The Apprentice: Lord Sugar says influencers are weeded out in advance

Lord Sugar on The Apprentice
Fame-seekers are "eliminated in the first round" of casting, Lord Sugar said

Lord Sugar has said wannabe influencers are weeded out during the selection process for The Apprentice, as his team can "smell them a mile off".

The Apprentice returns to screens this week with 18 new candidates competing for a £250,000 business investment.

Lord Sugar said his own staff sit in on casting calls and help avoid candidates who are only hungry for fame.

But he acknowledged the show needs "a whole array of characters" in order to be entertaining for viewers.

Lord Sugar told BBC culture correspondent Charlotte Gallagher it was a concern that some people apply for the show hoping only for a profile boost.

"That's why the production company that's been making this thing for 18 years, and my staff who go along to the auditions, can smell them a mile off," he said.

"And that's where they're eliminated in the first round."

'A whole array of characters'

Baroness Brady and Tim Campbell will once again assist Lord Sugar as he puts the new candidates through their paces in a series of business-related tasks.

"Let's be fair, the programme needs to be entertaining also, and you get the entertainment from a whole array of characters," Lord Sugar said.

"We can't just have stiff boring lawyers and accountants sitting in there... so some of the characters make the show interesting for the viewers.

"And there are some entertaining characters there," he added. "I don't think they started out thinking they were going to become social media stars. The ones who apply who think that's what they're going to do, we eliminate them before they even get into the boardroom."

Some of the candidates on the new series of the Apprentice
The latest series welcomes 18 new candidates, who are split by gender in the early stages of the process

The businessman said candidates sometimes take some time to adapt to being on a television programme, and to understand the best way to get ahead.

"Television is new to them, the whole process is new to them, people pointing cameras at them and all that stuff," he said.

"And I guess a lot of them want to put themselves forward and be seen to be doing more, and that creates a situation where they kind of contradict each other, step on each other, and go against what's generally agreed."

He continued: "They can't get into the fact that it's a team thing, not an individual thing, and it's not until we get later in the series that they start to realise they have to trust in the person who's been appointed the team leader and get on with it."

The Apprentice launched in 2005 in the UK and is about to broadcast its 18th series. Last year's winner was boxing gym owner Marnie Swindells.

The British version of the show remains a ratings hit for the BBC, despite the format no longer being as popular in other countries.

Even with the careful casting process, Lord Sugar said it's impossible to tell who the likely winners are until a much later stage.

"You really can't tell from first impressions," he said. "That's the beauty of the show, to allow the candidates a lot of opportunities to show themselves as time goes by."

The Apprentice returns at 21:00 GMT on Thursday 1 February on BBC One and then on iPlayer.