11/05/2011

The Apprentice - The youngest and the shortest person in the team went tonight, but he 'rolled with the punches'

The inaugural episode did not disappoint, everyone was every bit as stupid as promised by their interview videos (did I mention that you MUST watch them? They are truly hilarious). So far my favourites appear to have come up trumps: Alex Britez Cabral kicked off by announcing that he ‘takes cut throat & ruthless to a whole new level’ and demonstrated that by organising plastic cups and having a bit of a tidy up – terrifying - but more on that later. Not sure how I missed the badly misnamed Melody (has anyone ever had a more annoying voice?), she actually said "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon." She has, apparently been taught by Al Gore, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, none of whom, as far as I am aware, cite successful project management on their CV’s. More importantly, do we actually believe her? Doesn’t bode well for mouthy Mel…Julie, the hairdresser/trained actress was disappointingly quite, but I still have high hopes for her in episodes to come. A potential new favourite emerged in the form of Susan Ma. Susan claims to be “happy, easy to talk to…very enthusiastic…and easily amused'. Susan appeared to be sweetness and light for most of the task, but then at the first available opportunity stuck knife between the shoulder blades of her PM. This years bitchy candidate in the making? She did say that she’s ‘short, sweet and smiley, but when I do business, I mean business…” code for “I f@ck people up?" I sincerely hope so! (Side note: Have any of you heard of Tiger Mom, Amy Chua? I suspect Susan’s Mum pioneered the technique…)

Susan Ma
So according to the narrator, this is "the business deal of the decade…Britain’s entrepreneurial elite" have come together to compete to become LudAllen’s partner. According to LudAllen he “looking for someone who’s got a brain…who’s gonna start a business with me…” Why on earth is he looking on this show? Hasn’t he been watching over the years?? You won't find a brain cell amongst them LudAl??

Anyway, LudAllen announced to the candidates that he was going to invest £250,000 into a company that the ultimate winner will initiate, from original idea, through to day to day running. (Yes, he said "idea" He definitely hasn’t been watching, in six series there hasn’t been an original idea between any of the candidates, why on earth would this year be different??) To make the prize seem even sweeter, LudAllen, told the candidates has no intention of offering the winner any help or support and if they mess up he’ll lay into them. “Look at it," he said “as a bit of an uncivil partnership. How could anyone resist such an attractive offer???? (Side note: Not sure if the candidates noticed, but LudAllen said he was going to invest £250,000 worth of cash and 'value'. Hellooooo, 'value'? That could be £10 thousand in cash and £240 thousand worth of old Amstrad units. Have any of them checked what they're staking their reputations on for the next couple of months?) 

So the first task, that would get them a step closer to the money, was to take £250 buy fruit and/or veg, make something with them and sell for a profit. As always, the team with the biggest profit wins. Simple enough concept? In the real world yes, but in Tom Pellereau’s world it was so complex, he was forced to take notes…

Edward Hunter
The episode degenerated into a parody of Carry on film pretty quickly, kicked off by Edna Agbarha, who purred that she loves "…challenging myself to the utmost. I seek out pain rather than pleasure....” Perhaps her business idea is a low rent brothel, staffed by all the candidates, where she would be the “Dominatrix’? (Ooh errr Mrs!!) There was a prolonged segment where they all boasted about: owning/running single handedly, multimillion pound global companies; inventing the wheel; being responsible for world peace and all by the age of 12. I struggle to understand why any of them would need LudAllen’s ‘uncivil partnership’ on that basis. Everyone except Edward that is, who claimed to be just ‘a humble accountant’. Vincent (aka Mickey from ‘Only Fools and Horses’) tried to make him feel better by suggesting he could open his own accountancy firm. Edward, it turns out is ‘wheeler dealer who accidentally became an accountant’ who spends and awful lot of time 'rolling with the punches'. Possibly because he has a low centre of gravity, being so short, its easier to fall and roll when punched? More probably, because he works with accountants all day and despite being one himself, thinks they're boring. Anyway Edward’s considered response to the suggestion was:  ‘Yeah, I’d rather not…”

