Sweet Smell of Success

This week on The Apprentice: a touch of alchemy from Melissa, a geometry lesson for Chris and a fairy-tale ending for Stella.

In the season of goodwill, The Apprentice ditched the usual catalogue of bickering, bitching and screw-ups, to bring us some real Christmas spirit — in non-traditional packaging, of course. Revered theologist Chris Bates went head to head with Iron Lady Stella English in the battle of the blue-eyed blonde bankers. Who would end up with the big prize, and whose Christmas would be ruined by the Apprentice equivalent of a pair of M&S socks and a lump of coal?

With a whiff of cordite still hanging in the air after Stuart’s summary execution dismissal last week, there was disappointment for those who hoped he’d be back to torment Stella one last time. But perhaps Herr Baggs had taken his dog and pony show back to the Isle of Man, because he wasn’t in the group of fired apprentices who slunk into the bar at the Langham hotel to hear about this week’s task.

After witnessing the candidates’ sausage-making, baking and crisp inventing skills at close hand, Lord Sugar decided it was time for a drop of the hard stuff. Stella and Chris were given three days to create a brand-new premium alcoholic drink, design a bottle and an advertising campaign, and then pitch it to a bunch of “industry experts” (old soaks). “Everything clear?” asked Lord Sugar. Well, Chris’s drink certainly wasn’t, but we’ll come back to that later.

It’s pretty much out of the question to have somebody putting their lips round the crown jewels.

This week, the contenders were assisted by a bunch of genial elves — plus Princess Paloma, who had cleverly reinvented herself as the (not-so) Wicked Witch of the West End. Chris chose Jamie, Liz, Alex and Shibby, while Stella went for Joanna, Melissa, Christopher and Paloma. That’s right, with no Stuart to antagonise her, Stella had opted to work again with the three most argumentative women on this year’s show. Was this the action of a total masochist or someone with supreme confidence in her people skills? “Anything that’s happened in the past is history” she confidently asserted.

Lord Sugar might have been wearing a hair shirt since his questionable decision to fire Liz, but on the evidence of this return visit she didn’t bring that much to the table. Perhaps it was being the only girl in an otherwise all-male team that brought out the dumb blonde in her. As Chris’s team discussed which fruits they should add to their new rum-based cocktail, Liz’s sole contribution was to ask, “What’s gooseberry like?”

Marketing guru and all-round eager beaver, Alex Epstein, identified a gap in the market for a pomegranate-flavoured rum. Liz and Shibby were despatched to a lab in Bishop’s Stortford to perfect the recipe for their as yet unnamed mix of white rum, pomegranate and aromatic bitters. After ditching the name Cube, Chris was fixating on the power of three — trilogy, trio — as though his life depended on it. Liz’s contribution to the name debate was (wait for it) Crown Jewels. Cue guffaws from Jamie. “It’s pretty much out of the question to have somebody putting their lips round the crown jewels” declared an embarrassed Chris. I can only imagine what Lord Sugar might have made of that idea.

Was this the end of Liz’s efforts to lose the task for Chris? Unfortunately not. Under instructions to come up with a clear liquid, Liz and Shibby were soon veering off into shades of pink — despite a warning from the lab technician that this wouldn’t exactly be gender neutral. “Pink’s the new blue” offered Shibby, as though that settled the debate. When he received the bad news, Chris wasn’t exactly in the pink. He was “irritated” or even “slightly annoyed”, but you knew he was just going to knuckle down and do his best.

Stella’s team had settled on reinventing bourbon for the 21st century — with enthusiastic support from booze-hound Melissa Cohen. I did have a flashback to Week 2’s disastrous book stand, when Joanna started banging on about “a heritage drink in modern bottle”. Stella’s concept of blue bourbon was quickly dismissed by a focus group of marketing experts who clearly aren’t fans of Blue Curacao. Their suggestion was to just add some spices, an idea Stella was happy to refer to her “taste team” of Spice Girl Mel C and her trusty assistant. Christopher.

Spin the bottle

The novelty about this week’s episode was that, for once, both teams did come up with pretty decent concepts for their £20-a-bottle premium brands. Chris, finally opted for Prism, despite labouring under a misapprehension about what a prism actually looks like. To put it bluntly, Chris, a prism is not the same as a pyramid. Teachers all over the country must have been shouting at their screens as the Prism bottle took shape as a pyramid with a very sharp point. Still, his tag-line “Reflects every side of you” was memorable.

Stella had an Archimedes moment in the back of the cab, as Paloma applied (yet) more make-up and Joanna floundered. She didn’t shout “Eureka!” but Stella did finally nail a name for the drink: “What about urban but U-R-B-O-U-N? A bourbon blend for the urban generation.” (They ended up spelling it URBON.) Was it luck, “genius”, or the knockout blow that would send Chris scurrying back to Surrey with his pink shirt and his even pinker brand of rum?

Karren Brady, who was following Chris’s team, had one final chance to worship at the altar of Jamie Lester. The bad news was that she had to hang around for hours while they procrastinated about the content of the ad they would shoot the next day. I found all the discussions about what you can and cannot do with alcohol advertising rather dull. Basically, you can’t suggest that booze is a surefire route to scoring a date. Lips, quips, gratuitous cleavage shots and raised eyebrows — they’re all out.

