The Apprentice: Never mind the quality, feel the cheese

Tom perhaps enjoyed this task a little too much - but still emerged victorious (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk) Tom perhaps enjoyed this task a little too much - but still emerged victorious (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

WARNING! Contains spoilers

There are times on the The Apprentice – all too many of them – when watching the teams make a mess of the most basic business decisions is enough to drive you to drink. This week, however, it was the candidates themselves who partook of some English sparkling wine in an attempt to raise awareness of the product. However, once the intoxicating effects had worn off, both teams found their bubbles burst as their promotional campaigns fell flat, and beauty salon owner Jenna Whittingham became the ninth casualty of the boardroom as Lord Sugar raised his Digit of Doom™ in her direction.

Tom perhaps enjoyed this task a little too much – but still emerged victorious (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Delusions of Grandeur

It’s 5:45am at the Apprenti-Mansion™, and a bleary-eyed Stephen Brady wins the Race to the Phone™. He informs his equally somnolent fellow candidates that their destination is the Champagne Bar at St Pancras International, the longest of its kind in Europe. There, in a (for once) Not-So-Tenuous Task Link™, Sugar briefs them on their task: to raise consumer awareness of English sparkling wines by creating a new image, website and online marketing campaign for the product, which they must then pitch to a panel of industry adverts.

This task was right up Tom’s street (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

With Phoenix now outnumbered five to three after three consecutive defeats, Sugar introduces a new wrinkle on the Apprenti-Team Shuffle™, offering Phoenix the chance to hand-pick a member of the opposing team. Strangely they do not consider the merits of either Stephen or Jenna for more than a nanosecond, before selecting technology entrepreneur Nick Holzherr. So, Sterling are left with Ricky ‘Even More Camp Than The Other Ricky Martin’ Martin, Gabrielle Omar, Stephen and Jenna. Bolstered by Nick’s arrival, Phoenix also include Jade Nash, Adam ‘I’m Brilliant, Me’ Corbally and – hmm – wine investor Tom Gearing.

Unsurprisingly, Tom is a shoo-in as project manager, despite having led Phoenix to defeat only last week, while all four members of Sterling want to take a turn in the hot seat, with Ricky finally coming out on top.

The teams split up and set to work. In the Apprenti-Carrier™ on their way to visit a winery, Tom has to explain to Adam that champagne is sparkling wine. And that wine is a liquid. Which people drink. To help them fall over.

Stephen – a man of many ideas, none of them good (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Sterling, meanwhile, are brainstorming possible brand names. Stephen – ever the Master of the Bad Idea – suggests ‘Cert’, followed by ‘Grandeur’ (to represent Britishness, he says), before finally throwing in ‘Chink’. He cannot understand why Gabrielle recoils from him, mortified. The worst thing is he earnestly believes all three of his suggestions are great ideas – this is the man who came up with Belissimo (sic), remember? – and at least the team finally opts for the least bad of the three, Grandeur.

While Ricky and Jenna learn about sparkling wines at the vineyard – it’s all about quality, apparently (who’d have guessed?) – Stephen and Gabrielle investigate a local Tesco to see what sells to the man in the street. While Gabrielle studiously notes down key colours and themes, Stephen hunts around for a member of staff who is a wine connoisseur to help explain it all to them, and gets quite agitated when he can’t find one. I repeat: they are in Tesco. (Next week: Stephen is stunned to discover that there are no Michelin-starred chefs in McDonald’s.)

Gabrielle put her creative skills to good use (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

At the vineyard, Tom gets to show off his expertise while Adam receives a crash course in wine-tasting – “you can smell Christmas cake”, apparently. To his credit, though, he does throw himself into the experience with enthusiasm. Indeed, he ends up as ‘enthusiastic’ as the proverbial newt as he and Tom enjoy themselves rather too much. If this was a film, it would be Carry On Champers, wouldn’t it?

