The teams were challenged to organise coach tours for groups of tourists, with mixed results. While Tenacity provided a comprehensive tour of Blenheim Palace, Summit organised nursery rhyme singalongs and Jemma Bird failed to answer basic questions on her tour. Having been invisible for the previous four weeks, the first occasion she stuck her head above the parapet was also the last as Lord Sugar pointed his Digit of Doom to make her the ninth casualty of the boardroom.
On the buses
Jemma Bird, inept tour guide
Nowhere left to run and hide
Summit got their coach tour wrong
From pricing through to singalong
Long-term viewers of The Apprentice will recall season six’s London sightseeing tour task, where Jamie Lester told a busload of tourists that the Thames was the second-largest river in London and Stuart ‘the Brand’ Baggs invited Chris Bates to a punch-up in Trafalgar Square. It remains one of my favourite tasks ever, so I was expecting great – for which read ‘catastrophically, toe-curlingly awful’ – things from this episode. It didn’t disappoint.
Who says Sugar doesn’t bring the teams to exotic, glamorous locations? This week it’s the coach park of South Mimms service area on the M25, where the Baron of Business instructs the teams to fill a 25-seat coach for a day-trip outside of London, with the aim of maximising profit.
To even up the teams after last week’s triple firing, Mark Wright moves to Tenacity to join Daniel Lassman, Felipe Alviar-Baquero, Katie Bulmer-Cooke, Lauren Riley and Pamela Uddin, leaving Jemma, Roisin Hogan, Bianca Miller, James Hill, Sanjay Sood-Smith and Solomon Akhtar on Summit.
Summit elect Sanjay as project manager. He quickly decides on a historical tour to Kent and sets pricing at £60 per ticket.
For Tenacity, event organiser Daniel gets the nod over Mark and Lauren. They settle on a quintessential English experience in Oxford. Initially looking to price their tour at £80-£85 per head, Mark convinces them to start at £100.
The teams split up, with half going to check out their chosen attractions and negotiate discounts while the rest drum up business in central London.
Mark leads Tenacity’s negotiations, driving Blenheim Palace down from £21.50 to £9.50 per person – a significant reduction below their group rate of £14 – and getting a good price on an Oxford riverboat cruise.
James attempts the same for Summit at Hever Castle, chancing his arm asking for an 80% discount to £3.10, even though their group rate is a lofty £12.25. Asking is one thing, but he remains blissfully unaware (or perhaps chooses to ignore) the seller’s body language as he keeps ramming against a closed door in an increasingly aggressive fashion.
Of course, he has to been seen to be trying for the cameras, but he ends up doing himself no favours and costs his team valuable time before ending up accepting the standard group rate.
Consequently James, Sanjay and Jemma end up in a mad dash to Canterbury to negotiate a discount at The Canterbury Tales, where James butts in after Jemma’s waffly, faltering attempt to achieve a price of £4.38. (£4.38? Why so specific?) He accuses her of being soft. He’s not wrong.
Back in London, sales are slow for both teams with the exception of Solomon, who successfully charms a number of younger women into buying tickets. Tenacity stick to their £100 each/£180 for two price point with, er, tenacity, eventually making five sales – none of them by supposed sales supremo Daniel. Mark is singularly unimpressed:
The best thing that boy’s sold all day is himself to us and then nothing since.
Me-ow. But accurate.
Later both teams switch to targeting bulk sales. Felipe engages a group of overseas students while a panicky Daniel shifts four more but at a heavily discounted £65, but Tenacity still end up selling just 20 of their 25 seats.
For Summit, Bianca tries to offload their last nine tickets at the full price of £60 but commits the rookie error of admitting this is their last chance and gets quickly knocked down to £40. Oh dear.
Tour de farce
Day two dawns and half of each team arrives at Victoria coach station to begin their tours while the other half buy and prepare lunches.
While his coach team look to boost the coffers by selling merchandise, Daniel is focussed on keeping food costs down, resulting in a shoddy packed lunch for which drinks cost extra. Nick Hewer pulls one of his (many) disgusted faces and questions whether a premium-priced tour should be providing such a paltry lunch. In the real world he’s right, of course, but this is a one-off Apprentice task and customer satisfaction is a luxury to be sacrificed at the altar of maximising profit and winning the task.
Mark is, again, singularly unimpressed:
After a very good morning by my sub-team, Destructive Dan and his team turn up with sandwiches that could kill a brown dog.
I’m not sure what the significance of the dog being brown is, but I take his point. Dan’s terrible lunch goes some way to undoing Lauren’s exemplary tour of Blenheim, having done her homework, swotted up and led her party around knowledgeably, professionally and without notes. (She’ll never last in this process with an attitude like that.)
Summit’s approach to their tour is, shall we say, rather less knowledgeable and professional. They’re late setting off and James tries to pass time by encouraging their passengers to sing One Man Went to Mow and The Wheels on the Bus. Karren Brady hunkers down in her seat, wondering whether she should break the glass to activate the emergency exit – but only because James isn’t sitting in the ejector seat.
Arriving late at Hever, James leads the group in pointing out animals in the grounds rather than attempting to impart any of the history of the castle, which he clearly doesn’t know. Jemma’s no better. She reads inarticulately from a guide-book, cannot answer basic questions (apparently Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn just grew apart) and points out “a photo of Henry VIII”. O-kaaay. Henry VIII died in 1547 – the first permanent photograph is dated at either 1826 or 1827, nearly three centuries later.
