The Apprentice: Scapegoats, penguins and failing feminism

Lord Sugar, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer were back as the board in last night’s Apprentice.

In its tenth year, Sugar is after a business to invest £250k in, promising a 50:50 partnership with the lucky(?) winner – although Sugar was quick to point out his role would be advising and mentoring as opposed to a hands on role!

This season sees 10 men and 10 women take up the 12 week challenge, and it didn’t take long before egos expanded and tempers flared. Spilt into two groups (by sex) the first task was to sell all the products that the show had sold over its 10 year history. Balloons, sausages, t-shirts, flowers, potatoes, cleaning equipment and lemons all needed to go, and, as Sugar put it, it was no fire sale, the teams needed get the highest prices.

The products might have been a blast from the past, offering the benefit of hindsight, but that didn’t seem to add any value to the teams’ performances – but I’m getting ahead of myself…

The teams’ first steps were to decide on project managers for the task. Lawyer Felipe announced himself as no sales person, and offered himself up for the role and Sarah, apparently excellent at sales, became the other.

To listen to former PA and hypnotherapist Sarah is the only way that you’ll truly believe it. Before the task had really got underway she’d announced that “Most people will buy from females because they are more attractive to look at,” and asked that everyone in the team wore high heels and short skirts for the challenge ahead.

Having checked Michael J Fox hadn’t snuck his DeLorean into my living room and whisked me back to the 1950s, I had only minutes to wait before another anti-bra burning classic spilled out.

On the morning of the task (granted it was before 5am), when asked by a team member if they should think about strategy, Sarah replied, “That’s fair enough, but bring some nice make-up.” Love it. Sarah then split the group into two teams by where people were sitting and not by skill set, (surely she’s been regretting that?), and the task begun.

Back with the boys, everyone’s talents seemed to have been taken account of and the two teams set off on their tasks. Experienced entrepreneur Chiles led the second group, and although it got a little bit obsessed with the type of cheese to put on the gourmet hot dogs which meant they missed part of the rather vital lunchtime rush, things initially appeared to be under control. But first impressions have a habit of disappointing us.

Meanwhile savvy Sarah, had her eye on the project management prize and continually refused to help make coffee in favour of ‘managing’ the task. Lucky for Sarah, she doesn’t appear to suffer with the affliction of multi-tasking. Unfortunately, the more I heard, the worse I felt for Sarah. Perhaps the production team had made an error in the application process, or the editing was so skewed that she didn’t stand a chance?

The trouble was, the evidence just kept piling up. The pinnacle of achievement occurred outside the penguin enclosure in a ‘pitch’ to two bewildered zoo staff as Sarah tried to sell them three toilet brushes, some unlikely-to-be-safe-for-animals cleaning fluid and some cloths in a bucket, for spectacular sum of £250. I hid behind my hands, feeling the pain on Sarah’s behalf.

But back to the boys – and 10 people that are unlikely to want to hear the word T-shirt again for a very long time. After an entire 1.5 hours in the print shop trying to think up what to print on them to add more value to the basic product, things didn’t improve. A row over whether to collect the t-shirts and try to sell them or go and sell the potatoes broke out in the black cab, mainly between social worker Simon and team leader Chiles. It wasn’t Simon’s first opinion-voicing incident and the team as a whole seemed to have had enough of Simon’s challenging questions – in this case the insistence to collect and try to sell the t-shirts instead of leaving them at the print shop and prioritising the potato-pushing. And it appears Simon may have had a point.

Back in the boardroom, the girls’ feedback about Sarah’s management style appeared universally damning, but when the money made was announced, the ladies had won by a margin of nearly £60.

Sugar called the boys’ t-shirt trauma one of the team’s fundamental business errors and asked what the root cause had been. At which point pretty much the entire team, including its project manager Felipe, placed the blame squarely on scapegoat Simon. Sugar disagreed and fired Chiles, although both Robert and Felipe were both a whisker away – now the new format lets Sugar fire more than one candidate at once.

After Chiles’ firing, Felipe described the boardroom experience as the “most horrible experience” of his life and Robert, who spearheaded the gourmet hotdog element of the task, noted, “Let’s just say it’s dog eat dog from now on,” – although I don’t think he was being funny.

See you back in the boardroom for tomorrow’s episode.


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