Last week it was Maths but this week two other subjects had the teams at sixes and sevens : foreign languages and spelling. Before the errors could begin however, the teams had to know what it was they were going to screw up. They were duly woken at six, driven to St Catherine’s dock and told to create, manufacture and market a new condiment.
After two consecutive defeats for Sterling, Lord Sugar rejigged the teams. He sent Katie to be the only girl in Team Phoenix where she was swiftly voted in as Project Manager. Duane made the journey the other way to eam Sterling and was similarly rewarded.
Phoenix decided to boldly go for a mass market condiment. This was an odd decision as Lord Sugar had not arranged a pitch for them with a major UK retailer who might conceivably have bought it in the volume they would have needed to win. Nevertheless their table sauce (I think that’s a posh word for ketchup) did have the advantage of being simple to make. Tomato, chilli, vinegar, water. Bish, bash, bosh! Give it a stir and what could go wrong? Leaving Ricky in charge of production at the factory, Katie headed off to pitch to a chain of delis.
Sterling were still deciding on their product. Brisk Jane worked in the catering industry and she had strong views. Duane told her how valuable they were, how grateful he was for her input and how he was now going to completely ignore all her expertise and every word she said. He went for a niche chutney which is like a nice chutney but not quite the same thing. Their pineapple and chilli was a more ambitious ingredient combination. So ambitious that the first batch proved dangerously close to lethal – even Duane’s boundless confidence was briefly interrupted while he retched. The camera panned to Nick, “They’ve gone for a chutney…” he told us with wicked relish. A nation begged him to have some self-respect, to leave the next line hanging, but Lord Sugar’s Nick is just not that kind of guy. “Will they end up in a pickle?”
It certainly seemed that they would. Nick gamely led Sterling’s pitch to a chain of delis but the absence of a product for the tasters to try proved a stumbling block. Phoenix pitching to the same buyers were also in for an unpleasant surprise. Their mass market ketchup, Belissimo, was, it turned out, lacking an ingredient - the ingredient in question being a second letter l. Still with their misspelt product they proudly upheld the UK's reputation for stubborn ignorance of all foreign languages.
Back at the factory Sludgeissimo would have been better name for their taste of the Mediterranean. Ricky and Adam watched in horror as the latest batch bubbled its way to ugly self-destruction. “It’s a case of too many cooks,” Adam told the camera while Ricky desperately scooped up what could be salvaged from the waste and shoved it into the next batch. Belissimo was fast becoming Belessimo.
Indeed as the task reached the halfway point one could pause to speculate on the other products the bad spellers from Phoenix could so easily have brought us. How I would have liked to see them pitch Rot Noodle or Porn Flakes, not to mention Spaghetti Poops.
Day Two saw Sterling head back to the deli with the significant improvement of an actual rather than a fantasy chutney for the tasters to sample. Now I know that asking for fairness in a reality TV show is even more futile than doing it in a pre-budget meeting with George Osbourne but it must nevertheless be pointed out that this second chance was grossly unfair on Team Phoenix who had met yesterday's deadline. Sterling’s second chance rendered this achievement meaningless and it wasn't as ifPhoenix had lots of achievements to spare. One suspected the hands of the producers who feared the probable departure of another of the girls should Sterling lose and the subsequent gender imbalance. Sterling duly got an order for 50 cases.
Meanwhile Phoenix discovered that, thanks to Ricky and Adam’s cooking skills, they had a minimal amount of a mass market product. Katie solved this problem by conveniently deciding Belissimo was a trendy, niche product after all. She split Phoenix into two teams - one to sell to the public and the other to sell to trade and Michael, who had kept his head down up to now, picked a terrible moment to raise it above the parapet.
Another of the iron rules of The Apprentice (see past posts for others) is that when one sub-team is selling to the general public and one is selling to trade then you should always aim to be on the one selling to the public and if by some mischance you end up on the team selling to trade the one thing you should not do, above all others, is volunteer to lead it.
Why? Because the public can generally be relied upon to buy pretty much anything eventually, especially if it comes with a chance of getting on the telly. The trade are a different matter entirely. They’ve often spent a lifetime squeezing out a living in a particular field and the very last thing they are going to do is let a bunch of bumbling chancers take them for fools on national TV. The camera giveth and it also taketh away.
And so an increasingly forlorn Michael led his sub-team round London offering, Belissimo, his misspelt ex-mass market now niche product. The Light Brigade headed for the Turkish guns with more hope.
Back in the boardroom, Sterling’s Second Chancers duly took the victory. Katie dragged the hapless Michael and head of (lack of) production, Ricky into the boardroom with her. It was quickly apparent that, despite losing every task, having visited the boardroom twice and having led Phoenix to an abject defeat, Katie was safe. It was between Michael and Ricky.
Michael pleaded for a stay of execution. What he offered is known as the Appeal to Alan’s Inverse Snobbery. This approach consists of saying that he should be kept in the process because he wasn’t very good at school. It is a fascinatingly crazy defence and yet it is regularly offered on The Apprentice – the candidate is asked “Why shouldn’t I fire you?” and effectively replies “Because I have no qualifications.” What is more depressing is that those of us who have become familiar with Lord Sugar’s prejudices know it stands a fair chance of success. He enjoys nothing more than firing people who possess what he refers to as “fancy qualifications” implying that a university education is basically the same as a year spent in a Swiss finishing school.
But this time it was not to be. Lord Sugar informed Michael that “It doesn’t matter to me where you come from or whether you’ve got a 2.1 from Oxford.” This statement bears a second reading because what Sugar appears to be saying is that he won’t hold your university education against you. That a man who regards higher education as, at best, irrelevant was an uncontroversial choice as a senior business strategy guru in the last government speaks volumes as to the UK’s chances of ever successfully competing economically on the global stage again. But I digress.
Back to the game. Last week, Lord Sugar had loftily instructed Brisk Jane that her choice of who to bring back into the boardroom had to be “rational” and could not be based on “emotion”. This week he rationally informed Ricky the failure of the task was entirely his responsibility. Then he consulted his gut. His gut fired Michael.
Qué sera sera.
Or Kay Sarah Sarah, as Phoenix would have probably spelt it.