The Apprentice: Helen still the Special Star as Bix Mix gets nixed

The seven remaining candidates on The Apprentice really take the biscuit this week as they are asked to come up with a new idea for, well, biscuits. But while Helen Milligan‘s Venture secure one sizeable, task-winning order, Logic’s snap-and-share concept proves to be not so much damp squib as Limp Bizkit, leading to Lord Sugar directing the Digit of Doom™ – or should that be the Finger of Fudge? – at Zoe Beresford. Still, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, eh?

The Apprentice does Hell’s Kitchen

It’s Sunday evening, and the would-be Apprentices are enjoying a day off at the Apprenti-Mansion™, away from the stresses and strains of the weekly task – but, alas, not from each other. However, they are ‘surprised’ by the unannounced arrival of Lord Sugar. Of course, this visit is entirely unexpected. Except for the fact that the camera crew have been busily setting up around them all afternoon to catch this spontaneous moment. But they do a good job of acting surprised. (The acting gets worse, however.)

Susan's rationale for being project manager was weak, to say the least (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Sugar explains they have two days to invent, brand and pitch a new biscuit product to three of Britain’s top supermarket chains. Tinkerer that he is, he shuffles the teams around again. Natasha ‘Yeah?’ Scribbins moves over to Venture to join Helen and Jim Eastwood, while Zoe and Susan Ma join Tom Pellereau and Melody Hossaini at Logic.

Helen, who has experience in the food trade, quickly volunteers to lead Venture. Susan puts herself forward to lead Logic on the basis that she has experience putting ingredients together – in the cosmetics industry. (I can mix a pretty mean cocktail – it doesn’t make me a biscuit development boffin, does it?) Zoe, quite reasonably, points out that she works in the food industry. Susan seems quite shocked when Tom and Melody vote for Zoe, and goes into her trademark Incredible Sulk™ mode.

As Nick Hewer dryly observes:

Zoe slapped down Susan a couple of times, [just] as somebody slaps down a yapping puppy.

Zoe made the fatal error of not overseeing product development (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Venture despatch Jim off to their development lab in Wales in the Apprenti-Carrier™, as they mull over names for their biscuit which they are targeting at children as an after-school treat. Playing around with Jim’s suggestion of ‘Munch Men’ – well, it’s no worse than EveryDog – Helen comes up with the tag-line “Men that munch” which Natasha – perhaps remembering her assertion on the magazine task that ‘porn sells’ – immediately latches on to as sounding “a bit rude”. She has a point.

After some discussion, Zoe is persuaded by Me-Me-Melody™ to focus on the branding and packaging rather than product development. She sends Melody and Tom off to Wales instead after settling for Melody’s idea of a sharable biscuit. Tom offers up ‘Emer-Crunchy’ as a possible name. Melody pushes the idea of biscuits as the new popcorn. Oh dear. It really is just a different spin on Hell’s Kitchen.

Having called a temporary cessation of hostilities, Zoe and Susan set to work on branding and packaging, but not before Susan gets in one final dig at her team leader:

On a personal level she’s one of the bitchiest and most back-stabbing people I’ve ever met.

I don’t think Zoe will be on Susan’s Christmas card list.

Me-Me-Melody™ does Little Britain

Popscuit, Melody? Really?!? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Test concepts ready, it’s time to dunk them into some focus groups. Jim tests the newly-dubbed star-shaped Special Stars with a sample of mums and kids, and it goes down well. Logic’s assortment box of concepts goes down less well. Tom’s 2-in-1 biscuit is warmly received, while Melody’s popcorn-based Popscuit concept – is it just me, or does that sound like something you would use to treat diarrhoea? – suffers a genuine tumbleweed moment. However, her alternative idea of a half-and-half heart-shaped biscuit gets a thumbs-up. Stalemate.

True to form, just as she did last week in Paris, Me-Me-Melody™ feeds back their focus group findings through her own personal filter, repeatedly pushing her heart biscuit idea like it was the only one people liked. For added emphasis, she does it again. And again.

This prompts Zoe to say in exasperation (and with no small degree of accuracy):

Melody is a nightmare to work with. She’s come up with this one idea and she’s pushing it and pushing it and pushing it. I can imagine that in the focus group she would have talked them to death until they all held up a white flag and say “Yes, we’ll [go with it].”

Eventually they settle on an amalgamation of Tom and Melody’s ideas, to which Melody’s reasoned and carefully constructed response is to screw up her face and say “I don’t like it” repeatedly in a manner more than a little reminiscent of Little Britain‘s Andy Pipkin.

And the Award for Best Actor/Actress does not go to …

Now branded Bix Mix, Logic’s snap-and-share biscuit also has snazzy purple packaging which is not at all ripped off from Cadbury. Honest. It does look good, though. What could possibly go wrong now? Other than, perhaps, Zoe refusing to pick one target market, despite Melody’s repeated insistence that they need to do so. I wonder why Zoe’s not listening to you any more, eh? However, Melody does carry through the idea of a little role-play scene with Tom at the top of their first pitch at Sainsbury’s, to demonstrate how their biscuit might be used to save any marital relationship. It is, quite possibly, the worst idea in Apprentice history. And I don’t say that lightly about the show that brought us Pants Man. To make matters worse, Tom and Melody deliver the kind of wooden performance of a stilted script that is usually only seen in films which can be purchased from, ahem, adult establishments. (Or so I’m told.) Having talked up her various awards in the boardroom last week, I can confidently predict that Melody’s acting prowess here should ensure that the next one she receives will be a Razzie.

