The Apprentice S10 Ep1: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the boardroom …

To celebrate his tenth year of boardroom shenanigans, Lord Sugar sets his 20 new candidates the task of selling a motley selection of gear from previous years’ opening tasks. But did the teams manage to put together a Greatest Hits compilation or was this more a case of Top of the Flops? (Clue: this is the The Apprentice, where confidence is mandatory and competence merely an optional afterthought.)

20 confident candidates, but how many are truly competent? (Image: BBC)

Meet the candidates

In a city built on commerce, one man stands out.

The voiceover is, of course, referring to Lord Alan Sugar – the Baron of Business, the Doyen of Dosh, the Earl of the East End. But he might just be referring to the man (or woman) who will emerge 12 episodes hence from this corporate Lord of the Flies as his next business partner.

So, who will this be?

Digital marketing sales manager Mark Wright, who claims to “walk the walk, talk the talk [and] dance the dance”? (And did he accidentally think he was applying for Strictly?)

Mark Wright claims he can “dance the dance”. We can’t wait for the Strictly Come Dancing task (Image: BBC)

‘Multiple business owner’ James Hill, who compensates for being, ahem, vertically challenged by wearing too-short ties that look like they’ve had their bottoms cut off?

Former PA and hypnotherapist Sarah Dales, whose idea of sales strategy is lipstick, high heels and hiked-up short skirts? (What is this, the 1970s?!?)

Penry, the mild-mannered janitor? Oh, hang on, that’s Hong Kong Phooey, isn’t it?

Anyhow, I digress.

Can we spot the winner from our initial encounters with this year’s candidates? Probably not. History suggests that it’s usually one of the quiet ones who efficiently get on with the job at hand – and consequently receive little airtime in early episodes – who will come to the fore only when the more outlandish, outspoken and outrageous ‘characters’ have crashed and burned.

I’m looking for Red Rum, not some fairground donkey.

Sugar gathers 16 candidates in the boardroom and immediately springs a surprise by calling for four more to be sent in to give us initial teams of ten boys and ten girls. He then pokes fun at their CVs, making a joke about penguins and social worker Steven Ugoalah‘s previous job in the Arctic (erm, penguins are only found in the Antarctic), pointing out to James that comparing himself to perennial business failure Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter is a bit silly and laughing at Scott McCulloch describing himself as a cross between Gandhi and the Wolf of Wall Street. (Now there’s a mental image for you.) We also discover that Ella Jade Bitton owns 100 animals, of which about 80% are sheep. But what are the other 20%, and are any of them a cross between Gandhi and … oh, never mind.

Ella owns 100 animals. This may or may not be the most interesting thing about her (Image: BBC)

Who cares what ‘decadence’ means, anyway?

As is traditional, the opening assignment is a selling task, with the added wrinkle that the products the teams must sell have featured in previous years’ first tasks, including T-shirts, sausages, potatoes and … lemons. (Insert your own joke here.) The team who generates the most sales wins.

Colombian lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero, who exhibits the worrying tendency of talking about himself in the third person, takes on the role of sacrificial lamb project manager for the boys’ team while Sarah, who claims to be able to sell ice to Eskimos, steps up for the girls. Cue ironic soundbites such as “We’re going to back you 100% [unless we lose, in which case we’re going to throw you under the bus and then reverse over you multiple times just to make sure].”

Felipe was brave (or should that be foolhardy?) enough to step up as the boys’ PM (Image: BBC)

Felipe is calm, collected and divides up his team based on their strengths and abilities. Sarah is sure the girls will win because “females are more attractive to look at”, orders her teammates to wear lipstick and high heels and hike up their short skirts and determines her sub-teams by the tried and trusted management method of splitting the room down the middle.

This being The Apprentice, where results fly in the face of all logic, experienced viewers will already know who’s going to win.

This year’s Apprenti-Mansion is in Highgate, and once the candidates have completed the business-critical missions of counting the boxes of cereal in the cupboards and divvying up who’s sleeping where, the teams eloquently brainstorm names. Of course, by ‘brainstorm’ I mean ‘this is the name I thought of three months ago’ and by ‘eloquently’ I mean ‘shout very, VERY loudly’. The boys adopt Daniel Lassman‘s uninspiring suggestion of Summit – because summat is better than nowt, presumably – while the girls are seduced by Nurun Ahmed‘s Decadence, a play on words on ‘decade’ to mark the series’s tenth year which completely ignores the word’s connotations of self-indulgence and (thank you, Nick Hewer!) “moral turpitude”.

Anyhow, Soundbite of the Week goes to Daniel for:

There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there’s five in ‘individual brilliance’.

Fair play. That’s actually quite good.

