By Bert B. Sulat Jr./Rappler.com – Jonathan Allen S. Yabut, the sole Filipino left in the dwindling cast of the reality series “The Apprentice Asia,” has made it through to the program’s final round.
He was selected by host Tony Fernandes as one of the two remaining contestants in the show’s 9th episode aired Wednesday night, July 17.
Yabut, a Mansmith Young Market Master-awardee and senior product manager for GlaxoSmithKline Philippines, is joined in the final leg of this “Apprentice” race by Andrea Loh, a lawyer and the lone Singaporean in the AXN Asia program.
Both had been among the show’s final four contestants from last week up to last night – the quartet rounded off by the French-born, China-based Alexis Lothar Bauduin and Samuel Rufus Nallaraj of India.
Following an intense round of interviews and deliberations, Fernandes opted to “fire” Bauduin and Nallaraj in last night’s episode.
Yabut’s compatriot Celina Le Neindre was also meted out that fate in the 7th episode.
Unlike in “Apprentice Asia’s” eight previous airings, wherein the contestants were given identical group projects as challenges, the task in this week’s episode was a lot more sit-down but no less intense.
Each of the final four hopefuls was interviewed one-on-one by three executives working for Fernandes: GE Asia CEO Stuart Dean, AirAsia Berhad CEO Aireen Omar and Westports Malaysia CEO Ruben Emir Gnanalingam.
As AirAsia group CEO Fernandes warned the contestants pre-grilling, “This will be the toughest interview of your life.”
True enough, even in just the 10 minutes or so of aired footage, Yabut, Loh, Bauduin and Nallaraj were put through the wringer, as the probing, analytical interviews evidently sought to tax their brains.
“I’ve never wanted something so bad in my life,” Yabut said on-air prior to the interviews, and his drive was plain to see at that stage.
He assured Omar he was capable of “a lot of out-of-the-box thinking,” and emphasized to Gnanalingam that he was “a self-made man of humble roots who had nothing. Even if you put me in another country, I will be no. 1.”
In an exclusive interview with Rappler, Yabut said, “I’m known for saying the nice and ideal things because I think it’s the best way to win someone you’ve engaged for the first time. [But] you [must] be sincere in saying such things. Otherwise, there’s no point at all.”
Perhaps our countryman’s most memorable episode-9 interview was with Dean. In the heat of a rather rapid-fire discussion, Yabut declared outright to Dean, “It is an orgasmic experience when I overcome mistakes” – prompting Dean to drily comment to Fernandes later on that “I love business but I don’t find it orgasmic.”
(For the record, Yabut had used the O word on his Facebook fanpage.)
“People can find me abrasive and assertive, but I don’t care,” Yabut told Rappler.
“As long as I think I’m saying things that are fair and make sense, I’ll make sure I’m heard. Successful people are those who get heard.”
‘He wants to be AirAsia CEO now?’
Later on in the show, as the four contestants waited outside the now fabled boardroom, the interviewers shared their views about each contestant to Fernandes, in the presence of his advisers: Tune Hotels CEO Mark Lankester and Expedia Asia CEO Kathleen Tan.
There were positive and negative comments about each contender, such as Dean regarding Yabut as “a smart guy, enthusiastic… [already] wants to be the CEO of AirAsia” – prompting Fernandes to remark: “He wants to be AirAsia CEO now?”
Gnanalingam said Yabut was “bright, [with] lots of energy,” and Omar found him “very determined, will try his best to do what needs to be done.”
After the interviewers’ input came Fernandes’ own, nerve-wracking grilling of the contestants, who were nevertheless given room for rejoinders.
Yabut told Fernandes that “the interviews brought out the best in me,” that “I made it big [in life on my own]” and that “I have the most burning…passion” among the “Apprentice Asia” aspirants.
But the big man replied, “You say all the right things, but you are a bit of a control freak as well, and I’m not sure you can be patient with people.”
Still, following Fernandes’ heated, good-with-the-bad appraisal of the 28 year old Yabut, the 25 year old Loh (“You’re clearly the least experienced.”), the 29 year old Bauduin (“I’m not so sure you understand Asia as well as you think you do.”) and the 37-year-old Nallaraj (“You’re too overconfident sometimes.”), the AirAsia chief saved the two youngest aspirants from elimination.
“You are my best two. Congratulations,” he told a relieved Yabut and Loh.
“Being young showed that I was passionate, motivated and driven, and it seemed Mr. Fernandes was looking for those qualities,” Yabut told us following last night’s episode.
Perhaps the most standout quality of Yabut that night was something bigger or higher: patriotic responsibility.
Midway through his impassioned self-presentation to Fernandes, the outspoken Filipino – a varsity debater at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in high school and at the University of the Philippines in college – said he meant his participation in “The Apprentice Asia” to be “an inspiration for my country, [a source] of hope for my countrymen.” This too, he said, was why he wore a pin of the Philippine flag throughout the show.
“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t for me. This is for the Philippines,'” Yabut told Rappler. “I know it’s cheesy, but above everything, that’s what this is.”
His “Apprentice” stint is proof that “anything can happen as long as you want it so bad and that you will work for it.”
Will Yabut’s long and hard “Apprentice Asia” journey find him being told, “You’re hired”? Viewers will know two weeks from now, the grand finale on July 31.
Whatever the outcome, Yabut has done exceptionally well. His confidence may carry him through, what with his on-cam assertion, “I want to prove to Mr. Fernandes that the real me is the real Apprentice.”
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