It was probably not the intention of the first episode of season 8 of The Apprentice (UK) to demonstrate how the credit crunch happened. But I'm pretty sure it did. Surprisingly they didn't mention it. But then they had more important things on their mind than noticing how the Western economies were almost destroyed a couple of years ago. They had to find another young person so desperately keen to work with Lord Sugar that they'd probably be off to do a more fun job in the media less than three weeks after winning.
Which brings us to the man himself. Presumably fed up after attending leaving parties for so many of the previous hireees Lord Sugar now offers a £250 000 investment rather than a job. It's never quite clear whether the £250 000 is actual money or grumpy platitudes with tariffs – a number of which he dispatches at the beginning of the show to cheer us all up – so at least he gives out free samples.
Thankfully, Nick is back too though sadly still untitled - I do wish The Queen would take the opportunity in Diamond Jubilee Year to ennoble Nick – I propose he is created the Duke of Upper Sneering and then a grateful nation would be able to watch the delicious sight of Lord Sugar outranked in his own boardroom. “So how do you think the girls did on the QVC task, Your Grace?” I mean if you going to have a ludicrously old-fashioned and anti-democratic honours system you might as well have fun with it.
Karen is back too and she is continuing to keep very still which I think is meant to exude power and it certainly unnerves me as when she is not actually speaking she appears to be a statue with a very expensive haircut.
On the other side of the boardroom table we had the traditional sixteen young and hungry wannabe tycoons groomed to within a millimetre of their lives and prepared for ten weeks delivering to camera ever more boastful and unconvincing sound bites. They are all, it goes without saying, natural leaders committed to giving 110% 24/7 to gain Lord Sugar's approval.
Until that is “the boys” (they are men and I bet they all wear far too much aftershave to prove it) were given the opportunity to volunteer to be Project Manager. As one, these putative entrepenurial Napoleons found themselves shuffling their feet and staring vacantly at the floor. It turned out they didn't believe quite as strongly in themselves as they may have suggested and they certainly didn't believe in each other.
“The girls” (they’re not…oh forget it) proved more positive - bonding quickly, selecting a team leader, Gabrielle, and then creating what appeared to be a well-designed product. We know of old that the makers of The Apprentice are fans of the narrative arc of the soap opera. I began to fear for “the girls”.
And so it proved. Though the bags “the boys” were selling were appallingly designed and printed disgracefully they were at least selling them. The girls after a lengthy sales strategy meeting were stuck in transit (the metropolitan traffic being an unremarked on deciding factor in so many tasks). And when the girls finally reached London Zoo we discovered that one of them was not quite as bonded as the rest - Billyana whose back story involved dragging herself up and out of communist Bulgaria to the giddy heights of risk management at a bank in the city. I think it would be fair to say that Billyana left Bulgaria before the classes about the importance of collective action had really struck home. Leaving the others behind her like orphaned ducklings piteously cheeping that it was their turn to sell now she targetted any and every potential customer veering crazily between them on impossibly high stilettos.
With time running out and the girls’ sales strategy having morphed into a cacophonous shrieking at a plainly terrified shopkeeper things were looking ominous. However, across town the boys were being hauled back to a retailer themselves to reimburse them for scandalously ripping them off. It was capitalism red in tooth and claw which was presumably just what Billyana was looking for when she boarded the plane out of Sofia.
Sadly, capitalism has losers as well as winners and back in the boardroom the girls duly filled the role of the losers and the boys suddenly discovered they were a team after all and none of them had ever doubted each other. Outside there were the inevitable group hugs, high fives and sweaty self-congratulation.
Back in the boardroom Lord Sugar and Nick were pretending to debrief the girls but were really Giving Big Hints About Who Lord Sugar Wants To Fire So The Project Manager Puts Them In The Final Three. The unfortunate girl in this case was the inoffensive but slightly diffident Katie who was perhaps committed only 105% 23/7. The Sugar Hint Process is not subtle “I hear you didn´t do much, Katie” but it works.
Katie and Billyana joined Gabrielle. Billyana had managed to alienate every single member of her team by being incredibly pushy and was going to be excellent televsison in the coming weeks – she was guaranteed to stay. As Lord Sugar began his firing speech with unsubtle criticisms of those who didn’t put themselves forward this was clear to everyone.
Now Lord Sugar is keen on people putting themselves forward in all circumstances bar one – the one where he is talking. Billyana had somehow missed this. So as Lord Sugar began to give poor, unpushy Katie the bad news he was interrupted, heckled and barracked by Billyana who was at no risk whatsoever but nevertheless was hell bent on desperately pleading for the second chance Lord Sugar was trying to give her.
Lord Sugar’s temper is not a long one. Taxi for Billyana.
Which brings me to the explanation for the credit crunch. Billyana, you may recall, is a risk analyst for a City bank. I have never seen anybody so entirely oblivious to the obvious peril they were putting themselves in as this person whose job it is to see dnager that others wouldn't spot. And if professional risk analysts can’t see that there is an obvious down side in not letting grizzly business tycoons finish sentences then how could they possibly have thought that buying complex derivatives of sub-prime loans was anything other than a sure thing?