The Apprentice

The Apprentice - Week 9 - Spurs

This week we are at Tottenham Hotspur FC - biggest single shareholder (and former chairman) Sir Alan Sugar - and the teams have to sell subscriptions to a text messaging service (Spurs On).  Saira is in charge of First Forte, and Paul is the project leader for Impact.

The two teams are brainstorming.  Paul thinks they could advertise on the back of the advertising hoardings (so that the fans could see it).  Saira wants a slogan.  James thinks Saira talks too much, and I think he's right. 

Saira is getting frustrated with Matt House, the Director of Commercial Partnerships at the football club.  She even threatens him by saying that she will complain to Sir Alan.  Understandably, he doesn't take this very well. Meanwhile, Paul's team seem to be doing far better with getting their ideas accepted - they want to use the 'jumbotron' (Electronic scoreboard) and the PA system, and he agrees.

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The Apprentice - Week 8 - Pumpkin soup

It's week 8, and we see the teams saying nice things about Sir Alan.  Thanks, BBC producers. 

This week's task is to make some food to sell at a farmer's market.  We see Raj frying an egg (for breakfast, one might assume), and then they get a phone call from Frances, telling them to be ready in 10 minutes.  They are whisked off the Viglen assembly plant, by which time it is afternoon, and Sir Alan is brandishing some computer bits and pieces.  "This is a microprocessor with a fan, a hard drive, a power supply."  This is going to be a lesson about making things.  "What we have to do is put them all together and we have one of these."  It's a computer without a side panel.  Yes, this is a lesson on how to buy cheap bits and pieces from Asia and make an expensive computer and get rich, so that you can appear on TV.

The teams have to buy raw produce and add value.  James nominates Ben to be the project manager again because thinks it all went so well last time.  Is this a cunning plan? 

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The Apprentice Week 7 - celebrity auction

As usual we start with a recap of last week, followed by the return of the two who didn't get fired.  Paul looks somewhat dazed, and is greeted warmly by Tim and James.  He is followed by Saira, who is embraced by Tim.  Saira gives everyone her account of what happened, whilst Paul stays quiet. 

The teams are summoned to the Hackney Empire, and Sir Alan separates Paul and Saira and asks them each to choose their new team mates.  Saira goes for James, Raj and Sebastian, whilst Paul picks Tim, Ben and Miriam.  Sugar "isn't actually suggesting it" but he thinks that Ben should take his turn as project manager.  Ben admits to camera that he has been hiding, and calls it "tactic no.1", but does agree to be PM.  James (who we just learned has not yet been on the losing side) is PM for the other team.  Thankfully, the team names seem to have been dropped.

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Apprentice Week 6 - adverts

Last week, Matthew was fired for being an 'awkward character' and Saira had a lucky escape and a big falling out with Paul. 

The teams are picked up by a London bus with an advert for 'The Apprentice' on its side.  They get a phone call from Sugar, who wants the teams to prepare an advertising campaign for one of his own products.  It's interesting that Sugar couldn't be bothered to turn up - buit then he really doesn't like advertising people, and I suspect that his idea of the perfect advert is a sign scrawled on a piece of cardboard saying "Apples, 4 for £1". 

Miriam and Paul 'step up' to be the project managers.  Paul needs to do well here, because after a dynamic start he has failed to impress recently.

Is it going to be the e-mailer?  No, it turns out to be a prototype CD player with a 10 disc changer that is supposed to sell for £99. The teams meet with Sugar's son and find out what message he wants them to put forward.  He's going for value for money and user-friendly, and possibly innovative.  I'm going for cheap.

No surprises from Sir Alan - he tells us that he doesn't want the advertising to be 'arty farty', but do the teams know that?   

Advertising agency creative director Keith Courtney is brought in to give advice.  It seems he doesn't like the product, calling it "cheap and tacky".  Well, at least we aren't getting all the fake bonhomie that characterizes the Trump version of the show - Sugar hates advertising people, and they aren't keen on his products. 

Saira is talking slowly and clearly to Paul, as if she were dealing with an idiot. "This part now.  Is about being creative."  They argue about their strategy and there is a lot of gesturing going on.  Paul tells Saira that "we are already forming a picture of how the advert is going to look."  He draws a picture with his hands.  Saira argues back and then folds her arms.  All is not well. 

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Trump is puzzled that no-one is taking him seriously

I find myself drawn to the Celebrity Apprentice (TVB Pearl, Saturdays 8.30 pm) with a sense of grim foreboding.  How many ways can it go horribly wrong?

Several, as it turns out.

