Crunch Time

This week on The Apprentice: “export” English, pidgin German and some salty language.

We Brits have an unhealthy obsession with scoffing potato snacks. According to a recent, fact-filled article in The Guardian (not the type of publication I’d ever use to wrap chips in) our great nation consumes around 6 billion packets of crisps a year — 150 packets per person. That’s an awful lot of salt, fat and artificial flavours.

Of the eight remaining candidates in this year’s Apprentice, I suspect Jamie is, like me, one of those who chooses not to eat his full complement of 150 bags. There’s just something about him — bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and insufferably vain — that suggests he’d be more at home with a pot of organic hummus and some crudités. Brand Baggs, on the other hand, looks like he could down his own body weight in packets of Walkers and still be hungry.

There was excitement in the house at the prospect of a foreign business trip. Well, if you’d spent the past few weeks hanging around Westfield and the Trafford Centre, you’d be gleeful. Stuart, showing an uncommon degree of insight, predicted “a war zone or somewhere hot”.

In Belgravia there were a couple of bad omens for Synergy when Jamie failed to identify the German flag “it’s like a German flag with an eagle in the middle” and creepy Christopher announced that he hated the Germans. A shame, because this week’s task was all about getting Hamburg hooked on crisps.

Lord Sugar was on hand at the German Embassy to dispense this week’s fascinating fact — “Germany is our largest export market” — for the benefit of viewers who’d like this to be an educational show. For those of us who’d just like to be entertained, there was the prospect of each team representing a small UK crisp manufacturer to bring two new flavours to Hamburg and get those all-important orders. Stella was licking her lips at the prospect, or she might just have been relishing the prospect of another bout with Baggs.

Stuart immediately ruled himself out as PM, declaring himself to be “absolutely knackered” after last time. Which part do you think was most taxing on his reserves — zooming round Brands Hatch or arsing around Westfield? He then appeared to give Stella his wholehearted backing as the best choice for this week’s PM, before revealing this to be all part of his “I can’t lose” strategy. He reasoned that she wasn’t the best person for the job or a good PM, so that if they lost she would be the one leaving in a black cab. Really, Stuart?

Avoiding another close shave

Stella, who has only been on the losing team once was going up against banker Chris, this year’s least successful and consistently worst-shaven candidate. Synergy really needed to come up with some great new crisp flavours. Thank goodness they had their ideas man, Jamie, to champion the cause of goulash. Apollo were trying to brainstorm some traditional British flavours as an increasingly strident Joanna was “bulldozing” through her curry ideas, to the irritation of her team-mates.

Laura got some brief respite from her role as Stuart’s sidekick, as she remained behind with Stella to cook up some bitchin’ new flavours. Meanwhile Herr Baggs (geddit?) and Joanna prepared to assault the Germans with a pocket dictionary and a whole lot of attitude. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? It turns out that Stuart does, sort of. Well he has a go, and to my ears (as a non-German speaker) he sounds a lot more deferential when he’s not speaking English.

If you’d thought you’d seen the last of sausages in this year’s Apprentice, think again. Jamie and Christopher’s fact-finding mission to Hamburg saw them chowing down hungrily on the country’s worst-kept gastronomic secret: currywurst. I’ll be honest, they did look more appetising than the bangers we saw in Week 1. Of course the boys predicted a glorious future for currywurst crisps. “I reckon we’ll nail it” said creepy Christopher with a conviction you felt was misplaced. Stuart also identified sausage as a gap in the market that needed to be exploited — and then eaten by him in large quantities. That hunk of “white sausage” he sampled looked particularly disgusting.

Another familiar sight was the teams standing around in white overalls and hair nets (green and blue this week), trying to cook up the kind of flavours that would whet German appetites and send beer consumption through the roof. Apollo went with “traditional” Stilton and paprika, with Aberdeen Angus beef and chilli as their second choice. Tellingly, Stella asserted her authority, leaving Laura to swallow her objections and the absent Joanna to wonder whether she’d got her point across about the importance of curry, curry and more curry . . . Synergy pinned their hopes on the much-vaunted currywurst and a cheeky little goulash, which was pronounced “remarkably good” by Karren Brady.

