HE’S back, with his finger on the trigger, and the whole nation waits with bated breath to see who’ll be first in the firing line – at least, that’s what the build-up hype would have you believe about tomorrow’s “TV event of the week”, when The Apprentice returns to our screens.

Judging by the ratings and the seemingly endless spin-off shows, there’s no shortage of interest in this trial by ordeal, in which the cream of our nation’s young business folk once battled it out to earn the right to learn the ropes under the watchful eye of business guru Lord Sugar; latterly I believe the winner gets a wedge of cash to create their own venture, with His Lordship as part owner.

On the face of it, this might seem a rather worthy and meritocratic venture, putting proper emphasis on the importance of business and entrepreneurship, so often neglected by our impractical society.

Of course, everyone knows it’s not like that at all.

No, what people switch on for is to see a bunch of self-obsessed egomaniacs scrapping to the death as they seek the approval of the notoriously impatient Lord Sugar and his hard-faced acolytes.

Some viewers may have their favourites among the wannabe tycoons, backing them like horses in a rather longer version of the Grand National. Still more, so far as I can make out, can’t wait for the bright young things to fall at Becher’s; they love to see those overactive egos dissected on their screens, in the sure knowledge of their ultimate downfall and very public humiliation by Alan and his gang.

And let there be no doubt who the star of this show is; of course it’s not whoever ultimately “wins” the contest, but the real winner who takes all the credit and kudos, Lord Sugar himself, whose grim visage and harsh cry of “You’re fired!” have worked their way into our national consciousness.

You may have twigged by now that I am not a fan of the show. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest its success helps to explain a lot of what’s wrong with society today.

For a start, even if many wannabes behave obnoxiously, it’s pretty mean-spirited to watch while willing a stranger to crash and fail horribly.

More importantly, haven’t the economic troubles of the past few years shown us enough of the damage that can be done by the sort of arrogant individualism The Apprentice exemplifies?

For example, what does the show teach our young folk about teamwork and co-operating to achieve a collective end? To pay lip-service to working together, while actually doing your damnedest to diss the rest of the team. The goal set by Lord Sugar isn’t the real end; self-seeking at the expense of all others is what counts.

I realise this is simply holding a mirror to the way many people operate in the “real world”, but we’re not helping matters by extolling grotesquely sordid self-promotion on TV.

Then there’s Lord Sugar. Packaged as an entrepreneur par excellence, his career has encompassed playing prominent roles in the British computer industry and top-level football, and even being appointed a sort of pseudo-minister by Gordon Brown. You could say he deserves our admiration for emerging from all that in such remarkably good shape, but I wonder if our model for enterprise as we seek economic recovery should perhaps be someone who spreads benefits a little more broadly.

Western individualism has been a creative force, but the experience of the last few years surely shows us that even a good thing can be taken too far – and I would suggest The Apprentice fits that pattern all too well.

I notice Sugar henchman Nick Hewer has declared The Apprentice is as relevant as ever, because it’s now all about business start-ups. Well, nice try Nick, but I don’t buy it. No, the show’s ethos is not only outdated in the post-credit crunch world; it is also, dare I say, discredited. Its day is done, and it should be fired.