The Apprentice: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Apprentice logoBack for its ninth season, The Apprentice once again brings us 16 ambitious fame-hungry wannabes entrepreneurs, all desperate to sue for wrongful dismissal become Lord Sugar’s next business partner and earn an investment of £250,000 in their half-baked business plan innovative, sure-fire money-maker. The opening task saw both teams making a midnight rendezvous with a cargo container of imported goods at Tilbury docks – who says this isn’t a glamorous show, eh? – and after a day spent trying to sell its contents losing project manager Jaz Ampaw-Farr became the first victim of Sugar’s Digit of Doom™.

Ready to maintain a beady eye and, where necessary, a straight face: Hewer, Sugar and Brady (Image: BBC)

Ready to maintain a beady eye and, where necessary, a straight face: Hewer, Sugar and Brady (Image: BBC)

Meet the candidates

Likeable, modest and selfless. These are words rarely used to describe any of our 16 candidates. Here’s how some of them describe themselves.

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, a 41-year-old former teacher who runs her own literacy and education company:

I’m half-machine. I can process thought at a speed that is out of this world.

I’m not entirely sure whether that machine is a super-computer or Metal Mickey, though.

How about the self-effacing Jason Leech, a 29-year-old with a PhD in Greek modern history?

I just feel my effortless superiority will take me all the way.

O-kaay. Equally unsure of his own self-worth is Myles Mordaunt, a co-founder of a marketing company who now lives in Monaco:

I’m business perfection personified.

Is he related to Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs, by any chance?

And finally here’s Lusia Zissman. The 25-year-old owns her own cupcake shop, baking website and electronics business. (And that’s just what she does on Sundays.)

I have energy like a Duracell bunny, the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit and a brain like Einstein.

Which I suppose beats having the sex appeal of Einstein and a brain like Jessica Rabbit.

Of course, there is a large element of the candidates being put up to delivering these catchy soundbites which will come back to haunt them at a later date, although one suspects that in many cases the candidates didn’t require much encouragement to start boasting about themselves. Equally, there’s no way any of them can ever live up to Lord Sugar himself when it comes to bigging themselves up. His contribution to the opening introductions?

This process is not a job, it’s about me … [pause] … ploughing £250,000 into a business.

It would have been so much better if they’d cut that at the pause, no?

Just what I’ve always wanted

The candidates are brought into the boardroom to be briefed on their task by Sugar. They must each take the contents of a shipping container of imported products – they’re kosher, guv, fell off the back of a cargo ship – and sell as much of their stock to the trade by 4pm, with the team racking up the most sales winning. To add a little extra twist, Sugar asks both teams – girls on one side, boys on the other – for a volunteer to be project manager on the spot. He has barely finished speaking before Jaz volunteers with the kind of “Me! Me! Me!” enthusiasm usually reserved for the keen but ever-so-crap skinny uncoordinated one who always gets picked last in PE. (And what’s that expression about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread?) For the boys, Jason allows at least three nanoseconds to elapse before stepping forward.

Boys' PM Jason Leech (Image: BBC)

Boys’ PM Jason (Image: BBC)

So, Jaz and Jason. Jaz and Jase. Hmm. Sounds like a teenage hip-hop duo from the early 1990s, doesn’t it?

The alliteration continues in the Apprenti-Carriers™ en route to Tilbury as team names are agreed: Evolve for the girls and Endeavour for the boys. In the meantime, we’re also given some insight into our two PMs. Jason rather undermines his claims to be like a machete in the jungle when he describes what he does for a living as “a bit of this and a bit of that”, while Jaz is clearly plagued by self-doubt:

I’m only bossy if I’m right, which is a lot of the time.

Anyhow, the teams open up their containers like kids on Christmas Day expecting to receive the latest Xbox and instead receiving only an ex-box. Their wares include lucky Chinese waving cats, toilet rolls, 43 cases of water (seriously, who orders 43 cases of water?), 41 bags of cat litter (see previous comment), ukuleles, bubble wrap, leather jackets, high-visibility jackets and Union Jack mugs. Lovely-jubbly.

Jason appoints Neil Clough, a regional manager for soccer centres, as his sub-team leader as he struggles to make himself heard over a very vocal boys’ group. (There’s an old saying about empty vessels making the most noise, isn’t there?) Meanwhile Jaz plumps for doctor Leah Totton to head up her sub-team, providing motivational words for her team while similarly patronising them as if they were slightly slow five-year-olds.

