The Apprentice: Buy, buy in Dubai, then bye-bye

Apprentice logoThe teams are sent to Dubai on a one-day shopping spree to source eight items for a new hotel. After a frantic day running around malls and souks leaves both teams literally flagging, international property developer Zeeshaan Shah was unable to drive a hard enough bargain to prevent himself from ending up on the receiving end of Lord Sugar’s Digit of Doom™.

Oud have thought it?

Don't bother packing the bikini, Luisa (Image: BBC)

Don’t bother packing the bikini, Luisa (Image: BBC)

It’s 4:30am at the Apprenti-Mansion™ and Jason Leech is the only candidate who passes the bed-head hair test sufficiently to be deemed suitable to answer the phone in front of the waiting camera. He returns to the bedrooms with news that they ate being sent to Dubai. Zeeshaan Shan, who has lived in Dubai, boasts of his local knowledge. Luisa Zissman, showing exactly how much local knowledge she has, excitedly packs bikinis.

Arriving at the under-construction Waldorf Astoria at Ras Al Khaimah in their local fleet of white Mercedes Apprenti-Carriers™, Lord Sugar briefs the teams by video message and conducts a mini Apprenti-Shuffle™ to rebalance the teams, sending Leah Totton over to Endeavour to join Zee, Alex Mills, Neil Clough, Kurt Wilson and Natalie Panayi. That leaves Jason, Luisa, Jordan Poulton, Myles Mordaunt, Francesca MacDuff-Varley and Rebecca Slater on Evolve.

The teams’ task is to source as many as possible from the following list of eight items and negotiate the best possible prices:

  • A mahogany Egyptian oud (a guitar-like musical instrument)
  • A traditional kandura (a full-length white robe)
  • A falcon hood (which is exactly what it sounds like)
  • A brass Arabic coffee pot
  • A 6ft by 4ft flag of the United Arab Emirates
  • A sago palm tree
  • Frankinscense crystals
  • Golden mosaic tiles

Zee is voted in over Leah as Endeavour’s project manager while Myles, who knows Dubai, becomes Evolve’s PM. Zee is more than a little confident as the teams start brainstorming:

You can put the map away as I know Dubai like the back of my hand.

Who needs an A to Z when you’ve got Zee already, right?

Myles was a man in ahurry - before he started flagging (Image: BBC)

Myles was a man in a hurry – before he started flagging (Image: BBC)

One of the golden rules of the discount buying task is that there is always one item – usually an important high-value one – which baffles the teams for much of the day. It quickly becomes apparent here that neither team knows what an oud is. Zee confidently states that it’s a local perfume – actually, that’s ‘oudh’ – despite the specification describing it as ‘mahogany’ and ‘standard size’.  An understandable error, but an eminently avoidable one.

The other golden rule of this type of task is that there are two traditional strategies for approaching it, either of which can win the day. There’s the ‘treasure hunt’ approach, which prioritises buying as many items as possible at the expense of necessarily securing the best price. Then there’s the ‘hard negotiation’ approach, which means seeking out the best possible prices but often at the expense of missing out on several items. It quickly becomes apparent that Myles is following the first approach, Zee the second.

Retail therapy

Leah headed to the souks, then to the mall, then to the souks again (Image: BBC)

Leah headed to the souks, then to the mall, then to the souks again (Image: BBC)

Zee sends his sub-team of Neil and Alex, led by Leah, to the souks because he insists they will be able to buy all their items at the best prices there. Leah ignores him and directs their driver to take them to the Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest shopping centre. But, just as they arrive at the mall, Zee orders them to go to the souks, even asking to speak to Neil over Leah’s head – not a brilliant piece of team leadership.

Meanwhile Myles sends his sub-team of Jordan, Luisa and Jason to the mall. Seeking the kandura, they baulk at the first shop which asks for 300 dirhams (at the time of filming, the exchange rate was nearly six dirhams to the pound) before finding another who is willing to sell them one for 110. But after that solid start, they then spend 3½ hours researching other products without buying any – an excessive use of time? This leaves Luisa marching around muttering “Got to buy something”, although whether she’s talking about task items or a new bikini for herself is unclear.

