The Apprentice.



TV As some of you know, back in the day I had the privilege of writing for the late lamented television review and comment website Off The Telly. In an effort to pull my various bits writing onto the blog, I've decided to post some of these over the coming weeks. Since The Apprentice is back this week, find below a recap/review of one of only two or three episodes I think I've ever watched, and one of those was the week before in preparation for writing this. It's for an episode of the 2006 series and if you're a fan you'll know the personalities.  Please note - it was sub-edited before being posted on Off The Telly which is why it shows the features of good English and grammar.

During last week’s episode of The Apprentice, two particular personalities were highlighted. Jo and Syed found it hard to make a good impression, simply because their estimation of what they needed to do and say, and what was actually required, were so wide of the mark. Where the rest were happy to sit back and carry on nonchalantly as though they really didn’t care if Alan picked them, these two went in with tons of passion from the off – albeit, some of it misdirected. While Jo really seemed to care for the image of her team, Syed just wanted to make himself look good. I predicted then that one of them would be fired before the hour was up. How wrong I was.

Alan Sugar reminds me of an old games teacher I used to have. At the beginning of every term before we could select which sport we wanted to try, he would offer the list (football, basketball, cricket, weight-training etc). Just after my usual selection of bridge, Mr T (for that was his nickname) would say, “There is no two-hour skive, no two-hour ‘go home’, no two-hour going to the shops”. Now here’s Sir Alan with his, “There is no phone-in here, there is no text a number, no panel of judges. I’m the one who decides who gets fired, and I’m the one who ultimately decides who gets hired”.

It’s quite disconcerting (he even shouts and points in the same way) but within the opening titles of the programme, it importantly specifies that, for once, this is a reality game show in which the public can’t vote Penny Smith to stay despite the fact she obviously can’t sing. Time is spent over these crucial initial moments in building up Sir Alan as a captain of industry, with all the planes and paraphernalia. Sadly they don’t mention the joy he brought to millions of school kids who gained friends because they had an Amstrad CPC 6466 with a built in monitor and disc drive. That would do it for me.

Those first few minutes of last week’s show had lulled the audience into a false sense of security. The use of Bill Conti’s music from The Thomas Crown Affair gave the impression this group were like teenagers given the keys to the big house and being allowed to play (I remember a similar scene in the first series of Popstars all those years ago). It wasn’t long before some polite discussions began.

This week over the recap it’s all drumbeats, clock-ticks and guitar riffs. Suspense from the off as some of the blokes rankled at the appearance of Syed, rather than Ben, back at the house. The Bangladesh born entrepreneur looked touchingly forlorn as colleague Samuel received all the hugs.

The gloves were off. Lads (and ladies) let’s get to work.

Tonight’s task was to create a design for a charity calendar for Great Ormond Street Hospital. As with last week, Velocity had an early bird on where they wanted to take the design. Then the solid wall of intuition seemed to crumble. The voiceover intoned, “Early research suggests pets sell the most calendars,” and the ensuing discussion began with the decision as to whether they should go with cats or dogs. The website for an American company flashed up on screen. With all the prices in dollars, would this be their first mistake – basing a business decision on researching the US market. Would anyone notice?

Jo was emotional. Quite rightly she thought the calendar should reflect the ethos of the hospital. It was difficult to watch the group’s reaction as she began to cry, only to be shouted out by her colleagues who were increasingly hostile, sensing a forthcoming kill. Suddenly people who last week could sell a tray of fruit for 30 quid simply by batting their eyelids became, well, banshees. As often happens in these situations, a group who are desperate to plough on with the doing of things failed to stop and listen to all the opinions.

Jo was being steamrollered and she didn’t like it.

Wondering how they’d come to that decision, I searched for calendars on Google and found the exact website which flashed up on screen, www.calendars.com. Their top seller lately is “Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light” with “Hot Buns” in fourth – although after Sir Alan’s reaction to last week’s escapades, I can see why they’d disregard that idea.

When Jo then held up a piece of GOSH publicity, it was abundantly clear the girls didn’t even want to consider the charity’s own branding. As ever, they were going to do their own thing. Within the show’s editing process, Jo had gone from being slightly annoying to quite sympathetic.

In the Invicta camp, Samuel was subjecting his teammates to a training session on how to brainstorm. In excruciating detail he talked through the various approaches until his highlighter ran out of ink. As usual, Ansell attempted to take charge as the group couldn’t decide what they wanted, or how. Margaret Mountford, Sir Alan’s aide, wasn’t happy and told them so. When they finally came to a decision it was as simple as the girls’ … and just as gut-wrenching. Babies. Dressed in work clothes. Syed dashed off the list. “This baby’s gonna be a doctor, this baby’s gonna be a businessman, this baby’s gonna be an astronaut, we’re gonna dress them all up in this”. Poor babies.

As Syed and Paul wandered through a prop department hunting for appropriate dressings, things were looking increasingly dodgy. Paul dithered over whether they should include handcuffs in the politically correct “policeperson” picture. “We could handcuff them together, but we don’t want to look as though we’re handcuffing kids”.

