There is a series that will end this weekend that has had a profound effect on a lot of people. The people watching have been thoroughly entertained, the people involved have grown before our very eyes and in the end there could only ever be one winner. I’m not talking about Harry Potter (wait until next week when I’ve seen the film). No, I’m talking about Lord Sugar’s search for his new business partner on the latest series of The Apprentice.
This series has been vastly different from those that preceded it for one main reason. In the seasons before, Lord Sugar was simply looking for an exceptional employee. The Apprentice was a glorified name for an employee. They’d learn from Alan Sugar, but they’d still be working under him. Even if he was attempting to mould them into the next Lord Sugar (or Lady Sugar, I guess) they were never really treated as equals. This series in therefore inherently different, because the opportunity provided by Lord Sugar this time is as a business partner, when means they’ll be going into business as equals. Not only does their business proposal have to match up, but they have to be extremely competent too.
So do I think that the Final Four we’ve been left with are extremely competent? Well, they certainly seem like the most logical choices over the course of the series. Helen has proved herself to be a record breaker, Jim continues to charm his way, Tom’s shaky start has gradually levelled out so long as he stays away from literature and history and Susan Ma seems to have actually found her voice. No one can really say that last week’s task failure was down to Helen, now that she’s actually taken the helm and led herself and Tom to victory. That said, Melody Hossaini’s arrogance annoyed me from the beginning, and I was genuinely surprised that she wasn’t fired after that terrible French task where she hoarded all the appointments and sales. Can you imagine someone that selfish as a business partner? I was glad to see Zoe Beresford go to, although given that she’s dating Glenn Ward, they’re probably two of the least annoyed applicants to have been fired on the show.
I think the Final Four are the best we could have relatively hoped for, but who should win? I’d have given the nod to Helen or Jim, but Susan seems to be a bit of a dark horse, and Tom has a surprising amount of public support. This isn’t X-Factor though, so public support means little in the board room. So let’s look at them individually:
The record breaker. It’s easy to forget that she’s been around for the entire series because of that record sales pitch that sold €214,000 worth of car seats to a major French retailer. Yet, it has to be remembered that she wasn’t even in the board room until episode ten, and that’s not because she hid in the background going unnoticed. She raised valid points against the Lad’s magazine in episode seven; although they went on to win anyway. That seems to have been the case with Helen a lot in earlier episodes actually, coming up with valid criticism, and the team still scraping through, but when she’s leading she generally gets the job done. There’s no better example of that than this week, where she took the risk of trusting Tom with branding, when Zoe had been fired only a couple of weeks ago for not put herself in the branding and manufacturing process. It worked out extremely well for her; I liked the concept of MyPy. It’s extremely contemporary, and there’s an easy connection between the MyPy and Ipod, both of which use personal pronouns to create a bond with the customer before they even step through the door. She’s been team leader before too and won, both on the scrap yard task and on the biscuit task.
If anything is going to keep her from winning through it might be that a little bit of arrogance and bitchiness has begun to surface since that record breaking pitch. She insulted a manager of a potential retailer by telling her that they didn’t need to know about nutritional values. The following week, she undermined Melody’s leadership and offered to take over as team leader, a first in the entire series of the Apprentice. Most recently, she seemed quick to give Tom a snide little remark when Lord Sugar asked him to let Helen speak.
By the facts, Helen seems like the most likely candidate to take the prize. She’s efficient, comes up with ideas, she can pitch and has actually only ever been in the board room once. That’s a pretty good track record, considering her one flaw is that she can be a bitchy and backstabbing, sometimes. It remains to be see how her business proposal fares against Margret and the other interviewers on Sunday but it’s difficult to see a reason why she would lose.
The man with the mouth or, as Nick suggested, “Kissed the Blarney stone or swallowed it whole”. Throughout the series, he’s been both praised and criticised for his ability to talk. He showed an early flare for bartering, acquiring goods at a bargain, selling as if there was no tomorrow, and glamouring his rivals left, right and centre. It could easily be argued that the only reason Jim was in the board room twice is because he has such a rapport with his fellow contestants that they honestly couldn’t bring him. The first occasion that this happened was episode two, but the most memorable is more likely to be the Every Dog task. Jim came up with the name, and the concept, although he claims was tacked on later, is inherent in the title. Yet, Vincent didn’t bring him in to the board room. It was perhaps an honest approach, because Jim was extremely active in the task, practically acting as Project Manager. Following that episode, I think Jim actually calmed down a bit, backed off and simply showed a sales prowess. The biscuit task was a return to Jedi form, when he wowed retailers with promises of endorsements from Harry Potter stars. Luna Lovegood would probably do it.
As much as Lord Sugar says that he isn’t looking for a sales person, it is Jim’s impressive sales record that has kept him in the running. While Helen failed to get the biscuits across, Jim got the sale and won them the task. His attempts at project manager have been less inspiring and there seems to be a concern about whether he just talks a good talk or actually has the walk to back it up.
