Three-Minute Blunder

Susan Ma

This week on The Apprentice: Leon comes out of his shell, Tom does the sums and Natasha talks strategy.

Did The Apprentice producers have a shopping list when they hired their latest batch of recruits from Central Casting? A couple of lame ducks (Ed and Alex); one preening narcissist (Vincent); a mad inventor (Tom) and one big cry baby. In case you hadn’t guessed, that final category belongs to Susan Ma, whose quivering lower lip and wounded puppy expression are already the highlight of what’s been a low-key series. I’m not sure whether she needs a bone, a rusk or just an ear-boxing from Edna. Time will tell.

That running gag about candidates not knowing famous London landmarks is getting a little predictable. This week it was Susan (who else?) who suggested that the British Museum is just a big old repository for dinosaur bones. (Come to think of it, she may not even be aware that dinosaurs have been extinct for some time.) In any case, the Museum’s imposing facade was just another showy backdrop for Lord Sugar to announce the latest task: setting up a beauty treatment outlet in Birmingham. Apparently the market in the Midlands is currently less “saturated” with salons catering to free-spending WAGs, chavs, metrosexuals and ladies who lunch.

The winner of the “Be Careful What You Wish For” award was Zoe, who came perilously close to being fired last week instead of Gavin. Lord Sugar is a great believer in giving candidates enough rope to hang themselves. So in addition to making Zoe PM of Venture, he also gave her Susan — the candidate most likely to cause a meltdown. “The reason we can’t lose has just gone up sky-high”, declared a wildly over-optimistic Zoe, on hearing the first of Susan’s many boasts about her prowess in flogging skin care products. Also along for the ride were Leon, Glenn, Edna, and Helen.

Logic, the team that might as well be called Losers, got Felicity Jackson as its leader. The fault lines were immediately visible, with Felicity pronouncing herself a “girly girl” and straight-talking Yorkshire lass Ellie admitting that she wasn’t a “polished woman”. Thank goodness they also had the services of “the most female boy of the lot”: step forward Vincent Disneur, the moderately famous half-Belgian. Making up the numbers were Melody, Natasha, Tom and Jim.

As ever, the major pitfalls of this task were choosing the wrong products or picking the wrong place to sell them. (Remember last year’s misadventures in the Trafford Centre?) Logic didn’t take long to decide they’d be setting up shop in Birmingham’s Bullring Centre, on the basis that it was exactly what Melody had in mind. Smarty-pants Tom was already wrapping his keen intellect around the huge margins to be made from selling beauty treatments — it was the whole point of the exercise. But he had some reservations about conducting business from what appeared to be a broom cupboard miles away from their sales pitch. Was Felicity listening to his wise words? Not a chance. Meanwhile Venture wisely opted for the out-of-town approach that would give Westfield another priceless 20 minutes or so of free advertising on BBC1.

Glossing over Leon’s make-up issues

The pitches from eight over excited beauty entrepreneurs were entertaining. It was fun watching Tom getting his face plastered with a chocolate facial and Leon sizing up the bikini-clad lady who was about to be turned into “a little Egyptian mummy”. The sight of Glenn getting a foot massage was, frankly, less of a turn-on. Would Victoria Beckham or Cheryl Cole be seen dead sporting a clip-in “Winge” (fake fringe)? I still can’t believe Logic thought this was cutting edge. Leon was having some masculinity issues after being volunteered to try out some male cosmetics. “I can’t be a part of this” he whined, no doubt envisaging his girlfriend and her mates clustered round a TV laughing at him.

But all of this was just an excuse for Susan telling us (ad nauseam) that selling skin care products is “right up her street”. Annoying though Miss “Me, Me, Me” undoubtedly is, Zoe’s constant deferring to her expertise was also a big yawn. So it’s galling to report that Venture secured the spray tan product that both teams really wanted, purely on the basis of Susan’s enthusiasm — “We love it”. (Karren was enjoying a surreptitious look at what the newly-bronzed model keeps in his shorts.)

It looked as though Logic had lucked out with those nifty heated Lavashells, which Tom calculated could net them a 96 per cent profit margin. Once they’d lured the punters into their cupboard in the Bullring, they’d be minted. Who cares that they were proposing to carry out massages and hair styling in the same decidedly pokey space? This turned out not to be a problem at all, because between 11am and 3.30pm they didn’t attract any customers for their treatments — to the disbelief of Nick Hewer. It’s all very well trying to persuade ladies to buy a hairpiece that resembles a pet hamster (Natasha’s words), but that’s not where the big money lies.

Meanwhile over at Westfield, Venture’s tanning salon was doing a steady trade even if Helen didn’t seem to know how to switch on the equipment. I was hoping we might get a re-run of that tan-tastic episode of Friends in which Ross turns himself orange, but if there were any real cock-ups here, we didn’t get to see them.

Leon, belatedly channelling his inner gay man, soon got into the swing of selling those bottles of tanning products. His “weird finger trick” with the customers (not as interesting as it sounds) earned Karren’s approval. But Venture found themselves with way too much stock on their hands, because Susan had seriously overestimated her ability to conjure money from the pockets of those “poor” people of Birmingham. This led to a very public dressing-down from the PM and her head prefect Helen. “It’s so unfair Zoe!” sobbed poor little Suzy, in what was more or less a rerun of her spat with Edna in Week Two.

Massaging the figures

Logic were eventually reduced to giving away three-minute massages, in a very belated bid to grab some customers. (The idea was that Ellie’s magic fingers would persuade the punters to cough up for the full treatment.) It didn’t look like a winning strategy, but you never know. Perhaps they had saved the day by selling a truck-load of that fake hair to a bunch of Brummies with comb-overs. Nick Hewer thought it was possible, but said it would be “a close-run thing”. For once, he was way off target.

It was just as well that Venture came out on top, because Zoe seemed intent on shooting herself in the foot before the results were even revealed. She admitted regretting the decisions she’d taken as a result of the overconfident Susan “I can sell 60 on my own” and her much-vaunted expertise. A backstabbing session involving Zoe, Helen and Susan was curtailed when we learned that their efforts to spray-tan the pasty citizens of Birmingham hadn’t been in vain. Venture made a (not-very-impressive) profit of £203.01. Logic made a “pig-ugly” loss of £246.28.

So this week’s boardroom cat-fight was between Felicity, Ellie and Natasha. Actually, it was more of a massacre. After earlier pronouncing her a good leader, the team members rounded on the 23-year-old blonde, like sharks scenting blood. The PM could have brought back Tom “Mr Notebook-Calculator” Pellereau, whose skill lies in working out profit margins but not actually selling much. But, then he would have pole-axed her with his trenchant analysis of how they’d chosen the wrong venue to start with.

Ellie, who’d had a pretty chilled out afternoon in that broom closet, was incensed that sitting on her arse not doing any massages had earned her a trip to the boardroom. Her lack of “passion” in the pitches hadn’t passed unnoticed either. (Smiling occasionally might help.) Natasha “Where’s the strategy?” Scribbins didn’t impress Lord Sugar with her capacity for being wise after the event, but she got away with it this time.

Felicity suffered the double blow of being fired and frozen out by the two ruthless surviving candidates. “We didn’t say ‘bye to her, by the way” boasted Ellie back at the house. “This ain’t a popularity contest, this is about business” declared the hatchet-faced Ms Scribbins. Well, it’s lucky for her that this isn’t a beauty contest, because hers is a face I’d go out of my way to avoid.

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