The Apprentice: Week One – Fish fingers, shampoo and the first lot in the firing line!

Claude Littner

Warning: Contains spoilers!

With a huge bake-off-shaped void left in BBC One’s Wednesday night viewing, we have not been left to our own devices. The beeb wastes no time in turning the viewer’s attentions to The Apprentice with the show’s tried and tested formula which sees 18 contestants compete for the prize of a £250,000 injection into the winner’s start up business plan. A new series sees a new aide for Lord Sugar which comes in the form of poison-tongued businessman Claude Littner who joins the panel alongside Baroness Karren Brady.

There has been plenty of hype to build excitement for the new series with a “Meet the Candidates” episode and a tongue-in-cheek 2 minute “honest subtitles, for a funny, alternative take on the candidate’s first task”. The question is does the first episode live up to expectations?

In a break with tradition, three men and three women were swapped on each team to create mixed groups for the first task. This saw contestants head to Billingsgate fish market to source fish to turn into sellable lunch products; but first to choose team names and Project Managers. April Jackson was quick to offer herself up as PM of Team Connexus.

The opposing team who called themselves Team Versatile were each very reluctant to appoint themselves as Project Manager and ended up coaxing a rather unwilling Selena Waterman-Smith into being PM as she could cook and has “food intolerances”. Interesting reasoning!

Team Connexus, or should I say April, decided they were to create a high end product which would have a high profit margin. She also singlehandedly decided on the products they would be making which were tuna niçoise salad and fishcakes.

On the other hand Selena showed no leadership skills throughout the discussion of what products they would be creating. Team Versatile decide on Calamari and fish finger sandwiches.

The teams got an early start to get to the market and buy their fish. In Team Connexus, April bought their tuna at a high price at the first stall they visited disregarding Ruth’s suggestion that they check prices elsewhere first. However this did get them a head start at cooking as they were finished at the market very quickly.

In contrast Team Versatile shopped around for coley to use in their fish fingers making a considerable saving as it was much cheaper than cod. They bought the cheapest squid available which turned out to be a case of you get what you pay for as they were told later by a professional chef that the quality was so bad that some would be unusable!

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Team Connexus took a long time in the kitchen and as Brett was making jumbo fishcakes they only managed to make 89 out of the 300 they had planned to make with their ingredients. In fact the team took so long to make it out of the kitchen and onto the London streets that they missed the lunchtime rush! Dan proved himself to be an awful salesman, bounding over to passers-by and asking, “Can I interest you in a salad?!” whilst Ruth’s technique was “creepy” as Karren mentioned, stroking a man’s arm and calling him lovely, she still made plenty of sales. But this would not be enough to salvage the team’s profit.

Team Versatile proved they were indeed reasonably versatile by changing tack and selling boxes of fish fingers when they were not selling enough fish finger sandwiches. Although they did seem to be lacking common sense by leaving a cool box full of squid but no ice, in the sun and having to throw it away as it had got too hot. Mergim Butaja made a real fool of himself, offering a vegan restaurant a “once in a lifetime opportunity” as he attempted to sell them fish fingers.

selling fish fingers

Back in the boardroom even with the money they lost on the warm squid, Team Versatile steamrollered Connexus who only managed to make a paltry £1.87 profit! Project Manager April brought Dan and Brett back into the Boardroom with her. It was only at this point, after the task had been completed that Brett revealed that he’d once worked in a fish restaurant as a young adult. He had been following the rules more than his own common sense when he refused to make smaller fishcakes, instead ensuring they met the recipe “specifications”. Dan barely put up a fight, only saying that his strengths lay in online business and not in “sales or cooking” as he’d failed to sell a single thing. So it was Dan that went, with Brett being told to use his common sense in future and April being warned that had this failure had happened later in the series she would have been fired as well.

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Episode 2 saw the 17 hopefuls sent to meet Lord Sugar in the Barbican in a cactus garden. They were tasked with coming up with the packaging for a shampoo containing cactus oil along with a 30 second long digital billboard and an advert for it in order to pitch the product to a panel of industry experts. The teams were mixed up to make single sex teams once again. Charleine wanted to be Project Manager of the women’s team as she owns a salon and “I spend all day talking about shampoo”. Aisha then nominated herself as she felt she had more relevant marketing experience. Aisha won the majority vote which she followed up with a threat to her team that in the event of them losing, anyone who had not had a strong input in the task would be joining her in the boardroom. A great start!

Men's team

Richard was voted to head up the men’s team as he owned and had run his own marketing company for 8 years. His leadership of the team began very differently to Aisha’s as he gave each team member 30 seconds to make a proposal. It was decided that they would create a product to appeal to the male market and after some rather dodgy suggestions they came up with the name Western – for desert dry hair. A black bottle was chosen with a white modern logo incorporating a cactus into it. All in all a product which would not have looked out of place on a hairdresser’s shelves.

Western

The women’s team however, had some heated discussions during the decision making process. Vana fought hard for her idea to target the “grey pound” (the over 45’s) to be used. Once that was decided the name Desert Secrets came up and Aisha overrode her team to use it. Aisha also insisted that they use a picture of a cactus flower on the bottle instead of a cactus as this was where the oil came from – as with Brett in the previous episode, this was another case of a lack of common sense prevailing over the most obvious and effective answer. Again her team disagreed with her and again she overrode them.

The men filming the 30 second digital billboard chose to ignore instructions from the rest of their team to “throw sand” at the model’s hair and instead filmed a man washing his hair in black and white with the logo in the corner. The advert had a similar feel keeping it all on brand.

The women on the other hand, were sent two 20-something models to feature in their digital billboard aimed at women over 45, so Ruth agreed to feature in it instead. The advert was a cringe-inducing mother and daughter duo which did not allude to or remind the viewer of the the digital billboard at all.

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Finally, the pitches: and oh how it made us squirm! They should really have learnt from previous contestants that it is not a good idea to rave about your pitching skills on the show, it’s never a good omen as Natalie and Scott both found out too late. Stiff, serious and forgotten lines, it was painful to watch.

After Lord Sugar gathered his information, the men were pronounced the winning team. Aisha as PM chose Natalie for her bad pitch and Vana for leading them to go for the “grey pound”, back into the boardroom with her. Natalie admitted that she had given up on the product as she “didn’t believe in it” for which she was chastised by Lord Sugar. Aisha’s judgement was questioned regarding her choice of taking Vana into the boardroom with her. Ultimately, as is often the case on The Apprentice, Aisha the project manager was the one to go.

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And so we await tonight’s episode, will Claude Littner release his nasty side? Who will be next to crumble under the pressure of the cross channel discount buying challenge up next? We’ll have to wait and see.