Melody Hossaini
Both teams had obviously prepared for the challenging ‘team name’ task, perhaps THIS is what differentiates them from the common or garden variety of Apprentice candidate? On the girl’s team, Helen (the one who looks strict and severe – ooh errr Mrs!) suggests "Galvanised, for obvious reasons", though only obvious to her as the rest of the room looked baffled and ‘Platinum’. Melody suggested 'Team Venture' and as Madam Edna was keen, nobody else was brave enough to challenge. Melody also decided she should be PM because she was in possession of a genius plan that would guarantee success i.e. “We’re gonna win.” The boys opted for “Logic’ which was ironic as it definitely wasn’t applied during the task….Edward was the only volunteer for PM and his plan was that he didn’t have a plan. Cunning genius or just an idiot? Do I really need to answer that question? (Side note: Qualifying as an Accountant involves: 3 years expensive training; a series of challenging examinations, plus; a period of work experience pre qualification - bl@@dy long accident…)

So the boys decided to make soup because per Edward, "You can’t get soup wrong.” Glen (another of my early favourites), who was clearly just being ‘negative’ pointed out that they didn’t actually know how to make soup. Details….Edward brushed off concerns about plans, profit margins and the like, as more annoying details. There was no time, apparently, to "show off and work out margins. I am an accountant, I can do that…just spend the £250 on produce and mash it up and make a profit. That’s my vision for this task.” With insight like this, why on earth is this bloke not a millionaire already? That accountancy qualification is clearly holding him back…

The boys decided that orange juice and tomato soup (that well known combo) was the way forward, despite the lack of soup making ability in the group and rushed off to source their ingredients. They immediately hit a massive hurdle when it became clear that none of them knew what an orange looked like. Vincent to Edward, whilst pointing at an orange: “Is that an orange?” I expected Edward’s response to be either: (a) It's round and orange, what else could it be? (b) hold it up against your face, if it’s a similar colour, it’s an orange. Edward’s response was actually (c) I don’t know….

Edward proceeded to spend pretty much all of his money on 1400 oranges, leaving Jim, the perpetually worried Irishman (aka Soupman or Jittery Jim), 40 quid to buy everything they would need to make soup. Against all odds, Jim managed it! I was beginning to wonder if Jim was Jesus and would also be able to feed 40,000 with a mere loaf of bread and a fish…It would have helped if he was because at this point, it appeared that the boys would need a miracle to win…
Ellie Reed
Cut to the girls, where Mouthy Mel, proved that unlike the boys she could identify fruit. The girls cut fruit for a fruit salad ‘like they’d never cut fruit before" in their lives. (They had to, they were in competition with the boys who, per Jittery Jim, were making soup "like they’d never made soup before". Which was ironic, as they had never made soup before.) Madam Edna was ‘volunteered’ to manage the money and manage it she did with a rod of iron. Anyone who tried to wrest any from her grasp was in for a whipping and as a result the girls did not use up their budget. Was this a bad omen? Time would tell. The girls split into two groups to sell. One group selling the stingiest looking fruit salad I have ever seen, that Mouthy Mel announced in front of a ‘customer’, only cost 33p to produce. You Sir, can have it for a mere £2.50 though, she told him. Faced with such a bargain, the customer had no choice but to buy it.... Call me cynical, but that seemed staged, a la The Only Way is Essex. The other group were, rather unsuccessfully, trying to get rid of what looked suspiciously like pigswill, but they were labelling as pasta, in Euston. This years potential ‘pantsman/lookey-likey’, (basically person speaking in tongues and/or in possession of a Northern accent), Ellie Reed who in her own words, “is not from around these parts” put in her first appearance. She displayed why LudAllen should invest £250,000 of his money in her by divulging that she didn’t know how to spell vegetable…

Jim Eastwood
Meanwhile back at the boys place, Leon the ‘fast food entrepreneur' (which probably means he earned five stars when he worked at McDonalds…), despite being told by PM Edward to "squeeze the balls out of the oranges", broke all of the juicers. Does Leon have an electromagnetic force field in his body that destroys all useful equipment? How on earth did he mange to break 3 juicers??? As Karen said in the boardroom later, "It's clear that it was a case of mishandling the equipment." (Phnar, phnar). Anyway, if the boys weren’t already doomed, the fact that they had to resort to juicing 1400 oranges by hand, sealed their fate… They missed the opportunity to sell their orange juice in the all important breakfast rush. Partly due to the broken juicer, but mainly due to the fact that they were phaffing about because Edward didn’t have a plan. I was heartened (as a person with borderline OCD) to see that Edward felt it important in the face of adversity to tidy up his workstation. Glen however, is obviously slovenly, because he didn’t share the same vision as Edward and I and started to lose it. Luckily, Jittery Jim, the Messiah, was on hand to diffuse the situation. “I’ll diffuse the situation” he said as he gently took Glen by the arm and invited him to "come over here". Am I the only one who finds Jittery Jim a tad scary?