Before shooting the commercials on Day Two, the teams took delivery of their new bottles. As Stella unveiled the slim, elegant Urbon bottle, it took me right back to the excitement of seeing the prototype Cüüli in Week 2. Would Urbon prove to be an even bigger winner than the over-achieving towel? Melissa, who has now ditched the corporate bullshitting in favour of a hip, urban “yoof” persona was in do doubt: “That is bad boy!”

I found the commercial shoots a bit lacking in drama. As a film-maker, Stella’s a one-take girl, while Chris Bates is clearly advertising’s answer to Terrence Malick — he’d come up with a commercial every ten years or so. His effort looked pretty woeful to me, but perhaps it didn’t really matter when the product was so good.

The biggest opportunities for internecine warfare and ridicule came on Day Three, as Chris and Stella prepared to deliver their pitches to 100 industry experts at the Hurlingham. Apart from his achievements in the field of theology, Chris is renowned for a presentation style that is monotonous — or as Nick Hewer said, a bit like a low-flying bomber. Jamie seemed to think he could add some much-needed “va va voom” to the Bates drone, but can a leopard really change its spots?

Stella, who’d left her speech writing to the last minute, needed all her resources to deal with her team-mates as they squabbled over who had the best advice on how to begin the presentation. Poor Chris Farrell had his head in his hands. Now, if you could bottle Sang-Froid by Stella, I think you’d have a winning fragrance.

The clear winner

So it all boiled down to whether the punters would be seduced by Prism’s “iconic” bottle and flavour of “vibrant, evocative pomegranates”. But wouldn’t that sharp point prove fatal for any drinkers who lost consciousness and ended up slumped over the table? I thought it looked more like a designer perfume or a lamp than a bottle of spirits.

Then there was Stella, in her orange shoes, offering a “subtle hint of honey” and a “mixture of spices, including nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla”. Had her team really reinvented bourbon or simply come up with something that, as Lord Sugar later said, tasted “a bit pungent in the raw”?

In the boardroom for the final time, it was refreshing to see Melissa smiling instead of shouting, Paloma keeping her counsel, and Alex helpfully “sitting on the bar shelf” as he warmly complimented both Chris and Stella. In the praise being handed out for both candidates, Shibby gave a glowing tribute to Chris’s leadership skills and Liz claimed her was a risk taker. (I bet he wishes he hadn’t taken a punt on her, though.)

Chris Farrell labelled Stella “a cool cookie”, a sentiment no one could disagree with. Typically, it was the thoughtful Nick Hewer who gave the most eloquent summing up of the creator of Urbon: “You’ve let the genie out of the bottle.” There was a moment when I thought Stella was about to lose it, as she offered Lord Sugar her final thoughts on why she should be the winner. “I think I’ve got a lot of passion that Chris doesn’t have” she claimed, as her rival looked daggers at her.

Perhaps she should have substituted “passion” for “experience”, because that seems to be what swung it in the end. That, and the fact that her drink wasn’t pink. Lord Sugar, who’s clearly been in thrall to the ex-council estate kid since the first task, waved his finger around before telling her she was hired. She’s a class act all round. It’s time to crack open the vintage champagne and toast her future success at Viglen.

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5 comments

  1. Line of the night goes to Shibby; “So, you spit rather than swallow?” I’m pretty sure he was talking about the drink,but you never know …

    Sugar definitely made the right decision. Chris was all potential, but Stella will deliver immediately.And given that no previous Apprentice has stayedlonger than 2 years, why would Sugar employ a green graduate with virtually no business experience, train him up and then lose him? Stella was 100% the right choice.

    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2010/12/20/substance-triumphs-over-style-as-stella-english-wins-the-apprentice/

    1. I thought Shibby came out of the task rather better than Laura. Someone’s just told me they thought he looked like a possible winner after the first couple of weeks. How wrong can you be!

      Maybe those comments last week about Chris being a quitter resonated with Lord Sugar. I’m sure he’ll come up smelling of roses — or pomegranates — wherever he ends up.

  2. I didn’t think either Shibby or Liz looked good – the former no surprise, the latter’s insubordination a real shock. I’m not sure how anyone could have had Shibby pegged as a potential winner after week two – his only real contribution up to that point had been to suggest the back-scratcher equivalent of a suntan applicator as a beach accessory. Even in the first episode, you could tell from his introductory pieces to camera that, like Stuart, he was someone who likes the sound of his own voice a little bit too much! 🙂

  3. I was all about Chris, thought he was a far more promising candidate for the long run. They also played Stella’s history card a few times, kind of unfair if you ask me.

    Thought it was funny how he pretty much offered Chris a job in the You’re Fired afterwards anyway.

    Any how small is Lord Sugar?!?!? Didn’t realise he was a midget!!!

    1. Lord Sugar is vertically challenged, but Stella is also really tall.

      As ever, I felt the performance in the final task was irrelevant in terms of who got the job. I’m sure Lord Sugar decided weeks ago that he wanted Stella, that’s why his (few) criticisms of her were so mild. Imagine the sarcasm he would have poured on anyone else who went truffle-hunting in a Knightsbridge restaurant!

      I can see that Chris is very able, though not quite as clever as he thinks he is. I don’t think he was as good at handling people as Stella was: not surprising since he doesn’t yet have much management experience.

      Nick Hewer should definitely get his own show next year. His contributions are always worth their weight in gold.

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