x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Fired? Well you're sued for $500,000

When a former plumber was booted off the reality show Hydra Executives, her chance of winning $1m went down the drain. But she returned five episodes later to help win the finale - and now she wants her half of the first prize.

Dr. Sulaiman Al Fahim, the CEO of Hydra Properties, right, addresses the contestants of the reality show Hydra Executives filmed in Abu Dhabi.
Dr. Sulaiman Al Fahim, the CEO of Hydra Properties, right, addresses the contestants of the reality show Hydra Executives filmed in Abu Dhabi.

When you're fired, you stay fired. And for no one is that more publicly the case than contestants on the global TV hit The Apprentice.

When it came to making an Abu Dhabi version, though, things went a little differently.

Not only did two of the fired contestants manage to get themselves back in the running at the last minute, one of them managed to win - but with a deal that has since gone sour and could end up being settled in a Los Angeles court room.

Last week Hannah Dodkin, the British fired-then-revived winner of Hydra Executives, lodged a California court case against Richard Best, the Los Angeles-based architect who won the show with her.

She claims he is refusing to hand over her US$500,000 share of the prize money.

The show, sponsored by Hydra Properties and presented by the company's boss, Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, ran for 14 weeks from March 2008 on Abu Dhabi TV, ZTV, Showtime and Infinity TV.

It was filmed in various locations around the capital.

Ms Dodkin, 33, who was a plumber in London when she auditioned for the programme in late 2007, was one of 16 contestants. Each week one was fired; Ms Dodkin got the bullet after nine episodes, after leading the British team to defeat in "Operation Black Box".

In a simulated search-and-rescue mission in the wake of an air crash at Dubai's International Endurance City, the teams had to recruit seven Arab university students to help. Ms Dodkin's team only found six - the result, said her team, of her lack of leadership.

Her American rivals also nominated her for the boot, with, ironically, Mr Best handing the "pink slip" that represented her marching orders from the show.

But months later she was brought back, along with another former contestant, Sara Millinder, to help the finalists, Mr Best and Stephen Rumney, from the UK, with the final challenge - and to "add a little bit of drama" for the final episode. As a concept, that will be familiar to fans of the various international versions of The Apprentice. But what came next was a surprise.

Not happy to be mere assistants, Ms Dodkin convinced Mr Best to enter a formal, contractual pact.

The two would jointly present a business proposal for an eco-friendly architecture and interior design firm - and if they won, they would split the US$1million prize equally, and use it to put their plan into action.

Ms Millinder, meanwhile, got Mr Rumney to agree to take her on as a consultant if they won with their pitch for a new Dance Museum.

That kind of formal partnership coming was the last thing the producers expected.

"I didn't realise that Sara and Hannah would be so clever that they would try to persuade the guys to partner with them," said Mr Batal.

But nothing in the rules prevented it.

According to a copy of the contract obtained by The National, Ms Dodkin and Mr Best agreed to "strategically put all prize money into the company" with none of it allowed to be used for "personal gain".

In the end, the plan for a Dance Museum was judged too vague and insubstantial, handing victory to Ms Dodkin and Mr Best.

But their company never materialised. In the court documents, Ms Dodkin claims Mr Best is now refusing to hand over her share of the money.

"He told Hannah that she has 'a lot of audacity' to ask him for any money, even though they have a signed written agreement," said Ms Dodkin's Los Angeles lawyer, Joseph Shemaria, who filed suit on January 3.

Mr Shemaria said the case was a "no-brainer" and plans to ask the judge to award Ms Dodkin punitive damages, on top of her share of the winnings.

"He [Mr Best] stands to lose more than the half million he pocketed that belonged to her," he said.

"He doesn't want to pay a nickel, but you can't cheat a partner."

Mr Shemaria has asked for the case to be heard by a jury.

He said Mr Best went through a "lot of hassle" to get his winnings.

"After they won the show he had to get a lawyer and threaten Hydra Properties with a lawsuit to get his money."

According to the show's executive producer, Ziad Batal, who runs the Dubai-based television production company, All 4 Media, the prize money did not come from Hydra Properties, but from the Infinity TV, one of the channels that aired the show. Mr Al Fahim said any dispute between contestants over the prize money was "purely a matter for them".

Mr Best could not be reached for comment.

Ms Dodkin, however, expressed regret that he had not paid her his share.

"The prize money was about setting up a company in the UAE, so it's really a shame to not be able to use the money as it was intended," she said from her home in Somerset, England.