The Apprentice: Lots of perspiration, not much inspiration

Ricky tried to land a knockout blow but ended up down for the count (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk) Ricky tried to land a knockout blow but ended up down for the count (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

WARNING! Contains spoilers

The candidates worked up a sweat this week as they were tasked with devising a new fitness programme. While Sterling’s Beat Battle mixed martial arts and dance class seemed more fit for purpose, they were knocked out by Phoenix’s retro Groove Train. In the boardroom it was every man for himself, and when it came down to survival of the fittest Duane Bryan became the fifth recipient of Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™.

Ricky tried to land a knockout blow but ended up down for the count (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Lords of the Dance

Does Gabrielle sleep fully dressed? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s 6.15am at the Apprenti-Mansion™. With most of the candidates dreaming sweet dreams – nightmares? – of Eco Press bins, Octi-Kleen and Cüülis, it is a suspiciously fully-dressed and made-up Gabrielle Omar who wins the Race to the Phone™ ahead of a half-asleep Jenna Whittingham. The teams are summoned to York Hall in Bethnal Green, a well-known boxing venue. Sugar informs them their task is to create a new fitness class to pitch to three leading health clubs, with the team which generates the most sales in licences winning. (This immediately set off a load of alarm bells in my head as to how this task might be won unfairly – but more of that later.)

No Apprenti-Team Shuffle™ this week, so the teams remain unchanged. On Sterling we have Duane Bryan, Gabrielle, Jenna, Laura Hogg, Nick Holzherr and Ricky ‘Even More Camp Than The Other Ricky Martin’ Martin. Meanwhile, Phoenix consists of Adam ‘I’m Brilliant, Me’ Corbally, Azhar Siddique, Jade Nash, Katie Wright the (Not So) Silent Assassin, Stephen Brady and Tom Gearing. Stephen, a sales manager for health clubs, is quickly named project manager for Phoenix, while Ricky gets voted in over Jenna. Sterling’s PM claims his nickname is ‘The Fitness’ because:

You’ll always witness the Fitness with Ricky Martin.

Our recruitment manager by day/professional wrestler by night has, I suspect, been hit over the head with a chair one time too many.

Katie suggested a dating class. Really? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The first order of the day is to brainstorm ideas and flesh these out into a concept. After Adam (he’s brilliant, remember?) comes up with Fit Skip and Katie suggests some sort of dating class (er, what?), Phoenix settle on a retro theme. After a visit to an Eighties dance troupe and the ghoulish vision of Adam, Azhar and Stephen imitating Michael Jackson’s Thriller – shocker, more like – they leave thoroughly enthused and armed with hula hoops and space hoppers. (What, no Chopper bike?)

Not everyone is so taken with the idea, though. Tom asks whether gyms will want to buy all this new equipment and questions where they will store it. His concerns fall on deaf ears. As I’ve noted previously, shades of Tom Pellereau?

Sterling come up with the idea of combining the popular trends of street dance and martial arts in a concept which Gabrielle dubs Beat Battle. Not bad. Nick Holzherr is a bit bemused by it all though:

We’ve decided that the swing jack style or swing something jack is probably something that might fit in.

Hit the road, Jack, maybe?

I’ve got the moves like Jagger

The following morning both teams split into two, with half heading off to shoot a promotional video, while the others prepare their pitch for the following day.

Duane was more of a great dictator than a great director (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Ricky delegates responsibility for the shoot to Duane. This clearly goes to his head as he suddenly starts thinking he’s Franco Zeffirelli. Or possibly General Franco. He even does that framing thing by making a rectangle with his fingers, and promptly spends the rest of the day ordering Laura and Nick about and ignoring their input.

While Duane directs, Laura – who has some prior experience as Dance Barbie (Ken available separately) – takes on the role of choreographer, coordinating the team’s signature martial arts moves to the tune of Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger. Nick wears a headset and wanders around looking generally bemused. I can’t say I blame him. The atmosphere becomes more fraught as the day goes on, spilling over into the Apprenti-Carrier™ and from there into the editing suite as Duane insists on getting his own way about everything. This prompts Nick Hewer to observe:

I can begin to see fissures appearing in the closely woven team.

Although it’s equally possible Nick was just getting hot under the collar watching Laura in her gym gear all day.

What a feeling

Things are only slightly better over at Phoenix, who appear to be filming on the disco set from Saturday Night Fever.

Azhar's shorts left little to the imagination (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Azhar volunteers to take a starring role in the video. He leads the dancers and provides the voice-over, all the while wearing a pair of skimpy, tight shorts which even a footballer of that era would have blushed at.

Jade is directing, while Adam’s role appears to be to generally chivvy everyone along and sing the words to their backing track – Irene Cara’s Flashdance (What a Feeling) – with a level of tone-deafness which Geri Haliwell can only aspire to. Watch out for him on the next series of Britain’s Got (No) Talent.

Of course, it is only a matter of time before Adam – has he ever mentioned how brilliant he is? – is annoying Jade by trying to muscle in on her role and generally back-seat driving editing her to distraction, as he is all too happy to tell the camera:

Apparently Jade’s the creative one in the group. I personally haven’t witnessed anything. All she creates is problems.

He says, creating problems.

Shut up and dance

En route to their first pitch, project manager Ricky ponders:

If the video doesn’t sell it, it might not work.

Hmm, I wonder why that little snippet made the broadcast edit?

Ricky managed both his team and his pitches well (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Each team must pitch to three health club chains. Sterling’s first port of call is Virgin Active, where Ricky opens his pitch with the line “My name is Ricky Martin.” I mean, come on. Insert your own joke about livin’ la vida loca or shaking your bon-bon here. That said, his presentation is clear and professional, although it quickly becomes apparent that Duane’s video doesn’t show the uniqueness of the concept – it just looks like any old dance class. Ricky takes the feedback on board and ditches the video at his other two pitches – to Pure Gym and Fitness First – in favour of getting Laura to demonstrate live. At both, Ricky’s pitch is well received and he responds to questions well under pressure.

