Close Encounters of the Absurd KindPosted: December 16, 2010
This week on The Apprentice: a “verbal bashing” for Chris, “mental torture” for Joanna and a third-nipple tweaking for Jamie.
Who could forget the sausage-making task that kicked off this year’s series of The Apprentice? Discord, confusion and gleaming heaps of gristle launched the careers of some and led to the instant demise of shouty Dan Harris. This week, events came full circle as Lord Sugar set his interviewing attack dogs loose on the remaining five candidates, with the apparent aim of turning several of them into mincemeat.
Alan Watts, Claude Littner, Bordan Tkachuk and the fearsome Margaret Mountford subjected Chris, Jamie, Joanna, Stuart and Stella to a lengthy process of grilling and roasting, before skewering them mercilessly and serving them up at a specially convened boardroom banquet. Reputations were trashed, characters were assassinated and the man who emerged looking liking a total prat was the boss himself, Lord Sugar.
When it comes to making compelling television, big personalities are more important than eye candy. That, I’m afraid, is why Lord Sugar’s decision to fire Liz Locke and keep the faith with Stuart Baggs makes sense — sort of. Without the podgy Manxman’s bag of mixed metaphors and outrageous promises, this week’s show might have boiled down to Liz looking demure, Stella smirking and Joanna fighting back the tears. In other words, it might have been very dull.
You’re not a big fish. You’re not even a fish.
Claude “the Rottweiler” Littner is a very angry man. So angry, in fact, that if they decided to remake Fawlty Towers, he’d be a shoo-in for the role of Britain’s least hospitable hotelier. He warmed up by threatening to rip Chris Bates to shreds before the interview had really started. Fortunately, Chris opted to take the “easy” route, by allowing Claude to piss all over his academic career, which began with a short-lived flirtation with law and ended with a first-class degree in theology. “You look to me a bit like a quitter” spat the disgusted Claude, who clearly doesn’t set much store by “ologies” or people who start things and don’t finish them.
Chris survived the “verbal bashing” pretty much unscathed, but he was just the warm-up man for the candidate who’s been running the longest and most extravagantly worded marketing campaign this year. Claude was not amused by the self-styled Stuart Baggs “the brand” — he was incredulous. “You’re a 21-year-old kid, you’re not a brand” he cried, trampling all over Stuart’s patient attempts to explain to him exactly what this might mean. “You are NOT a brand!” he insisted as Stuart deadpanned, “I think I might be.”
Let’s give Stuart credit for not crumbling in the face of such withering scorn. Clearly, whatever kind of brand he is, he’s durable. Nasty Claude wouldn’t even allow him to get away with a relatively innocuous declaration about being a big fish in a small pond. But I did feel that with his “You’re not a big fish. You’re not even a fish.” put-down, Claude might be exceeding his purview as hatchet man and straying into the realms of cod philosophy. Seriously, what does this exchange really have to do with the £100,000-a-year job?
You’re laughing. I’m not.
Of course, Claude wasn’t the only one who was angry this week. Margaret Mountford returned from her self-imposed exile in the Groves of Academe (otherwise known as UCL) to find that things have gone a bit soft in her absence. Karren Brady’s penchant for mooning over Jamie and sticking up for the candidates has stripped the show of its sternness and intellectual rigour.
Stuart managed to upset her before he’d even sat down (not that surprising, I know). “Mr Baggs greeted me like a long-lost friend” she later declared, explaining how he’d breached protocol by calling her “Margaret” when he walked into the room. “I feel like I’ve known you” he countered, after she ticked him off. Margaret 1: Stuart (and his field of ponies) nil.
“What’s the most interesting thing about you?” Jamie, it seems, has a third nipple. Well, not really. That was a small joke he inserted into his application form to provide a convenient answer to a later question: “What’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?” For his wife’s sake, I do hope that Jamie is in possession of an extra set of bollocks, because I’m pretty sure Margaret tore off one pair with her savage response to this tomfoolery. She called it “puerile” because she knows more words for “stupid” than Jamie does. Ouch.
But this was just an appetizer for the ravenous Margaret, before she feasted on the hapless Chris Bates. Margaret, of course, was once a successful corporate lawyer and, like Claude, wasn’t overly impressed by the record of this “revered” theological scholar. “Are you fixated with intellectual ability?” she demanded, as she tried to ascertain whether Chris understood what revered means. I’m with you, Margaret: he is a pompous ass. Who gives a toss about his mastery of theology?
I’m seeing a little bit of a blagger.
