Driven to Distraction

To paraphrase the great W.C. Fields, “Never work with children, animals . . . or Stuart Baggs.”

Is it just me, or has this latest series of The Apprentice been lacking a little je ne sais quoi? I’m not referring to the startling lack of business acumen on display (Shibby); an unwillingness to keep your gob shut at crucial moments (Melissa and Paloma); or even the inability to perform basic arithmetic (Melissa again). Lord Sugar’s “treats” have been a bit lacklustre, haven’t they? Karaoke, barbecues and belly dancing don’t exactly shout life in the jet set.

Last week we discovered that poor Laura didn’t have much of clue about the connection between “blitz” and multiple casualties in World War II. As a film fan it pains me to report that some of the candidates were equally clueless about the role of Pinewood Studios — “Britain’s Dream Factory” — in our domestic film industry. Sandeesh’s guess: “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”

Inspired by the mammoth blue screen at Pinewood, this week’s task was all about creating the big-screen experience for punters at London’s biggest shopping centre, Westfield. The teams had to persuade gullible customers to pose in front of an “all-action background”, while they were filmed for their very own take-home DVD movie. Sounds naff, doesn’t it?

Lord Sugar decided to mix things up again by sending Sandeesh and Chris to Synergy, with Stella and Joanna moving to Apollo to join forces with Stuart and Laura. Sadly, we missed out on the chance to see the candidates squabbling over the PM role, because “He Who Must Be Obeyed” had already decided that Stuart and Sandeesh would be in charge this week. Don’t worry, there was still plenty of bickering to savour.

Relations between Stuart and Stella were frosty from the word go. Stuart, who’d grasped the technical niceties of people acting in front of a filmed backdrop, was impatient to get on with things. With a toss of her hair and a flick of her pen, Stella made it clear that the only backdrop she wanted to see Stuart in front of was a firing squad — or perhaps a guillotine.

After choosing background footage from the archives, the teams had to think up and shoot some scenes of their own. Not content with being the big brain behind last week’s Octo-Kleen, ideas man Jamie was at it again, suggesting a skiing video would provide lots of dressing up fun for the family. As it turned out, Jamie would be the one putting on the costumes.

Stuart decided that his target demographic was affluent people who like motor racing, and proceeded to bulldoze this idea through by dismissing his colleagues as “woolly”. Nick Hewer grimaced: “Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation.” Stella already looked as though her head would explode under the strain of not punching the annoying little jerk.

I must admit that I didn’t really understand why the teams had to go off and film their own backgrounds when they already had perfectly good archive material available. The answer was that it gave Jamie and Christopher a chance to pose around a dry ski-slope in Milton Keynes. To make it seem like more fun for the kids, Jamie donned a penguin outfit. More to the point, this exercise gave us a chance to experience the raging hunk of manhood that is Stuart Baggs.

Dodgy manoeuvres are Stuart’s stock in trade

Yes, not content with being the man of a thousand comedy voices, Stuart also knows a lot about cars. At least he thinks he does. With Laura once more assuming the role of straight woman, they headed off to Brands Hatch to film some track footage. At this point I realised that what this year’s show had been missing so far was a good-old fashioned injection of testosterone. “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task” declared Stuart, as he jumped into a BMW M3 and tried not to mow down his colleague.

What did all this have to do with actually winning the task? This was a question that probably taxed Joanna and Stella, as they struggled with the boring stuff like trying to market their product. “Is he taking the piss?” asked Jo, on discovering that Brand Baggs couldn’t come to the phone because he was behind the wheel. Yes, he was. In perhaps the most audacious U-turn we’ve seen this year, Stuart belatedly decided that their target market would after all be kids and not adults. All that messing about in cars was a waste of time.

One of my favourite moments of the week came as Stella and Joanna went to buy props for their videos. They selected a dinky red car that probably would have attracted the attention of the mini-Brand Baggs a few years ago. “Where’s Stuart?” asked Nick Hewer, as he quizzed a weary Stella about their PM’s activities. “He hasn’t actually told us exactly what he’s been doing.” I think arsing around covers it pretty well, Stella.