Myles hurries his negotiation for the palm tree, not bothering to negotiate with the boss and securing only a small discount which means they pay over the odds. They move on to a flag-maker, where they pay 175 up front and wait while they are told the flag will take an hour to make. In an alternative universe, that is, where hours are days and inches are centimetres.

Kurt was easily confused (Image: BBC)

Kurt was easily confused (Image: BBC)

Speaking of which, Kurt gets confused and tells Zee there are 12 centimetres in a foot, leading to them pre-ordering a 48 x 72-centimetre flag rather than a 48 x 72-inch one. Which is fine, if you want a flag for a hotel for hobbits as opposed to one which would dwarf Buckingham Palace. Zee’s team smugly stroll into the same shop where an increasingly frustrated Myles is still waiting, only to realise their error, respecify their measurements and stomp off in search of something else to get wrong. As Nick Hewer observes, who says size doesn’t matter?

Leah’s sub-team is now at the souks and is struggling to find anything in the confusing mass of small shops. Although one helpful shopkeeper, presumably spotting Alex’s carefully groomed metrosexual eyebrows, offers him some fresh Viagra. His response?

I don’t need any of that – I’m Welsh.

He may look like the love-child of Dracula and Freddie Mercury, but I’m growing to love him that little bit more with every passing week.

Finally, Neil’s strong-arm negotiating and pidgin English – “I’m in a very, very rush” – secures them a kandura for a bargain 60 dirhams. And it secures him a role in the remake of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum.

Myles is still twiddling his thumbs waiting for his flag. Having walked into the flag shop clean-shaven, he is now sporting a beard Billy Connolly would be proud of. Still, it could be worse. Natalie is waiting for Zee to allow her to help, but he keeps ignoring her and conversing only with Kurt. Between the pair of them, they negotiate a 50% discount on the sago palm, buying it for 75 dirhams (versus Myles’ 250), offsetting their flag mishap where they end up paying for both the large and small versions.

Jordan negotiated the biggest discount of the day (Image: BBC)

Jordan negotiated the biggest discount of the day (Image: BBC)

In a last-minute rush for items, we see Jason negotiating a deal for the coffee pot, Rebecca buying frankincense crystals and Alex buying an unseen item. Then Luisa finally discovers exactly what an oud is, and they find a shop where they talk the price down from 1,850 dirhams to just 990.

However, as time runs out and the two teams race back to the hotel, each has a number of items unbought, leaving both uncertain as to the final outcome of the task.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Back in London, the candidates gather in the boardroom for the Dubai-ous pleasure of being interrogated by Sugar. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Even before the results are revealed, Zee is denounced as a terrible leader by Leah – and she’s not alone in that sentiment. Zee defends himself to the hilt and continues to back himself even as Sugar slowly deconstructs his shambolic handling of his team. Kurt admits getting his measurements mixed up, but at the same time secured a good discount on the palm tree. Sugar raises a laugh at his expense as he turns to Myles and says:

Kurt would call you Kilometres, most probably.

To be fair, that’s not bad.

For Evolve, Myles comes under fire for not negotiating with the boss for his palm tree and for poor decisions in the flag store – wasting time waiting around and then paying up front to put them in a weak position when it came to trying to get something back for the delay. Jordan’s sub-team also comes under fire for spending too much time researching, although to be fair it was they who correctly identified the high-value oud and then negotiated a big discount on it.

To the results. Myles’ Evolve managed to correctly purchase six items costing £311.54 (the oud alone was around £170). But they missed out on the tiles (which, along with the oud, would have been the most expensive item) and the falcon hood. Unbought items are fined at their full market value, adding a further £384.62 for a total of £695.16. Zee’s Endeavour only sourced four items, but their kandura was in a modern rather than traditional style, incurring a penalty. Their total spend: £783.36, meaning they lose by £88.20. Ultimately, the 860 dirham discount (around £150) Jordan secured on the oud was the difference-maker on the task, although Zee’s team  had the upper hand in terms of negotiating the price of the items they did manage to buy. But it was their failure to correctly source more than three items which cost them dear.

