The Apprentice: A close shave as bromance develops amidst Sweet Things

So, who fancies a cut-throat shave given an untrained professional wrestler? No takers? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk) So, who fancies a cut-throat shave given an untrained professional wrestler? No takers? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

WARNING! Contains spoilers

A week before the final was a little late for a bromance to develop, but develop it did as The Apprentice crossed paths with Brokeback Mountain to bring us the story of a touching relationship between Ricky Martin and Tom Gearing as they combined to win the last weekly task. Meanwhile market trader Adam Corbally paid the ultimate price for a scattergun strategy which left viewers, industry experts and even his own team somewhat bemused, as he became the eleventh victim of Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™, falling one step short of a place Sunday’s final.

So, who fancies a cut-throat shave given by an untrained professional wrestler? No takers? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

A battle for the ages: sweets versus hair product

Adam was made project manager for the second time, and recorded his second loss (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

As usual, early morning at the Apprenti-Mansion™ is disrupted by that annoying phone, but at least this week we get a vague sense of competition as Jade Nash edges out Ricky ‘Even More Camp Than The Other Ricky Martin’ Martin in the Race Casual Stroll to the Phone™. Our remaining five candidates are summoned to Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly, where Lord Sugar briefs them on their final task. They must create an affordable luxury range and present it to a group of industry experts – and Lord Sugar himself.

Ricky is all that remains of Sterling after last week’s double firing, so one last Apprenti-Team Shuffle™ sees Tom moved over to join him. Sugar appoints Adam ‘I’m Brilliant, Me’ Corbally as project manager of Phoenix, taking charge of Nick Holzherr and Jade Nash who, we are reminded yet again, Adam doesn’t really think much of. Ricky becomes project manager of Sterling, giving us two project managers with a combined record of 0-3 leading previous tasks. Uh oh. On the bright side, at least one of them will break their duck – while the other will just look like a lame duck.

Tom suggests male grooming as a market to target, to which Ricky readily agrees as he waxes lyrical over his carefully coiffed hair. Is that a bromance I see developing?

Meanwhile Adam embraces Nick’s suggestion of the confectionery market. But while Nick pushes the idea of hot chocolate and having a clear brand message, Adam simply states “I like a bit of everything.” Like a kid in a candy shop? He quickly sends Jade off to Kent to design their range – presumably to avoid having to work with her. Still, at least they don’t have to shoot a video together this week.

Ricky and Tom – we’ll just call them Team Tricky from now on, okay? – are much more focussed, agreeing on a positioning which puts a contemporary spin on heritage.

Sweet little (no)things

While Ricky heads off to a factory in Hampshire, Tom is left in charge of the branding. While en route in the Apprenti-Carrier™, Tricky brainstorm possible brand names. Tom comes up with Dapper, Debonair, Arfterclub and The Grooming Guild, and points out that one of Ricky’s suggestions, Men’s Choice, sounds suspiciously like the sort of magazine you find on the top shelf in the newsagent’s. Apparently. So I’m told.

Phoenix were heavily reliant on Jade throughout this task (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Phoenix are also having similar problems coming up with a catchy name. Adam struggles to get further than Chocoloco and the quite wonderfully inept Chocolate Bar. Stymied, the boys phone Jade, who quickly comes up with Sweet Thing which, while not terribly original, is a hell of a lot better than anything the other two had managed. With that job done, the boys visit a high-class chocolatier, where they spend lots of time scoffing samples and forget to ask any real questions to understand the business model. Two weeks after knocking back the English sparkling wine, Adam is clearly developing a taste for the high life.

Feeling the sugar rush, Adam is suddenly determined to include jellies in his confectionery range. And some Ever-Lasting Gob Stoppers. Just call him Willy Wonka. Or maybe that should be Wonky?

Tom, meanwhile, visits a luxury men’s salon. He utilises his time well to get an understanding of the business model and a feel for the shaving experience.

Incidentally, the flamboyant chocolatier Adam and Nick visited is surely an imitation of this Paul Whitehouse character, isn’t it?

Setting up shop

Both teams are given an empty space to convert into a prototype shop. While Tom briefs in sober charcoal shades and dark woods for Tricky’s flagship hair salon, Adam is all bright colours for his sweet shop experience. (Both are reasonable enough given their product ranges.) Despite objections from both Jade and Nick, Adam remains insistent on keeping his jellies.

