Karma Comedian

This week on The Apprentice: Stella falls off her pedestal; Stuart forgets his manners; and Melissa loses the plot.

“We are in tough economic times . . .” droned Lord Sugar as Week Four began. Hum, apparently it’s not that tough in the boardrooms of Britain, where directors’ pay has shot up by 55 per cent in the last 12 months.

After one of those carefully choreographed early morning gatherings — this time at the Science Museum — Lord Sugar unveiled the entertainment. Ten manufacturers would pitch their “innovative products” to the teams, who’d each pick two to sell on to the trade. Ominously, there would be “no hiding place” for candidates who failed to sell. Message to Sandeesh: just standing around looking haughty isn’t going to cut it this week.

After Melissa’s shambolic performance as PM in the Great British Bake-off, did anyone seriously think she was going to keep a low profile in the latest challenge? So there she was, talking up her “skills set” again, although we all know that it doesn’t include a convincing sales patter, or the ability to master basic arithmetic. She lost the vote in favour of Jamie. Over at Apollo, banker Chris was droning on about his strong, firm grasp and level head. I think he was making a pitch to be PM, but it was so boring that, like Stella later in the episode, I drifted off.

The “ten ingenious new products” were a mixed bag. I particularly liked Fine Light, the no-knife facelift, which looks like a glow-in-the-dark plastic mask and was based on technology developed by Nasa. As modelled by Paloma, it would be perfect for scaring the kids at Halloween. Laura seemed a little distracted by the sight of Chris road-testing the Pilates machine, though it could have been the hole in his sock that caught her eye.

Synergy’s not exactly sylph-like Stuart exercised those market-trader instincts by insisting that the gut-busting T-shirt was way overpriced at £50. Apollo were convinced the form-fitting cotton garment had potential with the fashionistas and snapped it up. But the eco-friendly shower head that promised to save a family of four £240 per year (enough for a set of those T-shirts) was much more to his liking: “Well you’re not selling anything. It’s would you like some free money? Yes please.”

Last, but not least, “the world’s softest thermometer”, otherwise known as the hideous pink Babyglow that changes colour as your baby becomes overheated. (Parents should note that the hairdryer used in the demonstration is not included.) Wouldn’t it be fun to make the candidates wear an adult version of this during the boardroom scenes? Chris declared it to be the best thing he’d seen all day (apart from Paloma, obviously), but the other team blew their negotiations with the inventor, when Rottweiler Stuart tried to beat her down on price. Stella sternly declared his behaviour to be “embarrassing” and “unprofessional”, but the damage was done: the Babyglow went to Apollo and Synergy ended up with that shower thingy and a very unexciting twin-handled garden spade.

What followed was in the best tradition of The Apprentice, as fortunes fluctuated, business pitches foundered and egotism triumphed over common sense. Old Compton Street has witnessed some bizarre sights over the years, but Paloma, Sandeesh and Laura squabbling over T-shirt sales was surely one for the connoisseurs. Oh, and their row about “exclusivity” turned out to be academic, since they didn’t have permission from the manufacturer to do that deal. Meanwhile, Liz Locke was improving the image of investment bankers everywhere, by extolling the magical properties of the Babyglow.

For sheer farce, though, Jamie’s team won this contest hands down. Did anyone apart from Stella spot the drawback of opting for two hardware products, when a leading department store was one of the potential customers? We’ve all heard that old saying about “selling coals to Newcastle” and now we have a 21st-century equivalent — pitching bathroom fittings and spades to Debenhams. Their motto: “We don’t sell showers.” Unsurprisingly, they have no plans to branch out into garden tools, either. Melissa was undeterred, “It’s not completely obtuse . . . it would bring in different buyers.” Obtuse? Yes, that’s one way to describe Melissa’s approach to business. Karren Brady’s weary assessment was that blabbering away without actually listening just winds people up.

Jamie obviously felt he’d seen enough of Melissa’s much-vaunted skills set, because he decided to leave her out of his sub-team for the B&Q pitch the next day. Was he really “an idiot”, or a clairvoyant? Despatched to a plumbing wholesaler in Leamington Spa, Melissa, Stuart and Stella encountered an air lock (in the shower head) and a client looking for considerably lower prices than they could offer. In Eurovision terms it was “nul points” for Synergy. With Stuart selling absolutely nothing, Melissa flogging six spades and Stella accounting for 60 shower heads, one half of the team had clearly failed to come to the party.

Karmically they will be retributed. The universe speaks louder than I do.

Back in the boardroom you had to be paying attention to keep up with who was ahead in the sales race. As it turned out, Stella was “not concentrating” during discussions about discounting the shower head on sales of over 1,000 units. So her figures were disallowed and her stock — with Lord Sugar — took a nose dive. Despite Jamie’s efforts, Apollo buried Synergy with total sales of more than £122,000 — almost all of which was accounted for by the hugely impressive Liz.

As Jamie, Stuart and Melissa awaited their showdown, Karren Brady expressed shock that Melissa still considered herself a good pitcher. So perhaps self-awareness is not yet in the skills set, but I think it’s fair to say that Melissa’s gifts lie in areas beyond the ambit of this show. Is “manoeuvrement” a malapropism, a neologism, or just a little bit of Melissa Cohen magic? When you’re backed into a corner, don’t whine and stamp your foot like Laura, make up some new words!

Lord Sugar had some harsh words of his own on the subject of Stuart’s big mouth and Jamie’s lack of leadership, but declared Melissa to be a “loose cannon” and gave her the boot. This was the point at which she really came into her own. It’s advisable to exit the boardroom with at least a modicum of dignity, but she snarled at the boys: “Well done, ganging up on me. Horrible people.” and then refused their attempts to offer commiseration in the lobby. Have you watched this show before, Melissa? It’s all about people “saving their skins” in the ruthless ascent to the top of the heap.

The best moment, though, was Melissa’s taxi ride to obscurity. As she continued her rant about being mistreated by the other candidates, it dawned on me that the comedy glasses and hangdog expression were the sign of a brilliant comedian in the making. She signed off with what may prove to be the best quote of the series: “Karmically they will be retributed. The universe speaks louder than I do.”

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