The Apprentice (Series 9)

 

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The Apprentice returned for a ninth series. In episode one Lord Alan Sugar claimed he didn’t want to hear any more using clichéd phrases the show has become known for. In episode two Beer the task seemed to be built for the losing team to be told they “couldn’t handle a piss-up in a brewery”. Still, if there’s one thing that’s consistent about The Apprentice it’s the lack of consistency. In episode 8 Online Dating the losing team were berated for paying attention to market research, then in episode 9,  Ready Meals they were told off for not paying attention to market research.

This series was a often a bit like those episodes of Batman: The Animated Series or Captain Planet where all the villains meet up around a desk to come up with a plan that’s going to work for sure this time. Many of the contestants wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Rogues Gallery of cartoon baddies.

There was Alex Mills, who looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy of Dracula as played by David Mitchell. The show made many references to how vampire-ish he appeared, by pointing out one of the products he sold was tombstones. In his one time as project manager he was persuaded to go with a horror themed ready meal called Deadly Dinners, and in the Online Dating episode he dressed up as an emo to play Herbert, an example of a bad date. Herbert wasn’t Alex’s only alter-ego over the series, there was also the time he dressed in army gear to play the Colonel in the Away Day episode.

Zeeshaan Shah was the obligatory David Brent type, and was a total bullshitter. He was generally overbearing and full of hot air. The former Phones 4 U employee compared himself to Napoleon. He boasted about his sales prowess and his knowledge of Dubai in the task where the contestants went there, but the evidence to back up those claims didn’t really come through during those tasks. In Flat Pack he failed to sell anything, and in Dubai he made a mistake by confusing an oud, a musical instrument with a perfume oudh.

Cosmetics entrepreneur Uzma Yakoob may well have been trying to show off her make-up brands, but it looked as if she plastered it on with a trowel. Either that or she stuck her face in a cream cake like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire when he needed an emergency replacement facemask . With that and her painted clown cheeks, dyed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?-esque blonde hair and blue contact lenses she looked like a creepy porcelain doll from a horror film. In fairness, she is a naturally attractive woman, as she looked much, much better on the spin-off show You’re Fired when she was wearing less make-up.

Myles Mordaunt, also known as “Mr. Monaco” was a rather oily bloke with a ripped torso and bulging eyes who talked of only being used to luxury brands. He was never the most interesting contestant, but he did inspire one of Lord Sugar’s rare good jokes. After another contestant Kurt Wilson had messed up with flag measurements in the Dubai episode, thinking that there were 12 centimetres in a foot rather than 12 inches, Lord Sugar quipped that Kurt would probably call Myles “Kilometres”.

Speaking of Kurt, he was kind of the also-ran of the also-rans this series. Aside from the flag debacle and being very keen on milkshakes, he didn’t command much screen time. He was fired in a double elimination along with another one of the supporting cast, one time pop girl group member Natalie Panayi, although she was one of the candidates who returned to help out the finalists.

Other early eliminated contestants included Jaz Ampaw-Farr, who was the first to be fired. Jaz worked in teacher training, and she seemed to be stuck in primary school teacher mode when she was on the show so she came off as a bit patronising. Then there was Sophie Lau, who was essentially a live-action version of Tiffany Blum-Deckler from Daria. As such she didn’t do much other than sit there looking pretty and agreeing with whatever the majority consensus was. If only there had been a cosmetics task where like Tiffany Blum-Deckler she could talk about “craaaaanraaaasssberry liiiiiiiiiiiiiiipgloooooooossssssss” and getting a “raaaaaasssshhhh” from an itchy papaya jojoba overnight facial mask or a task where she could be distracted by her own reflection in a shiny toaster.

It’s a safe bet to say that the overall fan favourite was Jason Leech. Owning a big teddy bear and wearing striped pyjamas straight out of a striped toothpaste advert and saying things like “clickety boo”, the posh historian was extremely popular with viewers. His performance on tasks was a little haphazard. He ranged from being too honest for his own good when trying to sell in the first episode to surprisingly being one of the top salespeople in the Caravan task and with Lord Sugar calling him back to congratulate him specially. He also has the distinction of the being the first and so far only Apprentice contestant to abdicate from being project manager, a move which unsurprisingly led to him getting fired that week.