Mishaps, missteps and plain old mistakes

We have seen several variants on the old flog-a-load-of-gear task before, and this opening assignment ticks most of the familiar boxes for us as it showcases the candidates both at their best (occasionally) and their worst (most of the time). A few of Evolve’s highlights:

  • Pushy award-winning (she says) medical rep Rebecca Slater showcases her selling skills by closing the first deal of the day … for the princely sum of £15, although she later goes on to make the single biggest sale of around £400.
  • Jaz’s genius (not really) idea of pitching up in Chinatown to sell the waving cats. Half-Chinese restaurateur Sophie Lau tries to point out that shops in Chinatown probably source these exact products direct from China at far less than they are trying to sell them for, then makes a half-hearted attempt to make a sale, only for recruitment manager Natalie Panayi to jump in and make a deal for tuppence-ha’penny. From the edit, we’re left with the impression that this is a good move rather than a desperate one.
  • Jaz employs the strategy of performing a random walk up and down Oxford Street looking for any old shop to sell to – because that always works, doesn’t it? They try to sell their mugs at £1.50 wholesale price to a man who has the same product on its shelves retailing at £1.49. Oops. And then they discover that he’s not empowered to actually make the buying decision himself. What’s the first rule of selling-to-trade tasks? Make sure you’re talking to the organ-grinder, not the monkey …
  • Jaz at the end of the day: “Could I have some feedback on my project managership-ism?” Where do I begin?

As for Endeavour, here’s what they got up to:

  • 22-year-old company director Alex Mills – who claims he is sometimes mistaken for Freddie Mercury but actually looks more like Dracula – offloads the boy’s water to a coach company for £230 (£50 less than the girls) after applying the tried and trusted cave-in-and-agree-to-whatever-price-the-customer-demands negotiating technique. (Cue voiceover man joke about liquid assets.)
  • To sweeten a deal to sell waving cats to a casino, Myles offers to throw in batteries – which his team then have to waste time buying and inserting into each cat.
  • Property investment CEO Zeeshaan Shah leads a negotiation to sell cat litter to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home – only for Neil to constantly talk over him, As Karren Brady observes: “He’s a real back-seat driver.”
  • Mexican food entrepreneur Tim Stillwell sells 100 hi-vis jackets for £120, but makes more of an impression with his bizarre and distracting hand and head gestures.
  • Jason declares “We’re going to run like hell to sell those ukuleles!” As one does. His team then head off at what can only be generously described as a slightly brisk stroll. I’d like to see them when they’re not in a hurry …
  • Speaking of ukuleles, with time running out and business analyst Jordan Poulton desperately trying to close one last sale, a shopkeeper casually strums a ukulele in what was surely either a piss-take or a pre-audition for Britain’s Got Talent.
  • Health drink entrepreneur Kurt Wilson appears frequently in the background, apparently in a non-speaking role. I’m not sure he actually says or does anything in the entire episode.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Task completed, it’s back to the boardroom. Sugar’s examination of Evolve’s efforts reveal that Leah’s sub-team were organised, had clear roles and sold well, while Jaz’s sub-team weren’t and didn’t. Dance and entertainment entrepreneur – a title which could easily be read as ‘stripper’? – Francesca MacDuff-Varley comments that Jaz “evolved over the day”. I see what she did there. Although that’s also about the only thing I did see of her on this task, other than to note the fact that she looks like quite a bit like season six winner and lawsuit-loser Stella English, which is as likely to go down about as well with Jewish former Tottenham chairman Sugar as a candidate turning up wearing an Arsenal shirt making Nazi salutes.

When it comes to Endeavour’s turn, Neil wastes no time bad-mouthing Jason while making it clear that he was the real mastermind behind the task, bringing a weary Karren to say:

I’ve had a whole day of this and I’ve got to tell you I’m very tired of it.

You have my sympathies, Karren. I’ve only had an hour of this and I already want to put Neil in a vacuum.

Alex mistakenly calls Neil ‘Liam’. For some reason I find this uproariously funny, not least because Neil’s face is a picture. Less funny is Sugar’s droll comment about Tim’s contribution to the task:

The hi-vis jackets? They must have seen you coming!

Oh, how we rolled in the aisles.

Anyhow, that’s enough frivolity. Karren and Nick Hewer reveal the all-important results. For Evolve, Jaz’s team sold £270, while Leah’s contributed £839.30, giving total sales of £1,109.30. Jason’s half of Endeavour totted up a modest £324,50, but Neil’s racked up £843.30 for a grand total of £1,167.90. The boys win by £58.60. For their reward, they are sent to the new Apprenti-Mansion™ in Holborn, where a chef from Fortnum & Mason prepares them a slap-up dinner. The girls are consigned to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ (actually, a substitute venue to the usual Bridge Cafe), where Luisa muses over the large difference in sales between the two sub-teams while Jaz defends herself by saying “I didn’t do anything wrong.” That much is arguable, but perhaps more pertinent is to ask whether she actually did anything right?

Brave? Yes. Wise? No. Defeat spelled the end for PM Jaz  (Image: BBC)

Brave? Yes. Wise? No. Defeat spelled the end for PM Jaz (Image: BBC)

Back in the boardroom, Jaz defends her role as project leader, saying “I’m not a jack of all trades.” It does appear, however, that she is also a master of none.

Both Sophie and make-up brand owner Uzma Yakoob had no sales to their name, so Jaz elects to bring them both back in with her. The latter curries favour with Sugar by virtue of her role organising her sub-team’s logistics. Sophie comes under fire for her quickness to criticise others. And she doesn’t help herself when she targets Uzma for not selling anything when she herself also had zero sales.

