The Apprentice Season 7 - Final

The plan was to write up this review as soon as the show finished, but my brain didn't seem capable of processing what had just happened. Suffice it to say, The Apprentice managed to come up with an even more confounding finale to a fairly bizarre season.

It seems, over the past 11 weeks, I've been labouring under a false assumption - specifically, that because the prize was a chance to go in to partnership with Alan Sugar to work on your new business idea, that these business plans had been at the very least pre-vetted, and more likely were the primary basis on which candidates were picked for the show.

Oops.

It turns out that, actually, all their business ideas are a bit naff, leaving Sir Alan to pick the least barmy. But let's look at who he got rid of first.

Jim Eastwood

I kind of admire Jim's business plan, as it was less a business plan and more a how-to-win-The-Apprentice-plan. It required the star and celebrity of Alan Sugar to work, which Nick pointed out was sucking up to the boss at bit too much, but it was also very worthy. It was designed to push e-learning in to schools to help kids learn and help educate children cheaply in these difficult economic times. One can see the logic. When Jim declares he initially saw it as a non-profit organisation, he's clearly betting on the idea that Lord Sugar isn't going to turn down a chance to help the kids and instead chose something to make himself money on national television.

Of course, it didn't come across that way on the show, because the editors have been doing this for seven years now and know how to tell the story they want to tell. I'm almost positive, given Jim penchant for talking a hell of a lot, that he gave some sort of impassioned boardroom speech about how he goes out and helps in schools in his spare time, because he's passionate about education, and he had a tough educational upbringing and so on... but that was mostly all cut down to: Jim: "non-profit", Alan Sugar *scowls*.

It didn't help, of course, that the business plan itself was flawed, which gave Sir Alan the out to fire Jim. I mentioned in my previous piece that Jim really knew how to 'game the system' with respect to the whole biscuit marketing idea, but he pushed it just a little too far this time, and I think Lord Sugar knew that if he gave a green light to a charitable idea this time around, that'd be all he'd get from next year's bunch.

Susan Ma

I was convinced, about halfway in, that Susan had this in the bag. Her business plan was the only one that hadn't been utterly ripped apart: Jim's wasn't looking to make money, Tom's had a kernal of a good idea with the chair but the consultancy business around it was flawed and Helen's idea was just mental.

Susan's only crime was to naively over-estimate her figures, which isn't a huge mistake and shows a lot of ambition. Her concept was the only of the four that would have worked as-is (a simple up-scaling of her current cosmetics business). It's been proven to work, she knows the market, and it just wouldn't grow quite as quickly as she expected.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Tom won, but on the evidence given on the TV show, Susan should have walked it for having the only vaguely workable idea.

Helen Milligan
And so to the final two, the person with the greatest win-loss record in Apprentice history, playing the finalist with the worst ever. Helen should have walked it, and Lord Sugar later pointed out that, were this a regular season, she would have. But not this time. Because the winner has to go in to business with the boss, and her idea was awful. A concierge/PA business for the mass-market. It seems like there's a fundamental flaw there to me: it's essentially asking people to pay to get some of their free time back, which we're notoriously loathe to do in the UK, and it can never be truly mass market or we'd all end being each others PA's.

Given that she's an executive assistant, and so that's her job, it's easy to see where the idea came from. And to give her some credit, it was actually an original concept, unlike the other three which have mostly been done before. But then, there's probably a reason no-one has ever tried a PA business for the mass-market before: it's a crap idea.

And so she can't win, even though Sugar desperately wants to hire her, and even though she tries to change her mind at the last minute and suggests opening a line of bakery stores instead, using her knowledge from working at Greggs to set up, well, a new version of Greggs. It doesn't save her though, as the grand prize goes to...

Tom Pellereau

Because it turns out, Sir Alan likes products. He doesn't like "the service industry" and only Tom and Susan were pitching actual products. Of course, Tom's product comes with a whole service-related side-order that Sugar doesn't care for, but he can see himself selling Tom's chair.

And with that, the guy who lost the most tasks of anyone all season wins The Apprentice, which kind of makes you wonder what the point of the last eleven weeks was. To make it even more confusing, on the You're Hired after-show, Lord Sugar reveals that chair is going to get a lot of work done and might be manufactured sometime in the future, but for now he's going to focus on Tom's already-existing nail file business. Which raises a whole load of questions about whether Tom would even want to give or sell Alan Sugar a 50% share in that business, given that wasn't really the agreement in the prize. How that all worked out we'll never know, but given he eventually went with Tom's "plan b", maybe Helen should have kept quiet about her's after all.

I couldn't help but wonder, that at the end of the two hours, if the whole series had just been one elaborate plan for Alan Sugar to get hold of Tom's curved nail files. I mean, there must have been some reason he kept Tom about all those weeks and fired other people over him, and I'm fairly sure it wasn't for the chair, so unless it was for the emergency biscuit, I'm stumped. (I'd add that everyone mocks the emergency biscuit idea as being totally ridiculous, when it's defendable with one word: diabetes).

Overall it was an unsatisfying end to the series. The whole thing has been building towards these business concepts, and I expected the final to be some elaborate Dragon's Den style pitching exercise, when in fact the concepts just seemed to have been dropped in at the last minute without much thought given to how they should influence the program itself.

They're sticking with the same format next year, and I'd hope that the business ideas are more front and centre. In fact, let's start with thirty people in week one, have them all pitch and whittle them down to fifteen by the end of the episode. If nothing else, I'd love to see them fit that many people in the boardroom set. And also see Dara trying and interview fifteen people in half an hour.

Still, it was a good result, as Dara put it, a victory for the geeks. Because you know that Jim is the sort of guy that used to bully guys like Tom at school. It sends a really positive message that you don't have to be a hard-nosed, ruthless, selfish person to get ahead in business. In fact, it was that sort of attitude that's partly responsible for the state of the world economy. Instead you can be a geeky, polite, well-educated gentleman and still get ahead. Which I think is lovely.

What, I'm meant to end on a joke? I'm all out I'm afraid. Does anyone have an app-le?

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