This week’s “light-bulb” moment for seasoned Apprentice watchers came as Christopher and Jamie tried to line up an appointment with the Marriott Hotel chain and, inexplicably, opted to go for 1pm rather than 9am. Did anyone else spot that not being the early birds might be a bit of a pratfall or even a gift from the gods for Apollo? Stella and Joanna got in there early and they made a sale.

Herr Baggs knows best

The sales element this week was notable for a series of communication breakdowns, a meltdown from Laura and an outright lie from Jamie and Christopher. Stuart tried to coach Laura in the practice of what Lord Sugar later called “export English”. This is the art of speaking very S-L-O-W-L-Y in business pitches for the benefit of the stupid foreigners. To be fair, Mr Sandwich (I think that was his name) was also having trouble recognising his mother tongue as spoken by Herr Baggs. Of course, Laura didn’t take any notice and delivered her patter at a mile a minute.

Still, Laura’s irritation with Stuart and with the dumb-ass Germans was nothing compared with the tantrum that followed Stella’s decision to take the meeting at the Hyatt hotel chain herself. Despatching her underlings to what Laura moaned was the “independent tiny store”, Stella displayed the no-nonsense approach that (presumably) impresses Lord Sugar every week and annoys the hell out of everyone else. In the cab, Stuart declared this decision to be “disappointing”. Laura’s assessment was much blunter: “total bollocks” followed by “I don’t even give a shit any more”. There were several more utterances of the word shit, as Stuart and I wearily concluded that Laura probably needs to get her head out of her backside.

Meanwhile, Jamie and Christopher were slogging round cafés and bagel shops to no great purpose. The flavours got a lukewarm reception and our intrepid salesmen failed to establish whether the nice lady in the bagel shop actually had the power to make decisions about important issues like crisps. Then they lied to the trusting Chris about their progress, giving him the erroneous impression that they’d done “some really good sales today”.

Chris’s bad day concluded with a chastening experience at the Marriott, when he learned that the buyer there had already done a deal with some other bunch of crisp vendors from England. He attempted an “unprofessional” Melissa Cohen-style hard sell approach that went down a bit like a cup of cold goulash. Liz Locke (still not wearing that ribbon dress) was, for once, unable to bat her eyelashes and utilise her winning sales technique.

I felt pretty sure Apollo had won the task. Perhaps there weren’t as many red herrings, the crafty editors weren’t on their game, or it was simply impossible to gloss over the many gaffes made by Synergy this week. A combination of crap flavours, wrongly booked appointments and a dilatory approach from Jamie and Christopher proved costly. Synergy’s total sales were 17,995 euros, while Apollo racked up 19,327 euros — largely as a result of their own appointments.

New shoes for Stuart as another candidate gets the boot

Apollo departed for a shopping spree in Mayfair, which left poor Stuart rather glum as it dawned on him that a pair of designer boots costs the same as a car. But wouldn’t be a nice car, Stuart, would it? Then he got some harsh words about his footwear from Joanna, whose own fashion sense leaves something to be desired judging by Stella’s incredulous reaction to the dress she was modelling.

Lord Sugar claims there’s no such thing as luck in business, but I have to agree with Chris’s assessment that he’s been pretty unlucky. Perhaps it’s his ponderous pitches or the fact that no one really likes merchant bankers. The best boardroom moment was Lord Sugar’s revelation that he knew that Synergy had been offered a 9am appointment with the Marriott group, but had opted instead for 1pm. Chris and Liz looked suitably dumbfounded. She got lucky and was despatched back to the house, leaving Jamie to battle it out with the brace of Chris’s.

So could Jamie enlighten us about his really bad decision not to take that early meeting? “I’m trying to recall it in my own brain and the early word catches the bird without a doubt.” (I think that might sound more convincing in German.) After warning Jamie once again that his Apprentice career was on a downward trajectory, Lord Sugar decided to let the nation’s favourite property developer off the hook.

Christopher Farrell who’d earlier been characterised as a “hole-digger and wall-builder” was pronounced lacking in that “spark of entrepreneurial genius” and sent packing. The other two were dismissed with a clear message that their position was becoming “untenable”, so they should keep their ugly mugs out of the boardroom.

What would banker Chris give now for Stella’s winning touch, a brush with the armour-plated Brand Baggs, or perhaps a night with the lovely Liz Locke . . .

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