Condiments

There's a bit in the boardroom this week that sums up what The Apprentice UK has slowly turned into. The decline was far slower than the original US version, which was a parody of itself by the fourth season, but it's clearly there.

Katie's team have lost. Primarily because they didn't have enough stock. Ricky, who was responsible for producing their wonderful bottles of congealed ketchup, makes what seems to be a valid point: they didn't sell all the stock they had so what use would additional stock have been? Katie tries to explain that that isn't true, as had they had more stock, they could have sold it at a cheaper price, therefore moving a higher volume while still making a greater profit overall. At least, that's what I think she's trying to say, as Sir Alan Lord Sugar cuts her off to ask a very incisive question: "who's the waste of space?"

Last week's episode was bizarre, when both teams made the same mistake (ignoring the focus group) and the men's team won because the women were attempting to sell a plastic 'splash screen' for baby baths that would make it hard to see if said baby was drowning. Presumably on the basis that this would make a good excuse after you strangled it once it had scribbled all over your fancy new bath with the provided water-proof crayons. Then someone got fired because they fell asleep in the car.

imageSo this week starts with a team-swap, with Katie, the woman all the other women hate (no, not Samantha Brick, the other one), being moved over to the boys' team and subsequently becoming project manager. The teams go off to design, make and sell a new condiment. The key to this task is that they have to make their own produce in a limited amount of time, then sell it to either the trade or on the street. It should be fairly obvious: the constraint here is time, and by extension, amount of stock. More luxurious sauces will use more expensive ingredients but won't take significantly longer to make, so the key is to go for high-value items where the margins (and I'm the first person to use that word in the correct context all night) are higher.

Team Katie decide to go for a mass-market product and aim to compete with ketchup. The other team, led by Duane, aim for a slightly more upmarket chutney, with the primary ingredient being pineapple. It's hard to pick which team are more stupid: the one that thinks four people working in a kitchen for a day can compete with Heinz, or the one that bases their product around a fruit that half of the populace [wrongly -Ed] believe has no place in savoury food whatsoever.

Then no-one fights, argues, bitches or shouts for half an hour and I start to forget what show I'm watching. The reminders come only in the screw-ups. Firstly, Team Katie can't spell Bellissimo. I've no idea if they're allowed internet access so it might be harsh to criticise them for that, but if you're not sure, why not choose a product name you definitely know how to spell instead? Disappointingly, they didn't try to spin the fact that it only had one 'l' in the name to the customers: "we've only included one 'l' in the product name Belissimo, because we want to emphasize the fact that it's one 'ell of a tasty sauce!" Disappointingly, Nick is watching the other team, so doesn't get to make a 'dictionary corner' joke.

Then they forget to put the water in one batch and ruin it. Then team-Duane put three times as much chilli in as they were meant to and one can't help but think the smell alone would wreck everyone's taste-buds for the rest of the task at least. Nevertheless, the prize for screwing up slightly less than the other team is a win in the boardroom.

imageAnd so it comes down to Katie finding herself in the boardroom for a third time. By all means she should be going this week, but she plays it wonderfully. Lord Sugar likes to think he can see through boardroom tactics, but he can't. He can see when everyone gangs up on someone they see as weak in the hope that solidarity and strength of numbers will save them. That's what got Katie through the first week. He also can spot when project managers bring in two weaker characters in the hopes they can shout them down, regardless of task performance. But Katie plays a more sophisticated game. She brings in Ricky, because Ricky was responsible for production and that's where she's hanging the blame for this task. Ricky is one of the stronger candidates and she knows Sugar likely won't want to fire him, but she also knows it makes logical sense in terms of the task to bring him in, and Sugar will respect the rational choice. Then she also brings in Michael, for no real reason other than that she knows he's a fairly weak player, and she needs to give Sugar someone else he can reasonably fire.

Then she spins the whole production cock-up in her favour, by pointing out how she turned a mass-market product into a premium product when they had less stock than expected. The fact that, knowing production time was tightly constrained meant going mass-market in the first place was idiotic doesn't even come up. Instead she's commended for thinking on her feet. It would be ridiculous if we hadn't seen seven previous seasons where teams ending up with less product than expected just continued bull-headedly with the original plan and ended up making a loss. She re-did the figures to account for the changed stock levels, which makes her some sort of genius in Apprentice terms. And so Michael goes home.

Next week: selling second-hand rubbish. Now where did I put that E-m@iler?

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