The Apprentice: Sacré bleu! Leon gets lost in translation

There are times when the candidates on The Apprentice appear to be speaking a foreign language, one which bears a passing resemblance to business-speak but instead comes out as garbled gobbledygook. For this week’s task, they have to attempt to speak a foreign language – French – for real, but most of their efforts instead come out as, well, garbled gobbledygook. Venture bagged a winner, breaking the boardroom sales record with a child’s booster seat-cum-backpack, while Leon Doyle found himself on the receiving end of Lord Sugar‘s Doigt de Sort Malheureux™ (Digit of Doom).

Zoe Beresford wins this week’s Race to the Phone™, and she tells her fellow candidates they must gather at St Pancras International with their passports. En route in the Apprenti-Carriers™, a modest Melody Hossaini says:

I used to be able to speak six languages. Obviously when we do work at UN level you use a lot of the languages there. Have I mentioned recently that I’m BFFs with the Dalai Lama? I’ve got him on speed-dial, you know.

There is no 'I' in team, but there is definitely a 'me' in Melody (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Helen Milligan turns away, but cannot hide her smirk from the camera. Of Modest Melody’s™ six languages, one of them is actually French. Unfortunately, one of the others is also Bullshit.

Sugar tells the teams they must each select and represent two unique British products, sell them to French retailers and pitch to one of Europe’s biggest home shopping companies, La Redoute. Before despatching them on the train, he moves Helen back to Venture and appoints Tom Pellereau as project manager of Logic.

So, Venture this week are Helen, Zoe, Jim Eastwood and Susan Ma – with Susan volunteering to be PM – while Logic comprises Tom, Melody, Leon and Natasha ‘Yeah?’ Scribbins.

We have seen slightly different versions of this ‘export’ task before. In season three, the teams had to buy and sell British produce at a French farmers’ market, with the losing team making a massive loss after trying (and failing) to get away with buying cheap cheese from Makro and cooking sausages over a tin filled with lighter fuel. And last year, the teams were asked to sell new flavours of crisps in Germany, leading to the demise of Christopher Farrell. In both cases, the fired candidate had previously served in the armed forces. I’m just saying.

Product selection

Half of each team stays behind to select their products – often the most critical step in these tasks – while the others head over to Paris to conduct research and start making appointments. For Logic, Tom and Natasha – wisely – like a natty little child’s car booster seat which doubles up as a backpack and – rather less obviously – fawn over a €140 teapot-shaped light and some pop-up postcards which convert into miniature cress gardens. (In the name of God, why?)

Susan ponders her product selection strategy with Zoe. Having decided she want high volume products, she asks:

Are the French eco-friendly? Do the French go camping? Are the French very fond of their children? Do a lot of people drive in France?

Karren Brady comments that, as questions go, this is “beyond stupid”.

Susan was unsure whether the French liked their children or preferred to eat them with a glass of claret (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Nonetheless, Susan also likes the backpack booster seat, a flexible universal travel grip (which looks a cheap rip-off of a GorillaPod) and a beanbag couch which converts into a child’s bed.

Meanwhile, their Paris-bound colleagues are busy trying to fix up appointments with independent retailers. For Venture, Helen and Jim understandably struggle, given that the extent of their French appears to be Jim’s “petit pois”. Which is fine if you’re selling frozen peas for Birds Eye, but not much else. Melody, travelling with Leon, seems determined to rubbish the booster seat backpack, even though the inventor tells the teams they have “over 36 awards”. (What’s that, 37 then?)

In Paris, her preference for the teapot light over the backpack spills over into her market research. As a non-French speaking Leon draws ‘helpful’ little sketches of their products, Melody willfully mistranslates people’s approval of the backpack and steers her conclusion towards her preference. She also discerns that lots of people use the Metro in France and states confidently that hardly anyone drives. Did she not notice the traffic as she stepped out of Gare du Nord?

Tom defers to the rest of his team and Melody’s unrepresentative research findings. He backs down on the backpack, and runs with the teapot light and pop-up postcards. This leaves Venture free to take the backpack and the travel grip. In that moment, the task is already lost.

