Thursday, 18 July 2013

Let's hear it for the girls - The Apprentice Final

It’s a two-hour special edition of The Apprentice tonight, hosted in the You’re Fired studio by Dara O’Briain. But I’m only going to cover the main part of the show, because I have work in the morning and you, presumably, still have the will to live.

This has been an odd series, packed with weird and wonderful characters, all demonstrating the cumulative business acumen of a hole-punch. Cake makers, dance entrepreneurs and sports centre managers have battled it out for eleven weeks, just to see who was the best at shouting at passersby in the East End while wearing a sandwich board. And then, once a week, Lord Sugar would pootle in at the end of each episode to tell them “You’re all bladdy useless.” Nick’s ‘close scrutiny’ face has now become a full-blown nervous tick, and Karren has taken  to de-emphasising her formidable décolletage by dressing in an unflattering selection of caravan awnings.

The show kicks off with a quick recap of last week’s hilarious semi-final, before O’Briain invites us to “Sit back and enjoy Luisa versus Leah,” as though they’re going to be wrestling in jelly for the investment. It’s unusual enough to have an all-woman final, but it’s even more surprising to see two such girly girls make it all the way. Margaret Mountford clearly disapproved of both Leah and Luisa last week, preferring to fixate on their obsession with appearances rather than their business smarts. We’re clearly a long way from the formidable Ruth Badger, who could have given Desperate Dan penis envy.

As Luisa and Leah prepare for the final task, we’re basically treated to an extended make-over montage, as hair is straightened, eyebrows are drawn and powder is applied. “We have to show what we’re made of now,” warns Luisa, and I’m beginning to suspect that she’s eighty percent glitter gel. I’m trying to remember what the equivalent footage has involved when the final has seen two male candidates going head-to-head. Reading the FT while taking a good, long shit?

At One Marylebone, Karren’s still feeling the chill, buttoned up in an overcoat that even the Amish would find a little severe. Lord Sugar tells his finalists that it’s time for them to create the brands for their would-be businesses, including a website and launch campaign. In a bit of clever foreshadowing, he tells Luisa to make a good presentation, because all the promos for tonight’s show have seen her running off the stage in floods of tears. Leah’s challenge, on the other hand, will be explaining the world of aesthetic treatments in a way that Lord Sugar can understand. “This is something that is alien to me,” he adds, drawing unnecessary attention to the wrinkles he could lose his car keys in.

The first challenge is to build a team from all the fired candidates. Leah is obviously quick off the mark and gets all her first choices. Poor Luisa is left to pick her team from a line-up of overweight asthmatics. None of the candidates sound particularly excited to be involved in the Apprentice’s version of Jim Bowen’s “here’s what you could’ve won…” moment, but they feign interest for their friends. Jason is thrilled to have been asked back by Luisa, but then he didn’t hear her describe him as completely detrimental to the team. To the consternation and confusion of her colleagues, Luisa attempts to describe what her business is, but she’s not doing a very good job. “It’s about everything you need to make a cake, apart from the cake.” “So, flour?” “No, not flour.” Jason’s got about 11 degrees, and even he’s struggling to follow this one. 

Leah’s proposition is much simpler, so Myles offers up his own vanity to support the project. I’m not sure how that helps anybody, but his veneers look shiny when he smiles, so I’ll go with it. Leah’s listening to her team’s suggestions for brand names, so that she can throw them all out and go with Niks. Because it’s ‘skin’ backwards. Somewhere in Glasgow, J K Rowling is sucking the air through her teeth and saying, “Really?  That’s fucking lazy.” Her team don’t think much of the idea, or Leah’s terrible scribble of a logo. “I just love Niks. Is this not beautiful to you? This is beautiful to me.” But if that’s her idea of beauty, her clients are going to end up looking like a doodle in Dali’s Moleskine. 

Luisa’s not having much more look, offering up Masterbakers and Sugar Central; both of which sound like specialist lap-dance bars rather than a one-stop-shop for bun-cases and piping bags. In the end, she settles on Baker’s Toolkit, and heads off to get some customer insight from a cupcake business. In the shop, she seems more interested in demonstrating her knowledge of baking apparatus than digging out any valuable information. Jason tries to help, asking “Before you leave, do you want to get some numbers?” No-one really knows what numbers he means, prompting Luisa to roll her eyes like she’s apologising for an autistic nephew who’s making a scene.