For those, like me, who think The Apprentice is a bit like a whodunnit, there was a really dull conversation between Chris, Liz and Sandeesh about how many blank DVDs to buy for the next day. I almost nodded off, but I think it might have been important . . . Then, in an inspired piece of editing, we watched Stuart in one car using his “psychic instincts” to predict what Stella and Joanna (in a separate vehicle) were now saying about his decision-making abilities. This didn’t sound like a team pulling together.

Talking of disharmony, Sandeesh made a couple of dodgy decisions when she despatched Christopher to be the tech guy on their team, even though he hadn’t been given the “crash course” in how to use the equipment. Jamie, who ranks very highly in his own estimation, was sulking at not being chosen as one of the sales team. Meanwhile, Apollo failed to share Stuart’s “vision” as they reviewed the racing footage he’d shot. To be fair, I think Stella was having a vision — of Stuart’s imminent demise.

Over at Westfield, it was the usual procession of trials, tribulations, tantrums and the occasional sale. Sandeesh’s team were late getting started because they had to brief Christopher on the intricacies of burning DVDs. When they did get their act together, punters for the skiing experience were in short supply. Jamie was convinced that Chris and Liz looked too corporate. Perhaps they could have enticed more punters if they’d worn penguin suits, or if Liz had squeezed herself into that ribbon dress from Week 5.

Apollo got off to a bright start with their shiny red racing car — until Stuart had the genius idea of hiking up the price from £10 to £15. But the real action was the backroom clash of styles between Stella, who writes things down and Stuart, who keeps everything stored in that big brain of his. His role was quality control, but he didn’t do a very good job, because some customers ended up with DVDs that had other people’s kids in them. Another Homer Simpson moment.

It was hard to tell who was doing well. Apollo made DVDs for customers who never came back. Synergy made a late — and inspired — decision to get their own toy car, which proved more popular than “Jamie’s ski adventure”. Unfortunately, Sandeesh had already agreed to a huge drop in price by that stage of the afternoon.

Sandeesh masters the art of doing “naff all”

In the boardroom, Stuart’s team leadership abilities got the thumbs down — in Jo’s case eyes down — from the ladies of Apollo. The Brands Hatch balls-up drew criticism from Lord Sugar, who accused him of trying to have a treat before he’d even won the task. The simmering argument between Stuart and Stella came to a head when he accused her of being 31 (“I’m 30 actually”), and declared that she obviously didn’t like taking direction from someone who was 10 years younger than her. All over the country, mature women must have been carving up the Baggs-shaped voodoo dolls they’d made earlier in the day.

Sandeesh has previously been accused of doing “naff all” by Lord Sugar, but at least she got a warmer reception from her troops. It didn’t help her, because despite Stuart’s many failings this week, his team ran out narrow and undeserved winners. Apollo made a profit of £262.50 and Synergy finished with £222.97. Cut to a great shot of Stuart vainly trying to rein in his “extreme masculinity” — or perhaps it was a touch of wind. As they headed off for a spot of champagne tasting, Laura, Jo and Stella had a touching group hug outside the boardroom, which Stuart belatedly tried to join. Later he had one final go at riling Stella by claiming that vintage champagne “tastes like paint stripper”, to which she retorted, “You don’t like mature, complex characters”.

After all that, Synergy’s boardroom roasting failed to produce any real fireworks. Sandeesh sounded a lot more reasonable and less deluded than most of the other failed team leaders. Her problem was that she chose to bring back Chris and Liz, both of whom were clearly stronger candidates than her. I would have gone with Jamie, whose skiing obsession didn’t deliver much in the way of sales. Oh, and she definitely sold those DVDs way too cheaply.

Banker Chris’s boast that at least they’d sold more units than the other team brought forth this stinging rebuke from Lord Sugar: “I haven’t been blessed with working in a merchant banking environment where there’s no actual real product.” Yeah, take that you smarmy, sharp-suited, mega-bonus-grabbing merchant w****r!

So Sandeesh ended up being the most likeable of the losing PMs this year, but you don’t get into The Apprentice hall of fame by blathering on about integrity and honesty when your neck is on the line. What happened to the Sandeesh who almost got into a brawl in the middle of Soho? Where were the scary eyes? She departed in benign fashion.

Back at the house, Stella gave this withering assessment to the Synergy survivors: “Lucky for us that you’ve made so many screw-ups, because you could’ve actually won. You should have won.” She then gave Stuart the evil eye.

Advertisements