It may only be week three of The Apprentice, but an old favourite returns as the teams are tasked with finding ten items at the lowest possible prices to help complete the refurbishment of London’s Savoy Hotel. Which is a bit like popping down to Matalan to pick those last few outfits to parade on the catwalk at London Fashion Week, isn’t it? Nothing says class like The Apprentice meets Bargain Hunt, eh?
After his entire Logic team failed to work out what a cloche is – it’s not a ‘clock’ or a ‘cloché’, although the candidates’ ignorance is now a bit of a cliché – short-sighted optician Gavin Winstanley became the latest casualty of the boardroom as Venture completed a (top) hat-trick of wins by the narrowest of margins.
The discount buying task has long been a staple of The Apprentice, requiring teams to demonstrate their research, time management and negotiation skills, and also apply a modicum of common sense. It is this final requirement where the candidates most often fall down, and this year is no exception. Last season, this task finally spelt the end of the road for polo-neck wearing Laura ‘The Whinger’™ Moore, who was fired after a particularly ham-fisted negotiation while snuffling for truffles in a swanky Knightsbridge restaurant. This year’s lot are even worse …
Susan flies, while Gavin flounders
After Melody Hossaini wins the all-important Race to the Phone™ – and we are told in the world’s biggest non-sequiter that one of the girls (Natasha Scribbins, I think) cannot find her underwear – the candidates are whisked away from the Apprenti-Mansion™ to the Savoy for their briefing from Lord Sugar. En route in the Apprenti-Carriers™, Vince
Disney Disneur philosophically states:
There is no option but to win.
Other than losing, of course.
At the Savoy, Sugar outlines their task in helping the hotel to complete their three-year, £200m-plus refurb by acquiring the following list of motley items in nine hours:
- A cloche (a bell-shaped metal cover for food dishes)
- A top hat
- 7kg of fillet steak
- Chandelier bulbs
- A brass sign for the wine cellar
- Organza silk
- Crushed ice
- 500 rolls of three-ply toilet paper
- Physalis (a type of exotic fruit)
- 10kg of camomile flowers tea
As the boys’ team, Logic, have lost both tasks to date, a slight reshuffle is in order. Leon Doyle, Jim Eastwood and Glenn Ward are sent over to Venture, while Natasha, Ellie Reed, Zoe Beresford and Melody “Dalai Lama’s My BFF” Hossaini move across to Logic.
Market trader Susan Ma and opticians’ MD Gavin are nominated as project managers, and their differing management styles are soon all too evident. For Venture, Susan is all brisk efficiency, while Gavin makes an arthritic tortoise on a really lethargic day look like Usain Bolt.
Venture are out of the door before you can say “They want 500 rolls of what?!?”, while Logic fritter away over three hours by descending into anarchic chaos as Gavin fails to control his team, who are mostly ignoring him anyway. Recruitment manager Natasha’s contribution is to phone the Ritz, a direct competitor of the Savoy:
What we’d like to do is be able to have access to your current procurement list, give your suppliers a call and actually look at purchasing from them. So it’s a win-win situation.
Er, how exactly? Hi, would you like to help out the competition? You’ll really see the difference on your bottom line! And I’ll say thank you really nicely and friend you on Facebook.
This prompts Scouser Gavin to have what can only be described as a Harry Enfield moment as he asks everyone to calm down.
Well, he gets points for comedy, if nothing else. Round one to Susan and Venture.
Retail therapy – or, at least, the teams will need therapy after this retail exercise
Let’s look at the highlights – there are so many of them! – from the teams’ mad dash backwards and forwards across London.
Venture attempt to buy a top hat in St James’s from a shop which proclaims itself to be hat-makers to the aristocracy (and, as Nick Hewer reliably informs us, the King of Tonga). Felicity Jackson tries to negotiate a discount. The salesman goes away to “consult with a colleague”, which I believe is code for “break into uncontrollable fits of laughter off-camera”. Susan eventually negotiates a 1p discount. They later attempt to buy organza silk in the bargain basement that is Mayfair, and their tea from The Rare Tea Company which, let’s face it, doesn’t sound like it is going to offer pound-shop prices, does it? (They end up paying an eye-watering £410 for it, £187 more than Logic.)
Felicity seems genuinely affronted that people aren’t falling over themselves to offer them money off. This seems to confirm my original view of her: that she is about as grounded in reality as an oversized helium balloon tethered to Paris Hilton.
Jim, with his Irish eyes and lilting accent, proves yet again to be a master negotiator. He gets a good deal on the fillet steak – despite the best efforts of Evil Edna Agbarha the Control Freak Über-Bitch from Hell™ to butt into the negotiations – agreeing a price of £180 and then, having closed the deal, manages to wangle another £10 off. (I sense the influence of the Camera Crew Effect™.) He subsequently charms his way to another discount on the chandelier bulbs. As he himself says:
I’m an Irish bulldozer of charm.