For her logo, Luisa has decided she wants to be rendered in cartoon form, which is weird because that’s how I’ve seen her since week one. “I think it’d be really good,” she tells the oh-so-patient designer, “you know, ‘cos I’ve got quite big eyes.” Something of an understatement, given she could make a bush-baby look like Richard Gere. Over on the other team, Alex is offering some words of wisdom for Leah’s design: “You know, for logos, typography is really in.” That thwapping sound you can hear is a million designers simultaneously punching themselves in the face. Leah wants it ‘clinical,’ telling her unsurprised team “I like boring.” Luisa’s not doing much better, barking orders at her own designer, who’s secretly speed-dialing a recruitment consultant under the desk. 

With their logos designed, the teams now have to shoot a promotional video for their respective brands. Alex wisely warns, “This has got to be not only tasteful, but also professional,” so as to distinguish it from all the amateur cosmetic surgeries out there. Myles and Francesca are doing their bit, chasing people through Holborn and asking them if they’ve considered some non-surgical facial improvements. In retrospect, it’s amazing neither of them got their own faces rearranged non-surgically. Niks is now N.I.K.S. because a focus group pointed out that it made them think of shaving cuts, so now Leah is stuck with a fake acronym that doesn’t really mean anything. Although, curiously, that lack of depth suits her business perfectly.

Now our two finalists have to stand up and give their presentations to an assembled audience of “100 industry experts and Lord Sugar.” Oooh, burn. Luisa is getting giddy about some pink balloons and icing some cupcakes, but Nick’s not impressed. He’s been reading his inspirational quotes toilet paper (Margaret’s pick in last year’s Secret Santa) and offers up “Failing to prepare for that presentation, is preparing to fail.” But Luisa doesn’t need to prepare – she’s confident that her big personality will carry through. She certainly needs all the help she can get when she describes her product range as extending all the way from “the smallest pot of glitter to big professional rolling pins.” As an aside, this episode deserves some kind of award for consistent disservice to the word ‘professional’. The industry experts seem reasonably impressed, telling Lord Sugar “The brand was strong… it rides well with the renaissance in baking,” but Luisa’s honesty about not knowing the five-year projections probably didn’t help her. 

Leah’s presentation gets off to a curious start, as Francesca gives an inspiring ribbon dance in a revealing white outfit. Then it’s over to Leah, who spends far too long explaining her ridiculous attempt at branding. Her business plan is simple – a chain of clinics offering facial fillers, anti-wrinkle treatments and skin peels. “I personally know how important your own skin is,” she tells the crowd, and I suppose she’s got a point, otherwise she’d just be standing there in a pile of guts. Having established her credibility as a medical doctor, she’s a little put out by a question from another doctor in the audience. The invited expert suggests that Leah doesn’t really understand the business, and her abrupt reply causes Lord Sugar much LOL-ery. Not to worry – the experts are on board with Leah’s concept, telling Lord Sugar it’s a strong business proposition, and an expanding market that’s only going to go one way.

In the boardroom everyone is being painfully nice to one another, now that it’s down to the last two. Jason admits that “I was very touched that Luisa called me,” as she visibly shudders, and Lord Sugar passes judgment on Leah’s business name: “NIKS. Sounds like Mr Hewer has opened a winebar.” As the Apprentii all chuckle approvingly, Nick adds an “I wish” with weary resignation. Someone’s regretting a lifetime spent chortling politely in this boardroom. “It’s a play on the fact that we’re not cutting anything,” explains the Great Yarmouth Waxworks’ Heather Locklear in her own defence. Lord Sugar remains incredulous: “Is that really what you think works?” “Well, it’s not great, but that’s how we’d spin it,” she adds noncommittally. Alan’s trying to work out where he fits in - “I can bring my name. You probably don’t need my face, that’s for sure.” Unless, of course, she needs some decent ‘before’ shots.

As the two women retire to the reception so that Lord Sugar can deliberate, Nick weighs in with “For Leah I’ve got stubborn, and under Luisa, I’ve got less stubborn.” Karren might be thrilled that Alan has selected two women for his finalists, but Nick is clearly assessing their capabilities based on how easily they can be controlled, so let’s not call this a feminist victory just yet.

Helping him make the right decision is the fact that Leah’s looking to sell her business after a couple of years, whereas Luisa’s in it for the long haul. Given the short lifespan of most of Lord Sugar’s Apprentice affiliations, this get-out clause could be music to his ears. Plus, as Leah confidently reminds him, “How many pots of glitter do you need to sell to make the same profits?” And that’s it, with those words, Leah’s fate is sealed. Sugar moans that he’s 66 and doesn’t need any more aggravation, but at the same time, he’s not ready to play it safe just yet. As a result, Leah gets the Bentley ride to the studio and Luisa has to settle for the black cab. As for Karren; she’s already needling Sugar for mates’ rates on the dermabrasion.

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