Every week I watch a group of 16 and 17 year olds dressed in their parent’s clothing attempt to please a hairy businessman for the chance to win money.
I am of course talking about the Young Apprentice, the latest reality TV show which has turned it’s attention to the younger generation. In it’s second year, this spin off from the main show features 16 and 17 year olds as opposed to the usual adult contestants.
But that is where the differences begin and end. Both groups have impressive resumes, display desperate attempts to be taken seriously, and inevitably disappoint.
I spend most of the show comparing myself to these teenagers. Despite being 3 years younger than me, the Young Apprentice contestants boast a published author and an award winning fashion designer amongst their ranks. My greatest achievement is summoning the energy to go to all of my lectures that day.
However over time it becomes clear that the contestants may look wonderful on paper, but in reality they’re not all that. They have achieved some wonderful things but dressing up in a suit doesn’t change the fact that they’re still children.
Over time the claws come out and the contestants begin to make obvious mistakes. A personal highlight came in the first episode when a group of contestants couldn’t convert simple measurements, an incident that was particularly embarrassing when Lord Alan Sugar revealed many of them received A* grades in GCSE Maths.
As expected, there have been concerns over the wellbeing of these contestants. Alan Sugar isn’t known for being a cuddly teddy bear, but he does seem to soften up when speaking to the younger contestants.
Last year one boy was sent home because he felt a bit ill, hardly the sign of a rigorous interview process. But it’s true that appearing on a show like this provokes overwhelming public scrutiny.
Every embarrassing mistake the contestants make is captured on camera and broadcast to an audience waiting with baited breath for someone to slip up.
With the power of social media, a facebook group can be set up a matter of seconds after an event and this just serves to perpetuate the embarrassment. It’s impossible for a 16 year old to experience this sudden media attention without letting it get under their skin.
The concerns over young people in reality TV shows has become even more relevant with the return of The X Factor. Although the Over 25s category remains, the focus inevitably lies on the younger singers. With contestants as young as 16, many question the effect that intense public criticism can have.
Last year divisive 17 year old contestant Cher Lloyd received death threats and cyber-bullying has become a problem for many of the young contestants.
This year the bullying issue has been taken over by drugs scandals. 18 year old contestant Frankie Cocozza was removed from the show after engaging in a rumoured cocaine binge funded by money he received from X Factor producers. Frankie’s activities were initially encouraged by his mentor Gary Barlow.
He was seen as a young heartthrob whose cheeky antics would win over the female voters. Although it seems his behaviour wasn’t exactly exemplary before the show, it’s clear that the X Factor intensified his attitude.
Not only do contestants have to face the incredible stress of being in the public eye, but there’s always the possibility that they will be exposed to the dangerous side of celebrity.
Reality TV shows provide an incredible opportunity for young people to make something of themselves, whether that be in business, music or any of the other fields covered by these shows.
But it’s all too easy to ignore the potential damage shows like this can have.
Not only do young participants have to face the stress of public embarrassment but they may have to deal with hatred and bullying on a level that no young person should have to experience.
It may seem on the surface like they have everything, but in reality I think I’m better off on the other side of the TV.