Apprentice Christopher pays the penalty in German shoot-out

The Apprentice took on the Germans this week as the candidates attempted to sell exotically flavoured crisps in the land of bratwurst and sauerkraut. After much scurrying around Hamburg and lots of frantic “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”, Apollo proved to be a model of Teutonic efficiency (relatively speaking), while Synergy simply went from bad to wurst. In the boardroom, Lord Sugar concluded it was time to say “auf Wiedersehen” to Christopher ‘Backroom Boy’™ Farrell, who became the eighth recipient of Die Stelle des Schicksals™ (the Digit of Doom™).

Pre-match warm-up

Obviously, when dealing with potential customers in a foreign country – Manchester, say – a degree of open-mindedness, tolerance and awareness of cultural differences is a useful asset. So the following admission from Christopher was perhaps not the wisest one to be making in front of a rolling camera when parked outside the German Embassy:

Oh, and I hate the Germans as well.

In fact, as declarations go, it was nearly Basily Fawlty-esque:

Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it alright. So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it. So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.

Fawlty Towers – The Germans

Inside the embassy, Sugar informs the teams they will be heading to Hamburg to represent two small British crisp manufacturers to help them break into the German market.

Stuart ‘Die Marke’™ Baggs (‘The Brand’) is more than happy to allow Stella to assume the project management role for Apollo. As he explains:

Just because I voted for her, that doesn’t mean that she is the best person for the job, nor is she in fact a very good project manager. If we win then we’ll all be on a treat and if we lose, Stella will be going home in a black cab. So really I can’t lose in this task.

Meanwhile Chris Bates, determined to control his own destiny having been on the losing team in five out of seven tasks so far, steps up for Synergy.

German sausage-flavoured Pringles. Yuck

After some initial brainstorming – Apollo settle on a ‘Best of British’ theme, while Synergy veer towards more Germanic flavours – the teams split into two, with half going to work with the crisp manufacturers while the others conduct market research in Hamburg.

Stuart and Joanna‘s market research tells them that Germans like sausage and curry – no, really? – and Joanna, who had championed the curry cause in the earlier brainstorm, insists their crisps need to reflect this. Stella ignores her. Joanna tells her again, a little louder this time. Stella ignores her again. Joanna tries one final time, shouting so loud that Stella can probably hear her without the phone. Laura meekly agrees with whatever Stella decides, making it perfectly clear she wants no part of any decision-making, because that might actually mean taking responsibility for something.

Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Christopher and Jamie discover the joys of currywurst – basically a large sausage covered in curried ketchup – and decide that’s the way to go. And that’s about the full extent of their research. Synergy finally settle on currywurst and goulash (isn’t that Hungarian?) as their two choices, while Apollo go with beef and chilli and stilton and paprika as their British-themed flavours.

First half: Apollo get their towels down first

The following morning sees both teams reassembled in Hamburg and ready to sell. Sugar has set up two big appointments for the teams: one with Karstadt, a major department store retailer, the other with Mike’s Sandwich, an international food distributor. It’s up to the teams to make the most of the rest of their day, which means the trudge of door-to-door cold-calling.

Christopher and Jamie arrange an appointment with Marriott Hotels. They are offered a choice between 9am and 1pm. For some unknown reason, Jamie tells Christopher to take 1pm. Sure enough Joanna, calling to set up meetings for Apollo, promptly nabs the 9am slot. Fools. You’re selling in Germany. Don’t they realise how important it is to put your towels down first?

Apollo 1 Synergy 0.

At Marriott, Joanna and Stella strike paydirt. Jo, who had been quite blunt and rude when researching the previous day, gives a polished performance, and successfully doubles the order from three to six months’ stock. A good start, and one from which you just know things will start to head rapidly downhill.

Enter Stuart and Laura, who are heading over to talk to Mike’s Sandwich, the distributor. Stuart pointedly advises Laura not to speak too fast; she assures him she won’t. But, having built some genuine rapport by starting the conversation in German, poor Stuart is forced to watch in horror as Laura races through her presentation as if she is worried that the parking meter is just about to run out and she really needs to run downstairs and put another euro in the slot. I’m not sure she even draws breath once – it is a terrible pitch. God only knows what the poor German chap thinks when confronted with this real-life version of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Jamie and Christopher go door-to-door with their snack-tastic wares. Jamie throws in such strong sales convincers as “what we’re looking for is a small order” (translation: “please, we’re desperate”). This includes talking to a random girl at a bagel chain, who eventually tells them she isn’t authorised to make a purchasing decision. It is, as Sugar would say, a blahhdy disaster.

Meanwhile, the other half of their team aren’t faring so well either. Chris and Liz go to Karstadt, where the buyer is not exactly blown away by currywurst and goulash.

Half-time score: Apollo 2 Synergy 1 (an own goal by Laura).

Laura: whinge, whinge, whinge (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Second half: Laura the Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten is a common dish in many parts of Germany – a beef pot roast marinated in vinegar, water, spices and other seasoning. It is not, as one might easily think, the German for ‘sour brat’, which is what Laura subsequently turns into, with a petulant, expletive-ridden display of immaturity you wouldn’t expect from a 22-month old toddler, let alone a 22-year old toddler businesswoman.

In the interests of managing her team’s time more effectively, Stella takes over an appointment with the Hyatt hotel chain originally intended for the other half of her team. It’s a bit of a blow to Stuart and Laura, and while he is understandably more than a little disappointed she is furious, throws what can only accurately be described as a hissy fit and threatens to stop selling in protest:

That’s unbelievable! We’ve got order books so it is total bollocks! I just give up. That’s it, seriously I don’t give a shit any more. They’re pieces of shit and they’ve left us with one shitty cafe. This is not how business works!”