I sincerely doubt that the Blarney stone will be enough to woo Margret in the interview room, and the interview stage is extremely thorough. Stuart Baggs couldn’t do it. It seems like if Jim wants to make it through he’s going to have to have a pretty sweet business proposal to his name, or he might have to take that talking to the streets.
The inventor, though Lord Sugar has given him the new moniker of ‘Hindsight Man and as far as superpowers go, hindsight is pretty useless. Why then is he in the Final Four? Why is he favoured by the public? The former likely has something to do with gradually becoming more competent as the show has progressed, and in fact he has shown a great aptitude for branding and creation. The biscuit task probably would have went a lot better if Melody had listened to him rather than trying to force the idea of biscuits as the new popcorn. An idea that resulted in a ball of dough rolled in cornflakes and marshmallow. In the words of John McEnroe, ‘You cannot be serious’. Tom on the other hand, was generally on the losing team early in the series, losing five times in a row. Yet, he’s actually only been in the board room three times, so we can’t hold those against him too much. The times that he has been called in, he was playing games in France, cracking up on the biscuit task and actually stood out as seller of nodding dogs to children. By his own words, he’s not particularly good at it, but took a risk to show Lord Sugar what he can do. The MyPy concept has probably re-established him as an extremely creative mind. It did not on the other hand establish him as a history buff.
So do the public like him just because he’s the underdog? Well, if that were true, I have a feeling that Susan would have a great following, but I’d rather attribute Tom’s popularity to his quirky, geek madness. Apprentice contestants are largely from business backgrounds or extremely experienced, but Tom is an inventor. That’s pretty cool, since we think of inventors as mad professors like Doc Brown or Dr. Frankenstein. The idea of some guy with crazy hair messing with the laws of nature and physics is probably light years from the truth, but Tom fits the description. He has messy hair, he’s weird and if a curved nail file isn’t messing with physics, I don’t know what is.
The problem is, I’m not sure what the heck his business proposal could actually be. If anyone is going to have a fantastically thorough proposal with all sorts of numbers and figures calculated, it’s going to be Tom, but I’m curious as to what exactly they’re going to be calculating. A business usually offers a product or a service, so it’ll be interesting to see what he’s selling. Tom probably has a fairly decent chance, but honestly, he might just be a little too weird for Lord Sugar.
The only one of the Final Four that actually runs their own business. If it was based entirely on that, then she’d have the job, and she must think that it does because she brings it up almost every single week. That said, it seems like Susan gets a lot of abuse. First she seemed to be constantly at war with Zoe, and then with Natasha. Both are gone now. Perhaps a pattern is emerging of people abusing Susan and getting fired. It’s not like sometimes it doesn’t seem like she deserves the abuse, such as asking if the French are fond of their children, and over estimating their ability to sell tanning lotion. Yet, at other times it comes out of nowhere, such as her getting reprimanded by Zoe for suggesting they should be buying furniture, not charging removal costs on week six, and being accused of acting like a child in episode ten by Natasha. It’s interesting to note that, for a while, every time Susan would put herself forward as project manager, Zoe would almost instantly offer her services instead. It really does seem largely undeserved because Susan has shown herself to be good at product selection, despite the tanning lotion hiccup, and relatively good at sales. She hasn’t got the record breaking pitch of Helen, or Jim’s Blarney stone, but her investment in bracelets managed to rack up some major sales.
I having a feeling Lord Sugar might have a soft spot for Susan because she is only 21 and has started her own business. It must be looking in a mirror for him…if he were a small, Asian woman. Ok, so maybe not a mirror, but nonetheless, it seems that her previous business experience has kept her in the process despite being rather quiet and ineffectual in the beginning.
Honestly, I doubt it matters what Susan’s proposal is. If it’s good, it’ll be a tight run between her and Helen. If it’s terrible, she’ll lick her wounds and go back to her skincare business. Her business will probably see a boost in sales from her exposure on The Apprentice, and she’ll get around to setting up the business that she would have used anyway. Of the four, Susan probably has the least to lose.
There you have it; eleven weeks and no clear winner. I almost prefer it that way though because it makes the final two hour episode all the more exciting. I’m still backing Helen or Jim to win, but Susan and Tom definitely are dark horses in the competition. It’s anyone’s guess who will actually win, but the only real winner is Lord Sugar. You have to wonder how much the BBC are paying him for the programme, and, as a bonus, he gets a business out of it.
As an aside, am I the only one who ever thought that Lord Sugar sounds like the criminal mastermind in a short animation for the dangers of tooth decay? Nick and Karen can get into the fun too as his side kicks, Plague and Halitosis. To save Toothopolis from his dastardly schemes are Captain Fluoride and his legendary weapon, Excalibrush. Accompanying him into battle are sidekick and love interest, Missy Mouthwash, and his bearded collie, Flossy. This must be made.
Back to reality, if you want to know who actually will win The Apprentice 2011, tune into BBC1, 9.00pm, Sunday, 17/7/2011, to find out.