Back in London at a design agency, Nick and Jade work up a banner bearing the initials ESW (English Sparkling Wine) to be used as a logo, while Gabrielle comes up with a really rather clever rose-as-wine-glass motif, capturing both the nature of the product and the rose as a symbol of Englishness. It’s just a shame it has to be married with Stephen’s brand name, as Nick Hewer casually observes:

One of Stephen’s few contributions was the word ‘grandeur’ as a generic name for English sparkling wines. It’s a French word.

Still, unlike Belissimo, at least he’s spelt in right.

So you think you can choreograph?

The following day, the teams split up again to focus on their website and film an online advert. (No sign of Octi-Kleen, disappointingly.) While project manager Ricky works with Gabrielle on the web design, Stephen and Jenna are despatched to shoot their wedding-themed ad. Sent with clear instructions to convey the quality of the product and not allow the ad to become too cheesy or gimmicky, Jenna proceeds to build the ad around ill-conceived attempts to be funny and tells actors to carry on like Basil Fawlty – because nothing speaks quality and class quite like Fawlty Towers, eh? Meanwhile Stephen watches on, his biggest contribution being a passable impersonation of one of those nodding dog toys.

Poor Ricky. He had earlier told the camera:

Surely even they can’t get it wrong?

Wanna bet?

Adam the non-dancing ‘choreographer’ (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

For Sterling, Tom elects to work with Nick on the website, sending Jade and Adam to a gastro pub to film their promotional video. The same pair clashed over directing their advert in the fitness programme task, and Jade ends up similarly frustrated here. Adam wanders around directing the actors after loudly announcing “I’m the choreographer”. O-kaaay. Meanwhile Tom and Nick produce a professional-looking site, but one that is more geared towards driving sales rather than awareness, thereby missing the brief. Of course, this is The Apprentice, where nobody cares about the teams actually fulfilling the brief. Don’t Try This In Real Business, Kids!™ It really doesn’t work.

At day’s end, the project managers finally arrive to see their teammates’ finished adverts. Ricky is visibly unhappy about the cheesiness of Sterling’s ad, while Tom admits to Nick later than Jade and Adam’s ad is a bit boring. It’s not looking good for either team.

A spot of panel-beating

Day three of the task is all about pitching their campaigns to a panel of wine industry experts, and it’s fair to say both teams take a bit of a beating from the panel.

My name is Ricky Martin, and I’m livin’ la vida loca … (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

En route, Stephen encourages Ricky to practise his presentation out loud. “My name is Ricky Martin …” – there is simply no circumstance in which that’s not going to be funny, is there? To be fair, Ricky’s actual pitch starts well. He hits the key points about raising awareness and promoting product quality, the website design is encouraged to engage potential consumers and Gabrielle’s rose glass design goes down well. And then they show the ad. While Stephen beams with pride, the panel’s faces visibly fall at the cheesy unfunniness of it all. Seriously, Bernard Manning at an ethnic awards ceremony would go down better. That sound you hear is the thud of a lead balloon dropping.

Phoenix’s pitch for ESW never quite takes off. The team’s idea of having a recognisable logo which would be stamped on to the bottles of all English sparking wines to aid recognition by the consumer and reassure them of the product’s quality is actually quite sound. But their website is obviously sales-focussed rather than awareness-building, while their ad comes under fire for being clichéd and dull.

Both presentations have good and bad points. It’s a tough result to call.

Boardroom brouhaha™

In the boardroom, Sugar attacks Phoenix for missing the marketing brief and for the dullness of their campaign, asking if their website URL is http://www.yawn.com. Sterling receive an equally rough ride, however. While Gabrielle receives warranted praise for her logo and Ricky lands a good soundbite, talking about how them against Phoenix’s team of wine and technology experts is like David and Goliath (but David always wins), there is no escaping the shoddiness of their advert, and Stephen’s choice of the French name Grandeur also leaves Sugar unimpressed.

