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Tom Pellereau The Apprentice

Finally, on The Apprentice: business plans, elevator pitches, and one long seduction lesson.

Week Twelve of The Apprentice found the “entrepreneurial elite” whittled down to the Not So Fantastic Four. Brainy Tom would be a shoo-in for the role of Dr Reed Richards, and you must admit that Susan Storm is a name that fits our highly strung skin care consultant as snugly as one of Edna’s gloves. Jim would relish employing his “dark underside” in playing Dr Victor von Doom. As for hard-working Helen, well she’s just a marvel, isn’t she?

To reference the perennially cheery golfer Phil Mickelson, it’s been a lot of fun. But all these weeks of buying, selling, brainstorming and (let’s be honest) bullshitting have all been leading up to the moment when someone finally claims the cash. Lord Sugar’s £250,000 business start-up pales into insignificance compared with last week’s £161 million Euromillions jackpot, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Last week’s pies ‘n’ sombreros fiasco delayed the much-anticipated return of Margaret Mountford. She was worth the wait, though. Before the grilling began, the candidates received the news that the final round of interviews would be even more taxing than usual. In previous years they’ve had their work cut out minding their P’s and Q’s, keeping track of all the fabrications in their CVs and, in Jamie Lester’s case, talking up that (apocryphal) third nipple. But this year’s process has been about finding a business partner for Lord Sugar, so he gave them 48 hours to write their business plans.

Bizarrely most of the candidates seemed to be writing the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. (Apparently there was a severe shortage of laptops in the house this year.) But any technological deficiencies were soon lost in the blizzard of boasting that followed. “I am the best in this house” exclaimed Susan, while Jim declared he had something “amazing” in his business plan. Tom, saddled with the worst overall record in the tasks, optimistically announced that he’d “saved it all to the last”.

Margaret Mountford The Apprentice

The interview panel had a bit of a facelift this year. Marvellous Margaret and the choleric Claude Littner were joined by freemium magazine pioneer Mike Souter, and Matthew Riley, who was Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007. The new boys were less humourless and intimidating than Bordan Tkachuk and Alan Watts, but no one took long to detect the shortcomings in the Not So Fantastic Four’s plans for world domination.

Teflon-coated Jim managed to retain his sense of humour during what must have been a trying day. During the interludes he tried to (not so subtly) undermine the other candidates. Sadly, there was no hiding place from the scorn of Claude who was unimpressed by his War and Peace-length application form and extravagant claims about a “meteoric rise from zero to hero”. Jim’s stableful of equine analogies gave Margaret the (correct) impression that he is “a bit of an ass”. The biggest laugh of the night for me was when she enquired: “How do you set yourself apart? By swallowing the Oxford Book of Clichés?”

“I’m exactly what it says on the tin.” (Jim Eastwood)

Mike, who’s clearly been following this year’s show closely, also cut to the chase with Jim: “Do you have difficulty expressing yourself succinctly?” More damning was his conclusion that the Ulsterman’s “AMsmart” e-learning proposal for schools was “a feeble attempt to curry favour” with Lord Sugar by riffing on the Amstrad name. When we finally got a straight answer to a question, it turned out that he hadn’t actually spoken to any head teachers about his proposal to teach employability skills in UK schools.

Helen, who was looking very stressed throughout the interview process, admitted “Susan is driving me potty today”. All that youthful enthusiasm was a little overwhelming, as Matthew found out when he invited her to give him an elevator pitch on her “niche” organic skin care range, targeted at the mass market. Can you be both niche and mass market? A bigger problem was that Susan’s costings didn’t allow for testing the products. “This smells like bullshit” concluded Matthew, and he was right. As for her garbled line about “turning over £1 million pound profit in the first year” — forget it. It’s a very long way from Greenwich Market to going global.

“I am a really good sales guy and thank you for pointing that out.” (Jim Eastwood)

With her flawless manners and (almost) unblemished Apprentice record, Helen might have been expecting an easy ride. Margaret seemed mildly surprised to hear her ascribe some of that success to luck. Ironically, the woman whose big idea involved helping people find that crucial work/life balance is a workaholic. Challenged to tell an off-the-cuff joke, she floundered. Helen’s plan for a nationwide concierge service to deal with all those day-to-day chores was fatally undermined by her lack of contacts and the fact that it wasn’t a new idea. “Can you get me a table at the Ivy?” asked Matthew. Helen didn’t look as though she could even locate it without help from Google Maps.

“Would it be fair to say that your career is flagging?” You can always rely on charming Claude to kick you in the gonads. He did have a point. Affable Tom has lots of great ideas but isn’t great at following up on them. Come to think of it, he’s not that great at adding up figures either. (A common thread in this series.) Tom’s “confusing and obtuse” plan was all about reducing the incidence and cost of back pain. Put simply, it was about creating a really comfortable office chair. Unfortunately, Mike’s close scrutiny revealed that “one hundred per cent of your business plan doesn’t mention the word chair”. Tom looked suitably flabbergasted.

After the Schadenfreude, came the cosy sitdown with the experts. I really couldn’t guess who Lord Sugar was going to pick:

  • Helen had shown herself to be “incredibly organised” (according to Karren Brady), but lacks entrepreneurial flair. Her plan was “deeply flawed” as she hadn’t done enough research. Should have stuck to what she knows — ie baking.
  • Jim has a terrific sales patter but trying to pin him down was like “nailing custard to the ceiling”. Nick summed up his pitch as “one long seduction lesson” and Mike said it didn’t work without Lord Sugar.
  • Tom “the mad professor” and inventor of the curved nail file was criticised for not seeing things through. Karren wisely observed “He’s the one who’d most benefit from your involvement.”
  • In a flashback to the Paris episode, Susan was again dismissed as “naive”. But Margaret did see her as a genuine entrepreneur. That’s what the series is all about, yeah?

Pleasingly, Jim was the first out of the boardroom door. When it came to “Show me the money” it turned out that his e-learning scheme was likely to be non-profit. He didn’t have a clue about the financial aspects of last week’s task either, did he? His appeal to Lord Sugar’s philanthropic side fell on deaf ears: “Don’t play the sympathy thing with me.”

Susan was next to go, which seemed wrong to me. She did have a good idea, even if she was overreaching herself by a trifling few million quid. “I understand that I don’t understand” she flapped, as that dream of sharing her flawless skin with the rest of the world went south.

It was great to see Helen and Tom attacking each other (albeit politely) as we counted down to the big announcement. Lord Sugar had pronounced himself “terribly disappointed” by Helen’s proposal, which seemed to drain all the colour from her face. There was a Plan B — something to do with a chain of bakery stores — but it was all too late. In previous years she would have walked into the job, but this was a different ball game.

Timid Tom, usually so reluctant to blow his own trumpet, finally won it with a killer anecdote. It turned out that he got his famous nail files into Walmart stores by using his “creativity” and hand-delivering his parcel to the key buyer there. His chair idea might need some serious “tweaking” but, hopefully, it will be coming soon to an office near you. He was a deserved winner.


Food for Thought

Natasha Scribbins The Apprentice

This week on The Apprentice: hot pies, cold nachos and a lukewarm reception.

“Melody was lost for words” shrieked recapper Mark Halliley at the beginning of Week Eleven of The Apprentice. Just moments after we relived Ms Hossaini’s crushing disappointment, there was another one: Margaret Mountford would be not be wielding a clipboard in anger this week. The penultimate week of the show is traditionally given over to the interview process, in which CVs are deconstructed, egos deflated and lies exposed by Lord Sugar’s attack dogs. Sometimes we even stray into the realms of existentialism: “You’re not a big fish. You’re not even a fish.”