In week one, it was nothing more than a contest to see which "celebrity" could get their friends to pay the most for a hot dog.  Omarosa (who apparently qualifies as a celebrity because she was a contestant on the first series of The Apprentice - back in the days when it was quite good) was made project manager.  She told the ladies' team that they shouldn't rely on their celebrity, but instead needed to impress Trump with their business acumen.  Er, what?  The ladies lost, and Trump didn't fire Omarosa for this idiotic strategy - but he did fire one of her team for not calling Hugh Hefner and asking him to pay $10,000 for a hot dog.

In week two it was a relief to discover that there was a real task.  The men won easily. 

Week three was one long advert for Kodak printers.  Gene Simmons was moved across to the ladies' team as their project manager, and decided that there was no need to listen to the client's ideas.  He is "Mr Outside the Box" he told us, and he sent just two of his team (Kely Galan and Nely Furato) to meet the Kodak executives.  Rather than listening, they talked, and so they didn't get what it was that Kodak wanted them to say.  Not that it really mattered, because Gene Simmons wasn't going to take any notice.

The men did all go to the meeting, they did listen, and they did understand what Kodak are selling (cheaper ink).  They won.

Then we had an example of the biggest problem with this format.  Gene Simmons was not going to do any of the things that a losing Apprentice contestant would normally do.  He wouldn't accept that he was wrong, he wouldn't blame any of his team members who had made mistakes, he just smiled and said that everyone had done a great job.

Trump, of course, was puzzled.  Who was this man?  Why did he not want to play the game?  Why did he not care whether he was fired?  Er, maybe, Donald, it's because he's a multi-millionaire rock star, who is happy to be the star of the show for the first 2 or 3 weeks and then exit on his own terms.  

Trump was reduced to spluttering "You're doing yourself a tremendous disservice" and trying to persuade him to bring back Nelly Furato because the Kodak executives didn't like her.  Of course he refused.  Idiot daughter Ivanka didn't get it either: "I don't understand Gene's decision, and it could be his downfall."  Er, no, it couldn't.  Well, except that he wants to be fired!!

In the UK they do a one-off celebrity version of The Apprentice.  Only one celebrity gets fired, and of course it's all done in a light-hearted way.  Watch and learn, American TV executives. 


Apprentice week 5 - modern art

Just a brief summary of week 5, in which the teams had to choose an artist and then sell their work.

I thought the wrong person got fired.  The two teams both chose the same artist, and so it was down to the artist to select which team to work with.  Saira and Raj had visited the artist, and there was absolutely no connection - all they talked about was money - and Saira's follow-up phone call was quite hopeless.  On the other team, James did a brilliant job of schmoozing, and of course they chose his team (First Forte) to represent them.

Their was a brief moment of tension when it appeared that the less expensive paintings that Impact took (as their second choice were easier to sell), but in the end it was a clear victory (at last) for First Forte.

Matthew and Paul were both uncomfortable dealing with modern art, but it's hard to see what relevance that has to working with Alan Sugar.  I'd have fired Saira for failing to understand the importance of building up a rapport with the artist, but project manager Rachel didn't even bring her back - which looked an awful lot like a case of female solidarity.

Mind you, Matthew came up with a splendid excuse for not being able to sell - it was all because he is so tall and can't hear what people are saying.  He also seem resigned to his fate, thinking it was simply a matter of time before he was fired, so in that sense maybe Rachel chose well.  However, Sugar really should have given her a hard time for not bringing back Saira.   


The Apprentice - Harrods

As usual, things pick up straight after last week's boardroom survivors return "home".  Tim would be surprised if Adele didn't get fired.  Amazingly, he actually tells her this rather than being two-faced.  That's not going to work, is it?

The next morning they are summoned to the nearest corner shop.  Sir Alan tells the contestants that the proprietor "has got, believe it or not, a very broad portfolio of skills in running his business".  We see a dirty sign saying "newspapers sold here".  The task is going to be about their total organizational skills in a retail environment.  Sir Alan apparently has a friend who runs a corner shop...Harrods.  Oh, stop, Sir Alan, you're so funny.

They have to run a unit in Harrods. Sir Alan tells them that they will have Harrods staff to help them, and they need to treat them with respect.

Tim volunteers to be project manager (again) and James allows himself to be persuaded to run Impact.  He seems to have the right approach, but Paul is not impressed.

Tim, meanwhile, says his team need a mission statement.  Whoops.  They don't need one of those, do they?

We see Adele having a tearful phone call with her husband.

Impact walk around the store picking up products, but they will need to check that they have at least 40% non-Harrods brand products. Paul seems to be having trouble with the maths. First Forte take their time going through the list of merchandise and then run around the store checking the items.  They are first to finish, and their list is accepted.

