The heat simmers in a traditional market in Kuala Lumpur where a group of mixed-nationality men competes against a group of equally diverse women to make the most of a fish stall.
This is a scene from a sneak peak of a competition where twelve ambitious and high-profile people from seven countries fight against each other to win an upper-echelon position and six-figure US-dollar salary from an aviation tycoon.
The language barrier is their smallest trouble.
The Apprentice Asia, a regional adaptation of the reality talent game show franchise, will be the second version of the franchise with multinational contestants to air when it debuts on AXN on Wednesday.
Filmed in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it will also be the first made-in-Asia-for-Asians version of the show, which was initially devised by English-born American producer Mark Burnett in 2004 and made famous by its first host Donald Trump for his catchphrase “You’re fired.”
In this regional version, contestants will aim to impress Tony Fernandes, the CEO of AirAsia who turned the failing commercial airline into a highly successful budget carrier and publically listed company. Tony is also the founder of the leisure and entertainment corporation the Tune Group and the majority shareholder of the Queens Park Rangers English Premier League football club.
One of the 12 contestants will walk away with the opportunity to work for Fernandes in one of his enterprises at the end of the 11-week competition.
The 12 entrepreneurs, who were shortlisted out of more than 30,000 applicants, represent Singapore, Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Two Indonesians made the cut. Some are already making waves in the corporate world in their homelands.
One of the Indonesian contestants is 30-year-old Hendy Setiono, founder and CEO of Baba Rafi, which operates more than 1,000 turkey kebab outlets in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Despite already operating a large enterprise, Hendy said that he applied for the competition because he wanted to meet and learn from Fernandes in person.
“I am to Fernandes what tweens are to Justin Bieber. I think he is among the best of the best entrepreneurs out there,” Hendy said earlier this week.
“I would drive for him or bring him his suitcase and bags if it means I could meet him and talk with him,” said the entrepreneur who started his business when he was in college and decided to drop out to be more focused.
The Surabaya native said that he immediately applied for the competition after watching a commercial for it late last year.
“I couldn’t enter The Apprentice Indonesia [in 2005] because I was not old enough. I didn’t want to miss a second chance,” said the winner of Ernst & Young Special Award for Entrepreneurial Spirit in 2009.
The Indonesian contestant is 35-year-old Dian Krishna, a former news anchor and Miss Indonesia 2003.
Dian said she applied for the competition with much encouragement from her husband.
“In the past six years I have been a homemaker – or as I put it, as a homeland engineer. It’s time to be back in the working world. I think this is a very good opportunity to gain a wider stage and to network,” Dian said
During the competition, Fernandes had two of his associates, Mark Lankester and Kathleen Tan, be his eyes and ears to observe the contestants as they completed their tasks. Lankester is CEO of the Tune Hotels Group, while Tan runs the Expedia Asia travel company.
According to Gayle Tan, communications manager at AXN’s parent company, the Sony Pictures Entertainment Network, contestants were put to challenges that tested their skills in various areas including sales, negotiations, creativity, management, branding and leadership.
“Basically, they will be tested in all skills that is important for a successful businessman,” Gayle said referring to the show’s bill as the ultimate job interview.
The Apprentice Asia
Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on AXN
Premiere on May 22