But this being a BBC show, they can never just leave well alone. So instead of the fearsome Margaret and Claude, our wannabe entrepreneurs faced a different sort of grilling — another catering task. The teams were invited to set up their own fast-food franchises in the City of London. Lord Sugar and some industry experts would then drop in for a free lunch, to assess them on criteria like edibility, speed of service and size of sombrero.

If the mere thought of Apprentice candidates in aprons has you licking your lips in anticipation, just think how much more fun this would have been in Week Twelve. If this had been the final, we could have enjoyed the spectacle of returning candidates buggering things up for the favourites. Remember Leon’s struggles with the juicing machine in Week One? Edna could have donned her Eartha Kitt gloves once more; Zoe could have mooned around with a face like a wet weekend; and Vincent would doubtless have dished out more (Belgian) waffle. But I digress, none of these things happened because the Final Five were on their own.

“All the air’s been cleared” declared Susan optimistically, implying last week’s squabbles with Natasha could now be swept under the enormous carpet that (eventually) silences all this show’s most voluble candidates. But would the three minds of Venture really be better than the combined brain power of Tom and Helen? It didn’t look likely. After watching Natasha fail to grow the team’s assets and almost blow the previous task, Jim wasn’t taking any chances. He appointed himself PM and, in one of those super-smug asides to camera, claimed that the girls would “appreciate a wee bit of direction”. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, Tom was more than happy to take orders from Helen (aka Little Miss Bossy).

I do like sizzling fajitas, but I associate nachos chiefly with evenings spent downing pitchers of watered down and grossly overpriced margaritas. For me, Mexican “cuisine” is an oxymoron, which is perhaps why Venture’s decision to go down that route was doomed from the outset. They had Natasha “can’t cook, won’t cook” Scribbins, who failed to live up to her BA (Hons) in hospitality management.

Then there was Susan “What does el mean?” Ma, whose ignorance of all things French is obviously just the tip of a very large cultural iceberg. To that combustible mix of personalities, we must add Jim, who confused Caracas (the capital of Venezuela) with maracas (a Latin-American percussion instrument). That’s how you end up with a franchise called “Caraca’s — a fresh mix of Mexican food”.

It all looked much more promising over at Logic. Helen immediately came up with the idea of going British and, following on from Week Nine’s “Mini Men”, decided that mini pies were the way to go. For reasons that escape me, Tom went looking for a branding concept in a baby boutique. (Nick Hewer looked suitably perplexed.) He did eventually get his act together by misreading a sign in shop window that read “We’re on QYPE are you?” This led him to the brilliant MyPy — pronounced MyPie rather than MePee. Even Helen was impressed.

Meanwhile PM Helen showed she could cook up a mean pie in three mouth-watering varieties: steak and red wine; chicken and mushroom; and spinach, broccoli and cheddar. True, she did have a little help from a Heston Blumenthal lookalike, but that left her more time for thinking about the all-important profits versus taste equation. Yes, Helen had it all: recipes, a business plan and brainy Tom’s wacky ideas about marketing.

While Natasha “I’m better on branding” and Susan squabbled over the relative merits of “iconic” peppers or sombreros for their branding concepts, Jim was basically doing everything else. After some market research that was only slightly more impressive than Melody’s effort in Paris, he came up with chilli beef, a fajita “kit” and Mexican soup. It sounded as though the self-styled “macho nacho man” had bitten off more than he could chew.

I wouldn’t want you to think that everything Logic did this week was brilliant. Let’s gloss over the way they branded their unit to look like a BA check-in desk. Even the lovely Helen didn’t really pull off that blue apron and red scarf look. Oh, and I don’t think there was ever an explorer called William Drake, or that Christopher Columbus was an influential British person.

But let’s face it, while Venture were agonising about what colour to paint their walls and how big their sombreros should be, they forgot about all the important criteria. Their service was dilatory, their planning non-existent, and Jim’s nachos looked like dog puke (in Lord Sugar’s expert opinion). Most embarrassing of all was the macho nacho man’s failure to perform basic mental arithmetic. Who needs “direction” now, smartass?

In the boardroom it came as no surprise to find that the experts had scored Venture’s Mexican meltdown at a measly 4/10. (I’m guessing the branding was the only element that didn’t suck.) The hot pies and another ace presentation from Helen had given Logic a much more impressive 7/10.

Instead of a treat, Helen and Tom went straight through to next week’s final. This left everyone scratching their heads and wondering what would become of the remaining three candidates. Lord Sugar then announced that he would only fire one more person. This was annoying, because only Susan had contributed anything vaguely intelligent this week.

I think it’s fair to say that Jim got just about everything wrong — starting with his decision to make Natasha and Susan work together again. No one had really considered how many customers they needed to serve during a two-hour period. (Sixty people spending an average of £7 per head does not add up to £4,200.) Karren Brady was right to observe “There is nothing fast about this fast food restaurant.” But did she really need to bring up that whole caracas business again? “Be honest, you thought it was a made-up word, all of you.” I’ve got some made-up words for you, Karren, and some of them contain expletives.

Natasha and Susan both rounded on Jim, who (naturally) accused the girls of not playing ball. (I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have any direction.) Lord Sugar tried to get to the bottom of Natasha’s curious reluctance to put her BA to practical use — apparently it was all a “long time ago”.

I was quite interested in hearing Natasha’s thoughts on Jim’s “dark underside”, which I sincerely hope was a reference to his tendency to pull people’s strings. In the end she was undone by her own lacklustre performance in recent weeks. I’m still trying to figure out her contribution to Caraca’s. Was it that misplaced apostrophe?

So Natasha was fired, leaving Jim and Susan to resume their spat in the cab back to Richmond. Tune in next week to see Margaret get stuck into the (sexist) macho nacho man. Based on this week’s task, I make Helen the strong favourite.


Frozen Assets

This week on The Apprentice: blarney in the market, a coup in the kitchen and bluster in the boardroom.

Pay attention, because Week Ten of The Apprentice was a bit difficult to understand. According to Lord Sugar it was all about “turning your money over”, “increasing your assets” and (crucially) “smelling what’s selling”. Simple, right? So why did Natasha Scribbins make such a complete “Horlicks” of this week’s task?

If you’re none the wiser after reading that opening paragraph, I don’t blame you. After the usual gratuitous shots of Jim slipping his pants on, the six remaining candidates were summoned to a wholesale warehouse in Enfield. Their mission was to take £250 of wholesale goods and turn them into a healthy profit, which they’d reinvest in yet more “old tut”. (Wasn’t he an Egyptian pharaoh?) The good news was that Lord Sugar’s pallet of merchandise didn’t include any teapot lights, pop-up postcards or hybrid digestive biscuits.

The big question on everyone’s lips was whether the unstoppable Helen Milligan could make it ten wins out of ten. But the omens were bad as Lord Sugar packed her off to Team Logic, to join the dysfunctional duo of Melody and Tom. Would you want your unbeaten record resting in the hands of motormouth Melody and Professor Branestawm? I thought not.

Over at Team Venture, Susan’s bid to be PM didn’t get far, because Natasha was clearly much better qualified. “Yeah?” But, as it turned out, neither Natasha nor Melody (PM of Logic) grasped the point of this week’s task. It was about building up a business — not just shifting vast quantities of umbrellas, chocolate colour duvet covers, naff watches and nodding dogs.

Tom, whose uncanny resemblance to a nodding dog has irritated Lord Sugar, showed that he could sell them, too. His patter with the kids was creepy but effective. No one, though, could hold a candle or a Blarney Stone to the efforts of Jim. He was, in the words of the overly effusive Nick Hewer “a tour de force”. Registering dangerously high levels of charm, I’m pretty sure Jim could sell out of umbrellas in the Sahara Desert. As it was, he made a killing in Covent Garden.

