Over the last 12 weeks, 18 ambitious entrepreneurs have been put through their paces in The Apprentice by Lord Sugar in a bid to land a life-changing £250,000 investment and the accolade of becoming his new business partner – and the hunt is now over.

Throughout the process candidates were put through their paces with a series of tough tasks right from the get-go as the show kicked off in style with candidates thrown into the deep end in Antigua tasked with creating and selling excursions to tourists.

Throughout the series, candidates have taken a crash course on self-care in the world of male beauty, made a dog’s dinner of trying their hand at creating a canine culinary brand, attempted to s(t)eamlessly navigate the Bao Bun street food trend, and lost themselves within immersive events.

For the final task, finalists Marnie Swindells and Rochelle Raye Anthony went head-to-head to prove to Lord Sugar why they deserved to receive his £250,000 investment and form a 50/50 partnership with the business mogul. On hand were some of the candidates fired earlier in the series who returned to help the two finalists bring their business plans to life before the finalists took on the biggest pitch of their lives to Lord Sugar and industry experts.

In the final boardroom, Lord Sugar’s trusted aides, Baroness Karren Brady and Tim Campbell MBE, gave their thoughts on the finalists’ performance before Lord Sugar made his decision.

About Marnie, Baroness Brady said: “Marnie, she has never run a business before, and she’s chosen a business that’s very competitive – can she stand out in this very competitive market?”

With Tim adding: “That being said, for an ambassador for a boxing facility, there is no one better I would think than Marnie and what she stands for.”

Talking about Rochelle, Tim said: “It’s what we posed to her at the very beginning of this final stage, to prove this is scalable. And having been in business for a number of years, I’m not 100% sure that she’s captured that piece about how she takes it from one successful store to a nationwide entity.”

While Baroness Brady added: “The one thing I know you can do is put the infrastructure around her and that she will need to be able to focus on running her business.”

After a last impassioned pitch from each finalist for why they should become his business partner, Lord Sugar made his final decision saying: “Marnie, it is such a crowded and competitive market. I’m thinking, ‘is this £250,000 down the drain?’

“Rochelle, what worries me about you is why would your second and third branch would be popular and make me and you money?

“It’s a tough one, but Marnie, you’re asking me to invest in something which is completely alien to me to be honest and you’ve never run a business before. Rochelle, it’s opening the second one and it really is a difficult decision as to what industry I should be in. Two very excellent candidates. But I’ve always been known to be a gambler, I’ve always been known to try new horizons so I’m going to try a new horizon… Marnie, you are going to be my business partner.”

After learning of her win, Marnie said: “What an incredible opportunity and moment for a girl like me to get to a place like this and have become Lord Sugar’s business partner. It feels strange to even say that, but I’m not going to stop saying it because I am so happy.”

Having fought “tooth and nail” to reach her current place in business, Marnie is a determined candidate who sees opportunity everywhere. A gold medal-winning boxer and imaginative businesswoman, she is ready to face off against her fellow candidates.

In February of this year, Marnie opened her community focused boxing gym, BRONX.

“With my experience in the boxing industry and Lord Sugar’s experience in business, I think that we would be a winning combination.”

This year’s series of The Apprentice has so far reached 19.4M UK audiences to date, peaking at 8.7M for the launch episode. With the series seeing a standout young performance, as 16-34 audiences consumed 18M viewing hours and 74M for all audiences.

The Apprentice is a co-production with Naked (a Fremantle label) and MGM UK for BBC One. Fatima Salaria, MD of Naked, Paul Broadbent and Mandy Morris are the Executive Producers, and Rachael Hankinson is Production Executive, for Naked. Dom Bird is Executive Producer for MGM UK, and Sarah Clay is Commissioning Editor for the BBC. The Apprentice is produced pursuant to a licence from MGM and distributed by MGM Global Formats.

Lord Sugar will be returning to our screens soon, with The Apprentice Australia airing weekly at 9pm on BBC Three and available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer from 6am on Tuesday, 4th April.

The Apprentice UK Series 17 is available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer.