The Apprentice: Ten Years of Discount Buying

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

Paul Coelho

I’ve had it. I’ve officially had it with this contrived, pointless, bloated show and its tyrannical, power-hungry figurehead. It’s lost all sense of fun and purpose and become a breeding ground for self-interested sociopaths.

Of course, I am deep in the throes of post-Apprentice rage, so I may be being the teensiest bit hyperbolic. But, in all seriousness, you do have to think: what is the point?

Some context is needed. This episode featured the annual Glorified Scavenger Hunt, in which the teams hared off to collect nine items taken from a grand shopping list at discounted prices in London. (At least this is better than last  year, when they flew all the way to Dubai.) Supposedly each team had free choice from the Master List, but their items were suspiciously similar, so one has to infer editorial intervention.

It was, from the moment the Almighty Lord Sugar knocked on the door of the candidates’ house at 6am, a farce. Because what employer visits his interviewees in their pyjamas? It’s not professional. And gods know ALS is always banging on about professionalism.

Oh, the candidates tear around town as usual, making colossal mistakes, bickering occasionally, ripping poor diamond merchants off by fluttering their eyelashes – but that’s all par for the course, and bickering levels were low anyway, Mark and Daniel having miraculously decided to be friends again. So the episode has very little tension, and very little natural structure, being essentially a treasure hunt with a whole city to search.

 This is obviously why ALS and his BBC buddies decide to make such a big fuss about the skeleton.

Each team is asked to buy an anatomical skeleton. The specifications say “Anatomical Skeleton, 150cm.” Nothing about what it should be made of or anything. Felipe and Daniel, therefore, decide to chance their arm, and buy a paper skeleton for £14, instead of a proper one for about £200. Sure, this is a bit cheeky, maybe, but the thing does fit the specifications, and it is a bargain.

But ALS decides to make a fuss over it. Because he is “judge, jury and executioner”, in his own words – for which read “a total control freak with no sense of humour.” He fails Felipe’s team, gratuitously, Because He Can.

Why am I so annoyed about this? Because there are rules, Alan. There are rules. And even you have to keep them.

I can’t be bothered to watch this any more. I just can’t. It’s so arbitrary it’s ridiculous. Shut up and get off our screens, Alan.

The Apprentice: Country Show

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Aesop

YES, Constant Reader, I am, due to the vicissitudes of the wondrous process we all call Life, horribly behind on my various reviewerly duties. I apologize. Country Show is not, therefore, this week’s Apprentice offering but last week’s.

So. In last week’s episode of The Apprentice, our intrepid candidates were sent off to the wilds of Somerset, to go sell stuff at the Royal Bath and West Show. I love the Royal Bath and West Show, because food and cute animals and rides and FOOD (and I’m pretty sure I once saw Prince Charles there), so I had a great time watching this episode. (The fact that I watched it with the University Gang was also excellent – real-time snark is even more fun than Internet snark.)

Country Show was, admittedly, a particularly good episode in its own right, full of those peculiarly stupid decisions that only the most self-interested and -absorbed among us can make. There were – wait for it – not one but two of what I’m going to call Apprentice Scandals: things so disastrously unprofessional or just idiotic that they will get you fired. Firstly, Desperate Daniel, upset that his team had learned never, ever to trust him with anything important, tried to pick a fight with the supremely unaggressive Felipe (“I will never stop being a nice man,” the latter said later in the boardroom, causing, I am sure, a country-wide utterance of “Awww…”), while apparently accusing Mark of telepathic manipulation. “You’ve got inside Felipe’s head! You’ve turned him against me!”

Careful, Daniel, you’re beginning to sound a bit desperate there.

Then along comes our Other Favourite Character, Mouthy James. Having chosen, along with his team, to sell hot tubs, he’s turned down by the vendor Anthony for repeatedly addressing him as Derek. (“If that’s all he’s worried about, a name, then I don’t want to work with him anyway!”) As if this wasn’t bad enough, he then proceeds to lie to his team about why they won’t be selling hot tubs, pretending that he changed his mind at the last minute. You could just hear the producers celebrating in the cutting room, because this is Apprentice gold. It’s what makes this show popular: ridiculous people being deflated. It’s televised karma, essentially.

I’m also going to make a cautious prediction at this point about Who Will Win. I think it’s going to be Roisin. Think about it: she’s reserved, professional, cautious, intelligent and a consistent contributor. Or, in other words, the best of a bad bunch.

Posh People: Inside Tatler Ep. 1

“Introductions are hard to come by when your natural state is shyness.”

Steve Martin

Before you ask how I manage to spend so much of my time watching low-grade “documentaries” and reality TV, the answer is that I have no idea. Possibly because there is nothing that I actually want to watch on iPlayer (apart from The Apprentice, and even that is wearing thin). Possibly because watching unrelatable people make fools of themselves is the best antidote for stress. Who knows. I certainly don’t.

Anyway. Inside Tatler is rather interesting, if only for its insights into how magazines work. How Tatler works, at any rate. It’s a sort of fly-on-the-wall piece following the staff of Tatler as they work on England’s oldest and poshest magazine. It’s also narrated by Laurence Fox off Lewis, so, you know, that’s something.

Of course, the editors of the programme have included strictly the most ridiculously posh things that happen at the magazine. Because if we only saw magazine people going about their normal writing and researching business we’d be bored? Well, I wouldn’t, because I find magazine production fascinating, but I understand that mine is probably a minority view. Anyway, the BBC have made Inside Tatler something of a parade of the bizarre, the silly and the novel. So Tatler‘s style editor goes on a trip to Poundland – “Ohmygod, this place is so great”, she says, exactly as you’d imagine someone saying that – new employee Matthew fails at two assignments on gatecrashing parties and researching the Bullingdon Club (on the latter: “if even the tailor won’t talk about it, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on”. Well, Matthew, we all know what’s going on. It’s not a secret), and Laurence Fox mixes up hunting with horse racing.

It’s all a bit “them-and-us”, a bit voyeuristic, perhaps. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, or offensive in any way; just a little biased, and not very worthy of the title “documentary”.

But if it was, chances are I wouldn’t be watching it. So what can you do.

The Apprentice: Advertising

“Happiness is not the natural state of mankind, and is never achieved from the outside in.”

Terry Pratchett

I wonder what you could tell about someone from the contents of their iPlayer Downloads folder?

Mine, for instance, contains the first episode of World’s Greatest Food Markets, which features convicted Cockney salesman Roger Barton trying to flog stuff to Americans, and the seventh episode of The Apprentice, which features Cockney ex-salesman Alan Sugar sending some hapless “entrepreneurs” off to try to flog stuff to Americans.

Apparently I am fascinated by Americans buying stuff.

Actually, this week’s episode of The Apprentice involved both teams trying to market a new soft drink in New York. For reasons best known to the Almighty Lord Sugar, this involved a ridiculously contrived scenario in which half the team had to stay behind in rainy Luton while the others went to America without them. Since I assume you can come up with a brand just as well in America as you can in Luton, and ALS and the BBC are hardly short of cash, the only reason I can think of for this little piece of theatre is to generate some tension.

It works, too: Sanjay remains bitter and annoyed with the rest of Summit as he’s left behind to design in Luton, and Desperate Daniel fails at branding Tenacity’s product and proceeds to blame everyone for leaving him behind (despite the fact that previous episodes have proved that you should never, ever, allow Daniel to pitch anything). Both, it has to be admitted, have a point, but their continued sulkiness throughout the episode only highlights how intrinsically irritating they are as people.

Other than that, the show predictably continues to spin into ludicrousness as ALS decrees that he shall pick the best marketing strategy (oh, how nice for you, Alan), Summit comes up with an energy drink named Big Dawg (hilariously, this already exists in America), and Daniel persists in Not Being Fired despite the fact that he is clearly impossible to work with. Looking forward to employing him, are you, Alan?