Bordan Tkachuk wasn’t as nasty as Claude or Margaret. He didn’t need to be. His role, explained Mark Halliley’s voice-over, was to dig deep and be “a stickler for detail”. This is another way of saying that he exposed some lies in Stuart’s claims about running a fully licensed telecommunications operation in the Isle of Man. Apparently, Stuart only holds an ISP licence for broadband, which any Tom, Dick or Stuart could obtain for £350.
Are we really surprised that Herr Baggs has been caught out in an exaggeration regarding his business empire? Not really. But it is a shock to discover that Lord Sugar doesn’t vet his candidates more stringently. Stuart “I never caught your name” handled this exposure well, but you sensed that he might be nearing the end of the road.
You’re just a very, very good PA.
Stella and Joanna enjoyed a relatively smooth ride this week, but that’s probably because they didn’t choose to embellish their application forms with all manner of lies, exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims about their mammaries.
Joanna did commit the cardinal sin of not doing her homework about Lord Sugar’s business empire. She won’t be the last person to mispronounce Viglen, or appear vague on the details of what the company actually does. Her faltering exchange with the mildly pissed-off Bordan, “Well I’m asking you, you should be telling me.” led to the conclusion that she was unprepared rather than unprofessional.
After a run-in with Claude about her plans not to grow her cleaning empire, a tearful Joanna complained “This is like mental torture”. But the truth is that Claude was in a relatively avuncular mood by the time he got round to quizzing “I don’t want to be known as Joanna the Cleaner” about her future.
“I promise you, Stella, there is no way you will sail through there with not a bit of criticism.” warned Stuart, as she prepared to test her mettle against Lord Sugar’s answer to the Furies. Chris confidently predicted, “I think Stella will take criticism the least well out of the five of us.” That’s always assuming she actually gets any criticism.
Well, we didn’t see very much of Stella’s interviews, which leads me to the conclusion that they were rather dull and unrevealing. Apart from being incredibly insulted by Alan Watts’s patronising characterisation of her as a “very, very very good PA” and explaining that she wasn’t here to make friends, that was about it. If there were any “curveballs” hurled in Stella’s direction she obviously handled them with aplomb.
I am a key cog in a wheel.
By the time Lord Sugar’s team of torturers had assembled in the boardroom, we were getting strong hints about which candidates would go through to the final. Everyone liked Joanna, though she was felt to be a bit clueless on the fundamentals of business. Chris was described as “monotonous” by Bordan, even though he hadn’t been forced to sit through one of Mr Bates’s boring presentations. Margaret had another swipe about Chris’s fixation on his academic record. Get over it, Margaret.
Jamie “I am a key cog in a wheel” had also failed to win over Margaret, who claimed she couldn’t find much to say about him at all. Unlike Karren, she must be impervious to his boyish charms. After being hauled over the coals by Bordan about his recession-hit property dealings in Cyprus, you felt Jamie wasn’t just lacking in confidence, he was looking a bit weak.
Though dismissed by Bordan as being the “admin queen”, Stella drew perhaps the strongest defence of her record from Nick and Karren. So when the candidates were eventually recalled for another nail-biting, gut-wrenching showdown, it was no great surprise that Stella was the first candidate to be put through to Sunday’s final.
Before that, viewers enjoyed the indescribable pleasure of seeing Stuart become the first person to be fired from this week’s show. Now that Lord Sugar was belatedly in possession of the facts about the Baggs telecommunications empire, he realised he’d been duped. “They said to me that you’re full of shit” was his blunt summation of what the four interviewers had concluded about Stuart.
To be fair, the viewers had heard it couched in much politer terms like “gilding the lily”, but perhaps this was the time to stop talking about fish and ponies and get down to brass tacks. Lord Sugar was annoyed — “sick” even — that his misunderstanding of Stuart’s claims had led him to fire Liz prematurely. Out came the finger, “Stuart, you ARE fired!” and Baggs departed in a cloud of cheap aftershave (I’m guessing there). Judging by his rapturous reception later on “You’re Fired”, I think he’ll be coming soon to a screen near you.
Joanna looked as though she was about weep all over that highly polished boardroom table. Hold on, though, because Lord Sugar had some kind words “You’ve done very, very well”, before he directed her towards the exit. Another five years’ experience and I think Joanna could have been sitting where Stella is. Next out of the door was Jamie. I’m sure Karren Brady had a little weep later for her lost love.
Stella vs Chris is probably not the final most people wanted, but based on competence it is a decision that makes sense. I have a feeling that Lord Sugar will give Stella a job regardless of the outcome. The real fun will lie in witnessing the return of Melissa, Paloma, Alex and all the other preening narcissists who’ve entertained us over the past 11 weeks.