But the real story here was that Helen and Jim showed how much they really, really wanted to win. Unfortunately, they were saddled (respectively) with Melody and Natasha, whose leadership skills could fairly be described as non-existent this week. Jim showed surprising patience in trying to manage Natasha’s near-meltdown, by steering her towards the purchase of more stock. “We can’t be conservative, we need to reinvest.” It didn’t work. Convinced that this was a high-stakes version of Pontoon, Natasha opted to stick, rather than twist or bust.

Logic’s emergency mobile phone charger went down better than Tom’s emergency biscuit did last week. But the real surprise package was Helen’s daring but futile bid to unseat Melody as PM after the first day. For reasons that escape me, Melody and Helen thought that selling to retailers would be a good strategy. Even if that were the case, offering £25 watches to the proprietor of a Pound shop doesn’t add up, does it? Even more ridiculous was Helen making a four-hour round trip the next day to get stock for a bulk order of duvet covers. “I don’t understand the logic” said Karren Brady.

Clearly ace saleswoman Helen wasn’t on top of her game this week. Buoyed up by those huge orders in the previous tasks, she overreached herself with that attempted “coup in the kitchen”. Tom looked on in astonishment as Melody frostily rejected the idea that she should concentrate on sales, while Helen deployed her superior business skills to get them out of the big hole they’d dug for themselves.

With only six candidates left, we no longer have to endure the charade of team members sucking up to their PM — only to recant minutes later when they realise they’ve lost. So, cutting to the chase, Helen said Melody was a “terrible team leader” and she was right. But when the assets were totted up, Logic’s £728 was only a few nodding dogs lower than Venture’s equally unimpressive £751. Lord Sugar had already fined Natasha’s team £100 for their lack of reinvestment on Day Two. Jim’s last-minute dash to buy more umbrellas failed to add lustre to their “hollow victory”. Instead of helicopter trip to Goodwood, they were packed off back to the house to eat humble pie.

Natasha should have been fired this week, because Venture’s narrow victory was achieved thanks to Susan taking a punt on some bracelets and the lean, mean selling machine that is Jim Eastwood. But who said this process is fair?

Melody, who’s used to mixing it with Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, had to overcome Helen’s astonishing track record and Tom’s highly effective nodding dog act. Would Lord Sugar punish Helen for having one really, really bad week or would he finally tire of Melody’s metronomic drone? Expressing “regret” he decided to give his ears a rest and the Global Youth Consultancy dynamo was out.

Over on The Apprentice: The Final Five, we learned that Jim and his wife are the “Posh and Becks” of Cookstown; that Susan is a bit of a Shanghai Surprise; and that demure Helen used to be a blonde bombshell. I expect to see two of those three in the final, but perhaps inventor Tom will come up with something even more astonishing than his curved nail file.


A Recipe for Disaster

Zoe Beresford - The Apprentice

This week on The Apprentice: snapping from Zoe, sharing with Jim and “innovating” from Melody

Week Nine of The Apprentice looked as though it might be a new spin on the (Not-So-) Great British Bake-Off. Instead of the perky Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, we got the increasingly grumpy Nick Hewer and Karren Brady. Yes, Lord Sugar was in the house again, and this time he invited the candidates to create their own new brand of upmarket biscuit and sell it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets.

A warning: if you found Melody Hossaini irritating during last week’s Parisian jaunt, stop reading now. She doesn’t improve on further acquaintance. It probably didn’t help that Lord Sugar’s Sunday evening surprise visit caught her off-guard and lounging (alone) in bed. The even worse news was that Helen, Jim and Natasha were making up this week’s Team Venture. Everyone else was in Logic (aka World’s Biggest Losers), which gave Melody a second bite at Timid Tom.

Melody’s chief rival for the title of Biggest Bitch in this Year’s Apprentice is, of course, Zoe. Have you noticed that when people say “With respect . . .” it usually prefaces something that is entirely disrespectful? Susan, who tried to equate experience in creating skin-care products with knowing how to knock up a killer biscuit, got short shrift in her bid to be PM. Nick Hewer helpfully likened Zoe’s latest put-down of Susan to “slapping down a yapping puppy”.

After her rubbish performance as PM on the refuse task, you’d think Zoe might have learned some lessons. With a background in the beverage industry, this task should have been meat and drink to her. But as Melody was pitching her concept of heart-shaped cookies to share with your loved ones, Zoe was hard at work digging her own grave with the aid of that oversized gob.

After saying that she wanted to be at the development kitchen in Wales, Zoe soon allowed herself to be dissuaded by Susan and Melody. “A good product sells itself” she declared, before announcing that she was “happier working with Susie”. Roughly translated, this means she hates Melody’s guts. Clearly Zoe is not familiar with that old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

Down in Swansea, biscuit development boffins were on hand to help both teams come up with something to tickle the nation’s taste buds. For Venture, PM Helen had appointed Jim as head baker, and this seemed to have gone to his head. To be fair, he did enjoy his best week in the competition so far, but he was also so smug that I could cheerfully have dropped him into one of those gleaming vats of molten chocolate.

Venture were way ahead from the outset, since they had decided on the concept of a biscuit aimed at kids. Jim’s suggested calling it “Munch Men”, which had Helen chortling about “men that munch”. (Natasha “the Slapper” Scribbins was quick to see the Viz-like connotations there.) After schmoozing with some mums and kids in a focus group, he settled on a flapjack topped with a chocolate star. Who cares about childhood obesity issues?

Special Stars “any time is treat time” was a tag-line with in-built contradictions, but no one gets anywhere on this show by being consistent. (Natasha’s subsequent attempt to explain her theory about “opening up time” to a bamboozled designer was one of the highlights of the week.) The best news for Jim, though, was that Helen just agreed with him on everything. “I like her personality. Probably because it’s passive. Who doesn’t like that?”

Logic, lacked both passive personalities and good ideas. If only Tom’s bizarre concept of an “emergency biscuit” had been the dumbest thing we heard this week. Sporting a pontiff-like red hat, he had the herculean task of trying to live up to his billing as an inventor, while keeping Melody’s extreme masculinity at bay. He failed on both counts. One of her innovative suggestions — a bizarre concoction of biscuit mix, mini marshmallows and corn flakes (?) — looked like the leftovers from a riotous toddlers’ tea party.

After much bickering and whingeing from Zoe and Melody, Logic eventually came up with the “snap and share” wonderbiscuit known as Bix Mix. It sounded more like a dog snack and perhaps that would have been the ideal market for this two-in-one cookie — a digestive, with butter crisp centre and chocolate on one side. “We’re not going for a luxury product” enthused Tom. Shame that, because with its £1.99 price point, Bix Mix was supposed to be high-end.

Not surprisingly, Logic failed to make a good impression in their pitches to Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose. Melody had pointed out that they should be aiming their product at a specific group (dogs?), but Zoe wanted to leave it open to the mass market. They opened with a toe-curlingly awful improvised scene, with Tom “Hi Honey” and Melody as a happy couple snapping and sharing a Bix Mix moment. Irony, anyone? It was hard to say who looked more embarrassed — the supermarket buyers or Nick Hewer.

Venture were having a bit of an issue with their “any time treat” — something that might not go down well with mothers. Jim and Helen were on the same page, but Natasha’s insistence on trying to deconstruct that theory went down like a lead balloon. The message was clear: shut up and let the grown-ups do the talking.

Last week Helen wowed the buyers at La Redoute with her pitch for the rucksack car seat. Not to be outdone, Jim went for broke with his “go big or go home” approach to Asda. Karren tried to pour cold water on his ideas about TV advertising, a Harry Potter tie-in and the hard sell to the mass market. She was wrong.

It was hard to believe that Logic could do worse than last week’s drubbing. But they did score some orders then — if not from La Redoute. This time it really was a big fat zero for Bix Mix. Just to rub digestive crumbs into the wound, Asda had ordered 800,000 units of Lucky Stars, making Helen a winner for the ninth consecutive week.