How not to sell in business (part ten)

Part of the joy of watching The Apprentice is its familiarity. Most of the tasks are well-known to viewers – we know what teams need to do to win, we know where they’re most likely to fail and it’s all edited together in such a way that the inevitable pratfalls are signposted about as subtly as a ten-foot neon pink arrow with the words ‘COCK-UP’ writ large across it.

And so it came to pass.

The teams are summoned to Leadenhall Market in the heart of the City of London – and, fact fans, used in the Harry Potter films to represent that part of the wizarding world around Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron – where they’re given a motley array of goods to sell including sausages, flowers, giant fish-shaped balloons, cleaning kit, coffee beans and potatoes.

First step: strategy. Summit zoom in on t-shirts and sausages as their key money-makers. Six-foot-seven Robert Goodwin is put in charge of producing gourmet hot dogs, while Chiles Cartwright leads a sub-team to deal with the shirts. So far, so good. At least it is until Robert takes them to an organic supermarket to spend so much time buying unnecessary and expensive ingredients that they miss the peak lunch-time rush. An overrun Felipe asks, “Do we have enough cheese?”. Insert your own joke here again.

Hang on, where are the t-shirts? Chiles won no points for his organisation skills (Image: BBC)

Decadence’s winning strategy, according to Sarah, is to (a) “bring some nice-make-up”, (b) add value to the lemons by slicing and selling them, and (c) continue extolling the virtues of (b) until the team are convinced by the genius of this idea. Which they’re not. Unanimously.

I could spend all day recounting the subsequent comedy of errors, but in summary:

  • Sarah sending Roisin Hogan‘s sub-team off to get t-shirts printed without giving them the cash to pay for them. (To be fair, this is as much the sub-team’s fault as the project manager’s.)
  • Sarah repeatedly arguing with her coffee stall sub-team in front of customers. (“It’s my sale.”/”No, it’s my sale.”/”Well, my brother could kick your brother’s arse into the back-end of next week.”/”Could not.”/”Could too.” Or something like that.)
  • Chiles’s sub-team sprinting to the printers’ – and then realising they’ve forgotten to bring the t-shirts with them.
  • James throughout this entire task, from his ‘Buy this t-shirt’ design idea to him constantly muscling in on Mark’s balloon selling pitch to the Spoonerism to end all Spoonerisms: his “Paris Miper” potatoes.
  • Sarah’s straight-faced attempt at London Zoo to sell a couple of buckets, toilet brushes, gloves and cleaning sprays for £250.
  • Chiles’ sub-team wasting so much time that they fail to even pick up their t-shirts let alone sell them.
  • The boys literally throwing lemons at customers in Covent Garden. I bet they don’t teach that at greengrocers’ school.
  • Roisin’s (apparently) idiotic solution to cutting her losses by selling their team’s printed t-shirts back to the printer for £60 – a loss of £90.

And, of course, no opening task is complete without a candidate in a silly costume – in this case Daniel dressed as a giant hot dog – and lots of shots of besuited teams running up and down the streets of London in a manner that makes headless chickens look like Winston Churchill. There’s a lot of this. A lot.

It all plays out like a collection of out-takes of ten years of The Apprentice‘s most ridiculous moments. Only this is for real. Of course, there are clearly some moments of competent business behaviour too. But who wants to see that when instead we can watch 20 puffed-up wannabes repeatedly doing the equivalent of running face-first into custard pies?

Boardroom Brouhaha

Task over, it’s back to the boardroom. Summit praise Felipe for his project management skills. Sugar pokes fun at their team name but that’s better than Decadence who, in an Apprentice first, he tells to rethink their name. Please, anything but Katie Bulmer-Cooke‘s rejected offering of Grafters. Grifters, maybe? (Just to be clear: I am joking. Maybe.) The girls are happy to stick the knife into Sarah for her lack of strategy. The fact she can’t even remember Jemma Bird‘s name – cue a look that could freeze Hell – doesn’t overly endear her to her colleagues either.

Of course, it goes without saying that the girls win, having sold £753.50 to the boys’ £696.70, a margin of victory of £58.80. I’ve never seen a team so unhappy to be told they’ve triumphed.

Winning PM Sarah Dales. Strategy is her middle name. Honest (Image: BBC)

The moral of this story? Selling t-shirts for 40% of what you paid for them is what wins in business. Natch.

For their treat, Decadence receive a VIP capsule ride on the London Eye. No one pushes Sarah out, although Bianca Miller trots out the line, “Teamwork makes a dream work”, which makes me want to push her out of the capsule instead.

As is traditional, the boys are despatched to the Cafe of Broken Dreams (Acton’s Bridge Cafe) for an overbrewed cuppa and a post-mortem on what went wrong. Summary: everyone blames Steven because he’s a loud-mouthed trouble-making drama queen.

Back in the boardroom, Felipe starts out by blaming Steven, citing his disruptive effect as the main reason Summit lost.