Sugar reiterates that Phoenix completely missed the brief about the focus on awareness-building, but says that Sterling messed up themselves – and declares Tom’s team the winner. As a treat, they are sent to a boutique hotel to enjoy bubbles of a different kind in a rooftop jacuzzi. Meanwhile Sterling head for the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where the only bubbles present are in the washing-up in the sink. A deflated and disappointed Ricky says that he needs to understand how a boring campaign was better than their campaign.

Jenna won’t be winning any awards for her adverts any time soon (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Back inside and facing the piercing gaze of Sugar, the issue of the advert’s cheesiness recurs repeatedly. Indeed Sugar goes as far as to say to them “I don’t know what you were thinking.” Hang on, they were actually thinking?

Stephen chooses to attack Gabrielle for not contributing, despite having come up with the rose logo idea which was universally praised. Ricky jumps to her defence, and Gabrielle highlights his general uselessness at Tesco. Stephen demands specifics, and when Gabrielle actually provides them, he reiterates the same demand to try – and fail – to divert attention from himself. It’s no surprise when Ricky chooses to bring Stephen and Jenna back in with him, as the custodians of the video shoot.

Pondering his decision, Sugar recognises Ricky is smart but queries the way he highlighed the other team’s skills and interprets this as defeatism. (To me, it looked more like Ricky was motivating his team by pushing them on as the supposed underdogs.) Nick and Karren Brady also get their digs in too, with the former summing up Jenna by condemning her with faint priase:

She’s a good sport who tries terribly hard.

And Karren cuts straight to Stephen’s weaknesses:

Stephen is very articulate in this boardroom, but if he’s so clever … what’s to stop him stepping in?

Given one final chance to plead their individual cases, Jenna claims she doesn’t shy away from anything and says:

This video was going to be love it or hate it.

Well, she was half right.

Stephen again chooses to round on the wrong person. With Jenna practically a sitting duck, he elects to attack Ricky while also claiming that he has won six out of eight tasks. (It’s actually six out of nine.)

Sugar has made up his mind, however, and despite her hard work in all the tasks it is Jenna who is fired for ultimately achieving very little other than perforating all her teammates’ eardrums. Just for a moment it looks like Sugar is about to double up by also dismissing Stephen, but he relents and tells him he is only safe because he asked for another chance. Does this mean that begging is now acceptable as a viable survival technique? The downside for him is that in return he must project manage next week’s task which, given that no losing project manager has yet been fired, should guarantee his place in the final six.

A disappointed Jenna put on a brave face in the Taxi to Obscurity™:

I think I would have made Lord Sugar a great business partner. I think he has missed out, but it has made me more determined to go ahead withy my business idea and do it on my own. I am going to be successful and hopefully he may see that he did make a mistake firing me.

I don’t think Sugar did make a mistake in firing Jenna, although how Stephen continues to survive is incomprehensible. She was always enthusiastic and willing, but behind her frequent and loud vocal contributions, she rarely brought anything noteworthy to the tasks. Even in the street food task where she was project manager, she lacked the ability to set a clear vision and relied on others to cajole her into making good decisions. She was certainly a hard worker, but one who struggled to make meaningful contributions in any task. She never struck me as someone in whom you could have the faith to invest £250,000. There are significantly weaker candidates remaining – Stephen for one – but it was time for her to go.

Meanwhile, despite another slightly wobbly week in which he was again a bit too self-indulgent, Tom still stands out to me as a front-runner alongside Nick and Gabrielle. I’ll be amazed if one of those three doesn’t win, although Ricky, despite losing, continues to look strong, as did Adam to a lesser extent. I still struggle to see Adam as a genuine contender – despite another good showing here – although I expect him to outlast both Jade and Stephen.

Next week: The negotiation task. The teams must secure the best possible discounts on products for a daily deal website. This is usually a masterclass in how not to conduct negotiations.

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

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Junk shops

Keep fit

Street food

Flip it in Essex

Street art