“Something fundamentally wrong here” declared Lord Sugar. But was it the toxic combination of Zoe and Melody, the fact that Tom “didn’t know the price of biscuits”, or a product that just didn’t taste very nice? Tom correctly diagnosed a “disconnect” between the product and the packaging, but that almost got drowned out in the cat fight that followed between mortal enemies Zoe and Melody.

Melody’s attempts at covering her arse in the boardroom included reviving her “daring” concept of making biscuit the new popcorn. (That was the marshmallow nonsense I mentioned earlier.) Last week she’d insisted that the opinions of four French Metro users constituted valid market research. Luckily, wisdom has now taught her that the negative verdict of “10 people in Swansea” on her ideas is of absolutely no consequence.

Luckily for Melody, being a stuck-up bitch and a hypocrite doesn’t get you fired from The Apprentice. But Zoe, who had failed to demonstrate expertise, leadership or courtesy, was soon on her way out. Melody failed to offer a goodbye hug or even an air kiss. I’ll leave the final words on Zoe, to Susan:

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


French Rejection

Leon Doyle

This week on The Apprentice: Susan is immature, Melody is intractable and Leon is impressed.

In last year’s series of The Apprentice Stella English showed us that “taking one for the team” can involve donning a bikini and turning a blind eye to your sexist colleagues. Judging by her performance this week, that concept has never been explained to Melody Hossaini. She’s more about taking one from the team and smirking while she does it. Yes, somewhere between Week Seven and Week Eight, the glamorous Global Youth Consultancy expert turned into one of those ball-busting ladies for which this show is infamous. This was very bad news for geeky Tom and lacklustre Leon.

Perennial winner Helen Milligan seems to sprinkle a little gold dust wherever she goes. But in the interests of “balancing the teams”, Lord Sugar sent her back to join Zoe, Jim and Susan in Venture. This was the second clue that Logic’s fortunes might be about to take another nosedive this week. (The first was Tom’s failure to stow his suitcase safely in the car boot.)

Before the candidates had even assembled at St Pancras International, we already knew that they could barely scrape together a GCSE in French between them. Melody announced “I used to speak six languages” (and she can be condescending in all of them), while Jim tried to talk up his “petits pois”. But when it came to total ignorance of all things Gallic, Susan “I know nothing” Ma was clearly way ahead of her colleagues. Given that the task involved selling new British designs to the Parisians, it made total sense for Susan to be PM — n’est ce pas?

One half of each team made a head start on consuming coffees and croissants in Paris. Bizarrely this meant they’d be exploring the market for products they hadn’t actually seen. Susan and Zoe excitedly sized up the usual array of wacky, overpriced or just utterly useless products — including a bean-bag couch, an electric bike and a pop-up postcard complete with cress garden. Karren delivered her brutal verdict on Susan: “incredibly decisive . . . but very immature”.

But it was when Susan started firing off a volley of inane questions like “Do the French like their children?” that Karren delivered the coup de grace, with the words “beyond stupid”. This seemed a bit mean, given that the subtitle for this series should probably be “Business for Dummies”. Clearly Karren has suffered a massive sense of humour failure.

Endearing though Susan is, the real story of this week’s episode was Logic’s failure to secure the right products. PM Tom had identified a child’s booster seat that folded into a backpack as the best thing on offer. He felt there was a “massive market for it in Paris”. There was just one problem: Melody couldn’t see the “common sense” in carrying a car seat on your back. Why wouldn’t you just leave it in the car, dummy?

Poor Tom looked for market research to back up his selection. Unfortunately for him, Melody’s methodology wasn’t too far away from Natasha’s crude “How do you blow your load?” vox pop last week. Does soliciting opinions from just four Metro users constitute a cross section of the French population? But the crucial point here was that Melody was able to converse fluently en francais and understand what the respondents were saying. Leon could only have been more impressed if Melody had stripped to her lingerie and serenaded them with a few bars of “La Vie en Rose”.

So Logic ended up with the pop-up postcard and the very uninspriring teapot light (140 euros). Paris is the City of Light, but would the French really be wowed by this overpriced porcelain white elephant. Like PM Tom, wasn’t it about as much use as a chocolate teapot?

Venture fared better with their flexible gadget grip (18 euros), which looked to me like a bunch of pipe-cleaners with an inflated price tag. Good for holding your mobile phone — or you could just use your hand. Thanks to Jim’s superior grasp of market research, they had bagged the rucksack seat. Despite her lack of fluent French, Helen did a great job pitching it to La Redoute — “the leading home shopping brand in France”. You sensed this would be the key moment of the whole episode.

Speaking of La Redoute, Melody failed to do her market research on them, either. She was too busy lining up appointments with snooty Parisian shops to bother finding out about the major retailer Lord Sugar had lined up for them. When Tom timidly suggested they could start with just 10 units of the iconic (ie useless) teapot light, the froideur amongst the assembled buyers was palpable. Nick Hewer pronounced it “ludicrous” — he meant Tom’s proposal, not the porcelain.

In short, Melody hung Tom and the rest of the team out to dry this week, as she attempted to fill her own order book. Of course this is not a team game, but sometimes you do need to see the bigger picture. The French capital is also renowned for being the City of Love: in Melody’s case make that self-love.

In the boardroom I felt sure that Logic had lost it. Thanks to Helen’s “fantastic” pitch to La Redoute, Venture secured an order for the backpack seat worth 214,000 euros. Logic, on the other hand, registered what Nick described as “nul points”. Inventor Tom, who’d seen the potential of seat, looked gutted. It was, in the words of Lord Sugar “an annihilation”.

So Helen won again — that’s eight weeks in a row. Tom, Melody and Leon returned for a bout of mud-slinging that made it absolutely clear which one of the three actually has some cojones (not a French word, obviously). Tom had utterly failed to control Melody, whose arrogance and failure to follow instructions was a major reason that they lost the task. But he was really squirming as Karren reminded him that he’d resorted to that tried and trusted business technique “paper, scissors, stone” to establish who should take the pitch to La Redoute. Professional or juvenile?

Lord Sugar complimented Melody on her “hunger”, though he might have asked whether this black widow was now satiated after having both her team-mates for breakfast. Tom survived because he’s polite, brainy and chock-full of geek appeal. Leon, whose remarkably well-conditioned hair has been his main contribution to the show so far, got the boot.


24 Carat Sold

This week on The Apprentice: Jim passes the buck, Susan sits on the fence and Natasha avoids the booby prize.

It’s Week Seven of The Apprentice and I’m still pining for Stuart Baggs and his much-vaunted “field of ponies”. But this year’s candidates seem more at home with double entendres and wilfully obscure tag-lines than extravagant metaphors. Perhaps it’s time to address the elephant in the room: these guys just aren’t as bombastic or as funny as they should be.

Lord Sugar’s latest shock and awe tactic was a (semi-impressive) lift descent in front of the assembled masses (well, nine candidates) at Rupert Murdoch’s former gaff, 65 Fleet Street. After immersing the teams in a load of rubbish, his latest assignment involved the equally grubby world of publishing. The teams were instructed to create a new “freemium” magazine and then sell the advertising space to three media buyers.

PM Jim got a free transfer to Venture, while Leon joined Logic — still flushed with success after their recent adventures in recycling. Viewers sat back to enjoy the usual irresistible mix of half-baked ideas, incompetent negotiating and internecine warfare.

Did I say irresistible? Actually irrepressible would be a better way to describe Natasha Scribbins, whose tendency to call a spade a spade is finally starting to win me over. As PM of Logic, no-nonsense Natasha was in no doubt about where her publication should be positioned in the market. Some might call it T&A; Ms Scribbins would probably prefer B&B (that’s boys and business). Still, “Covered” is a pretty good name for a publication aimed at today’s financially savvy lads. (Is that a calculator in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?)

