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.)
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?)
‘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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.