Tourists taken for a ride as The Apprentice does On The Buses

It’s the last task before the dreaded interviews on The Apprentice, and with the final now in sight the pressure starts to tell on the six remaining candidates as they hit the streets of London to conduct sightseeing tours of the city. After a day of farcical comedy which would not have looked out of place in an episode of On The BusesLiz Locke surprisingly had her ticket punched by Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™, leaving the five survivors stunned as they moved one stop closer to their final destination.

Sugar shuffles the pack again

Joanna took up the project management reins for Synergy (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The candidates gather at Wandsworth bus garage to be briefed by Sugar. He tells them this week’s task is all about tourism – Chris looks on impassively in that Mister Monotone™ way of his – and that they will be operating their own open-top bus company. After reverting to the original boys versus girls theme for last week’s discount buying task, the teams are mixed up again, with Stuart and Joanna trading places and then being appointed as project managers of Apollo and Synergy respectively.

The choice of task is, frankly, comedy genius. A real ‘fish out of water’ assignment, this would be impossible for even the most brilliant of businesspeople to handle capably, and is therefore guaranteed to supply pratfalls by the bucketful.

With only the relative sobriety of the interviews and then the final (which is more about showcasing the finalists’ strengths than weaknesses), it is the last chance for us to laugh at the sheer
preposterousness of our favourite characters. And, boy, are there laughs aplenty …

Chris makes an offer you can’t refuse

With a day to prepare, the teams quickly settle on themes for their sightseeing tours. Apollo plump for a Cockney Tour after Stella passionately argues in favour of it. Synergy opt for Ghosts and Ghouls – obviously because that’s a theme which will work really well during daylight hours.

The rest of the day is spent planning for tomorrow. Liz tries to recruit a jellied eels seller and gets their back up by encouraging them to be all Cockney, like. Trouble and strife (the actual kind, not the Cockney rhyming slang kind). Meanwhile, Stella explains to camera why she has volunteered to be the team’s tour guide:

Lord Sugar’s got this thing about me being corporate and wooden but I can be really fun and quite silly and stuff like that so it’s going to bring out another side of my personality.

She does this with a painful smile plastered across her face. Oh dear. Not at all wooden. Quite silly, though.

Chris - a stroke of madness or genius? You decide (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Apollo have decided to include a walking element to their Ghosts and Ghouls tour. Joanna nags away at Jamie. Jamie ignores her and keeps stomping off. She pursues him. He tells her she’s driving him nuts. She tells him he’s scaring her. (Seriously, are these two secretly married?) Nick Hewer watches on like a world-weary marriage counsellor who has seen it all before and is about ready to put a gun to his head.

Both teams make a pitch at the London Visitor Centre, a potentially lucrative source of ticket sales. For Apollo, Stuart wants to sell tickets at £35 per adult and tries to negotiate the agency down from their standard 35% of ticket sales to 25%. They are not impressed. Chris then comes in and offers them 20% of total revenue (not just ticket sales), his first-born and a pound of flesh. It’s unclear whether this is a bold (if unauthorised) negotiating move, or just plain naivety. Regardless: kerching! The agency opts to take up Synergy’s offer. Gift horse.

You wait hours for a muppet in uniform, then three turn up at once

A new day dawns, and two fly-by-night tour bus operations prepare to launch themselves on an unsuspecting public. Apollo stride down the road in their red uniforms looking like a Virgin air crew. Synergy are dressed in chauffeur grey – Joanna appears to have been given a hat three sizes too big for her head, while Jamie looks more like Parker from Thunderbirds. It’s a bit like that scene in Reservoir Dogs. Except for it being nothing like it.

Hang on, I thought you said we were going to be airline cabin crew ... (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk/apprentice)

First order of the day for Joanna is to try to renegotiate Chris’s agreement at the Visitor Centre. Not surprisingly, she gets short shrift from the agency and is accused of trying to renege on the deal. Anyhow, on with the tours. I must say at this point that I am full of admiration for both Jamie and Stella. Learning to be a guide in less than a day is seriously tough. Now that I’ve said that, let’s have a laugh at Jamie’s patter:

The river Thames is literally drenched in history. It’s the second largest river in London.

Literally drenched? Are you sure? And what exactly is the largest river in London? Nick, sitting at the back of the bus like a naughty schoolboy, mentally crosses off the invite for Jamie to join his pub quiz team.