Natasha just about restrained herself from stripping off for “Covered’s” first centrefold. (Melody was keeping her assets under wraps, too.) But that was more or less the limit of the PM’s decorum this week, as she dragged poor Leon off to conduct the kind of vox pop that has no place on posh channels like BBC1. “How do you blow your load?” she brazenly asked a selection of bewildered young men around London. (I’m guessing that the best answers to that are languishing on a cutting room floor somewhere in west London.) She really needs a good slap round the head with a man bag.

Let’s give Natasha some credit, she does have a Baggs-like belief in her own ideas — even if those ideas are at least 15 years past their sell-by date. Talking of which, Venture’s brilliant publishing concept was a magazine aimed at the over-60s. You know, those “coffin-dodgers” like Lord Sugar and the watching Nick Hewer, who have problems mastering new technology like mobile phones. Watching Susan and Glenn chatting with some golden oldies at a bowling club, I realised this wasn’t so much a generation gap as a yawning chasm.

Venture’s names ideas were all so crappy that I’ve already erased them from my mind. Urged to come up with something humorous, they wound up “Old Boot” Nick for a few minutes. Just as he was about to demonstrate some real pensioner power by inserting his clipboard into one of Glenn’s orifices, Zoe suggested “Hip Replacement”. Geddit?

Hard-nosed Media buyers at Carat, Mediacom and Maxus had the enjoyable task of grilling the candidates about their publications. In one corner, we had Logic with “Covered: the work hard play hard guide”, featuring a model in black underwear and hard hat, carrying a surfboard. I’m sure Natasha would happily have removed her top, if she thought it would generate more sales. Instead she contented herself with emasculating Leon with her constant interruptions.

Bringing up the rear were Venture, who hoped that “Hip Replacement: Out with the old in with the new” was a concept that would mature like a fine wine. Sensing that this was a loser, Zoe and Susan wisely left the presentations to Jim and Mr Cat Size himself, Glenn. If anyone can appreciate the wit, irony and breathtaking originality of a name like “Hip Replacement”, it’s the decidedly square design engineer from Hertfordshire.

In the boardroom figures were finally revealed. (No, not Melody and Natasha.) “Hip Replacement” had overcome its dodgy name and creaky cover design to win more ad sales from both Mediacom and Maxus. Unfortunately, Carat had failed to bite. This might have had something to do with Jim’s refusal to offer them any sort of discount off the rate card prices. They won it for Logic by buying every page of “Covered” for a grand total of £60,000. Logic went fencing, allowing the victorious Natasha to lower the tone yet again: “We certainly haven’t been given the booby prize!”

I must admit that I really wanted to see Jim fired this week. His capacity for governing by committee and never taking a decision on his own has not gone unnoticed in the boardroom. Inexplicably he chose not to bring back back Zoe, leaving Glenn and Susan to fight it out.

Events followed a familiar pattern, with Susan complaining that she never gets a fair hearing because she’s only 21 and has a flawless complexion– “It’s so unfair!” Glenn (correctly) admonished her for playing the age card yet again, while Jim sarcastically observed “It looks as if we’re all trying to shoot Bambi.” But as Lord Sugar pointed out, “It was actually Bambi’s mother that got shot”.

Channelling the spirit of 2009′s Lorraine “Cassandra” Tighe, it seems to be Susan’s role to point out other people’s glaring errors. This is a losing strategy, because listening to other candidates is a sign of weakness on The Apprentice. My advice: get off the fence and try ending all your sentences with a forceful “yeah”. It works for Natasha.

Jim didn’t get sacked, but he did get worked over by Lord Sugar’s sidekicks. He was branded a “control freak” by Nick, who didn’t appreciate being contradicted over his recollections about what Susan had or had not said this week. Karren, who has never turned up to work sporting just lingerie and a hard hat, then hit Jim with a charge of being “passive aggressive”.

Glenn gave quite a good account of himself in the boardroom, but for reasons that escape me he was fired. Apparently, it was something to do with Lord Sugar not being able to work with engineers. Given that Jim is a patronising, passive-aggressive control freak, Glenn can consider himself hard done-by.


An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Helen Milligan

This week on The Apprentice: steel toe-caps, a copper mountain, and turning garbage into gold.

“What is wrong with the name Logic? It’s just doomed.” Melody Hossaini summed up the frustration of being part of the The Apprentice’s equivalent of the England football team. Perhaps they should put Fabio Capello in charge — then they’d really know what a communication breakdown looks like. But as Week Six began, help was on hand in the shape of star transferee Helen Milligan. Would she prove to be 2011′s answer to Stella English, or their passport to oblivion?

Dressed in steel-toe cap boots and high visibility jackets, the candidates travelled to Smugglers Way waste transfer station — that’s a euphemism for rubbish dump. This was Edna’s first big disappointment of the day: she thought they’d be mixing it with some hard-bodied hard hats on a construction site. Instead they were given the task of proving Lord Sugar’s maxim “You can make money from just about anything” by going into the rubbish collection business. Would their manicures or their reputations survive two days of lugging bags rubbish around as they tried to fill their one-tonne tipper trucks?

The Apprentice works best as 60 minutes of clashing egos, bitchy comments and fundamental misunderstandings. It’s even better when they get to dress up and act as though they’re in an 18-certificate version of a toddlers’ birthday bash. This week saw Zoe and Susan “Me, Me, Me” Ma squabbling in a manner that should have earned both of them a spell on the Naughty Step.

Considering the macho nature of the task, I found it odd that the boys opted out of being PM this week, leaving Helen to take charge of Logic and Zoe to stick her head on the block again for Venture. After the departure of “Mr Charisma” Vince last week, just four boys (well we can’t really call them men, can we?) remain in this process. I think the contribution of Glenn and Leon (Venture) and the new Logic pairing of Jim and Tom can be fairly summed up as a case of “white van syndrome”. This is where blokes drive around London, hoping to pick things up — girls, parking tickets, valuable scrap metal. Jim did nothing to enhance his fading reputation by shouting at unsuspecting householders through his megaphone. Come in Number 73, your time is up.

Like the candidates I was confused by some of the weighty issues in this week’s episode. When you’re confronted with a roomful of junk, it’s tough to decide whether there’s any profit to be made in carting it away. So our waste management tyros were also on the lookout for valuable materials — mainly metals — that they could sell for scrap. There was desk job here, too — it was an office clearance that might yield a nice bonus from recycled furniture.

That Sinking Feeling

As usual, Lord Sugar had lined up a couple of potential jobs for the teams — if only they could come up with the right offer. Watching Melody, Helen and Natasha “I’m not a physical builder” arguing over a collection of stainless steel sinks was one of the key moments in this episode. They boldly went for a strategy of charging nothing, a decision that caused disharmony between Melody and her team-mate. “The train has left the station!” declared an over-excited Natasha, refusing to take a bite out of that unappetising “big plate of blame”. Melody gloomily contemplated whether the next stop for Team Logic would once again be Loserville, as Karren Brady shook her head at this lack of professionalism.

The bar clearance job also had Zoe, Edna and Susan wishing they’d spent more time boning up on the weights of kitchen appliances as they tried to come up with a winning bid for the job. “I can’t weigh a tonne of stuff with my eyes” said an exasperated Zoe as she revisited Week Four’s shopping mall spat with Susan. An out-of-her depth Zoe quoted £150, but moments later Susan was telling her they should have offered to do the job free of charge. “Are you trying to sabotage this, or what?” I’d call it second guessing and (guess what), Susan was right. Logic hungrily picked up both of Lord Sugar’s leads, leaving Zoe in tears at the end of Day One.