It turns out that 76% of Impact's products are Harrods own brand.  That's not even close to 40%, is it?  They have to make some quick adjustments.

On the second day, the teams have to set up displays in their areas.  Harrods staff have been instructed to give them some guidance about what might be wrong, but not to tell them what they should be doing.  Adele is not happy about this.  Saira is also not happy, even though she is "such a positive person". 

First Forte have recruited a face painter, a pianist and someone to demonstrate the toys.  Impact seem to have nothing.  They seek out the manager of the toy department, who observes that they have "all dodgy products".  That could be a disadvantage. 

They are getting desparate.  Paul dresses up in a bear costume.  It seems to work.  At 4pm, the provisional sales figures are surprising - Impact are leading by £400. 

Adele is getting stressed.  She is blaming Harrods staff.  That's probably not going to go down well with Sir Alan.

The teams suddenly have sales vouchers to give away.  They go crazy offering them to anyone who will buy anything, and Saira offers a £50 voucher to the first customer to buy a bag costing about £250.  She gets a sale, and that could be enough to win them the task.

Indeed it is.  The final results are Impact £3295, First Forte £3108.  Tim needs to pin the blame on someone - probably Ben (who admitted he found it tough), or more likely Adele (who had narrowly escaped last week, and seems to be struggling with being away from her family).

It's going to be Adele, and without Tim having to do anything.  She criticizes one of the Harrods employees, saying he had the wrong attitude and was rude and arrogant.  Nick doesn't agree - he thinks he was very professional and did what he was told to do.  Which is also what we the viewers saw.

Ben sees his chance and criticizes Adele for being emotional.  She blames the rest of the team, and then admits that she has 'personal and emotional problems' and says she wants to leave.  Sugar is having none of it, and insists on firing her for being disrespectful to people - though he can't quite bring himself to say "you're fired".

In the taxi home, Adele says that she was the easy target (which is true), because she was such a threat to the rest of the contestants because of her "very entrepreneurial background" (which isn't) and that she had a strong chance of winning the competition (no she didn't).  


The Apprentice - Buying a bowler hat and some jellied eels

It's week 3 of The Apprentice on BBC Knowledge. Miriam and Adele return from the boardroom.  They embrace Rachel, who says "well done" and then grimaces.  Presumably because her friend got fired, whilst they survived. 

Saira is talking sense, for once: "The dynamics of the group are four loud-mouthed girls.  We will be sitting in the back of the van squabbling.  We need to identify our roles."  Meanwhile, the boys are feeling confident.  They must be showing us this for a reason - are the boys going to lose?

Strangely, the candidates are already up and dressed at 7 am.  Aha - Sir Allan is coming to visit them.  He appoints Matthew as team leader for Impact (the boys) and puts Adele in charge of the girls.  She gets to pick 3 "boys" for join First Forte, whilst Matthew has to pick 2 "girls" to join his team.  He chooses Rachel and Saira.  Adele choses Tim, Sebastian and Ben.

If Adele can't win with this team she deserves to be fired.

This week it's the buying task.  They have a list of items to buy and £1,000 to spend.  A weird but rather mundane list - a bowler hat, a bottle of champagne, a mattress, a Freeview box (to watch digital terrestrial TV), US$100, some jellied eels and a diamond.  Oh, and a dental check-up.  They all have to be brand new (apart from the US dollars, I suppose).

Adele is giving everyone roles, and warning them that they will be in the firing line if they fail.  Don't these people ever learn?

She appoints Tim as her deputy.  She appoints a senior buyer (Ben) and says she will have two people working under him.  So how's that going to work when they split up into two groups? She also wants a PA - to take notes, minutes of meetings and set the agenda.  Meetings?  Agenda?  Aren't they going to be running around like crazy trying to find the products as cheaply as possible?  I think they are. 

She asks Miranda to be her PA, and warns her that is a "fairly senior role" and so she may be called into the boardroom if they lose.  That would be "fairly senior" as in 4th in line in a team of six: after the PM, Deputy PM and Senior Buyer, but presumably above the buyers.  Miranda is clearly not happy, but reluctantly agrees.  Adele reiterates that she wants comprehensive notes.  I forsee trouble. 

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The Apprentice - Toys

Sorry, I'm a bit late with this.  The first series of The Apprentice continues on BBC Knowledge on Monday nights, and this is week two.

Usual introduction.  This time Sir Alan tell us that Nick and Margaret are going to stick to the teams like glue.  Hmmm, that could be tricky.  Anyway, the task is to design a toy and Matthew thinks that the boys are "going back to their strengths.  What are they?  We are men.  The toys we are designing should be aimed at boys."  Right.