It’s all about the big pitch

We have seen this before. Running around making lots of appointments with small independents is all well and good, but you would need dozens of them to equate to one big order from a large national retailer. This task is all about finding the right product which will appeal to the buyers at La Redoute, putting in a killer sales presentation and securing a big order. Everything else is window dressing, and an exercise in efficient division of labour to maximise the number of appointments they can make under their own steam.

Tom used paper-scissors-stone to decide who would pitch to La Redoute. He should, of course, have used a Magic 8-Ball (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

While Venture divide up their other appointments quickly and amicably Melody – showing that really her name should be Me-Me-Melody™ – refuses Tom’s suggestion of sharing the ones she has made, wanting to hoard them all for herself. Last week, Karren accused Jim of being ‘passive-aggressive’ when he was just being plain manipulative – but Melody’s behaviour here is textbook passive-aggressive as she digs in her heels and waits for Tom to cave in, which sadly (and unforgivably) he does.

Tom further blots his copybook by deciding which of himself and Natasha should do the La Redoute pitch with a game of paper-scissors-stone. Natasha wins, but then delivers an unfocussed pitch to an unimpressed set of buyers. When asked what their minimum order quantity is, Tom suggests a minimum of ten. Which is a bit like telling Tesco they have to buy at least five pints of milk from a dairy supplier.

Venture are far more organised and professional. Helen leads their pitch and puts forward the case for their backpack booster seat clearly and compellingly, overcoming some initial doubts. Susan smiles a lot and attempts to assuage concerns by showing that she can fit into a child seat. Make up your own metaphor about what this says about her maturity as a businesswoman. Superior product, superior pitch – there’s no question whatsoever as to which team is going to win here.

Both teams run around Paris trying to push their products onto independent retailers. A few lowlights:

  • Jim, struggling to make himself understood to some Parisian shopkeepers, decides that the best approach is to say exactly the same thing really s-l-o-w-l-y in a cod French accent. It reminds me more than a little of Officer Crabtree from the 80s’ TV comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo:
  • Stuck in heavy congestion in their French Apprenti-Carrier™ – which is, of course, a Mercedes (i.e. German) – Me-Me-Melody™ notes that there is “so much traffic”. Now she notices. Maybe that booster seat wasn’t such a bad idea after all, eh?
  • Tom signs off a telephone conversation with “Ciao”. I’m pretty sure that’s not French …
  • Susan realises late in the day that a product she has been told is most commonly used to hold mobile phones should actually be targeted at, well, mobile phone shops. (Rearrange the following into a well-known phrase or saying. Shit. Sherlock. No.)

At the end of a hard day’s selling – or, in Tom’s case, non-selling – it’s back on the train to dear old Blighty.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Back in the boardroom, the panel of Sugar, Brady and Nick Hewer dissect the team’s efforts. Karren puts the spotlight on Susan’s infantile ignorance of the French. Leon and Me-Me-Melody™ try to make it look as if Tom did nothing (as opposed to them completely ignoring his sensible requests). Tom accuses Melody of just doing whatever she wanted to. Melody defends her ridiculously biased market research.

Helen's record-breaking pitch won the day for Venture (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

For once, there is not even the slightest doubt about which team has won. Nick reports that Logic sold €11,705 to independent retailers, eliciting a smug grin from Melody which is soon wiped off her face by Karren when she reads out Venture’s sales of €14,699. But worse is to come, as it is revealed that Venture sold an Apprentice record €214,000 to La Redoute thanks to a combination of a great product and a great pitch by Helen. Meanwhile Logic sold, er, nothing. It is a crushing defeat, which only highlights how idiotic Logic were to reject the best product of all, and in one moment highlights Tom’s key strength (he identified the best product himself) and weakness (his reluctance to assert his authority).

Venture are treated with flying lessons at Wycombe Air Park – for one afternoon, they can genuinely claim to be ‘high fliers’ – while Logic trudge off to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, accompanied by a suitably baleful cello refrain. A winner yet again, Helen is now eight from eight and just two weeks away from achieving an unprecedented perfect ten.

