16 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed candidates – “Britain’s entrepreneurial elite”, as the voice-over helpfully informs us – put on their best business suits, give us their moodiest looks and roll out their well-rehearsed soundbites to convince us why they’re the next budding Alan Sugar, Baron
Silas Greenback of Clapton. It could only be the return of The Apprentice, couldn’t it?
The opening episode’s assignment was our old favourite introductory task. Take some seed money, spend it on fruit and veg, and convert it into products the teams can then sell on, hopefully at a profit. Simple enough, eh? After a busy day of wheeling, dealing and double entendres, the girls’ team Venture squeezed the pips out of the boys’ Logic, meaning it was “pasta la vista” for project manager Edward Hunter, who became this season’s first victim of Lord Sugar’s Digit of Doom™.
It’s all about the soundbites
Instead of a £100,000-a-year job in one of Sugar’s businesses, this year’s winner will receive a £250,000 investment in their own business start-up, in return for a 50% stake. Of course, at this early stage the episodes are less about the tasks themselves and more about delivering memorable soundbites in the way that Stuart Baggs the Brand™ launched himself onto an unsuspecting audience in the last season of the show. Here are a few of my favourites from the candidates’ own introductions.
Melody Hossaini, a 26-year old founder and director of a global youth consultancy:
Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit if there are footprints on the moon.
Jim Eastwood, a 32-year old sales and marketing manager who has clearly prepared his soundbite from the Stuart Baggs “field of ponies” handbook:
I’m a doer. I’m a high achiever. I believe that I can be the champion thoroughbred that this process requires.
Disney Disneur, an extremely modest 29-year old telecoms software sales manager:
I’m best of breed within my industry. I’ve got plenty of charisma and, yeah, I’m not bad-looking.
Helen Milligan, a 30-year old CEO’s executive assistant:
My social life, my personal life don’t mean anything to me. I live to work. That’s all I do.
Edna Agbarha, a 36-year old business psychologist whose favourite letters of the alphabet are apparently S and M:
I seek out pain rather than pleasure. A limp handshake is unforgivable.
Tom Pellereau, a 31-year old inventor, who whips off his glasses and says:
Underneath these glasses is a core of steel.
As opposed to the Man of Steel, presumably. No sign of him wearing his underpants outside his trousers à la Superman or, better still, the infamous Pants-Man.
And, of course, Lord Sugar is quite partial to the sound of his own voice as well, delivering his barrow-boy mantras to the assembled candidates in the boardroom:
I’m not looking for bloody salespeople. I’m looking for someone who has got a brain and who is going to start a business with me.
I’m not looking for a sleeping partner. I’m not St Alan, the patron saint of bloody losers. You can look at it as a bit of an uncivil partnership, so to speak.
And with those words of wisdom ringing in their ears, the 16 candidates are whipped away into the Apprenti-Carriers™ to prepare to meet their doom.
What’s in a name?
Before the task can begin, there are three important boxes which need to be ticked.
Firstly, there is the getting-to-know-you bit, otherwise known as the ‘my business is bigger than your business’ strut. So, I’ll see your organic skincare business (Susan Ma) and raise you a global consultancy business (Melody). Or Tom, who invented the world’s first curved nail file. No, really.
Second, each team has to pick a name. For the girls, Helen suggests Galvanised and Platinum while Melody offers up Venture, which wins the vote by virtue of being … actually, I have no idea why. The boys are even more lame. Vince puts forward Ability. Leon Doyle comes up with Leontrepreneur – it’s an amalgamation of ‘Leon’ and ‘entrepreneur’, geddit? – putting him on provisional pole position for my weekly Idiot of the Week award. Finally Glenn Ward suggests Logic – a trifle dull, but the least appalling of an awful selection. So Logic it is. Something which the boys’ team will soon find is sorely lacking.
Finally, we have the all-important battle to be the first project manager, with the almost certain guarantee of becoming the first casualty of the boardroom if they lose. For Venture, it is once again Helen versus Melody, and again Melody comes out on top. Edward forcefully puts himself forward for Logic; the others seem quite relieved to dodge that particular bullet.
Melody clearly thinks she is easily the best candidate for the role:
I was personally taught by Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama.
Which she says in such a way as to suggest that she thinks ‘Dalai’ is his first name. (I wonder if she calls him ‘Dal’ for short?) When she says “personally taught”, I am presuming she once watched one of them speak on TV and follows the other on Twitter.
Making a meal of things
On to the task. The girls decide to sell fruit salad for breakfast and vegetable pasta for lunch. The boys opt for orange juice and tomato soup. Although, when Glenn perceptively asks if anyone actually knows how to make soup, he is greeted with blank looks and stunned silence. Against my initial expectations, I like him already.
Edward’s vision for the tasks is “spend, mash, sell”. He gets off to a fine start in New Covent Garden market by negotiating the price of 16 boxes of oranges from £9.50 a box down to … £9.50. That leaves Jim, who he has designated Soup-Man – well, it’s better than Pants-Man – with £40 and a slightly soiled Oyster card to procure his ingredients. Which he somehow manages to do, geeing up his troops with a rallying cry of:
We are going to make soup like we have never made soup before.
Meanwhile, Melody has delegated Edna to look after costings, which she takes as an instruction to turn into the Control Freak Über-Bitch from Hell™, standing by disapprovingly ready to veto any deal her teammates are negotiating. Her deep pockets and short arms mean the team only spends about two-thirds of its allocated budget, causing the girls to start thinning out the portions in their £2 fruit pots to a grape, an atom’s width of pineapple and a few motes of dust each. Value.
