I’m not sure I’m ready for this. I’ve been away for a few weeks, and so missed the first episodes of this series of The Apprentice. So, in order to prep for tonight’s installment, I endured a triple bill last night in order to get up to speed. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was to start empathizing with someone that the rest of the country had already decided was an intolerable fucktard. Turns out, I needn’t have worried.
Episode 4 opens with the promise of farmyard fun, which had me experiencing a traumatic flashback to Rebecca Loos wanking a pig. Thankfully, there were no such shenanigans tonight – the closest we came was the sight of Frank Sidebottom in a blue shower-cap, confidently attempting to milk a dairy cow.
Nine years in and you could almost predict every line of the show. Lord Sugar continues to render the show’s title obsolete, telling the prospective candidates: “It’s not about a job, it’s about me plowing £250,000 into a business.” Why not just call the show The Investor, and be done with it?
Anyway, old crinkle-chops has got his measure of them, barking “You’re all a bloody waste of space.” Of course they are, how else are we to assume that they made it through the casting process? They’re certainly not picked for their likeability, commercial acumen, or realistic eyebrows. “Oh my God, do you guys know what you’re doing?” yells one Apprentice, giving voice to eight million viewers at home. The final clip in the opening montage is another Apprentii claiming “I’ve been stitched up,” but it’s not clear whether she’s referring to her team-mates or those wags in the editing suite.
There’s just time for a quick recap of last week’s flat-pack farce, where the word ‘innovation’ was universally misinterpreted as a synonym for ‘uncomfortable chair’ and the girls continued on a losing streak that would make Eddie the Eagle feel all superior.
It’s 5.20am, and two of the girls are clattering down the spiral staircase to answer the dildophone. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about how many candidates it takes to operate a sex aid, but there’s no time for that – we’ve got to race to Surrey Docks in East London. As is customary, there’s lots of footage of the boys scratching their armpits and running around half-dressed, while the girls roll their eyes back and attempt to paint those Penfold-style brows onto the empty space a couple of inches above their heads.
At the City Farm on the Isle of Dogs, Lord Sugar is telling our hopeless hopefuls that there’s this great new trend, where people grow food on farms, then take it to market to sell. This is most alarming, given that he’s old enough to remember the agrarian revolution. While he pontificates about the plot of Jack and the Beanstalk, a herd of goats begins to gather threateningly in the background. According to legend, they’ll eat anything – even polyester suits and hair-gel – so this could get interesting. Sadly, before the ruminants can attack, Lord Sugar mixes up the teams, admitting, “Ladies, I’ve been disappointed.” For once in his life, the shoe appears to be on the other foot.
In what was formerly the girls’ team, Luisa announces that she has a cake shop, so her ability to deal with suppliers makes her the ideal project manager for this task. Still, that doesn’t seem to stop hard-faced pharma sales rep Rebecca from throwing her beehive into the ring. She proudly announces that she has no experience in sourcing produce, retail or dealing with suppliers, but hey, how hard can it be? At this point, Luisa’s eyes open so widely that I can hear a faint tearing sound.
The other team has grudgingly accepted Alpha Neil as their PM, and they’re listening to Jordan, the hipster Harry Potter, tell them that “There was a van at my school that sold Ostrich meat.” I’m guessing it was a school with a polo team. Neil explains that “we need to have a specialist thing,” to which Frank Sidebottom responds by suggesting “cheese on toast.” This is all going swimmingly.
It’s still too early in the series to tell most of the suits apart, so once Evolve and Endeavour get split into sub-teams to source produce, it all makes about as much sense as watching the Oceans 11 films out of order. The next fifteen minutes become a disorienting montage of scenes of people riding flat-beds through orchards, panic buying cabbage, and speculating whether satsumas might be indigenous to the South East.
Thankfully, Nick’s on hand to emphasise ALL the wrong WORDS as he evaluates THE candidates, making it impossible to tell whether he approves of, or disagrees with, their margin strategy. It doesn’t help matters that he still looks as if he’s trying to squeeze face-first through a drainpipe, so his facial expressions give nothing away either.