Back in the boardroom afterwards, Tom points out that he was the one who wanted the backpack, but Sugar tells him he should have put his foot down. He then argues he never got the research into La Redoute he asked Melody and Leon for. Melody tries to weasel her way out, but Nick contradicts her immediately. Leon tries to hide behind his lack of French, before it is pointed out to him how many people they saw spoke perfectly decent English. Natasha, wisely, appears to say very little.

Sugar ridicules Tom’s attempts to impose a minimum order of ten units on La Redoute. Melody says she should have done that pitch, but Nick – who is clearly not a fan – points out that in that case maybe she shouldn’t have hogged all the other appointments for herself instead. Me-Me-Melody™, indeed.

Tom selects Leon and Melody to face the chop. Nick ponders that everyone likes Tom but that Melody pushes too far. Karren questions what Leon’s contribution was other than drawing a teapot.

Me-Me-Melody™ won’t let go of what her beloved market research supposedly told her:

Common sense was telling me why would anyone want to put a car seat into a bag anyway.

Leon's excuse of not being able to speak French was wafer-thin, and he was duly fired. C'est la guerre (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Says the woman with no children who ignored the fact that several Parisians told her it was a good idea. Which only goes to prove that ‘common sense’ is anything but common, and not something that Melody displayed in any great amount on this task. Sugar also quizzes her on her many awards – Volunteer of the Year Award, Woman of the Future Award, Outstanding Asian Woman Achievement Award, 50 metre swimming certificate, I Was Personally Taught By The Dalai Lama And All I Got Was This Lousy Badge – and her business credentials which, to be fair to her, seem to hold water.

Tom, who clearly floundered as project manager here, points out that this is his first visit to the boardroom despite having lost practically every task so far, and clearly strikes a chord with Sugar in terms of his previous business background and achievements.

Leon says something or other.

The result is by now wholly predictable. Sugar immediately excuses Melody, saying he likes her aggression and desire to win:

She’ll tread over anybody. She’ll eat them up and spit them out for her breakfast. That’s what I like about her.

He likes the fact that she’s a cannibal with bad table manners?

And then Sugar pulls a well sign-posted switcheroo, hammering Tom before turning and directing the Doigt de Sort Malheureux™ at Leon.

Although Melody’s behaviour on this task was reprehensible – and will not have endeared her to her fellow candidates – she has done well on previous tasks and has displayed considerable drive, so I think Sugar was right to keep her. Tom, too, is an ideas man who is a poor leader but has proven his ability to create and sell his own products from nothing – and to repeatedly make the right calls during tasks – and therefore deserved another chance here. Leon, however, had faded into the background on too many tasks. He had been shown to be reluctant to pull his own weight when given tasks he didn’t fancy. Despite his protestations in the Taxi to Obscurity™, he deserved to be fired:

I am really upset that he chose me. I really actually saw myself getting to the final and actually working with Lord Sugar. I’m everything I think he’s looking for, so if he’s failed to spot that then it’s his loss.

In truth, Leon was never going to reach the final. Despite having set up his own business, he was a poor presenter and too often lacked the endless drive that the best entrepreneurs have in bucket-loads. Even though Melody hung Tom out to dry – and Tom lacked the strength and confidence to stop that from happening – Sugar made the right decision overall this week. Leon was about as much use as a chocolate teapot masquerading as a lamp-thingy.

In the fight for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment, seven candidates remain. I’m still unclear which one is representing the Monster Raving Loony Party. Possibly all of them.

Next week: The teams must come up with a new brand of biscuit. Will the candidates’ ideas be crackers, or will someone luck in and be a Jammie Dodger? Who will move a step closer to a £250,000 investment which could make them Rich (Tea) and see them getting to Hob Nob with other Z-list celebs? I’ll get my coat.

The Apprentice continues on BBC1, Wednesday at 9pm. Companion show You’re Fired follows on BBC2 at 10pm.

Link: BBC official website

Episode reviews:

Season 7 preview

£250 business start-up

Mobile phone application

Discount buying for the Savoy

Beauty treatments

Create, brand and launch a pet food

Rubbish

Freemium magazine launch

Whatever happened to the previous Apprentice winners?

Season 1: Tim Campbell

Season 2: Michelle Dewberry

Season 3: Simon Ambrose

Season 4: Lee McQueen

Season 5: Yasmina Siadatan