For their reward, Evolve are sent to the Zetter Townhouse cocktail lounge in Clerkenwell to partake of a beverage or two, while the liquid fare on offer for Endeavour at (Not the) Cafe of Broken Dreams™ is rather less refined. Leah and Kurt pile the blame on Zee, while Zee tries to shift the focus to Leah’s sub-team, who only sourced one item correctly and got one wrong.

Zee set himself up to be an easy target in the boardroom (Image: BBC)

Zee set himself up to be an easy target in the boardroom (Image: BBC)

Predictably, it’s Zee who comes most under fire in the boardroom for his arrogance and lack of direction. Natalie accuses him of having a chauvinistic attitude against women, an assertion that Leah is quick to back up. (Although such is the level of animosity between Zee and Leah that she would argue day was night just out of spite.) It’s a hefty accusation to level but one that has a ring of truth to it in some small way. The case for the defence isn’t helped when Zee elects to bring the two girls back into the boardroom rather than Kurt and Neil, both of whom made clearer errors. And the argument is compounded when, on their way back in to the boardroom, Zee charges straight back in and doesn’t hold the door for the ladies, drawing a withering comment from Natalie.

Karren Brady observes that Natalie often says but rarely does. Zee accuses her of not contributing. She points out that he wouldn’t let her contribute. There’s an element of truth on both sides – Natalie often fades into the background on tasks but then comes out all guns blazing in the boardroom blaming everyone but herself. Zee labels Leah as ‘pessimistic’, when really it was more that she was willing to challenge some questionable decisions on his part. But then Sugar, rather oddly, puts forward the idea that Leah is indecisive because she didn’t go with her gut instinct and ignore Zee’s order to go the souks. (Presumably if she had ignored him he would have called her insubordinate instead?)

Sugar comments to Zee that he does come across as arrogant, and after telling Natalie that she is on her very, very last chance, he fires the project manager for allowing the task to spiral completely out of control. As Zee waits in the lobby for his Taxi to Obscurity™, both Leah and Natalie walk straight past him to collect their bags without stopping to shake hands or even glance at him. Me-ow.

Nick’s final passing comment sums up Zee in a nutshell:

A man whose mouth outran his abilities, really.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Zee is as brash as ever:

You know, I had so much more to offer. The name Zeeshaan indeed will go down in history. I’m not sure exactly why as yet, but it will.

His name won’t go down in history as a winner of The Apprentice, that’s for sure.

Zee’s biggest failing on this task was not his strategy. Going to the mall where it was easier to find products but harder to find deep discounts was not necessarily a better strategy than the logistical complexity of dealing with the labyrinthine souks. His team also negotiated good discounts. Had they also purchased the oud, then they would have won the task. But their failure to identify that item in time was down to Zee’s own hubris and unwillingness to listen. Coupled with poor leadership skills and an inability to provide a clear rationale for his decisions, there was always a sense that his team were working against him rather than with him. The friction between him and Leah was eminently avoidable but there were faults on both sides, and for all that Zee’s bombast clearly provoked Leah, her responses and actions were not always the most mature either.

Although there are still a few lame ducks in the competition – Natalie is very near the top of that list for me – we are now starting to weed out the louder ‘personalities’. It’s time for those with a genuine spark of ability to start shining through.

Next week: The teams are tasked with putting on a corporate team-building ‘awayday’. They could probably do with a spot of team-building themselves.

The Apprentice returns to its usual Wednesday evening slot next week on BBC1, with companion show You’re Fired following immediately afterwards on BBC2.

Season 9 reviews




Farm shop

8 Comments on The Apprentice: Buy, buy in Dubai, then bye-bye

  1. Totally agree, Tim. It was correct that Zee went, based on his crass leadership and blatant sexism.

    I also found Sugar’s comments about Leah odd, but we know that Sugar is nothing if not contradictory. And I still believe he has an inferiority complex where bright women are concerned.