Tom may know about street art, but he’s clearly no painter (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Meanwhile, down at their respective factories, Jade and Ricky don the obligatory comedy hairnets. They set to work manufacturing their products: random confections in the case of Phoenix, and a complementary set of shaving cream, aftershave balm and face moisturiser products for Tricky. Jade comes up with the idea of injecting alcohol into Adam’s jellies and labelling them Drunken Jellies (which I rather liked) and mentions pointedly to the camera that she is effectively running the show for Phoenix (which she is). Ricky goes back to throwing around brand ideas with Tom, with the latter finally coming up with Modern Gentleman, which they settle on.

The following morning both teams set up shop. Team Tricky set to work painting – an unfamiliar job to Tom, who looks about as comfortable doing it as I would if asked to defuse a large bomb blindfolded while sitting on a rollercoaster. Adam and Nick proudly show off their various wares – hot chocolate spoons, salted caramel and honeycomb chocolate discs and drunken jellies – to Karren Brady. Less impressive is their lack of pricing strategy. Under the lightest of interrogations from Karren, it is clear that they can’t agree on £2.99 or £4.99 as a selling price, and when asked which of the two price points it is Nick can only answer “Yes.” Oh dear.

Eventually the teams throw their doors open to the arriving Sugar, his group of experts and random consumers. While Phoenix’s store is colourful, crammed full of product and lively, even featuring a cocktail bar, supposedly to complement the sweets (yeah, right), Tricky’s is sober, minimalist and, as Nick Hewer puts it, reminiscent of a closing-down sale. They do, however, have a proper barber to do traditional wet shaves and show off their products. Although I did fear for the poor soul who allowed Ricky to perform the job on him – talk about putting your life in someone else’s hands!

The final pitch

The next morning, both teams prepare for their final – and most important – pitch of this long, arduous process. Again, the two teams are markedly different in their approach. Tricky prepare and rehearse as a team – and I repeat once again that “My name’s Ricky Martin …” will never be unfunny. Phoenix look more like a collection of individuals who have only just met, with Adam scribbling notes on his hand, like all the best presenters don’t.

Team Tricky are the first to present to Sugar and his panel of experts which includes representatives from Green & Blacks chocolate and the Bulldog male grooming brand. The pair dovetail together well and put on a polished, professional presentation, although at one point Ricky does throw out an unfortunate turn of phrase:

We don’t talk a lot about our grooming methods.

Another good pitch by Ricky, but let’s be more careful about how we use the word ‘grooming’ in future, eh? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Mostly because that sort of thing gets you a place on the Sex Offenders Register?

Post-pitch, the soundbites from the collected experts are largely positive: strong presentation, good teamwork – a bromance by any other name – good ‘retailtainment’, a thorough understanding of positioning and business model, but forgettable branding and packaging.

Next up are Phoenix. Jade is articulate and passionate, although her use of the term ‘retail entertainment centre’ as a description of a cocktail bar is perhaps stretching it a bit. (Hey, folks, come and have a look at my ‘mobile beverage transporter’. Yes, it’s a cup.) Adam, by comparison, coughs and stumbles his way through his part of the pitch. Nick coolly talks about their pricing policy: £2.99, £4,99, whatever you feel like paying, really. Questions from the floor quickly reveal how little the team have thought through their strategy, and the post-pitch soundbites are much more downbeat than for Tricky: great range but all felt a bit random and lacking a ‘hero’ product, confusing pitch, not enough homework on the business model.

Boardroom brouhaha™

In the boardroom, Sugar gives his initial assessment of the team’s performances. Team Tricky were passionate but their store concept and branding lacked wow factor – cue reaction shot of a smug-looking Jade – and he questions their minimalist approach. Which, let’s remember, worked perfectly well for Tom when he led his team to victory in the junk shop task. Sometimes less is more, which is why there is a huge difference in stock levels between a high-end fashion boutique and Matalan. He is more complimentary about Phoenix’s bright, full, interesting-looking shop.