The boys eventually got out and started to sell. The main points to note were: Vincent (aka Mickey from ‘Only Fools and Horses’) using his wiley charms to get women to buy his “orange juice” (phnar, phnar). He is obviously a skilled hypnotist, because despite being aesthetically challenged, women seemed to be falling for it; Alex Britez Cabral sold nothing, but vigorously defended the fact that the food wagon he was in charge of, was spotless and the bread was cut to perfection; Tom, the inventor, juggled his oranges (ooh errr Mrs...).

Anyway to cut, what has now become, a longer blog than the episode itself, short the girls won.LudAllen tried his first ‘ism’ of the series, it wasn’t good..."We've heard the Melody,'" he joked after asking her how she thought she did ”now let's hear the chorus." 3 out of 10 - must try harder. Sub standard at best, I hope LudAllen's script writers have some better stuff to pull out of the bag in later episodes. 

The losing team
Edward's team were, less than complimentary about his PM'ing and he was forced to defend himself in the boardroom. For some reason, Edward felt that telling LudAllen his “strategy was bottom up and not top down… I didn’t know how many I would produce…I didn’t know what price I would charge” would earn him brownie points. When that didn’t work he explained that when he was "producing it was called production”. He had also, fatally, "underestimated the manpower required to squeeze oranges.” Whilst I was wiping away tears of laughter at this point, LudAllen was strangely unimpressed. He went so far as to point out that, having trained at one of the largest accountancy firms in the word, Edward should have been all over the budget/plans. Edward, obviously realising LudAllen made a good point, revealed his hitherto opaque 'strategy' at this stage. Apparently, everyone knew he could do accounting stuff, so he was focussing on showing he could lead. (It's all clear now...NOT) LudAllen, rather cruelly pointed put that he in fact, demonstrated the opposite. 

In a last ditch attempt to save himself, Edward pointed out that he was the "youngest and the shortest”  person on the team (surely the best board room excuse ever?!). LudAllen chose to overlook his 'handicaps' and based on the fact that Ed was clearly a massive twonk, fired him anyway. A crestfallen Edwards slunk out of the boardroom, (interestingly, he didn't roll, despite looking like he'd just been punched) with the advice from LudAllen that he should play to his strengths as “there’s no shame in bein' an Accountant.” Not something Ed will have to worry about ever again I suspect, no accountancy firm will allow him to darken the doors of their massive offices again post his, very public, slating of the profession.

Favourite exchange of the episode: 

LudAllen: Ed, you were trained at one of the leading accountancy firms in the country I believe, is that right?
Ed: Don’t fit the mould.
LudAllen: Beg your pardon? 
Ed: Don’t fit the mould

LudAllen: I didn’t ask you that question, I said you were trained by one of the leading Accountancy companies in this country, is that right?  
Ed: I was. Indeed

LudAllen: So you would have had insight and vision into how companies are run ‘cause you audited ‘em a couple of times yeah 
Ed, shaking his head: It’s all there 
LudAllen, frowning: I Beg your pardon?  
Ed: It’s all there, all my experience is with me. 

LudAllen, raising his voice: Can you stop talking to me in semaphore here. We’re not sending each other text messages here just answer me properly yeah. I don’t understand what you mean by ‘its all there.’  
Ed: Yeah, so all my experience, that I’ve had, it’s all with me.
LudAllen, laughing: I’ve been told that your team name is Logic, not very appropriate. Good luck with that name… 

Did the right person go?  Whilst I shall miss Edward and the obvious comedy potential he takes with him, without a doubt! Fortunately, there are 15 other candidates who, I feel certain, won't let us down.

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