The thing is this: Steven is a loud-mouthed trouble-making drama queen who is to teamwork what Adolf Hitler was to world peace but the fact is he was right to challenge Chiles on making decisions that ultimately led to their t-shirts going unsold. Was Steven the reason Summit lost the task? Far from it. In fact, had Chiles not railroaded through his own poorly thought-out directives, the boys would have won. The fact the girls won despite Sarah’s appalling leadership is an indictment of how much of a mess both of Summit’s sub-teams made of the task.

Steven may be unpopular and obnoxious, but he was also unfairly scapegoated for Summit’s defeat (Image: BBC)

Sugar and Nick are quick to spot that Steven may be irritating (not hard) but is also a convenient scapegoat and that it was the team’s failure to maximise sales from their hot dogs and shirts that cost them victory. The Baron of Business virtually commands Felipe to bring back Robert and Chiles to face his final verdict – which he dutifully does – but not before Karren Brady skewers Scott for his lack of visibility and selling, and Sugar brands him as not so much the Wolf of Wall Street as “the poodle of Petticoat Lane”.

I’m not interested in all this Shoreditch yuppie arty-farty bollocks.

Making their final arguments to stay, only Felipe comes out with any degree of credit as he manages to defend his corner with a modicum of dignity. Sugar clearly has Robert in his sights, and he doesn’t help himself by repeatedly shouting over people and starting to plead “I’ve got so much to …” before being cut off for his own good.

But it’s Chiles who holds the weakest hand. Poor judgement and organisation. Dictatorial decision-making and a failure to listen to his team. And, sealing his own fate, when Karren presses him, his petulant retort of “I did manage Steven, actually” would not have gone unnoticed by Sugar, who was spot on in singling him out for fundamental business errors.

In the Taxi to Obscurity, Chiles says:

I’m gutted that I’ve been fired. I think I stand by the decision I made. If Lord Sugar had given me a little bit more time he’d have seen the potential of running a successful business with me.

However, Sugar doesn’t follow through on his threat of firing multiple candidates, and rightly so given the limited opportunity to really assess Felipe and Robert properly. Felipe’s team management wasn’t brilliant, but it’s always an impossible job to try to control an opening task. In truth, his biggest mistake – though it was a big and entirely foreseeable mistake – was to volunteer as PM in the first place.

Robert is in a weaker position. He got carried away when Felipe delegated the hot dog part of the task to him, losing sight of the importance of hitting the peak sales window that the team had already identified as crucial for success.

Scott is also an obvious target. Keeping a low profile early on is often a profitable tactic, but when you get caught out you’re immediately on the back foot and in trouble. He cannot afford another anonymous week.

The same goes for the show’s early pantomime villain, Steven, who will struggle if he continues to be so abrasive but could benefit from toning down what could charitably be termed as overexuberance (or uncharitably labelled obnoxiousness). But then season eight’s Ricky Martin rubbed people up the wrong way too to begin with – once he settled down he went on to win the whole competition.

As for the girls, Sarah may well have dug herself into a hole for future tasks as it’s unlikely anyone will trust her with any serious responsibility. It’s difficult to gauge most of the others, who we’ve barely seen, although it’s already clear there are some fiery characters.

And so the fun begins. 19 candidates remain. Lord Sugar’s search for his next business partner has begun.

Next time: the teams must design a piece of wearable technology. Less Apple Watch and more Apple Botch, in all likelihood.

12 Comments on The Apprentice S10 Ep1: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the boardroom …

  1. Gypsy King though this was a great first episode. Steven is already an Apprentice legend and Gypsy King loved Robert’s deckchair jacket and no socks. Daniel has promise, maybe Roisin too. Gypsy King’s review is in the usual place!

  2. What are you, GK, suddenly Colombian? 😉

  3. Why is it that they keep making the same mistakes? Don’t they watch the programme? Though it might be a little harder when you are actually there…

    The £90 loss on t shirts for the girls is less important than the £60 proceeds, in a win by £58.80. They should always have been a higher margin product than spuds or lemons (unless you pre-sliced the lemons…and maybe peeled and chipped the potatoes?) We have seen so often before the belief that big trade sales are always the answer but they do not have the margins that retail sales have so unless you get a big sale they can be a distraction. So dumping the potatoes at a pie shop and concentrating on the sausages should work. The sausage “up-selling” was impressive – £6.75 for a hot dog takes some doing (and not only do I live in London I go to The Emirates most weeks). They do seem to be unaware of the law of diminishing returns and even if you wanted to add guacamole to a sausage (why?) Planet Organic is not going to be the cheapest option and the increase in cost compared to, say, Waitrose, would not be recovered. Especially if your sausages and rolls are not organic in the first place. Anyway, I am in danger of over-analysing the sausages…

    Sarah was a disaster. Her continual reminding everyone that she was in charge was annoying in the extreme and her stupidity in going for the short skirt look was unbelievable. Oh how tempting it would be to make a comment about her appearance but that would be unworthy… I wonder whether Lord Sugar could actually fire someone on a winning team as part of the four additional firings that he has available? That would be a bit against the spirit of the competition but we have seen some ineptitude over the years, and then waited patiently until the candidate ends up on a losing team so get their comeuppance.

