Now Hiring: 'Apprentice Africa'

Obunwa Nwaobe, left, and Bolaji Ajimotokan at auditions for a new version of the TV series.
Obunwa Nwaobe, left, and Bolaji Ajimotokan at auditions for a new version of the TV series. (By Michael Temchine For Washington Post)
By Marissa Newhall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's hard to tell how well Bolaji Ajimotokan's audition for "The Apprentice Africa" is going.

The judges have already made fun of his golf swing, which they asked him to pantomime, and he's been grilled on whether he could really handle four months away from his wife and two kids in Houston during the show's taping in his homeland of Nigeria. It's time to go for broke, so the financial services manager reaches into his briefcase and starts pulling out his sales trophies, arranging them right under the nose of judge Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth (known best, of course, as the contestant everyone loves to hate from Season 1 of the U.S. "Apprentice").

"You're creeping me out," Omarosa says. Waiting for their turn, the other applicants snicker. But inside, they might be panicking . Note to self: Do not remove trophies from bag.

Twenty-four business-savvy overachievers, culled from hundreds of other applicants, traveled to Washington from all over the country to take part in auditions Thursday and yesterday for "The Apprentice Africa," the latest incarnation of producer Mark Burnett's corporate reality show. Filing into a K Street office building on Thursday, the first 10 hopefuls are young, good-looking, achingly accomplished. Some of them have more than one version of their business cards.

The original "Apprentice," with the brash corporate theater of star Donald Trump, was a hit in Africa. Since it debuted in 2004, dozens of countries have aired the American version, and at least 12 -- including South Africa -- have licensed their own versions.

"The Apprentice Africa" begins taping in February and will air throughout that continent. It takes many cues from its forebears: Contestants will live in a mansion in Lagos, Nigeria; take orders from "The CEO," Biodun Shobanjo (who co-founded Nigeria's largest ad agency and is "just as crazy, as wild, as animated as Donald is," Executive Producer Chantel Bunmi Abdul says); and vie for a top prize: a luxury car and as-yet-undisclosed corporate job, salaried at a cool $200,000 U.S.

The twist is intercontinental. Ajimotokan, 37, is from Nigeria but self-employed in Texas, having carved out a lucrative niche selling insurance and preparing people's taxes. He qualifies for "Apprentice Africa" because he's part of the African diaspora. (Second-generation African Americans, not eligible this season, may be eligible if the show is renewed, although producers did allow U.S.-born children of Africans to apply this time.)

Abdul says the project is a way to display Africa's corporate muscle and to combat the common misconception of Africa as backward and technologically lacking. It is also a social experiment to see if wannabe entrepreneurs on the continent have a competitive edge over their emigre counterparts, or vice versa.

The expats auditioning are certainly competitive. Omar Bah, 35, has parents from Guinea. He is jovial and toting a portfolio stuffed with head shots. He's a professional actor -- and a consultant at the World Bank.

Then there's Eunice Omole, a first-generation American born to Nigerian parents, who grew up in Woodbridge, Va., and used to compete in beauty pageants. She's 28, working on her second master's degree from Cornell and moonlighting as managing partner of a private equity firm that develops real estate in China.

But merit alone a reality TV star doth not make. To add some levity, there's Omarosa, whose help with judging and interviews was not previously announced. As always, she's got a lot to say.

"Are you a good lover?" she asks one contestant.

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