right man for the job. Mark Burnett is certainly no fool of a producer. How on earth do you think Burnett could get one of America’s most difficult personalities in The Donald to do the firing for him?

On top of it all, Tony speaks well.

Well, the Malaysian may be a rung below the American but surely, there must be one thing our man possesses much to the envy of Trump.

Oh yes, Tony’s hair is original and is in place as perfect as his English. You can’t say that of The Donald’s locks which continues to be laughed at as the Taj-Ma Helmet, candy floss, double comb-over and even a caterpillar. Nobody laughs at Tony’s head and that’s his one crown to take over the American mogul. One up for you, Tony!

Like many fans, I’m looking forward to ‘The Apprentice Asia’ grand finale on July 31. It will be aired exclusively on AXN Asia.

The final two, Filipino Jonathan Yabut and Singaporean Andrea Loh, have been handed their final task — to organise a charity black tie event for Air Asia Foundation.

In a surprising twist, Tony Fernandes brought back six candidates who had been fired – three each for the two finalists.

Marketing manager Jonathan picked Sam Nallaraj from India, Nash Idrus from Malaysia, and Filipina Celina Le Neindre. Lawyer Andrea has India’s Ningku Lachungpa, China’s Alexis Bauduin, and Indonesia’s Dian Mukti.

Between the two finalists, I think Jonathan has a stronger team. I’ve been quite impressed with Celina’s input and team spirit throughout the show. This beauty with brains was my early favourite to win ‘The Apprentice Asia’.

Sam’s background as a consultant and pleasant demeanour will be a powerful tool in the negotiation tasks for Team Jonathan, while Malaysian Nash is a definite asset to get things done quicker at the local level. He is also a known loyalist.

Jonathan’s message of his image as a self-made man and the guy who has risen from nothing seemed to have been driven home nicely and caught by those who matter most in the competition.

On Team Andrea, Alexis could be the only experienced person to guide the team. I do not think Ningku and Dian would contribute much to Andrea’s victory. They were pretty shallow in defending themselves in the boardroom. But I could be wrong.

Other than her drive and passion, Andrea is handicapped by her inexperience in the business world. But I’m sure she is one lady who will not go down without a fight. Andrea relishes the underdog tag. So do not underestimate her. You bet Tony Fernandes did not select her to be at his final table for nothing.

If last Wednesday’s episode is any indication, I don’t think I’m too way off in my choice of Jonathan to win.

The host’s two advisors lent weight to my choice.

Tune Hotel CEO Mark Lankester had this to say of Jonathan: “When I first looked at his background, I knew that Jonathan is going to be a very good challenger. He’s done very well in his own company and has won awards for his work. How far he has gotten in the competition is a testament that the talent in the Philippines is absolutely first class.”

For her part, Expedia CEO Kathleen Tan tweeted, “I am very sure that all the Pinoys are so proud of Jonathan. Whether he wins or not, he is already a hero in the Philippines! Well done Jon!”

That sounded like a congratulatory message for Jonathan ahead of next Wednesday’s grand finale. Whatever it may be, it’s Tony’s call.

Finally, I have this message for our dear Tony from my observation from the show.

Sorry Mr AirAsia, no disrespect but I think you’re getting a bit too heavy. Time to hit the gym, sir!

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