Over lunch, James goes into hard-sell mode to try to shift his team’s merchandise. There’s nothing paying tourists like more than to be harassed by a pushy salesman, is there? And to then be chivvied back on to the coach because they’re running behind time. That doesn’t make them feel like cattle with credit cards at all, eh?
In truth, the second half of the day proves to be nothing to write home about for either team. However, it says everything that Tenacity have the better (or, at least, the less bad) of things despite a blazered Felipe boring their guests to sleep on their river cruise as he rambles through his 15 (very) random facts about Oxford.
Oh no, Summit are far worse. Arriving in Canterbury just before 5pm – and with The Canterbury Tales due to close at that time – Sanjay attempts to lead his group there on foot, only to get lost and end up wandering randomly around the city centre.
They do eventually get in and persuade them to stay open for Sanjay and James to begin a ham-fisted, hammily acted and frankly shambolic tour, only to announce half-way that they need to break it off to get everyone back to London in time.
At this point, Sanjay observes:
I wouldn’t say that at this minute I’m confident we’ve delivered customer satisfaction.
You don’t say.
On the way back, they auction off their stock to squeeze out the last few pounds – yes, I know, it’s only an Apprentice task – and James even has the gall to offer another singalong (politely declined for some reason) and then to ask for tips as their passengers diesmbark. I honestly have no idea how no one ended up clocking him one instead.
The boardroom post-mortem opens with pretty much the whole of Summit rounding on James. Jemma says his attempts to low-ball their admission prices at Hever Castle were embarrassing. Roisin likens his selling approach to a bull in a china shop (which I think is a bit unfair on the bull). His singalong is criticised for turning the tour into a children’s trip.
When Tenacity come under the spotlight, Mark gets a gold star for achieving his big discount at Blenheim. But Sugar is less pleased to learn they only sold 20 tickets and Daniel earns a black mark for his failure to sell any at full price. He then does himself no favours by attempting to take credit for closing sales that came as a result of a team effort, and continuing to talk himself up while his entire team disgarees with him.
Sugar doesn’t fail to notice this, cutting him short:
Flannel is for the bathroom, not the boardroom.
It’s no great surprise to learn that Tenacity have won, and by a good margin. Despite filling just 20 seats to Summit’s 25, their sales were £136 higher and, coupled with lower costs, their final profit of £1,037.99 puts them ahead by £234.29.
Again, Sugar doesn’t fail to notice that the news is greeted by the team patting Mark rather than Daniel on the back. Their treat is to climb the UK’s tallest sculpture – the Orbit in the Olympic Park – and abseil 370 feet to the ground. Surprisingly, no one cuts Daniel’s bungee rope and he makes it down safely, although it’s clear he remains a man apart from his team.
Back in the boardroom, James gets more flak for his torturous singalong, although it is recognised that he did sell (albeit pushily). Bianca comes under fire for her poor sales technique which cost the team money. And Sugar mocks Jemma for talking about herself on her application as, “I’m always the girl who nearly wins” – or, to put it rather less kindly, “I always lose.”
Sanjay elects to bring Bianca and Jemma back with him, a major let-off for James, who is given a final warning from Sugar after he momentarily threatens to fire him anyway.
Sugar, Nick and Karren confer, and it’s immediately clear that they think Bianca has shown enough promise on earlier tasks to warrant another chance. So it comes down to Sanjay, who made a critical error in setting prices too low, and Jemma, whose contribution every week Karren describes as “disappointing”. Given that Sugar has a well established dislike of people who hide and don’t contribute, it’s an easy decision. Jemma is fired.
Jemma never showed enough through her five weeks to give Sugar a reason to keep her. On more than one occasion in this episode, she came across as too nice and unable to establish herself. And her ‘nearly girl’ admission in her application was bizarre and obviously open to ridicule. A sheep among wolves.
Even her piece to camera in the Taxi to Obscurity lacked any real weight:
Obviously I’m disappointed. Lord Sugar did point out that I am the nearly girl. It’s unfortunate but you live and you learn. I know that at some point that I’ll win … something.
I’m not sure what that something would be, though. A game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, perhaps?
This was a fairly straightforward task that revolved around basic Apprentice principles. Namely (a) set your price as high as you think you can get away with, then add a bit more and (b) this isn’t a real business, so fleece your customers for everything they have and consequences be damned.
Entertaining though this task was – and in Summit’s case the cringe-o-meter was cranked all the way up to 11 – it’s a horribly distorted view of business. When all that matters is a one-off profit, the inevitable result is a ruthless focus on money-grabbing at the expense of value for money, customer satisfaction, or just plain competence and decency. In a real world situation, pretty much everything James did during this task was appalling – instead he got a tacit pat on the back for making some sales. But then this isn’t the real world, is it?
Five weeks in, question marks remain over all 11 remaining candidates and much depends on the viability of their business plans. But, for various reasons, I struggle to see how Daniel or James (both one-trick ponies) or Felipe (nice but ineffectual) could reach the final. Mark can certainly sell and back-seat drive, but can he lead? The same goes for Pamela.
The strongest candidate for me so far has been Katie. She’s practical, willing and forceful without being antagonistic but does she have an investable plan? We’ll undoubtedly see many twists and turns between now and the final, but she’s the candidate who has impressed me the most so far. She’ll probably be fired next week now.
Next time: It’s time to make a move as the teams go from boardroom to board games. But will anyone Risk a Ludo-crous outcome?