Other highlights this week involved a Fulham plumber with a yard full of waste and some valuable copper cylinders. I lost track with all the haggling that went on here, but let’s just say that Edna did herself no favours by attempting to renegotiate the deal after the job was completed. Jim and Tom attempted to get shirty with a crafty builder whose pile of rubbish just kept getting bigger. “So I’ve had a result” said the satisfied client, who’d obviously heard that brand Logic is synonymous with big fat losers.

As the deadline approached and panic set in about completing the jobs, Nick purred over the “well-oiled machine that was Logic, while Karren predicted that Venture were “on the brink of losing it”. Melody felt her ruined fingernails were the price of good day’s work. But Susan already had her claws deep into PM Zoe, who she (accurately) characterised as being “sad and pessimistic, with a horrible attitude throughout the task”. Miaow!

The Three Degrees of Edna

Edna Agbarha

Sacking Vince last week may have temporarily sated Lord Sugar’s huge appetite for berating and humiliating candidates. I thought he was a bit soft on the teams this week, but luckily the girls had more than enough bile to make up for it. Venture’s profit was £706 and Logic made £712 — a winning margin he described as “a kilo of copper”. First time winner Tom, grinning from ear-to-ear, left to enjoy Bath’s thermal spa with his colleagues, while we waited to see which member(s) of Venture would be taking the taxi ride to obscurity.

I don’t think Zoe is going to win this competition, but she really did play a blinder this week. Offering to be PM and then willingly confessing that she’d screwed up this week’s task was a great strategy. Lord Sugar doesn’t like to waste his time giving the Spanish Inquisition treatment to failed candidates. Much better to make a clean breast of it and throw yourself on his mercy.

Following a lengthy game of He Said She Said that failed to establish excactly what the haughty Edna had contributed to the team effort, she ended up in the firing line with Zoe and Susan. Things got heated as Susan laid into Zoe’s “lack of strategy” that had led to them losing both the tenders on Day One. It didn’t look good for Zoe when Edna belatedly realised that just sitting there looking aloof was not going to save her neck. But despite boasting about her MBA (one of three degrees she holds) and her “highly original ideas” the business psychologist got the boot.

It was touching to see Susan bidding Edna a fond farewell outside the boardroom. There would be no kiss and make up session for Susan and Zoe, though. The recriminations continued in the cab all the way back to Richmond.

“We could not have done more unless we’d stumbled across a copper mine.” (Jim Eastwood)


Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Dog (Pic Gopal Aggarwal)

Any resemblance to Vincent Disneur is purely coincidental

This week on The Apprentice: lucky fish, fat cats and a nasty sting in the tale.

Fur-arri, Pet-Eat, Fur-Play, Cat-Size. Week Five of BBC1′s The Apprentice was so chock full of puns and (would-be) double entendres that this blog practically writes itself. Except, of course, for Everydog — the flea-ridden mongrel that failed to come to the party. In case you hadn’t guessed, this episode was all about pet food, and for four-time losers Vince and Tom the stakes were higher than ever. Would a fifth Boardroom appearance result in Lord Sugar having them both reconstituted as cans of dog food?

After a brief shot of Tom’s briefs, the candidates assembled at advertising agency TBWA for the “larger than life” Lord Sugar’s latest video presentation. (Yes, he’s now so blasé, he doesn’t even bother to turn up to these early-morning chats.) Pay attention here, folks, because he’s just stressed the need to come up with a pet food product that is “innovative”. As we’ll soon see, the Logic dictionary doesn’t go up to “i”. The teams were given three days to cram the dog’s bollocks or the cat’s whiskers into some consumer-friendly packaging and then devise a campaign.

My impressions of Vince so far have been pretty negative. Patronising female colleagues, fluffing a presentation and tossing your well-coiffed locks in a bid to appear more handsome, don’t strike me as winning strategies. Putting him in charge of the leaky ship that is Team Logic seemed like a recipe for further disaster. He was stuck with Ellie “Gnasher” Reed, who seemed to think that dental hygiene products can be classed as pet food. Is it just me, or is she a bit thick? Vince’s vision for a brand called “Pals” was even more worrying. His unfamiliarity with the “second biggest dog brand in the world” suggested that there were Labradors out there better qualified to lead the task.

“I’m a catalyst” announced bullish design engineer Glenn Ward in one of those teeth-clenchingly awful addresses to camera. He didn’t actually mention his “extreme masculinity”, when he attempted to rally his troops, but you knew he what he was thinking. (Stuart Baggs did this so much better.) Venture picked cat food and embarked on a brainstorming session that left Edna looking distinctly unimpressed.

Glenn Ward

Make no mistake: Vince was the architect of his own downfall in this task. Jim may have been the creative impetus behind Everydog (“For every day there’s Everydog”), but it was the PM who kept loudly proclaiming the importance of having a product that “hit everything”. A focus group of dog-walkers and a helpful vet informed Vince, Jim and Natasha in unambiguous terms that you don’t feed the same food to every type of pooch. Those words fell on deaf ears. For the second week running brainy Tom tried to point out the fatal flaw in Logic’s plan, but he was completely ignored. When you have a “brilliant” concept like trying to feed the world’s entire canine population from one can, why would you change it?

Glenn sparks an argument

Leon’s contribution Lucky Fish “The catch of the day!” had Helen and Zoe tittering politely. Flushed with success, he boasted that he should “just become the apprentice”. If great hair and ultra-bright teeth were relevant criteria, you’d be a shoo-in, son. The idea of food that gives goldfish a break (from being eaten) went down well with cat lovers, but the autocratic Glenn callously flushed Lucky Fish down the toilet. Inspired by the sight of cat’s eye road markings, he came up with Cat-Size as a nutritional nosh for your calorie-conscious feline. But “See their light” (they’re light, geddit?) for the strap-line was too clever for its own good. If you are literally having to spell it out for people, the concept’s a dud.

Let’s gloss over the bowls of unidentifiable ingredients and disgustingly viscous liquids that were this week’s laboratory exercise. No one was going to judge this week’s task on the basis of how this stuff looked — or smelled. The creating of the TV ads seemed to get less screen time here than usual. There was nothing to rival the gloriously silly “Pantsman” exercise of a couple of years ago. But at the casting for the Everydog commercial, Vince did make a prat of himself by wrongly identifying a Golden Retriever as a Labrador. Though Mabel the Pug got the bum’s rush, Scramble, the Russell Terrier looked a lively little fellow. If any mutt could inject some life into Logic’s doomed campaign it was this one and — luckily for director Natasha — it turned out that his acting skills had already graced the set of Midsomer Murders.

Mabel turned out not to be the ugliest pet on this week’s show. That honour went to Lola, the Sphynx cat, whose hairless appearance failed to charm Zoe, Helen and Leon. “Not mainstream enough” was one of the kinder remarks that Lola’s owner had to endure. (I wonder what Leon says when he’s confronted with a particularly unattractive baby?) I didn’t understand why Venture couldn’t find a female voice artist for their commercial, but their concept was so hopelessly dated that it probably wouldn’t have improved things.

Venture did come up with a good product design. Their sachet of cat food looked like the real deal — apart from that strap-line. Logic’s concept was, by contrast, a total dog’s dinner. That name, combined with the insipid green can, looked destined for The Apprentice vault, along with all the show’s other really rubbish products.

Melody and Leon were charged with delivering the 20 minutes presentations to the suitably underwhelmed professionals of TBWA. Melody claimed their product’s bid to find its way into eight million dog bowls was “pushing boundaries”. Asked whether they were worried about sending the wrong message, Jim claimed his “one size fits all” approach was going to make things easier for consumers. Though Leon was onto something with his mission to save overweight cats, he came across as rather smug and didn’t seem to know his material — despite having hours to prepare. No one was enlightened by the strap-line. The admen (and ladies) were left to chew over a tough decision before reporting to Lord Sugar

Jim Eastwood

End of the old pals act

Earlier in the series I was impressed with straight-talking sales and marketing manager Jim Eastwood. But I wasn’t nearly as impressed as the lovestruck Vince, whose constant need to defer to his friend had not gone unnoticed. This week Nick Hewer characterised the Vince/Jim relationship as a “Batman Robin thing” but really this was a textbook case of a bromance that was so out of control that it derailed one man’s brave bid to become Lord Sugar’s business partner.