    A useful exercise after this evening’s second task is to identify those who we have not noticed. Those who do nothing, Scott for example, are noticed but in a team of 10 there will be some who are quietly efficient and below the radar…that is where we will find a winner.

    • I agree, John. In the context of the task, selling the shirts back to the printer for £60 was actually a genius move. But it’s not how you would run a real business (at least, not one that lasts more than 5 minutes).

      I imagine the candidates have all watched the show previously but most of them underestimate just how disruptive individual egos can be when everyone’s desperate to stand out, and also how restrictive the task rules are around not using the internet, sub-teams sticking together and so on – I imagine there are a lot more restrictions in reality than the show ever lets on.

      The hot dog thing was ridiculous, but the task rules don’t penalise you for spending your seed capital (it’s only an opportunity cost rather than factoring into profit, as the task is measured purely on sales). What really hurt the boys was not so much how much they spent in Planet Organic (a ridiculous amount, agreed) but how long they spent there. They could have just bought rolls, ketchup and mustard and been out selling in 15 minutes rather than an hour and a half. Felipe was at fault there for letting Robert run riot.

      A few people have been debating whether Sugar should fire someone utterly incompetent on a winning team. There have certainly been instances in the past where a PM has lucked into a win after their rivals have made one error which scuppered an otherwise successful task. Personally I think there’s some value in doing it once for shock value, but no more than that. Otherwise it would devalue trying to win the task, knowing that even that might not secure you from firing – we’d end up with everyone covering themselves individually even more than they currently do (if that’s even possible!)

  4. Louisa Radice // October 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm // Reply

    I don’t understand why Roisin didn’t just pay for the t-shirts from her own money and get reimbursed from the “seed capital” later. Or is the use of debit and credit cards banned along with the internet?

    • I would imagine it’s forbidden in the task rules, in the same way sub-teams clearly have to stay together rather than split up and subdivide tasks further. Each of the tasks comes with a fairly comprehensive list of dos and don’ts – for instance, it was clear that the teams were only allowed to use one specific t-shirt printer rather than one closer to their other selling locations.

  5. I think that you are right – a one off firing of someone on a winning team would have shock value and should be balanced by a comment that it is exceptional so that winning the task remains the objective! Though the use of at least one task with a subjective measure provides Lord Sugar with a chance to use his judgment rather than just count the profit.

    The rules are presumably very complex and detailed and we have little indication as to what is included. The necessity of having two shirt printers with capacity at the required time must have meant that they were pre-selected. I also wonder about the requirements for street trading licences, which for a food stand can be tricky, so there must again be some agreement with the relevant authorities. And what would local business make of a pop up shop in their territory? I particularly wondered about that whilst they were selling fruit and flowers in Covent Garden…

    Anyway, task 2 this evening and from the trailer the boys have an uphill struggle…but as we know, it is all in the editing!

    • For sure, there are a whole lot of permits, appointments etc that are set up for the teams in advance. The number of times we have seen teams apparently randomly turning up in the same place is a dead giveaway.

      I’m sure there are certain other rules that restrict how imaginative teams can get with their strategies. For instance, one obvious strategy last night would have been to focus on coffee and hot dogs together in one place, abandon the hot dogs after lunch and then dump as many of the commodity items as possible in the second half of the day. But that would have made for pretty dull TV (plus of course permit issues), so instead the teams were encouraged (if not compelled) to go all the way across town to get shirts printed.

    • Louisa Radice // October 16, 2014 at 10:18 am // Reply

      Are we to assume that the street furniture, mobile catering units and hot dog onesie were all supplied free? In reality I’m sure they’d cost far more than Planet Organic condiments!

      • Yes, they’re all prearranged by the production team, who would have had to arrange selling permits at specified sites and such like for the mobile catering units in advance – you can’t just pitch up on the day wherever you like. What’s unclear is what items come out of the team’ seed capital (or petty cash, if you prefer) and what is effectively provided for free. My suspicion is that the boys had to pay for the hot dog costume for sure, but that both teams were allocated the use of a mobile stand for ‘free’, just as they were given a wheelbarrow to cart stuff around in.

        The boys’ failure with the hot dogs was not driven by Robert’s (unnecessary) expenditure at Planet Organic – it was the fact it took them so long to sort themselves out. This is another failing common in tasks that often goes unmentioned but cost the boys dearly in the t-shirt part of the task too – time is money, and managing the two sub-teams’ time appropriately is one of the key challenges in every task.

  6. I’m off to get my Team Felipe t-shirt printed.

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