The interview round. Just the candidates, a folder full of figures – many of them plucked out of the air – and Lord Sugar’s “associates” asking the questions.
Two of the Mafia heavies are new to the “organisation”. One of them attempts to make a name for himself by forcing the candidates to stand by their chairs and give him an “elevator pitch”, like schoolchildren reciting their times tables.
The idea is to describe the business in the time it would take to travel up to your floor in the elevator (or, as I believe we still call it in this country, “the lift”). Judging by the length of Susie’s pitch she works at the top of the Empire State Building.
The wonderful Margaret Mountford quizzes Jim on the equine metaphors that appear to form the bulk of his CV: “I’m not a show pony, or a one-trick pony, or a wild stallion that needs to be tamed, or even a stubborn mule. I believe I can become the champion thoroughbred that this process requires.” Oi! Jim! Stuart Baggs has the monopoly on Apprentice ponies, ok? Margaret thinks Jim’s a bit of an ass.
Helen wants to launch a company that does all the mundane things in life you don’t have time to do. But even if you could afford to pay someone to send a birthday card for you, wouldn’t it take just as long to give them the details as it would to do it yourself – and might it slightly spoil the pleasure of receiving it if it was signed by a stranger? That’s even less personal than a Facebook wall post.
Margaret discovers that Susan’s previous business employed a workforce of 15, paid cash-in-hand, “no tax, no national insurance, no nothing”. Could Susan be the latest high-profile arrest of the weekend? Later, on You’re Fired! – after consulting her lawyer (just kidding) – Susan explains that the employees were all students earning below the tax threshold and therefore not liable for charges. Phew!
Next, economics graduate Susan meets the formidable Claude Littner, who suggests that earning a grand over a weekend at Greenwich market does not necessarily translate into a £1 million profit in year one. This is Dragons’ Den all over again. Actually, this slightly floundering interview round would be a lot more interesting if it was the Dragons doing the grilling. Something to think about for next year?
“These were the last bitter blows of a long-fought campaign,” says Tom Pellereau, inventor and poet. “It’s over.” But surely the best bit is still to come? You know, where the other candidates return to help out with the final task? What? No final task? It’s just the interviews and that’s it? Oh.
Lord Sugar meets his associates to hear what they have to say about the finalists. I try to pay attention but keep getting distracted by, first, Margaret’s purple tie-dyed blouse and, then, Karren’s extraordinarily-collared outfit, which makes her look like one of those collectable porcelain dolls advertised in the back of a tabloid weekend magazine. The upshot, though, as far as I can gather, is that all the candidates are rubbish.
Lord Sugar gets them back in and tells them all what’s wrong with their businesses – but he especially lays into Tom’s suggestion that he should be looking after his employees’ back problems. It’s clear Lord Sugar already resents having to provide toilet facilities for his staff and make sure the floors of his offices are free of razor wire and mantraps.
Jim mentions an even more offensive idea – a not-for-profit organisation. Jim is first out. Not actually because of that, though, simply because he is a glorified salesman, all blarney and no trousers.
Despite Lord Sugar’s interest in the cosmetics industry (you don’t get wrinkles to appear that deep without some help, you know) and Susan’s assertion that she now “understands that she didn’t understand”, her unrealistic projections for her business let her down and she’s next to the taxi.
Tom or Helen? It’s been the question since the end of the last task, if not before. Karren and Nick weigh in. Tom has products and personality – Helen has the organisational skills to make him successful. Could they work together? An Apprentice first? No.
Helen’s last-ditch attempt to pitch a different business idea only shows up her naivety. “Tom, you are gonna become my business partner,” growls Lord Sugar, and if it doesn’t quite have the zing of “You’re hired!” well, let’s be honest, the whole series has lacked that.
Tom emerges from the building punching the air (I’m guessing take five and they gave up trying to make it look any more convincing) and gets into AMS 1 to be driven to “You’re Hired!”, or whatever we’re calling it now. There, Lord Sugar reveals that – forget the 12-week process – he made his decision on a “gut feeing”; Tom’s product and business plan are rubbish; and, actually, he’s just interested in the curved nailfile Tom’s already selling.
Bit of a cop-out? It doesn’t really bother me. The series has lacked a certain something, though.
Has the need to find a credible business partner weeded out some of the more entertaining candidates? Possibly. Is the format slightly stale? Maybe. Did I enjoy it anyway? Yes. Will I be watching next year? Of course I will.