Despite having the better advert, Logic’s flawed concept of trying to develop a universal dog food lost them the task yet again. While Venture went off to knock a few balls around with former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, Lord Sugar tried to talk some sense into Vince. Despite a tendency to end her sentences with an overly aggressive “Yeah”, Natasha had a good week. As well as identifying her USP as “heart and joints”, she correctly predicted that if Vince put his feelings for Jim before business considerations he’d be in trouble.

Karren and Jim had a heated encounter over who was responsible for the Everydog name. It looked as though Karren badly wanted to see Jim neutered — rather than “mute” as he’d suggested. But it was all to no avail, because Vince opted to bring back Ellie and Natasha, letting a self-righteous Jim off the hook for another week. Still, Lord Sugar did inform him that his card was marked, so don’t expect to see him in the Final.

Ellie claimed to have “surprised herself” with her contribution this week. Given that last week saw her doing virtually nothing, perhaps this was indeed progress. But Natasha, taking Jim’s place in the firing line, was in no real danger of being booted out. Accusing Vince of “being so far up Jim’s behind that you couldn’t see the wood for the trees” was an uncomfortable metaphorical juxtaposition, but you admired her for saying it.

After Lord Sugar fired Ellie for being absolutely useless, there was a brief moment when I thought Vince would be running back to Richmond and falling once again into the loving embrace of Jim. But there was a big surprise in store. As Ellie trudged off with her wheelie bag, that finger came out again and Vince became the week’s second victim. There was astonishment back at the house, and perhaps Jim went to bed shedding a little tear for his mate’s noble sacrifice.

“Never mind Logic, you should be branded tragic!” (Lord Sugar)


Three-Minute Blunder

Susan Ma

This week on The Apprentice: Leon comes out of his shell, Tom does the sums and Natasha talks strategy.

Did The Apprentice producers have a shopping list when they hired their latest batch of recruits from Central Casting? A couple of lame ducks (Ed and Alex); one preening narcissist (Vincent); a mad inventor (Tom) and one big cry baby. In case you hadn’t guessed, that final category belongs to Susan Ma, whose quivering lower lip and wounded puppy expression are already the highlight of what’s been a low-key series. I’m not sure whether she needs a bone, a rusk or just an ear-boxing from Edna. Time will tell.

That running gag about candidates not knowing famous London landmarks is getting a little predictable. This week it was Susan (who else?) who suggested that the British Museum is just a big old repository for dinosaur bones. (Come to think of it, she may not even be aware that dinosaurs have been extinct for some time.) In any case, the Museum’s imposing facade was just another showy backdrop for Lord Sugar to announce the latest task: setting up a beauty treatment outlet in Birmingham. Apparently the market in the Midlands is currently less “saturated” with salons catering to free-spending WAGs, chavs, metrosexuals and ladies who lunch.

The winner of the “Be Careful What You Wish For” award was Zoe, who came perilously close to being fired last week instead of Gavin. Lord Sugar is a great believer in giving candidates enough rope to hang themselves. So in addition to making Zoe PM of Venture, he also gave her Susan — the candidate most likely to cause a meltdown. “The reason we can’t lose has just gone up sky-high”, declared a wildly over-optimistic Zoe, on hearing the first of Susan’s many boasts about her prowess in flogging skin care products. Also along for the ride were Leon, Glenn, Edna, and Helen.

Logic, the team that might as well be called Losers, got Felicity Jackson as its leader. The fault lines were immediately visible, with Felicity pronouncing herself a “girly girl” and straight-talking Yorkshire lass Ellie admitting that she wasn’t a “polished woman”. Thank goodness they also had the services of “the most female boy of the lot”: step forward Vincent Disneur, the moderately famous half-Belgian. Making up the numbers were Melody, Natasha, Tom and Jim.

As ever, the major pitfalls of this task were choosing the wrong products or picking the wrong place to sell them. (Remember last year’s misadventures in the Trafford Centre?) Logic didn’t take long to decide they’d be setting up shop in Birmingham’s Bullring Centre, on the basis that it was exactly what Melody had in mind. Smarty-pants Tom was already wrapping his keen intellect around the huge margins to be made from selling beauty treatments — it was the whole point of the exercise. But he had some reservations about conducting business from what appeared to be a broom cupboard miles away from their sales pitch. Was Felicity listening to his wise words? Not a chance. Meanwhile Venture wisely opted for the out-of-town approach that would give Westfield another priceless 20 minutes or so of free advertising on BBC1.

Glossing over Leon’s make-up issues

The pitches from eight over excited beauty entrepreneurs were entertaining. It was fun watching Tom getting his face plastered with a chocolate facial and Leon sizing up the bikini-clad lady who was about to be turned into “a little Egyptian mummy”. The sight of Glenn getting a foot massage was, frankly, less of a turn-on. Would Victoria Beckham or Cheryl Cole be seen dead sporting a clip-in “Winge” (fake fringe)? I still can’t believe Logic thought this was cutting edge. Leon was having some masculinity issues after being volunteered to try out some male cosmetics. “I can’t be a part of this” he whined, no doubt envisaging his girlfriend and her mates clustered round a TV laughing at him.

But all of this was just an excuse for Susan telling us (ad nauseam) that selling skin care products is “right up her street”. Annoying though Miss “Me, Me, Me” undoubtedly is, Zoe’s constant deferring to her expertise was also a big yawn. So it’s galling to report that Venture secured the spray tan product that both teams really wanted, purely on the basis of Susan’s enthusiasm — “We love it”. (Karren was enjoying a surreptitious look at what the newly-bronzed model keeps in his shorts.)

It looked as though Logic had lucked out with those nifty heated Lavashells, which Tom calculated could net them a 96 per cent profit margin. Once they’d lured the punters into their cupboard in the Bullring, they’d be minted. Who cares that they were proposing to carry out massages and hair styling in the same decidedly pokey space? This turned out not to be a problem at all, because between 11am and 3.30pm they didn’t attract any customers for their treatments — to the disbelief of Nick Hewer. It’s all very well trying to persuade ladies to buy a hairpiece that resembles a pet hamster (Natasha’s words), but that’s not where the big money lies.

Meanwhile over at Westfield, Venture’s tanning salon was doing a steady trade even if Helen didn’t seem to know how to switch on the equipment. I was hoping we might get a re-run of that tan-tastic episode of Friends in which Ross turns himself orange, but if there were any real cock-ups here, we didn’t get to see them.

Leon, belatedly channelling his inner gay man, soon got into the swing of selling those bottles of tanning products. His “weird finger trick” with the customers (not as interesting as it sounds) earned Karren’s approval. But Venture found themselves with way too much stock on their hands, because Susan had seriously overestimated her ability to conjure money from the pockets of those “poor” people of Birmingham. This led to a very public dressing-down from the PM and her head prefect Helen. “It’s so unfair Zoe!” sobbed poor little Suzy, in what was more or less a rerun of her spat with Edna in Week Two.

Massaging the figures

Logic were eventually reduced to giving away three-minute massages, in a very belated bid to grab some customers. (The idea was that Ellie’s magic fingers would persuade the punters to cough up for the full treatment.) It didn’t look like a winning strategy, but you never know. Perhaps they had saved the day by selling a truck-load of that fake hair to a bunch of Brummies with comb-overs. Nick Hewer thought it was possible, but said it would be “a close-run thing”. For once, he was way off target.