My top two favourites didn’t even make it past the half-way mark. The law of diminishing returns seems to work with my choosing of “the nice one” as my favourite. In series 7 Tom Pellereau won, in series 8 Gabrielle Omar got just over half way, and in series 9 Tim Stillwell was fired in week 2. Tim was enthusiastic and bouncy, comparing himself to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh,  but when he was the project manager in the Beer task he didn’t do much, well, managing. So while his firing perhaps wasn’t unfair, on a purely personal level I’d have liked him to last longer as he would have been pleasant to have around. OK, I’ll admit he was my The Apprentice crush for this series, Tim follows on from Tom in series 7 and Tom in series 8. Looks like I very much have a type. Similar names aside, I’m a sucker for an amiable guy in a suit with a nice smile and sparkling eyes. But regardless, Tim seemed such a lovely lad it’s a shame he was only in a couple of weeks

My other favourite was Rebecca Slater. She looked a bit like Carla Connor from Coronation Street, or that character Fiona Allen from Smack The Pony played when she was in Corrie briefly. Like Carla Connor initially it seemed that Rebecca would be a tough raven haired businesswoman. But it did seem like for whatever reason Rebecca lost a lot of her spark as the weeks went on. She was consistently one of the top salespeople though, and there were glimpses of a fun side which I think the series could have shown more of.

The final 5 all had to face interviewers to go over their business plans. Jordon Poulton, who looked like a member of Weezer shrunken down and had a habit of doing mini football goal celebrations and shouting “Get in!” in the boardroom when his team won. In the interviews he said he could solve a Rubiks cube in under 3 minutes, which he didn’t manage to do after one was produced for him to complete. That probably wasn’t the deal breaker so much as it turned out  it wasn’t technically his own business that he was asking Lord Sugar to invest in, but one which he was involved with along with other people.

Neil Clough, known for his neckbeard and referring to himself in the third person, was competitive and arrogant. Sometimes arrogance can be justified if there is something to back it up, and to his credit Neil had a good track record in tasks. That said, he was a little too pleased with himself creating a brand name pun as cringey as “A Bitter This”. In the end he failed to make the final 3 because of his business plan, which to boil it down to its most basic form was getting people to sell homes by themselves while getting estate agents to advertise on the website.

Finishing with bronze was Francesca MacDuff-Varley, who planned to open a string of dance workshops. Francesca was very likeable, and had the role of being the “normal one” and only sane person for much of the series. Arguably her most memorable moment though came after she had left the process when she returned to the final to dance to ‘Orinoco Flow’ by Enya track for a presentation.

We ended up in the last episode with the final of the final 2 putting on a presentation of their business plans with the help of some returning candidates.

Luisa Zissman spent much of the series as the “villain”, she certainly attracted a lot of media attention. She was similar to a Mean Girls character, who wouldn’t look out as place as the queen bee of a high school clique, saying things like “Epic fail!” “Engage brain!” “That is so cringe!” “Laters, loser!” and “If in doubt, smile and pout”. She was one of the most quotable candidates from the start, with her description of herself; ” I have the energy of a Duracell Bunny, the looks of Jessica Rabbit and the brains of Einstein”. But all of that added to her charm for many viewers. Her business plan was a wholesaler to provide ingredients and kitchen utensils for bakeries, as she had encountered problems sourcing those from running a cake shop herself. What was noticeable in the final however was that the audience saw a softer side to her. It could have been all the pink and glitter icing on cakes and the pink balloons, ribbons and butterflies decorations used in her business presentation, but it was more likely a rare moment of her showing vulnerability when she cried backstage after thinking she’d messed up her pitch. As it turned out Lord Sugar thought her pitch was good, but what mostly put him off choosing Luisa as the winner was that she was already running 3 businesses and he wasn’t sure she’d be able to commit totally to the one he would be investing in.

This years winner was Dr. Leah Totton, a qualified medical doctor. She resembled Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, had fabulous hair and while she could be quiet she was very, very strong willed when she had to be. She had been a favourite throughout the series for how intelligent, professional and ice cool she came across. But, in contrast to Luisa, in the final Leah, by her own admission, became harsher. She ruled her team with an iron fist. She’d always had  a slightly clinical, robotic side to her, but it really came through in the final. All the icy blue lighting in her presentation added to that effect. Her business plan was to open up a chain of medical cosmetic clinics. There were concerns about the ethical implications of it, that it is potentially profiting from or even adding to the insecurity of others, and the fact that cosmetic treatments can go horrifically wrong. Much as I had been rooting for Leah to win for most of the series, I had similar concerns to the ethics of it. For her part, Leah maintained that there was a demand for it, and one of the main reasons she wanted to do it was to encourage regulation and bring qualified medical professionals to it, and that they would only be offering non-surgical treatments.  In the end Lord Sugar decided it was worth taking the risk.

This was a great, very entertaining series. We had one of the most dreadful products ever produced (the “Tidey Sidey”, which was literally just a box on wheels. Painted grey.), the first abdication ever for The Apprentice UK, and a generally good bunch of candidates leading to an excellent final 2.

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