Lindsay is the girl's project manager.  She's going to talk to the team about how she sees her role as project manager.  Well, that sounds promising. 

Both teams go to a toy company called Vivid Imaginations and meet the marketing director.  Miranda feels the need to ask a question.  "Your designers, when designing a new toy, do they tend to stick with an adaptation of a classic toy or do they completely kind of throw the boundaries open and really start, yeah, start trying to come up with something 100% original?"

Toy company woman goes into patronising mode: "It's a really good question" she says (of course it isn't).  "The toy industry is a really good mix of both of those."  Unlike every other industry, then?  Lindsay starts pointing pointedly at her watch.  "Sometimes there are classic games and play patterns that are timeless and culturally will work across the world, so you can use those. But ideally you are always looking for innovation."  Well, gee, thanks.

The boys choose Raj as their team leader.  The girls are running around an unidentified town looking for a toy shop (this seems to be what passes for research).  Saira is on the phone to Lindsay with their recommendations:  "Something trading so people can swap things with.  We are looking at something magnetic.  Something very puzzly that appeals to both boys and girls and the prices are under $10".

"Interesting, interesting" says Lindsay (who has obviously picked up some tips on giving patronising answers).  "We've got something along those lines.  If they do, we never get to hear any more about it.   

The boys are still in the toy company offices, brainstorming.  Their idea is an electronic version of Top Trumps.

The girls have lots of ideas.  Something that plugs in like an electric plug, and does different things depending upon which way you plug it in (how many ways are there to plug in a 3-pin plug?).  Text messaging for young children using ten different cards with flags on them.  A kit for building robots that then fight with each other, and bits fall off.

Saira likes the robot idea.  They all like the robot, and the electric plug.  Lindsay looks at her watch again.  Then she tells them how they voted (as if they somehow didn't know) and says that they are going to spend the next half hour talking to an expert.  Hey, Time Management skills.

Nick isn't an expert, but he thinks it's extraordinary that they should be designing a toy that looks like a 3-pin plug when children are always told not to play with electricity.  Do you know, I think he may be right.

Rachel is now talking to the expert, and wants to know "if it would be possible, or dangerous, potentially, to have live electricity flowing through that toy."   Miriam wonders if there might be health and safety issues.  Well, er, yes. 

Did they really need to ask those question?

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The Apprentice UK - Flowers

"As far as I am concerned, what I have in front of me here, are 14 of Britain's best prospects.  Quite a few thousand people applied for this job.  A job with me" says Sir Alan.  Sebastian smiles ruefully, and wonders whether he (or any of them) really want to work for the man they are sitting opposite.  "A job that is going to bring you a six-figure salary.  But to get that job you're going to have to demonstrate to me your skills in leadership, business acumen, shrewdness.  The lot."

Sir Alan lays it on the line: "Never ever underestimate me.  I know everything.  I don't like liars, I don't like cheats.  I don't like bullshitters, I don't like schmoozers, I don't like arse lickers."  Oh, hang on, this is being censored by some nice people in Singapore, so it becomes "I don't like -------------, I don't like schmoozers, I don't like ---- lickers."  In fact, the man with bleeper is kept quite busy.  I'm not sure why they bother with a warning about swearing, since all of it has been bleeped out.

As usual, it's boys against girls.  The girls argue for rather longer than really seems strictly necessary to arrive at a team name that we will never remember.  There is talk of oceans and water and waves crashing.  Team leader Saira feels that they need a name that captures the fact that they are a group of strong individuals.  Who all have different ideas about which name to choose.  The boys quickly agree on 'Impact', which seems suitably meaningless.  But rather better than 'First Forte', which is what the girls eventually agree upon.  What's that supposed to mean?

So who are these outstanding people who are desperate to work for the man who brought us the e-mailer (a  phone that also sends and receives emails)?  Look, there's one on the boardroom table.  Oh, look, there's one in the lovely riverside house where the teams will live.  No product placement here, then.

There's always at least one oddball, and this time around it seems to be Matthew, who admits to being the co-founder of the Tall Society.  He's tall, don't you know, and we see him crashing into door frames just to demonstrate the point.  We also see him on his own nursing a drink whilst everyone else is chatting away.  He claims to have lots of entrepreneurial ideas.  He stresses the importance of thinking outside the box, and draws a box in the air with his fingers in case we don't know what a box looks like.  Later he admits that he can be abrasive and "doesn't treat fools gladly", and that he probably does argue too much.  Well, yes, Matthew I think you do.  He has also has a nice line in hats, which is always a worrying sign.

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