It was just as well that Venture came out on top, because Zoe seemed intent on shooting herself in the foot before the results were even revealed. She admitted regretting the decisions she’d taken as a result of the overconfident Susan “I can sell 60 on my own” and her much-vaunted expertise. A backstabbing session involving Zoe, Helen and Susan was curtailed when we learned that their efforts to spray-tan the pasty citizens of Birmingham hadn’t been in vain. Venture made a (not-very-impressive) profit of £203.01. Logic made a “pig-ugly” loss of £246.28.

So this week’s boardroom cat-fight was between Felicity, Ellie and Natasha. Actually, it was more of a massacre. After earlier pronouncing her a good leader, the team members rounded on the 23-year-old blonde, like sharks scenting blood. The PM could have brought back Tom “Mr Notebook-Calculator” Pellereau, whose skill lies in working out profit margins but not actually selling much. But, then he would have pole-axed her with his trenchant analysis of how they’d chosen the wrong venue to start with.

Ellie, who’d had a pretty chilled out afternoon in that broom closet, was incensed that sitting on her arse not doing any massages had earned her a trip to the boardroom. Her lack of “passion” in the pitches hadn’t passed unnoticed either. (Smiling occasionally might help.) Natasha “Where’s the strategy?” Scribbins didn’t impress Lord Sugar with her capacity for being wise after the event, but she got away with it this time.

Felicity suffered the double blow of being fired and frozen out by the two ruthless surviving candidates. “We didn’t say ‘bye to her, by the way” boasted Ellie back at the house. “This ain’t a popularity contest, this is about business” declared the hatchet-faced Ms Scribbins. Well, it’s lucky for her that this isn’t a beauty contest, because hers is a face I’d go out of my way to avoid.


Savoy Kerfuffle

Savoy Hotel (pic Anthony Majanlahti)

This week on The Apprentice: crushed ice, broken dreams and a heap of Belgian waffles.

“Creme tangerine and Montélimar
A ginger sling with a pineapple heart”

The latest Apprentice treasure hunt failed to turn up any of the items of teeth-rotting confectionary immortalised in the Beatles ditty Savoy Truffle. But I suspect the clueless contestants would have done better trying to locate a “nice apple tart” for London’s Savoy hotel, than 12.5 kilos of chamomile flowers tea. After Stella’s disastrous truffle hunt of 2010, the girls had to live down an unfortunate reputation for discount shopping in all the wrong places. The boys — already two-time losers — just needed a win.

The Savoy is about to reopen after a three-year programme of refurbishment. They’ve spent over £220 million, but someone forgot to buy chandelier bulbs, 3-ply loo rolls, crushed ice and a few other items without which they couldn’t possibly call themselves a luxury establishment. That was the (somewhat unlikely) premise of this week’s task, as Lord Sugar once again assembled the troops at an ungodly hour.

Just to make things really confusing, Leon, Jim and Glenn moved over to Venture, with Natasha, Ellie, Melody and Zoe joining Logic. If you’re now asking “Who the hell is Zoe?”, you’re not alone. According to the official BBC site, she works for a drinks manufacturer and characterises herself as a “why not” girl. But let’s be brutally honest, Zoe is also one of those candidates who doesn’t make much of an impression and that’s rarely a good thing on this show.

Venture elected super-keen 21-year-old skin care entrepreneur Susan Ma as PM. Despite being mauled by Edna last week, she was looking radiant and sounding like a winner as she whipped her team into shape and selected Jim as sub-team leader. The watching Nick Hewer declared her “quite a little force to be reckoned with”, and he’s a man who knows a thing or two about formidable ladies. (Remember that boardroom encounter with the Amazonian Debra Barr?)

This week’s episode unfolded in somewhat predictable fashion. Susan’s team got its act together very quickly and was soon out pounding the pavements of Mayfair in search of items like a top-class top hat, 7 kilos of fillet steak and (yes) that tea. Now, if you had nine hours and a budget of £2,000 to buy 10 items, would you go shopping in one of the capital’s most exclusive enclaves? Earlier, Susan had concluded that prices were likely to get more enticing the further east they went, but she failed to put that theory into practice.

“Naive” Natasha goes commando

Team Logic, led by the thoroughly uninspiring Gavin Winstanley got caught up in “three hours of pontificating” and soon found themselves lagging behind. Luckily, we didn’t have to share in the tedium of their inactivity. But we did get to watch Natasha Scribbins make a right idiot of herself, as she attempted to take a shortcut by calling a rival hotel (the Ritz) to ask where they did all their best deals. Was this just “naive” (as Karren wearily concluded), or the kind of ballsy strategy you’d expect from a candidate who’d failed to locate her underwear at the beginning of the episode?

Would you know where to lay your hands on a stainless steel cloche? Gavin’s mob weren’t really on the right track thinking they’d find one in a garden centre. Come to think of it, Gavin looks a bit like a garden gnome, though I suspect those little people can boast rather superior managerial skills. This turned out to be one of the few items that Susan’s team didn’t pay through the nose for thanks to Glenn’s sterling negotiating skills.

One of the highlights of the week for me was watching smooth-talking Jim demonstrate his “rapport” with a couple of upmarket butchers, by shaving another £10 off the steak. What a charmer. Those smiling Irish eyes made quite an impression on the light-bulb lady, too. But many of this week’s traders took a very dim view of the candidates and their negotiating techniques. It was as though they’d all warmed up by watching a Stuart Baggs showreel and then collectively decided on a policy of offering no discounts — or sympathy.

Susan bags some overpriced tea

Venture’s tendency to throw money about like confetti finally caught up with them when Susan went tea shopping. If you think a box of PG Tips is a bit pricey these days, don’t even contemplate buying chamomile from the Rare Tea Company. Susan’s expression on being quoted £990 for 12.5 kilos can only be described as gobsmacked. (Were 18 carat gold shavings one of the ingredients in this wildly overpriced brew?) Of course they didn’t pay that extortionate sum, but they did hand over £187 more than canny wee Tom did for the same item.

An increasingly desperate (and illogical) Gavin was reduced to visiting a dry cleaners called Top Hat in search of that elusive headgear. Meanwhile, Vincent was busy reminding the ladies on his sub-team that it takes a bloke to actually conclude a deal. Natasha and Ellie didn’t take kindly to Mr Not-So-Handsome rudely interrupting their negotiations, as though they were a couple of wide-eyed adolescents. Ellie dismissed him as as a wide boy and “Billy Bullshitter”. I just think he looks like a spiv.

As the hours ticked by, it was clear that the Logic weren’t going to get their 10 items unless they actually fell over a heap of dry ice and a cloche during their fruitless perambulations. But I was also worried that negotiating a trifling1 penny discount off the price of a top hat wasn’t going to help Venture’s bottom line.

Meet Mr Charisma: Vincent Disneur

It was a close run thing. Once the penalty fines were taken into account, Venture had spent £1,381.69 in securing 9 pieces of shopping. Losers Logic had shelled out £8 more for their paltry 6 acquisitions. Susan’s free-spending victors departed for what was described as a “circus-style cabaret” in Covent Garden. The lissome ladies there had Leon looking a bit hot under the collar as they gyrated above the bar.

Gavin brought back Vince and Zoe for a stroll down Losers Lane. This was a bit boring. Zoe did get to speak, if only to whine about not being given a chance to do much. That’s not a survival strategy that ever cuts much ice with Lord Sugar: just ask last week’s loser, Alex. Vince looked smarmy, and Gavin couldn’t offer much of an excuse for his failure to control the team and those wasted hours at the beginning of the day.

Gavin got his marching orders and lucky Zoe got the benefit of the doubt. But the best line was Lord Sugar’s insightful put-down of Vince: “I know you’re Belgian, that’s where the waffles come from”. You can stick that one in your toaster, Mr Disneur!


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