However, it’s clear that Jaz is firmly in Sugar’s sights. He notes that her willingness to jump straight in as PM was certainly brave, but not clever. Her team descended into mayhem, was poorly organised and made bad mistakes throughout the day which she could have rectified with clearer thinking and direction. As a result, it’s no surprise when she is fired.

I had a degree of sympathy for Jaz, as it’s always difficult to lead the first task when no one knows each other yet and where everyone is desperately trying to establish themselves. And this was the kind of task where one random sale can make all the difference. Despite their various calamities, large bulk deals by Rebecca (£400) and Luisa (£280) nearly carried the day for Evolve. The boys shifted more of their inventory, by did so by under-selling a lot of it and nearly paid the price.

However, what little sympathy I did have quickly dissipated upon hearing her departing words in the Taxi to Obscurity™:

If I had my time again, I’d love to say I wouldn’t volunteer but I know I would. I’m gutted to be fired before I got a chance to show how amazing I am, and I really wanted to go right to through to the end of the process, because my business plan is phenomenal.

There is a fine line in business between confidence and arrogance, and too often during this task Jaz seemed firmly on the wrong side of it. She rail-roaded through her own ideas – some of them sensible, many not – at the expense of taking other people’s ideas on board. It can be harsh to judge an early firee on the evidence of a brief appearance which is edited to show only their failings, but whereas in the past the first candidate out of the door has often been likeable but hapless, there didn’t seem to be much likeable about Jaz as she was repeatedly shown to be patronising with poor listening skills. Her business plan for tackling low levels of literacy seems a worthy one, but she did herself few favours here.

In the next task, the candidates have to create and promote flavoured beer. Like the Murphy’s, I’m not bitter.

One down, 15 to go. The opening skirmishes have been completed. The scene is set. Let battle commence.

The Apprentice continues tonight (Wednesday) on BBC1, with companion show You’re Fired following immediately afterwards on BBC2.

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10 Comments on The Apprentice: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

  1. Welcome back, Tim. I agree fully with your analysis and that it was right for Jaz to go.

    Leah impressed me, but it was a real battle between Luisa and Neil for the award of most annoying person.

    You can read my thoughts at http://markdecosemo.com/2013/05/07/the-apprentice-2013-week-1-self-contained-mess/

    • Hey Mark. Certainly Neil and Luisa were extremely annoying. I also wasn’t impressed with the way Natalie impatiently undercut Sophie (even if she was flailing a bit) by offloading her cats at a stupidly low price just to make a sale. But then I guess then task is based on sales rather than profit – I just didn’t like the way it was implied that her interruption was a good thing. It really wasn’t, on so many levels.

      • Totally agree, Tim.

        A bit harsh to sack the first person before they even saw the house!! I wonder what tonight will bring (apart from another late night blogging session)

  2. Having now watched You’re Fired, Jaz came across much better there (as most fired candidates do). She seemed nice enough – and as a parent of young children I genuinely hope her business idea works – but she’s a great example of someone who is brilliant at what she does but isn’t necessarily cut out to be a broad-skilled businessperson, particularly with respect to her people leadership skills. There’s no shame in that, but it made her easy pickings as one to take an early fall in this particular process.

    Roll on tonight’s beer task – or should that be ‘roll out the barrel’? 🙂

  3. Welcome back! Great overview. I think Alex will be one to watch – Sugar loves the cheeky chappies. Luisa is hideous, as is Neil. Great series already!!

    • I quite liked Alex based on this first episode, but judging from the previews for tonight he may be about to land himself in hot water. It might even ruffle his eyebrows slightly …

  4. Great to have the Apprentice back, and great to have your recaps back! It looks like a promising series already – a good mix of hopeless, annoying people who will be fun to watch failing, and a few who seem to have a degree of promise. Tim is my early favourite.
    Jaz was pretty rubbish project managing a reasonably straightforward task. And as admirable as her business idea is, Sugar has said before he won’t back not-for-profits, plus her ideas aren’t as innovative and unusual as she was making out. My wife works in education and thought that Jaz’s claim that she is only one of five people in the UK doing what she is doing was ridiculous.
    My main disappointment was seeing the reflection of the Mystery Receptionist!

    • Cheers Steve. Although the task was oh-so-familiar last night, I felt they’d made some nice little tweaks to throw us straight into the action and give us a bit more background on quite a few of the candidates.

      Was Jaz’s idea not-for-profit? It sounded more as if she was trying to appeal directly to end users (i.e. parents), which presumably would be some kind of subscription or product-selling model? I did think her claim of being only one of five people doing it was a bit grand, although maybe it is a limited number who are trying to do what she does via an online model?

      Reflection? Really? (Races off to iPlayer …)

      Tonight’s beer task just offers too many punning opportunities not to be excited about it … 🙂

  5. Adam Stone // May 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm // Reply

    great review Tim as always. Here is my twopenneth http://adammstone.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/the-apprentice-2013-episode-one/

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