I’m pretty sure that refusing to sell is not how successful businesses work either. And it really is something when Stuart looks like the mature voice of reason by comparison. As the not-so-dearly-departed Melissa Cohen might have said, it’s all about pro-fesh-un-ah-lee-sum.

Full-time: Apollo 2 Synergy 2 (Laura: two own goals).

Extra time: A game of two halves

Liz and Chris find the other team have beaten them to the punch at Marriott, denying them the chance of a sale. But they later seal a big order from the international distributor, so maybe all is not yet lost.

Meanwhile, Stuart and Laura manage to meet the manager of the bagel chain which Jamie and Christopher had earlier failed to do. Hands are shaken – another clear win for Apollo.

Laura is still moaning, though:

We might win, but in a way I hope we don’t, because I don’t think Stella deserves to win on this task. I think she has treated us outrageously.

No hard feelings, then. Clearly, such positive and supportive behaviour is in no way going to jeopardise her hopes of winning. But only because they were vanishingly thin already anyway.

As the day draws to a close, cue lots of shots of the teams running hither and thither, all desperate to make one last sale. Or catch the last train out of Dodge. Or something suitably symbolic. They’re in a hurry, anyway.

Final score: Apollo 3 Synergy 3. It’s too close to call. Time for a penalty shootout in the boardroom.

Penalty shootout

The boardroom kicks off with a moment of levity, as Nick Hewer informs everyone that, as far as being project manager on this task was concerned:

Stuart declared himself knackered.

Good old Nick. Like a good goal-poacher, he’s been quiet throughout, but just when you’ve almost forgotten about him he pops up with a clinical strike. Back of the net!

Sugar puts the boot into both teams. Laura is criticised for speaking too fast. Synergy are criticised for trying to sell German food to the Germans, and for failing to speak to the bagel chain manager.

Enough frivolity, however. Lord Sugar turns to Nick and Karren Brady to fire off the results. Both teams had minimal success at Karstadt, with Apollo’s meagre €135 surpassing Synergy’s €68. But at Mike’s Sandwich, the big distributor – not helped by Laura’s mile-a-minute pitch – Apollo netted just €7,455 to Synergy’s €14,289. Tellingly though, Sugar switches the order and calls for Synergy’s door-to-door sales first, at which point the cat is out of the bag – Synergy’s modest €3,638 being totally outgunned by Apollo’s impressive €11,737. Overall, Apollo have come out on top by a little over €1,300.

Final result: Apollo win on penalties.

Apropos of nothing, Nick chips in with a compliment for Joanna:

I must say, Joanna, your perseverance paid off. And I thought by the end of it you were really firing on all 12 cylinders.

Make a note of that, folks. That comment can have made the broadcast edit for one reason only: to mark Joanna down as a likely finalist. Interesting.

As a treat, Stella’s team are sent clothes shopping in Mayfair. Chris’s team are sent directly to jail, without passing ‘Go’ or collecting £200. Actually, they are dispatched to what appears to be a random canteen. Maybe the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ was booked out for a Christmas party? With lots of crisps and other wholesome party snacks, obviously.

Boardroom lack-of-Brouhaha™

For the second week in a row, we have a distinct lack of animosity in the boardroom. Chris is, as ever, Mister Monotone™. Christopher, admirably, chooses to defend himself more than attack one of the other two. Jamie says “the early word catches the birm” and uses “excellent” a lot in reference to himself.

I know I have said this before, but Jamie is increasingly annoying me because of his tendency to puff himself up with empty words while constantly undermining others. He brings to mind the following line from Macbeth:

A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Chris makes the obvious (and correct) decision to bring Christopher and Jamie back into the boardroom, and Sugar reaches a conclusion fairly quickly. He muses over Chris’s 2-6 record, Christopher’s lack of inspiration and leadership from the front, and Jamie’s continuing slide into mediocrity after a strong start – and then directs Die Stelle des Schicksals™ at Christopher, leaving him to depart in the Taxi to Obscurity™.

Post-match analysis

Christopher couldn't make the move from back-room to boardroom (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Sugar’s reasoning for letting Christopher go was fundamentally sound. He had been a hard-worker and an excellent back-office operator, but had struggled whenever asked to stand front and centre. His leadership on the Advertising task was poor, and this week he had no back-office to run away and hide in, fatally exposing his limitations. He would be an asset to any team, but not necessarily as a leader.

However, both Chris and Jamie should count themselves extremely lucky to have survived. As Nick observed, Chris seemed blissfully unaware of a lot of things that were happening on his watch, while Jamie made the one critical call – pushing the meeting with Marriott back from 9am to 1pm – which opened the door for the other team to gain the €5,000 order which cost Synergy the task.

As for Apollo, had they lost Laura would surely have gone. Stella is virtually impregnable at this stage – having lost only one task is as good as a ‘get out of jail free’ card – and would undoubtedly have made mincemeat of Laura in the boardroom. Joanna sold very well. And Stuart, buoyed by his ability to speak the language passably, was far more measured than last week and showed genuine awareness of how to handle cultural differences. All Laura has to show for eight weeks of effort is a lot of whinging and an array of fetching polo-necks; she has yet to show any real spark.

One job, now seven candidates. Lord Sugar’s search for an Apprentice even less likeable than Gillian McKeith continues.

Next week: An old favourite – a ten-hour, adrenalin-pumping exercise in buying and negotiating a random list of items. Panic on the streets of London!

Rating: Episode 6.08 – 3/5

Link: BBC Apprentice home page

Previous episode reviews

Episode 6.01: Sausages

Episode 6.02: Beach accessory

Episode 6.03: Bakery

Episode 6.04: Selling to trade

Episode 6.05: Fashion

Episode 6.06: Advertising

Episode 6.07: DVD

Would you employ any of the final 8?