Straight ahead of you we’ve got Big Ben. The face of the clock is 20 diameters in width.

O-kaaay. I’m pretty sure the face of any circle is exactly one diameter in width. Cue a cut-away to a confused girl, who will now no doubt fail her GCSE maths exam.

I think it’s only fair we start talking about Westminster Abbey because once again this is an incredibly important part of England’s history. So you can go there and, well, it’s a church.

Factually accurate, if nothing else.

You see the building which looks like a gherkin? It’s called the ‘Gherkin’ because it looks like a gherkin.

You don’t say. Meanwhile, on the Cockney Tour Stella is showing off her fun and silly side. Which looks suspiciously like her corporate, wooden side. However, she has not yet claimed that London is the capital of France, so that’s something.

Desperately seeking customers for his lunchtime tour, Stuart tries to tout for business on the doorstep of the London Visitor Centre and threatens to call the police when asked to move on. He then swoops in on Trafalgar Square and tries to muscle in where Joanna and Chris are already pitching, inciting Chris into an F-word laden tirade which he somehow still manages to deliver in his usual monotone. Impressive.

Seconds out, round two

With a full bus of tourists for his second run, Jamie is getting into the swing of things and actually doing quite well. Stella, meanwhile, has just eight people and is threatening to start up a round of Knees Up Mother Brown. She might be better off watching where she is, though, as her bus rolls down Whitehall:

Ah, the Cenotaph. We missed the Cenotaph. Never mind. Downing Street, where’s Downing Street? Missed it again. Sorry! We can pop in another time.

And there I was thinking it was supposed to be a sight-seeing tour. Back in the East End, she is unable to find her jellied eels stall and tries to pass off some random graffiti as the work of Banksy. That odour you can detect is the smell of desperation.

Jamie is going strong as he tells the story of Sweeney Todd to his tour group, although perhaps his somewhat graphic patter should come with a ’15’ rating:

The famous Sweeney Todd meticulously killed over 150 people. Sweeney Todd cut their throats and as the victim was there bleeding, gasping for air, Sweeney Todd would drop them through a trap door, their skull would crush on the floor and their neck would break … And then minced the bodies down and put the bodies into the pies.

Next week: Jamie reads Frankenstein to toddlers as a bedtime story.

Seriously, though, he really is doing very well. He engages the whole bus in a rendition of London’s Burning, while Stella struggles to get her small group of waifs and strays to join in with Knees Up Mother Brown. We do
not get to see if either of them tries to do The Wheels On The Bus, though.

Both teams have a third and final tour scheduled. Joanna ends up cancelling Synergy’s three o’clock tour, while Apollo set off an hour later with an almost full bus.

Yeah, yeah. We’ve seen this trick before. We all know who’s won, really, don’t we?

Boardroom Brouhaha™

And so to the boardroom. Sugar starts by interrogating Synergy. Nick is fulsome with his praise for Jamie’s tour guide skills, but Sugar quizzes Chris about the deal he made at the London Visitor Centre. Mister Monotone™ dresses it up as a clever negotiating ploy, as opposed to the complete cock-up I suspect it really was.

For Synergy, Stella admits that map reading isn’t really her strong point. And Stuart and Chris – to the credit of both of them – shrug off their Trafalgar Square turf war as a heat-of-the-moment thing, with both declaring their mutual respect for each other.

On to the results. Apollo, unencumbered by the need to give away commission, made a profit of £834.30. Synergy, despite cancelling their last tour of the day and having to give away 20% of their total sales, nonetheless made a profit of £1,099.33 – underlining the importance of securing the Visitor Centre. Stuart looks like he’s just been asked to eat a vat of jellied eels.

For their treat, Joanna and her team are flown out to Jersey to catch oysters and eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Stuart and his team retreat to the Substitute Cafeteria That Isn’t The Real Cafe of Broken Dreams™ to catch flies and eat a Michelin tyre. Stuart shrugs disconsolately and says he’s gutted. Stella says how she put her heart and soul into the task. Liz looks all doe-eyed, sighs and pouts a bit.

Back in the boardroom, Stuart admits he set his pricing too high. Sugar reprimands him for trying to negotiate down the agency’s standard 35% cut, and praises Chris for his “shrewd business move”. (Eh? What?) He then lays into Liz for not helping Stuart come up with an innovative approach on pricing:

The fact of the matter is that you’re the one with a business degree and I’m starting wonder have you shown me anything where you’ve gone “I’m going to deal with this in a special way.”