The cracks in Invicta continued to show as Syed, Ansell and Paul had the inspired notion of actually buying some charity calendars so they could get some leads on design and pricing. Alas, Syed garbled the reasoning behind the plan to Sam – he said it was to see if they could guess how expensive they were – and it went no further. Despite this failure, the “business bad boy” actually appeared for the first time as someone with good logical ideas. In the ensuing confrontation over pizza with Samuel and Mani, he was by far the clearest and most level-headed. Almost robotic.

At Velocity, Nargis had called a meeting for all the girls who sat around drinking wine and agreeing with each other. Except for Jo, who was in the kitchen crying. The following day, there was a telling moment, which remained unhighlighted. As they left the house, Alexa reached forward to touch Jo, who was walking ahead of her. We didn’t find out what was said, but it was odd the voiceover suggested one set of circumstances, while these details offered a different narrative.

As the day progressed we were shown a montage from the photo shoots. Michelle explained the high concept behind their cat project. “We don’t want anything climbing out of plant pots or anything like that. We want something that’s quite contemporary, quite sharp, quite classy”. Meanwhile, the boys’ babies were not even dressing in uniforms.

Problematically, they were totally naked with bricks and film cans keeping their modesty. It made for uncomfortable viewing. But not as uncomfortable as witnessing layout man Tuan producing the design and choosing a font horrifyingly like Comic Sans.

Before the rest of the team arrived, he complained to Mani (who had just returned from mangling Thomas Jefferson into his pitch) that there would soon be another six people arguing over the thing’s colour. In the end, predictably they argued over the whole layout. The resident desktop publisher adjusted his glasses and kept his mouth shut. We couldn’t blame him. While the gang debated, like Jo before him, Tuan was shut out and tearful.

As the third day dawned, Syed, Samuel and Mani were haggling over the item’s retail price. Samuel thought they should go for something a few pounds more than the internet.

“You think?” Syed said pointedly. If they’d gone to a shop and had a look as he’d suggested they would have known. Syed said he was feeling uncomfortable. Mani dropped the f-bomb and tempers finally flared. But, yet again – and I hate to say this – Syed was right and Mani was annoyed about that.

The pitching sessions began. At Harrods, Mani was trying to sell a calendar to a man looking directly through him. It wasn’t clear if Mani thought they had chemistry, but it seemed to me his presence was only being tolerated, especially when the question of money came up and he still didn’t have an answer. Although they had this straight by the second encounter of the day, they weren’t going to win with Virgin Megastore (“It’s not particularly nicely produced if I’m being honest … the inset pictures are quite dated looking … the use of colours has a little bit of a look of desktop publishing about it … I don’t think we’d be able to pay anything more than £2.70, £2.75 for this.”).

However, none of this was quite as excruciating as Nargis’ work. Beforehand, she’d advised everyone to stay quiet even if she was making a hash it. Painfully nervous, she actually interrupted the Virgin man when he had the audacity to ask how much he’d have to shell out – and she too, didn’t have an answer for that.

For all her ability to take charge in meetings, she simply couldn’t handle the random stress of a presentation. Each time she lacked the flexibility to answer simple questions, desperate to keep to the form of her pitch. Everyone watching The Apprentice tonight now knows there are six million cat owners in the UK alone, and that the majority of them live in London. I’m going to take that to my grave. Then the man from the Calendar Club asked: “Why are you selling a cat calendar for children?” Jo wondered about this two days ago. Nargis was flustered. She told him he’d find out if he just let her finish the presentation. “Oh, OK. Oh there’s more …” But what’s this? In the final meetings at Calendar Club for the boys and Harrods for the girls, no matter how awful the pitches were they liked the product. Calendar Club man even congratulated the boys on the design. Because he knows. Because he buys a lot of calendars. Lord.

Then the tension ramped up for the boardroom. Initially, it looked as though the girls had won. They’d managed to sell to all of the vendors and made £7000. But wait. The man from Calendar Club had bought a shed-load of the things from the boys, and they’d made £10,000. For all their indecision, a random variable had meant they’d turned a profit.

Nargis was shocked. She swallowed visibly.

In the ensuing “burn-down” session, Sir Alan pointed out cats had nothing to do with the hospital. Although this reflected well on Jo, her rambling self-assessment made little headway with the mogul. He looked pained. “Jo, will you excuse me for one moment and allow me to appraise the situation?” Karen, who was also brought in for the reckoning by Nargis, was the biggest surprise here. We hadn’t heard much from her, but her strong negotiating skills came to the fore. Sir Alan used her as counsel regarding Jo’s attitude. Could she be redeemed? And then, just when she needed to shut-up and let Nargis take the flack, Jo was back presenting her case, even interrupting Sugar. Frankly I want to her to win on the basis that she seems to be the most real of all.

Nargis was fired. Good.

Given that she was the second team leader to be given walking boots in as many weeks, I would have thought no one else would want the job. But in the preview for next week, it’s clear Jo is next up – no doubt in the team’s hope she’ll finally go overboard. But you know, I’ve a feeling she’ll still be there in the final week.

Her and Syed. What do you think?

Neither. Michelle and Ruth. Michelle was hired.

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