Oh, and the quotes. They are too good to pass over, so I shall make a List.

  1. Mark: “I wanna be project manager SO BAD.” Really, Mark? Really? So much, in fact, that you backed out of PM-ing the last task?
  2. ALS: “I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you today, I got caught up with business elsewhere.” Sure, Alan. You’re too important to be on national television. We get it.
  3. Nick descibes New York as “the Big Apple, where things are Big.”
  4. ALS: “They say New York is the city where nobody ever goes to sleep…” I’m sorry, Alan, who says this, exactly?

It occurs to me that The Apprentice would only be half as much fun if I didn’t have the Internet to bitch about it to afterwards.

But then my downloads folder would be far less eclectic. So, you know, swings and roundabouts.

World’s Greatest Food Markets: New York

“God throws dice. Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late he’s been playing with two queens all along.”

Terry Pratchett

I…don’t know quite what to make of this.

I thought it would be a sort of travelogue-type documentary, with lots of pictures of nice food and Interesting Foodie Facts that you can trot out at dinner parties in order to sound cultured. Which is why I was somewhat surprised when the BBC iPlayer age warning thing popped up on screen.

World’s Greatest Food Market actually turns out to be a sort of weirdly charming cross between The Apprentice and one of those interminable C4 “documentaries” about, I don’t know, people watching telly or whatever. Essentially, BBC2 has, for reasons of its own, given £5000 of licence payers’ money to Roger Barton, a London fishmonger with a criminal conviction for selling out-of-date fish and the ominous nickname “The Bastard of Billingsgate”, and packed him off to the roughest fish market in New York to try and turn a profit.

It’s funny, because Roger Barton is essentially an earthier reincarnation of Alan Sugar, complete with London accent and all the swearing (hence, it turns out, the aforementioned age warning), yet by the end of the programme everyone seems to have decided that he’s basically a teddy bear in a battered straw hat and stained white coat. “He’s Yahweh!” says one large American fishmonger, hyperbolically. And, indeed, it’s quite sweet watching him bumble his way through the programme, asking buyers if they’re Chinese or Korean, trying to sell a thousand pounds’ worth of jellied eels to New Yorkers with an admirable if ineffective fervour, naively assuming that his fellow fishsellers will be pleased with his competition, and waiting for hours on a freezing dock for a load of fresh fish. There’s something very olde worlde about it all; very Victorian pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps. It’s probably all editing lies, of course, but that isn’t to say it’s not endearing.

Of course, the effect of all this is to suggest that even the most ruthless of British salesmen are somehow nicer and more honourable than their totally commercialised and cynical American ones, which is not true at all or at least only true in a very limited way. Barton may be being made out to be a sort of lovable rogue, but let’s not forget that he did have a criminal conviction. Food poisoning is, after all, actively dangerous. We may say, “oh, it’s all right, it’s only a fiction,” but it’s precisely this kind of fiction that makes us forget realities. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked, dodgy sales practices are still dodgy sales practices.

Having said that, I will probably be back for more of this particular fiction. It’s simply too good to miss.

The Apprentice: Board Games

“What you hold may wish to go
What you believe may not be so
All that brings you peace of mind
May not stay for a long time.”
 

Paul Shapera

While I am enjoying The Apprentice‘s weekly dose of arrogant idiocy, the whole thing is beginning to feel like a bit of a farce.

This week, Teams Tenacity and Summit were asked to design a new board game and sell it to the trade. Like many Apprentice tasks, this is actually deceptively difficult, since most new board games are either drunken-teenager easy or Sheldon Cooper complicated. Still, the level of incompetence some of the candidates deliver this week is staggering.

Admittedly, Summit’s idea, essentially a cross between Articulate and Pictionary, was fairly good for something dreamed up in day. Tenacity, however, came up with a deeply offensive and sexist dating board game, complete with multiple-choice questions written by Desperate Daniel. Why anyone thought this would be a good idea is unclear. Tenacity lost, by the way, although not before Mark uttered the unforgettable sentiment that “It’s hard to fly like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.”