At least the girls make it out to Canary Wharf Shopping Centre in time to catch the morning breakfast trade, where their fruit salad goes down a storm in another shining example of the Camera Crew Effect™ – offer anything to the public with a film crew standing at your shoulder, and they will buy it at any price. Their lunch-time pasta is a flop, however – not helped by Ellie Reed having to ask how to spell ‘vegetable’ – largely because it takes them until mid-afternoon to produce it.
The boys completely miss the morning trade as they try and fail to juice all their 1,400 oranges. Edward dithers hopelessly as Leon fumbles with the juicers. Glenn tries to step in and take charge. Edward’s voice breaks. (It’s possible his balls also drop, but this is unconfirmed.) And Jim steps in saying “I’ll defuse the situation.” Jim, mate, it’s not downtown Kabul.
They do eventually arrive at their lunch-time pitch at Liverpool Street, where they do a roaring trade. Tom asks passers-by if they’d like a hot one. (Oo er, missus.) Meanwhile Edward takes a sub-team to sell juice door-to-door to local offices, where Vince lays on the charm with the ladies.
Food is sold. Excess stock is dumped at knock-down prices. The task is over. And it’s off to the boardroom.
Logic are less than complementary about their project manager. Glenn questions Edward’s tendency to make random decisions without any discussion or backing from the rest of the team – a fair accusation. Karren Brady points out to Edward that he was lucky Jim did a very good deal in the market for the soup ingredients.
When asked by Sugar about his strategy, Edward replies with words straight out of the Bullshit Bingo Random Word Generator™ (available in all good stores):
My business plan, my strategy was different, very different. Bottom up, not top down.
Or, to put it another way:
My plan was not to have a plan.
Having completed his bingo card, Sugar turns his attention to Venture with the line:
Well, we’ve heard the Melody. Now let’s hear from the chorus.
He discovers they only spent £170 of their £250 budget. It was an unwise and potentially fatal error. If someone gives you some money to invest in a start-up, you don’t go and put a third of it straight in the bank. However, Venture get away with it. Karren reveals that Logic sold £339.20 of juice and £92.93 soup for a total of £432.13. Nick Hewer rolls out one of his famous withering looks as he states that the girls sold just £37.28 of their pasta. But then he reports that they made a whopping £555.05 from their fruit sales, giving them a total of £592.33. Despite not spending their full budget, Venture have won by a massive £160.
The girls hug, and back at the Apprenti-Mansion™ the otherwise invisible Felicity Jackson leads a toast of thanks to Melody. (If you freeze-frame the picture, you will see the completely invisible Zoe Beresford, who I don’t think we hear speak in the entire episode.) Susan is less impressed, however:
I feel that Melody’s ability as a project manager has been a little bit exaggerated by the other team members. I honestly didn’t think she was that brilliant.
Meow! It’s a somewhat unfair comment. The girls made it through the task as a united team with only the slightest hint of bitchiness – most of it coming from the supercilious Edna – which is no small achievement given what we have seen in seasons past.
The boys are dispatched to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ for the inevitable post-mortem. Everyone thinks Edward did a terrible job except for Edward, who thinks he was Churchill, Mandela and ‘Dal’ Lama all rolled into one. Naturally.
In the boardroom, the knives are out for Edward. Everyone else unanimously agrees that he had no plan. Jim adds:
He kept a lot of things to himself. It was a need-to-know basis.
Sugar singles out Leon, who had been operating the juicers, as a key bottleneck. Karren sticks the knife into Alex Cabral, the estate agent who hid in the ‘back office’ of the van at lunchtime keeping everything neat and tidy while everyone else was selling their hearts out, making a damning observation:
I can confirm I saw you cleaning and cutting bread.
Finally, Edward decides to bring Leon and Gavin Winstanley back into the boardroom to face the music. His rationale for the former is fair enough – he did manage to break all three juicers and noticeably sidled off into the background when it came to selling.
But his only reason for bringing in Gavin seems to be that he was a bit “sheepish” in putting himself forward as a potential project manager. He attempts to label him as not being a doer, but Karren quickly debunks that by pointing out he was in fact the second-best seller. It exposes a poor tactical choice on Edward’s behalf, the last in a series of catastrophic decisions.
Even his last-ditch attempts to defend himself ring awfully hollow, his voice breaking again at a moment of crisis as he trots out a line which would have shamed a Junior Apprentice candidate:
Not only am I the youngest in the team, I’m the shortest.
O-kaaay. In a team of big egos, though, his was arguably the largest of all. Did anyone say ‘Napoleon Complex’?
His fate is sealed. Sugar sums up the case for the prosecution and directs the Digit of Doom™:
You had no expertise here. You just felt you were going to do it all in your head.
You said on your res-oo-may that “I’m Lord Sugar’s dream.” With the greatest respect, you’ve been a bit of a nightmare and so for that reason, Edward, I’ve got to say to you: you’re fired.
Edward is whisked away in the Taxi to Obscurity™, where he reflects:
He didn’t see what he wanted in me and I can accept that. I’m only 25. The world is my oyster, roll with the punches. Clichés aren’t my cup of tea. I gave 110%. It’s dog eat dog.
Okay, I may have made the last three up.
So there we have it. 15 candidates remain. Lord Sugar’s search for his business partner has begun. I pretty much hate most of them already. Which means we’re in for yet another fantastic season …
In tomorrow’s (Wednesday) second episode, the teams have to create and sell their own mobile phone application. Oh. My. God.
The Apprentice continues tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm on BBC1, and every Wednesday thereafter.
Link: BBC official website
Whatever happened to the previous Apprentice winners?
- First Night: The Apprentice, BBC1, 9pm (independent.co.uk)
- In the Soup (notreallyworking.wordpress.com)
- The Apprentice is back… (contains spoilers) (nickspearing.wordpress.com)