    Kurt and Neil were lucky, but Zee was always likely to go. In Evolve, Jordan still impresses, but I barely noticed Rebecca this week.

    you can read my thoughts at

    • I’m in two minds about the sexism issue. There’s no question Zee was rude, patronising and disrespectful – and the way the footage was cut certainly hints at sexism – but I’m unsure how much of it was sexism and how much of it was just Zee being obnoxious (which appears to be his default state). Certainly the fact he brought the two girls back in with him didn’t help his case.

      What I did think was out of order was Natalie raising the issue so quickly in the boardroom. It’s not an accusation anyone should raise lightly and I get the feeling it derailed the discussion somewhat and took it down a path which wasn’t helpful (just as it would with a management investigation in a real workplace) before being brought back on track and subsequently being edited out.

      It’s clear to me that based on both this task and previous weeks that Natalie is quick to lash out and sling mud at others in the boardroom, while doing little in the tasks themselves. It’s almost as if she has entered the process with a boardroom strategy with no thought as to how she can shine on tasks. I’m deeply unimpressed with her.

  2. Great review!! Zee had to go. Of those left, Myles flatters to deceive. I think a guy will win it this year. Possibly Jordan though Sugar doesn’t like him. Is Alex the dark horse?

    • I think Alex has, despite the odd stumble, shown himself to be competent and efficient. He’s the second strongest male candidate for me behind Jordan (although, as you say, Sugar hasn’t warmed to him).

      I’m convinced Sugar will see Myles, with his smooth looks and Monaco background, as some kind of dilettante, albeit a competent one. He’s also the oldest of the remaining candidates by some distance. He’ll last deep into the process, but I can’t see him winning.

      Despite some undermining behaviour last night, I still rate Leah as the strongest girl.

      The boys do seem much stronger this year, for sure – I think if you compare the top three boys versus the top three girls there’s a clear gap.

  3. Great review Tim, any thoughts on who the Final Four will be?

    Zee deserved to go. He made too many mistakes and whilst Leah certainly wasn’t blameless either, I think that bringing Natalie back sealed his fate really.

    Alex is slowly overtaking Jordan as the most competent male atm, especially as he was the only one to realise that the Oud wasn’t a fragrance.

    Think the Top Three guys are:

    1. Jordan
    2. Alex
    3. Neil

    Top Three girls:

    1. Leah
    2. Rebecca
    3. Francesca

    • As it stands, my top three in no particular order would be Jordan, Leah and Alex, then my fourth would be one of Francesca, Neil, Rebecca and Luisa. Still too early to tell with that second set for me

  4. The interesting thing for me on this task, was Zeeshaan setting out very clearly his strategy at the start of the day (both subteams go to a different souk, buy “the more complicated” items and get big discounts on what they buy, this making up the shortfall created by potentially being able to find fewer items) and then…he doesn’t appear to do it. I can’t see one shot in the episode of Zeeshaan’s subteam actually *in* a souk. They’re always either sat in the back of their car (mostly this), or at a fairly standard looking suburban/retail park looking shop.

    Either his plan changed on the ground, or he did actually go to a souk, and he bombed out. Seriously, it’s quite easy to tell what the other three subteams did all day (Team Myles : bought a potted plant, sat in a flag shop all day, did a bit of aimless last minute shopping ; Team Jordan : spent all day at the mall, very very slowly ekeing out deals ; Team Leah : headed for the mall, got turned around by Zeeshaan, wandered around the souk getting nowhere fast, bought the piddliest item at the last minute) but I have no idea what Team Zeeshaan was actually doing, in terms of strategy. For all her insubordination, based on the edit, Dr Leah actually seemed to follow Zeeshaan’s orders better than he did.

    • Good point about Team Zee. He really did seem to wander around quite aimlessly, didn’t he? Still, at least he didn’t have to find any kosher or halal chicken …

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