Meanwhile, how are Logic doing? Vince, as we already know, also fancies himself as a one-man charm offensive. Gavin has fobbed off the three girls – Ellie, Natasha and Zoe – on him, but the old
Disney Disneur magic succeeds only in charming the pants back onto them. As he tells the three ladies:
The name of the game is to buy all these products at the best price.
Really? And I thought it was actually just Cluedo.
Vince also can’t keep his nose out of other people’s negotiations. At one point he snatches the phone out of Ellie’s hands mid-negotiation, and he cuts Natasha off mid-barter as she is trying to negotiate a price for the brass sign. Mind you, her idea of negotiating is to offer £20, rapidly followed by £30 and £40 while the vendor remains unmoved. She then has the audacity to get in a huff and claim:
I think I could have driven the price down further.
Clearly, Natasha’s idea of ‘down’ is not the same as the commonly held dictionary definition.
Mind you, their team leader isn’t doing much better. He hasn’t made the mistake of trying to buy a top hat in St James’s. Oh no. He goes to an establishment named Top Hat Dry Cleaners, and then is shocked to discover they don’t sell top hats. Fortunately, the footage of him trying to buy a vindaloo in Currys and a refrigerator in Selfridges mysteriously ends up on the cutting room floor. He does, at least, have the sense to go to Shepherd’s Bush rather than Mayfair for his silk – paying 25% less than Susan as a result – although I’m surprised he didn’t try to buy wool there instead.
Never mind, Gavin can always rely on Vince to bail him out. His sub-team is attempting to buy toilet paper in Wembley and crushed ice somewhere on the Iberian peninsula, all of which he thinks he can manage with a fair wind. This is the point at which he snatches the phone from Ellie, leading to this withering assessment:
He’s what I call in my industry a bit of a wide boy – a Billy Bullshit.
I’m growing to like Ellie more and more every time she opens her mouth.
Back in the boardroom, Susan rightly earns praise from her team for being a good project manager, as does Jim for leading his sub-team. Venture did pick some poor locations to go hunting for discounts, but in fairness Susan did direct her team to look south and east in London for better prices, an instruction which was clearly ignored by some.
When asked what they think of Gavin’s leadership skills, his team’s response is to stare at their shoes in awkward silence, with Vince finally mustering a grudging “not bad”. And it’s hard not to disagree with that assessment when we discover that Logic only succeeded in procuring six of their ten items (versus nine for Venture), a failure which Sugar repeatedly batters Gavin for – conveniently forgetting that Jamie Lester‘s team won this same task last year despite only buying seven out of ten.
And, as it turns out, Logic very nearly win. Including fines they spent £1,389.20, compared with £1,381.69 for Venture. Susan has won by £7.51 – and indeed very nearly lost it by massively overpaying for their tea and silk. Jim’s sneaky extra tenner off the fillet steak – and his negotiating skills in general – won this task for Venture essentially single-handed. When Irish eyes are smiling, indeed. It’s three wins out of three for Venture – a veritable top hat-trick.
For the winners, it’s off to a circus cabaret. For the clowns who lost the task, it’s a quick cuppa at the Cafe of Broken Dreams™.
In truth, the boardroom is a bit of an anti-climax, as there is clearly only one loser. Vince gets hammered for his logistics failings and the way he treated the women in his sub-team, with Gavin saying:
He couldn’t run a bath, honestly.
Natahsa is ridiculed for attempting to get information from a competitor. Zoe is singled out for being the only team member not to do a negotiation. And Tom Pellereau delivers a damning verdict on Gavin when he says he looked like “a beaten man” towards the end of the day.
Gavin elects to bring Vince and Zoe back into the boardroom. Zoe states (not unreasonably) that it’s difficult to get her point across when “I’ve just got a load of hot air in the team”. Vince starts referring to himself in the third person (“Vincent makes all the calls. Vincent closes all the meetings.”)
And Gavin, well, doesn’t really put up much of a fight. So it comes as no surprise when Sugar directs the Digit of Doom™ at Mr Magoo, saying:
I’ve concluded that, because the task was out of hand, Gavin, you’re fired.
In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Gavin trots out the usual
I’m absolutely gutted that I haven’t gone further in this process. Lord Sugar’s made a mistake in firing me. He’s looking for a business partner, he’s not looking for an employee. If he’s looking for someone like Vincent then good luck to him.
It’s certainly true that Sugar has made irrational firings in the past based on the flimsiest of reasons. Not this time, though.
Three candidates gone, 13 – unlucky for some? – remain. The search continues. Needle? Haystack?
Next week: The candidates must set up beauty treatment businesses in Birmingham. This one could get ugly.
The Apprentice continues on BBC1, Wednesday at 9pm. Companion show You’re Fired follows on BBC2 at 10pm.
Link: BBC official website
Whatever happened to the previous Apprentice winners?