One of the sub-teams is roaming around Shropshire sourcing milk for their shakes, while their counterparts are buying up stock primarily to dress their shop. “Engage brain” bleats Luisa, clearly unfamiliar with the old adage “Physician, heal thyself.” This prompts Francesca (a dance and entertainment entrepreneur, whatever one of those is) to roll her eyes like Marty Feldman on acid. The pressure’s clearly on, as the passive-aggressive behaviour has now being cranked up to eleven. There’s a flurry of unfinished conversations, as team-members attempt to discuss strategy with the PMs, only for the phone to suddenly go dead on them – honestly, there’s more hang-ups here than an OCD sufferer in a dirty Youth Hostel.
Happy Shopper Ryan Gosling should be happy – he got his own way about the shakes, but he’s taking his de facto deputy leadership of the team as an opportunity to tell everybody how wrong they are. About everything. “I don’t think so, I disagree” he growls, as he tries to figure out how on Earth you’re supposed to make a milkshake using Cox’s Orange Pippins.
The big day is upon us, and the two teams proudly reveal their curiously named emporia. Luisa’s team has opted for Buffalocal – a neologism that seems to be trying to do too many things at once – whereas Neil’s gang have settled on Fruity Cow. Karren looks secretly pleased with that one. The candidates are all bustling about, trying to make their final preparations, with Cosmetics Entrepreneur Uzma sagely advising her colleagues to “Make it look like there’s lots there, when there’s really not.” Echoing the advice of her guidance counselor on how to fill out a CV. The shops have only just opened and already laugh-a-minute Nick is promising pain in the boardroom, but he knows how long it’s been since Alan last splashed out on reupholstering the chairs.
Karren declares that the milkshakes are coming thick and fast, showing a fundamental lack of understanding about the concept, and I’m momentarily distracted by the sight of someone walking down Brick Lane in a giant burger-shaped hat.
Doctor Leah, who looks like a sex doll with a slow puncture, is promising piping hot soup, even though Miles has been wandering around East London holding the same pots for a couple of hours. Not to worry, it’s just leek and potato. If it gets too cold, they can just call it a Vichyssoise.
Time is fast running out, and the milkshakes aren’t shifting, so Neil and Kurt take the decision to make smoothies, courtesy of some cartons of Just Juice picked up in the local CostCutter. The pressure’s also getting to Alex, who’s wandering the streets in a red apron screaming “Quails’ eggs” at passersby. In one alarming close-up, his unfortunate face makes me think of a haunted clock. After one final rush, which sees the teams flogging as much as they can at cost price, it’s all over for another week.
Back to Lord Sugar’s luxuriously appointed Portakabin, where we’re afforded a rare glimpse of what used to be Frances. The receptionist looks up in surprise as thirteen Byrited muppets stroll in with their carry-on luggage, as if she thought she was an extra on Doctor Who, but had wandered onto the wrong set by mistake.
In the boardroom, Lord Sugar is trying out another one of his patented joke-fails – this time responding to the choice of buffalo meat by saying “You was in East London, not the Wild West.” Nick’s still flinching, but probably at the mangled grammar rather than the shit humour. He’s had forty years to get used to both. Placed under the spotlight, Luisa confirms that when the sales dried up “Our strategy totally changed,” which is a bit like the captain of Titanic declaring that he attempted a different methodology once the ship spontaneously changed direction. Neil doesn’t fare much better, with his milkshake-based strategy prompting another rip-tickler from Lord Sugar - “Apple and Blackberry, sounds like a mobile phone shop.” My aching sides.
After three weeks of defeat, Evolve has finally won a task, prompting Jordan to celebrate in his customary aggressive fashion. Over on the other team, Kurt is regretting sticking the knife into his team leader before the results were revealed, since he’s all but guaranteed that he’ll be brought back into the boardroom.
As the victorious Evolve get lessons in deboning a grouse, team Endeavour are drowning their sorrows in the tepid milk foam over at the Café of Broken Dreams. The music even takes an appropriate turn for the melancholy as Neil asks them for their ‘forts.’ Unsurprisingly, it’s Uzma and Kurt who accompany him back into the boardroom, but he’s seen this show before and knows how to play Lord Sugar. Spend just enough time going mano-a-mano with Kurt, before revealing Uzma as the true sacrificial offering. More pointless bickering, and Lord Sugar’s clearly had enough. I know exactly how he feels. There’s a bit more customary fake out, as Alan wields his chubby finger like Clarence Bodicker’s shotgun in RoboCop – all that’s missing is the “ne-ne-ne-ne-ne” sound. As a defeated Uzma clambers into the cab, still wearing her ridiculous high heels, I’m left to marvel that she can feel anything from the knees down.