Phoenix PM Stephen also leads his team’s pitches. Their promotional video featuring a game but awkward-looking Azhar is cheesy in the extreme but has a certain charm to it, in much the same way a film shot by a three-year old on a smartphone would look in your local multiplex – charming, yes, but still utterly crap. As warned by Tom, they soon trip up over both the cost and logistics of storing all their equipment, at which point Stephen starts offering to throw in the equipment as part of the licensing deal and plucking random cost prices out of thin air. (“A Ferrari, sir? No problem. That’ll just be a fiver.”) As a real-life sales pitch, it is shambolic and falls into the Don’t Try This In Real Business, Kids!™ category. Of course, this isn’t real life, is it? It’s The Apprentice

Boardroom brouhaha™

The teams return to the boardroom, where Ricky is praised by his Sterling team for his excellent pitches. However, their promo video receives a less enthusiastic response. On the other side of the table, Katie Wright the (Not So) Silent Assassin sneers dismissively – because, of course, her idea of a dating class was just so brilliant. People in glass houses, et cetera. When Phoenix’s efforts are reviewed, Adam – just – manages to catch himself before he claims credit for the sun rising in the morning, with Karren Brady commenting that he was something of a frustrated director during the video shoot. They’re lucky that their random-number generated product costings aren’t overly scrutinised – I will come back to this in a minute.

Stephen led Phoenix to victory. I'm still not entirely sure how (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

But first, the results. Fitness First were willing to pay a one-off fee of £5,000 to develop Beat Battle. Round one to Sterling. Pure Gyms placed a small trial order for Beat Battle worth £2,970. Round two to Sterling. Of course, we’ve watched this exact scenario unfold before, so it is no surprise when we learn that Virgin Active shunned Beat Battle but placed an order worth £12,810 for Groove Train – making them the overall winners by £4,840.

We have seen tasks ending in a travesty of a result before, but this one was particularly bad for three reasons. Firstly, the product itself was vastly inferior in pretty much every respect. Secondly, Groove Train was pitched as a class aimed at adults – Virgin rejected this but bought it on the premise that it might work for the family market. In other words, Phoenix got their target market wrong. And finally the task was judged purely on licensing sales, but Phoenix threw in all their kit for free to sweeten the deal, and this additional cost was never factored in. What if they had also offered some kind of promotional kick-back, or a brown envelope containing non-sequentially numbered £20 notes? It was a false and unfair means of tipping the task in their favour.

Even Sugar himself was surprised at the outcome of the task, as he revealed on Twitter:

Phoenix are sent off to a luxury health spa for massages, while Sterling make their way to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ to massage their wounded pride.

A second straight week in the final three for Laura (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Back in the boardroom, Sugar notes that it was the video rather than the pitches which drew the negative comments from the health clubs, but questions whether Ricky’s pricing was too high. To be fair, Ricky holds his hands up and accepts responsibility for this. However, he remains adamant the video is to blame, and elects to bring back Laura for diluting the combat element and Duane for his role as director, editor, commander-in-chief and Ruler of the Universe.

With the final three facing one last interrogation, Duane – who has been shown (at least in the edit) to think a little bit too much of himself in the past couple of episodes – reveals perhaps too much confidence by stating that Laura shouldn’t be there. Sugar agrees, saying that he doesn’t understand why Ricky brought her back in. (He should probably have picked Nick instead, who appeared to contribute little to the task other than bemusement and some excellent comic timing in delivering soundbites.) But, despite all Duane’s machinations, there is no escape and he becomes the fifth casualty of the boardroom.

Did I ever mention that Duane is the brother of Simon Webbe, a member of the Noughties boy band Blue? There, I have now.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, Duane’s confidence clearly remains unshaken:

Lord Sugar knows what he wants and unfortunately this time it wasn’t me. That’s not going to take away from me. I’ve got a lot to give, a lot to prove, and I’m going to go out there and do that. I’m hoping you’ve not seen the best of me yet.

He might have been better off quoting one of his brother’s band’s songs:

One for the money and the free rides

It’s two for the lies that you denied

All rise, all rise

Three for the calls you’ve been making

Four for the times you’ve been faking

All rise, all rise

I’m gonna tell it to your face

I rest my case

Was Sugar right to fire Duane? Probably. After a strong start, the confidence which had been impressive in his stint as project manager in the condiments task seemed to turn into something more like a God-complex. When the focus was on him – either as a leader or because the team was pursuing his idea (as it did with the Eco Press) – he was very strong. But when required to perform a more subordinate role, his over-confidence ultimately led him to bite off more than he could chew. He asked for the accountability to make his own decisions with the video – and it backfired on him.

To dismiss Laura would have been harsh, as she performed her task as directed and wasn’t afraid to challenge Duane when she thought he was wrong. Equally Ricky, after some wobbles in earlier weeks, was a highly competent project manager in this episode. He came up with a good concept, delegated well, pitched professionally and was smart enough to change the format of his presentation – dropping the video – to improve things at his final two pitches. The one who got away here was surely Nick.

In the fight for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment, 11 candidates remain. But none of them have a sibling who has had the ‘honour’ of representing the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest. Nul points.

Next week: The teams must make their own gourmet food and sell it on the streets of Edinburgh. In the words of Stuart Baggs: “Excuse me, sir, you look like a sausage connoisseur.”

The Apprentice continues on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC1. Companion programme The Apprentice: You’re Fired! airs immediately afterwards at 10pm on BBC2.

Link: BBC official website

Season 8 reviews

Preview

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Condiments

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