However, he then launches into a recap of the experts’ feedback and concludes that the winner of the task has to be the pitch which was better, more professional and had a better thought-out business model – well, duh! – which means a victory for Team Tricky. But no treat. So much for a reward in keeping with the ‘affordable luxury’ theme of the task. Oh well, there’s always the ping-pong table back at the Apprenti-Mansion™. And it’s certainly better than a trip to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where the ‘retail entertainment centre’ serves drinks out of an urn rather than a cocktail shaker, and the only Sweet Thing available is a bowl of sugar cubes.

Bang on cue, we have Adam addressing the camera confidently:

There’s no way on the planet that it will be me that goes tomorrow. No way.

O-kaaay.

Back in the boardroom the following morning, Adam gets off to a bad start. When asked who was responsible for pricing strategy he says Jade. Not true: she was in charge of costings, not pricing, two completely different things. Nick doesn’t help himself by explaining they wanted to pitch their pricing in between supermarkets and specialist chocolatiers – which makes little sense for a team whose ultimate strategy was to drive mass market sales in supermarkets. It’s clear that pricing strategy was non-existent, and Nick goes on to add that the team had no strategy whatsoever. Adam’s haphazard approach to fashioning his range also comes under attack. And the team as a whole catches criticism for their poor pitch preparation.

As Nick Hewer says:

Tom and Ricky drilled each other for one and a half hours.

I think he means they fired questions at each other to help themselves prepare, other than the alternative kind of ‘drilling’ which would suggest the bromance was in fact fully consummated.

Nick came under fire for not pushing his thoughts hard enough (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Sugar asks Adam where the task went wrong. I don’t have time to itemise every error – there were so many – but Nick blames Adam for a lack of direction. Nick himself is criticised for lacking assertiveness with his ideas and for not intervening when he could see things going wrong. Jade, however, is praised for doing a good job, having good ideas and contributing most of the good things about the team’s performance.

Adam is not going to go quietly, though. Returning to the bluff and bluster of the early weeks, he states he is the best candidate overall and that Jade should be fired. Jade, unsurprisingly, points the finger straight back at him and defends her corner passionately. And Nick, bizarrely, attempts to take credit for last week’s task-winning Sanctuary spa deal – er, no – and suggests Jade should be fired.

But Sugar will not be deflected. Although he clearly has a soft spot for Adam, he recognises that beyond his obvious selling skills and his willingness to throw himself headlong into tasks, his flaws as a businessman are simply too great. He’s fired. Adam leaves with both a smile and a tear in his eye.

In the Taxi to Obscurity™, he gives a surprisingly measured and mature response:

I am sad to be going home but I respect Lord Sugar. If it was my time to go then it was my time to go. I’ve always been a doer not a talker, I never give up. Maybe me and Lord Sugar will meet again someday, you never know.

Well done, Adam. Like Ricky, he blasted through the first few weeks desperate to grab attention, mostly in a bad way. And like him, he calmed down and grew into the process with every passing week. But whereas Ricky – and indeed the other three finalists – all possess a good range of wider business skills, Adam started too far behind in this particular race – and it showed here, where he lost focus and never really got to grips with the key elements of a task which was much less about face-to-face product sales than the ones he had thrived on in recent weeks. Having said that, out of all the candidates he has arguably developed the most during the process. Nonetheless he was the right person to be fired this week.

We finish with a little moment where, back at the Apprenti-Mansion™, Nick talks about how he suggested Jade should be fired in the boardroom. Jade brushes it off, saying it’s all over now – while giving him a look that really says “No, it’s really not over.” Duh-duh-duuuhh!

Next week (well, Sunday, actually): The grand final. Jade, Nick, Ricky and Tom face up to the redoubtable Margaret Mountford (yay!), the fearsome Claude Littner and, er, the other two as their CVs are savagely dissected before Lord Sugar makes his final decision as to who will be his new business partner. I earmarked both Tom and Jade as ones to watch as early as week two, although more recently I’ve been leaning towards Tom and Nick. I’m sticking with Tom to win. That’s cursed him, then.

The final of  The Apprentice is on Sunday at 8.30pm on BBC1. Companion programme The Apprentice: You’re Hired! airs immediately afterwards, also on BBC1.

Link: BBC official website

Season 8 reviews

Preview

Blank canvas

Household gadget

Condiments

Junk shops

Keep fit

Street food

Flip it in Essex

Street art

English bubbles

Discount deals