We learn that Liz sold nearly twice as much as Stuart, an apparent plus point that Sugar immediately turns into a minus:

Is she just a one trick pony? Is that all she can do: sell?

And Nick, mischievous as ever, lobs in one final grenade while Apollo wait nervously outside:

You can always get rid of two.

You little devil, Nick.

Summoned back in, Stuart launches an impassioned defence as the banter flies backwards and forwards between himself and Sugar:

Stuart: I’ll work for you 24/7. Sugar: I don’t need a night-watchman.

And the following statement, which even brings a smile out of Stella:

I’m not a one-trick pony. I’m not a 10-trick pony. I’m a whole field of ponies – and they’re literally all running towards this job.

But Sugar has stepped up his game in the wise-cracking department too, remarking on the 21-year old’s youth:

You certainly believe in yourself but the fact of the matter is it wasn’t so long ago that you believed in the tooth fairy also.

Stuart isn’t done yet, though. He caps off one of the most impressive boardroom performances I have seen in six years of The Apprentice, he talks about how he, like Sugar, built himself up from nothing, concluding:

I’m not going to lie to you. Betting on me will be a punt, but it will be one which is going to pay off massively.

It is clear now that Sugar is going to give Stuart another chance. But he also starts to reveal exactly what he is looking for in this year’s winner – not a great salesperson, but an ‘ideas’ person:

I’m looking for something very special. What I need is a different type of person – someone very unusual to find something new, go somewhere else, come up with some ideas.

In those few words, Sugar redefines the rules of the game and Stuart suddenly becomes a genuine contender.

To reinforce this sea-change, Sugar tells him:

You have got a lot of faults but maybe that’s not a bad thing. That can be knocked out of you.

With that he turns to Liz, who can now see which way the wind is blowing and is struggling to hold back the tears, and points the dreaded Digit of Doom™ at the face that launched a thousand betting slips. And so Liz departs in the Taxi to Obscurity™ – or, in this case, The Taxi Back to the Life of a Footballer’s WAG. (She is in a relationship with Preston goalkeeper Wayne Henderson.)

Back at the house, Joanna, Jamie and Chris all agree that Liz is safe and Stuart is, basically, toast. They cannot believe their eyes when Stuart walks back in with Stella. The game is afoot, people. The Brand™ now needs to be taken seriously. Which means, of course, he is probably going to get booted out next week.

Was I the only person who thought Liz wouldn't make the final? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Was Liz’s dismissal really such a shock? Not to me, as I have never rated her higher than second or, more recently, third-ranked girl. She can count herself hard done by not to have outlasted both Chris and Jamie, but on this critical task she took her foot off the gas and relied solely on her selling skills to see her through. Her project management skills were not the strongest either. Somewhat ironically – given how quick she was to reinforce the perception of Stella as being too ‘corporate’ – she would probably fit well in a structured corporate environment, but not as a creative entrepreneur. And that, as we now know, is what Sugar is angling for.

Finally, the cynic in me wonders to what extent Sugar is already aware of the candidates’ backgrounds over the course of the show. It’s hard to imagine that he isn’t briefed on each individual at some point in the process. Would knowing Liz is a football WAG make Sugar suspicious about her motives for being on the show? I suspect so. The last thing he would want is to appoint a winner and then have her quit immediately to set up a new series of WAGS’ Boutique.

One job, now just five candidates remain. Lord Sugar’s search for an Apprentice with the talent to match their ego – or even, at a pinch, any discernible talent whatsoever – continues.

Next week: The dreaded interviews – but with the return of Margaret Mountford. Hurrah! Five will become two as Lord Sugar’s team of trusted advisors trot out the sort of inappropriate questions you would never be allowed to ask in a proper interview, and Sugar uses them to justify his choice of the two finalists he has already decided upon anyway. (Cynical, moi?)

Rating: Episode 6.10 – 4/5

A special episode – The Apprentice: The Final Five – airs tonight (Thursday 9th) on BBC1 at 8pm. The penultimate episode is on Wednesday 15th December, as usual. The final will be broadcast on Sunday 19th.

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?

Episode 6.08: Crisps

Episode 6.09: Discount buying

What can we learn from the fired candidates?