Nick is not exaggerating when he says:

The bemused look on the buyers’ faces was something to witness. They looked puzzled and with good reason, I think. A very, very odd way to carry on, really.

It certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Carry On film, Nick.

The Sainsbury’s buyers question whether Zoe’s feminine packaging really can appeal to everyone. Venture’s strap-line of “any time is treat time” is pooh-poohed as something which would turn a lot of mums off. It might appeal to dog owners, though?

Jim's pitch wasn't so much amazing as desperate (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

At Asda for their second pitch Me-Me-Melody™ basically asks Zoe to do exactly as she says, which leads to a heated argument in the middle of the shop floor. However, they do settle for a repositioning of their brand targeted at best female friends. This time Melody and Zoe put in an equally cringeworthy performance which is unlikely to lead to an invitation to join the RSC for either of them.

Both teams also pitch to Waitrose. They pan Venture for having such an overtly sugar-heavy product, and tell Logic they like the concept, packaging and (roleplay-less) pitch, but hate the product itself. But since Waitrose are barely a quarter the size of either Sainsbury’s or Asda, we’re not really that bothered as they are by far the least important pitch in terms of winning this task.

Finally, we are treated to Jim’s pitch at Asda for Special Stars. This is a masterful attempt to complete a Bullshit Bingo card in record time, as he describes their launch plans as follows:

We actually envisage a very significant mass market structure and strategic marketing approach. We have to do above and below-the-line marketing, and there has to be TV advertising. This gives us the opportunity to get our product endorsed at an aspirational level. Stars lends itself to the likes of Harry Potter. In fact, we’ve already gained the commitment of Spielberg to shoot a movie-length ad starring Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and the entire cast of Hollyoaks, with Jedward recording the soundtrack. And we’re going to interrupt live coverage of Will and Kate’s wedding to give it its world premiere.

Okay, I may have made that last bit up.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Our not-so-magnificent seven return to the boardroom to be told that Helen has won again learn their fate. Karren Brady points out the ludicrous promises Jim made in his pitch, prompting Sugar to sarcastically give him the Best Bullshitter In The World Award.

But all this is mere time-wasting banter, as we learn that Logic earned the grand total of zero orders for Bix Mix, whereas Venture secured an order for 800,000 units from Asda, which Jim believes is solely down to his amazing pitching skills. (If promising to invest the GDP of a small African nation to generate a fiver’s worth of sales can be counted as ‘amazing’, that is.) Helen wins again, leaving her one week short of achieving an unprecedented ten wins out of ten. As a reward, Venture are sent off to a luxury country hotel for the day – remember, kids, any time is treat time – while Logic head for the Cafe of Broken Dreams™.

Back in the boardroom, the usual finger-pointing ensues. Zoe and Susan – now the best of ‘frenemies’ – gang up on the product sub-team. Tom defends his creative input. Melody blames the lack of clear direction and targeting, while rubbishing the negative comments the focus group had about her ideas, pointing out that they were just ten out of 60 million people. This, of course, is the same Melody who last week backed the views of a sample of four Parisians before confidently declaring that no one drives in France because it suited her agenda.

Unlike Melody, Tom at least bothered to say goodbye to Zoe (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Essentially, it all descends into a bitch-fight between Zoe and Melody, while Tom and Susan wisely hold their counsel. Unsurprisingly, Zoe elects to bring Tom and Melody back, citing her disruptiveness and his decision to put too much digestive biscuit in a supposedly premium product.

Sugar has some harsh words for Tom, who completely believes he is about to be fired, before Sugar instead fires Zoe for failing in an area she is expert in and not overseeing the product development for herself. But we shouldn’t forget that this was exactly what she had originally intended to do before she was convinced that focussing on the branding would be more important by – Melody.

Outside in the lobby, Tom has the courtesy to console Zoe, while Melody strides off without so much as a glance. Nice.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Zoe admits her error:

The product wasn’t good enough. If I could go back and change it I’d go back and I would be in the factory. But I was swayed by them and I went against my gut instinct.

Returning to the house, Melody tells Tom in arguably the most outrageous case of pot/kettle ever:

That sort of behaviour is childish. It’s personal, it’s unnecessary and I don’t rate that sort of behaviour. And I certainly wouldn’t want that to be a reflection on my business.

While Zoe’s conflagration in Asda was unprofessional, it’s also easy to see how it happened. Melody continues to drive her own ideas at the expense of everyone else’s and in the face of any and all feedback she receives, and while any successful businessperson must have the courage of their convictions, she still refuses to acknowledge that she has made as many wrong calls during tasks as she has right ones. The bluff and bluster can only carry her so far, surely? Or does Sugar see something of himself in her? Time will tell.

Sugar had a valid point that Zoe, with her experience of food production, should have played more of a role in product development, but I’m not entirely convinced it was so cut-and-dried. In this task, both the product and the presentation of the brand were vital factors, and it simply wasn’t possible for the PM to be hands-on with both. If Zoe had overseen the product, would she also have been fired if the branding had been disastrous? Either way, the losing PM on this task was always at risk of being damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

In the fight for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment, six candidates remain. There is light at the end of the tunnel – but is it an onrushing train?

Next week: The teams are given £250 worth of wholesale goods. They must find out which products sell best, and then reinvest their proceeds wisely to generate even more sales. I suspect profits are unlikely.

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

Paris

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