I’m sure we’re all grateful for that gem of wisdom.

I’m getting off the point. Tenacity may have been shockingly, wince-inducingly bad, but Summit made its own rather drastic mistakes, too, not least that The One Named Bianca offered exclusivity for sale of their game in Westminster to a tiny independent shop, which made selling to Waterstones rather difficult. If both the teams are as bad as each other (and, believe me, they are: Mouthy James, Summit’s PM, was every bit as insufferable as the aforementioned Desperate Daniel this week), one is inclined to think, what’s the point? Where’s the competition? At this stage in the series, you’d hope that the teams would be tighter, more organised, less inclined to make amateur mistakes like Bianca’s. But I can’t imagine ALS wanting to hire any of these candidates. Ever.

Oh, and talking of ALS, the fact that he keeps waving his Slap Bet privileges about is not helping, either. It’s supposed to raise the tension; in fact, it lowers it, because there’s a sense that the boardroom scenes are no longer a case of  choosing the worst from the bad, but of just throwing out whoever is annoying to ALS’ superiority. And some of his choices are weirdly arbitrary, clearly the result of producers’ intervention, as the decidedly bad eggs like Desperate Daniel are kept in while quietly efficient (read: boring) candidates like Pamela or Jemma are fired. The thing feels like a farce, not a competition.

I mean, it’s funny, and the candidates are uniformly awful, so it’s difficult to feel too sorry for them. But…

…there are rules. And even ALS should not break them.

Masterchef: The Professionals Ep. 2

“Secrets are never so dangerous as when they’ve been forgotten.”

Natalie C. Parker

I am a little less tired today, so hopefully, Constant Reader, this post will be a little more coherent than my last Masterchef post. It certainly helped that this episode’s contestants were considerably less dour than last time: we had Samantha, this episode’s token woman chef; Jogi, who looked like he needed to sleep for about a week; Zak, a twenty-one-year-old with no skills; Daniel, who broke his pastry twice over; and Jethro, who has an alarming penchant for vegetables. Unfortunately, as you can probably tell from the above, the standard of these contestants was markedly lower than that of the first episode’s. So much so, in fact, that judges Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti ended up deciding who to send home by the presentation of their food. 

This is not why I watch Masterchef. It’s especially not why I watch Masterchef: The Professionals. The clue is in the name, guys.

The food looked good, though, even if it tasted horrid. So it wasn’t, I suppose, a total write-off. Just not exactly what I was expecting.

The Apprentice: Coach Tours

“Even the walking damned defend their land.”

Paul Shapera

If I have learned anything this week, it is never, ever to get on a coach with an Apprentice candidate.

This week’s divinely-appointed task is fairly self-explanatory: run a day coach trip from London. So I’m thinking, you know, Stonehenge, Oxford, the south coast…

“Kent,” says someone from Tenacity, “let’s do a history tour.”

Right. Kent. That well-known historical county that everyone wants to visit.

This pretty much sets the tone for the episode as a whole, which is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen on The Apprentice. The candidates prove to be as incompetent and idiotic running a coach trip as they are about everything else. We are treated by Summit to an edition of Felipe’s Fifteen Fun Facts about Oxford (did you know there are more pigs than people in Oxfordshire? No, neither did I) and some sandwiches that looked like nothing anyone would ever want to buy, ever. And that was the winning team.

Do you want to hear about Tenacity? Of course you want to hear about Tenacity. First off, Mouthy Robert treats 25 paying tourists to a three-hour bout of “Wheels on the Bus” and “One Man Went To Mow”, by the end of which everyone looks like they want to murder someone. Then, upon arrival at the oh-so-famous Bever Castle, Gemma, who is supposed to be tour-guiding, points out a “photo of Henry VIII” for everyone’s viewing pleasure, and fails to answer someone’s question about what happened to Anne Boleyn. C’mon, Gemma. You could at least have made it up like most tour guides do.

