All-American Apprentice. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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"A metaphor for success and the American Dream": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 7

Candidates hop on a plane to the city that never... invests.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 6 blog here.
 

Opening to some triumphant brass and percussion, scanning a forest of parachute-sized Star-Spangled Banners curled around golden flagposts, the camera eventually lands on a video link to Alan Sugar. A special fanfare heralds the onscreen grand-high grouch and his “urgent business elsewhere”. We meet him, flanked by real-life Karren and Nick, in a marble jungle somewhere in the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square.

The candidates are off to break America. To break its slick, corporate heart with their cobbled-together money-losing schemes, that is.

Cleverly, Sugar decides only a few are allowed tickets to New York, which leads to the kind of passive-aggressiveness that is a core principle of this programme: conversing snippily across an awkward line of people in the back of a cab. “I’m so excited,” sings Felipe, his jolly little eyes creasing in anticipation of the bright lights of the Big Apple. “We can’t all go,” Katie smiles tightly.

Product placement. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – as if it matters – the task, which is to launch a new soft drink in America, where I think we’d all agree there is an untapped market for such products. Those poor guys’ throats are just a parched wasteland, aren’t they? Never once touched by so much as a trickle of cool, vaguely radioactive, Mountain Dew.

“I work in advertising,” lies Mark, becoming project manager of Team Tenacity and securing his seat on the plane. “I’m the obvious choice to go the US,” says Lauren, which somehow works too. They are joined, merrily and redundantly, by Felipe.

On the Summit side, James yaps, “I think Americans would love me,” which is probably true but a highly dubious accolade nonetheless. So he gets to go, along with project manager and nemesis Bianca ­– Solomon is the amicable sidekick, a teenager remaining desperately upbeat on holiday with rowing parents.

Those poor souls who aren’t allowed to go to New York, and have to stay behind slumming it in their laid-on Hampstead mansion instead, are in charge of the creative side of things: standing awkwardly in a lab tasting essence of dragon fruit and then packaging the ensuing juice.

Daniel, whose imagination when it comes to women stretches to them probably enjoying being asked out by text over a chicken salad, is left to do the imagining bit in this task too. Why? He decides “Aqua Fusion” is a great name, which sounds like one of those stressful waterparks off the motorway, and then designs the bottle with a logo in yellow nineties bubble writing, peppered with some cartoon fruit pictures off Clipart. That pink Um Bongo hippo is going to want royalties.

Proudly adding the finishing touches, Daniel probably adds a drop-shadow in the height of his PowerPoint-inspired creativity. I wonder if the business plan he submits to Lord Sugar has that little wisecracking animated paperclip on it somewhere.

“Explosion of water and pineapple,” is his description over the phone to the US-based teammates. “I will back you 100 per cent,” says Mark, which sounds like he missed out the words “stab” and “in the”. But it’s hard to tell. The transatlantic line is crackly.

Net contribution. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin and Sanjay, the two calmest contestants ever to glide through seven episodes of The Apprentice without asserting impossible percentages through gritted teeth, make up Team Summit’s London HQ. They have a very sensible fruit-tasting experience in the laboratory, a suitably cool design session with a man wearing his polo shirt buttoned up to the top who has an edgy office cat, and come up with “Big Dawg”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, considering in real life you can buy “Yoga Bunny Detox” or “Red Bull” depending on your mood. “This isn’t a dog campaign,” Bianca reminds us.

What ensues is that spinecringing horrorshow when Apprentice teams have to direct advertisements (anyone remember “that’s not the English sparkling wine I ordered. IT’S DISGUSTING” and “Friendship… and Flowers” from previous years? Not to mention “Octi-Kleen”).

Felipe creates a lovely happy all-American family situation, by casting a 28-year-old lawyer from Blackpool as a lovelorn teenage girl and a boy who can’t catch as a basketball fan. The other team directs a soulless series of men talking awkwardly to camera calling themselves “Big Dawgs” with little conviction to a soundtrack of disappointed silence. “It’s a metaphor for success and the American Dream,” explains Bianca, as the camera homes in on Solomon, squinting in a polyester pink shirt.

Casting and squinting like pros. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Before presenting their drinks to trade experts, who merely make silly remarks about phallic symbols and generally shame the reputation of the squeaky-clean soft drinks industry, the candidates bumble along to Times Square. Here, they see their products lit up for every tourist in the city who is craning their neck and standing in someone’s way to see. “This world is as big as our oyster – as big as we wanna be,” is James’ input. So around 3-14 inches. Felipe weeps.

Cry for the camera. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Back in the boardroom, we hear the second mention of erectile dysfunction this series – perhaps an unfortunate symptom of this show’s old and tired format? – as, like those smutty industry insiders, Sugar sees Big Dawg’s bone logo as something rather less refreshing. He also finds Team Summit’s commercial “a complete and utter joke.” But they win anyway, and the candidates skip off to do some other weird treat that you would only find on those lesser-known voucher websites that pretend to be Groupon. I can’t remember what it is now.

There follows a harrowing boardroom scene where two awful, ubersensitive males bulldoze through anything anyone else is saying, savagely tear chunks out of each other to the point where it’s screamingly obvious Sugar should just fire them both on the spot, and so he lets Lauren go. “My instinct and gut feeling,” is his explanation that sort of renders the entire task obsolete. Which has been my gut feeling all along.

 

Candidates to watch
 

Katie

How is she getting away with doing absolutely nothing? Perhaps by doing fractionally more than Felipe?

Roisin

Masterfully disparaging of James and also expertly at once sympathetic and despairing towards Sanjay: “Sanjay, if you listen to anything James says then you’re a fool.”

James

I don’t think The Apprentice will be as big as his oyster for much longer.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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