To finish up this hilarious litany of errors, the gang get lost with their tourists in Canterbury with about fifteen minutes to go before the cathedral they are supposed to be visiting closes. If you’ve ever been to Canterbury, you’ll know that getting lost there is really quite tricky. There are signposts and everything. Or, you know, Google Maps would have done it.

(Are these people serious? Like, actual businesspeople? Have they ever planned anything in their lives? I have a very strong suspicion that they wouldn’t achieve even what little they did achieve if they weren’t on telly: 60% discounts at tourist attractions and the like can’t be the norm, and they’re probably not down to Australian charm or whatever either.)

Despite the fact that this is quite literally the worst task yet on The Apprentice, ALS forgoes his Slap Bet powers for once (presumably the producers asked him if he couldn’t please stop firing all the amusing candidates) and fires only the unfortunate Sanjay, although he doesn’t miss the opportunity to remind everyone that he is still the most powerful despot on reality television, etc. It’s all starting to sound a bit hollow, actually.

I can’t stop watching it, though. Its awfulness is somehow addictive, which is good news for ALS and his cronies, although bad news for everyone else.

Masterchef: The Professionals Ep. 1

“Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grows in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.”

Terry Pratchett

As one food-based competition is consigned to the Purgatory of Unifinished Shows, so another one rises. The MasterChef juggernaut rolls on with The Professionals, which is essentially what it sounds like: established chefs competing for attention and recognition. The MasterChef kitchen is filled with unsmiling, rather surly men (there are no female chefs, notably, in this episode, save for one of the judges) all trying to Cook the Perfect Dish. It’s actually quite exhausting. I gave up actually listening about halfway through and just looked at the food instead.

It wasn’t even that funny when everyone failed the technical test, essentially a profiterole tower for which the judges did not provide adequate instructions, and were then surprised when they all fell over.

Then they all made quail. Or something. It’s too complicated to follow. Or I’m too tired. Why can’t I have Bake Off back? At least that had jokes. MasterChef just has Gregg Wallace talking rubbish in front of professional chefs. And gods know that’s no fun.

The Apprentice: Online Video Channels

“There’s nothing like stories on a windy night when folks have found a warm place in a cold world.”

Stephen King

(Happy Halloween, Constant Reader! This is unfortunately not a Halloween-themed post, unless you want to count the Almighty Lord Sugar as a monster. Sorry.)

You can just tell from the title of this one that it’s going to be a complete disaster. Because making online video – good online video that gets more than three views – is actually quite hard, and is almost certainly beyond the humourless talents of the average Apprentice candidate.

The teams this week were essentially aiming for views as opposed to any more financially-orientated goal, an interesting choice for The Apprentice since ALS is hardly a Youtube critic. And it kind of seems that he’s aiming for more complete control than ever before with this episode, as he appoints the PMs for both teams (Solomon the Biggest Geek in the World for Summit, and Business Graduate Ella Jade for Tenacity) and abuses his Slap Bet powers yet again in the boardroom.

I’m actually going to skip right to the boardroom Slap Bet fiasco, because the details of the online video task are simply too painful to recount. Suffice it to say that no member of either Summit or Tenacity should ever be let near a camera ever again.

So ALS decides to send not only Abrasive Stephen home, but also Sarah the Feminist and Business Graduate Ella Jade (who leaves literally begging ALS to give her another chance). This is all very well and good, and I’m sure it’s meant to up the tension or whatever, but actually it feels unfair. There are rules to this game, after all, and ALS has to keep them as well as the candidates. No one wants to watch a tyrant; it’s dull and it’s irritating if ALS can just fire people willy-nilly, with apparently no need for justification or due process. I’m inclined to ask what the point is of the whole thing.

I mean, they were all quite annoying, so I’m not exactly sorry that they’re gone. But I’d rather not see The Apprentice descend into anarchy, because it simply makes me want to punch ALS in his pimply face even more than I wanted to already.