Solomon with his skellington. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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The return of kosher chicken and oud: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 9

Running around and fetching things is this week’s hard-nosed business challenge. And there are some old favourites.

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

Read the episode 8 blog here.
 

This week’s “negotiating task” is the one veteran Apprentice viewers will have been most looking forward to. Because although it ostensibly is about shrewd haggling, it is in reality the highly enjoyable “find random unrelated items quickly, pointlessly eschewing public transport for black cabs in traffic” challenge, which often guarantees the series’ most idiotic moments.

And this one does not disappoint. We know it’s going to be a special episode because Alan Sugar actually turns up at the candidates’ house in the morning, rather than leading them somewhere unrelated to pose in two angry packs. This is because nothing says “bargaining is the backbone of business” like a little Labour lord pacing around the purple rug in your front room as you bounce down the stairs in full make-up and markedly unrumpled pyjamas.

Another sign that this episode will be a particular treat is that some of the items on the teams’ lists have deep poignancy in Apprentice history: kosher chicken – evoking the beautiful moment six years ago when self-proclaimed “good Jewish boy” Michael brought back a bird from a halal butcher instead – and oud, the “Arabian perfume” that confused the cocky Zee by turning out to be a mahogany stringed instrument.

Sinking to new depths. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Anyway. The teams choose their leaders: last week’s “nameless” Sanjay takes Summit, to show that he isn’t a mere passenger, and Daniel leads Tenacity, because the other team members hate him marginally less than the idea of a woman being in charge. Yes, poor Katie is stuck with the aggressive blunderer Daniel, overbearing manipulator Mark and bamboozled irrelevance Felipe for yet another task.

The two project managers have very different styles. Daniel wants very much to “smash this alive”, for example, whereas Sanjay wants his team to stay calmly in the office all morning, planning their route carefully for purchasing each item on the list. While this is sensible of Sanjay, it’s not really in the spirit of this task, which basically demands that contestants sit sweating in the back of a cab, crawling from Wimbledon to Tottenham, with only an A-Z and Yellow Pages to see them through.

The obligatory Jewish bit opens the mayhem, as a subtle soundtrack of Hava Nagila bounces along behind Daniel, who struts into a kosher butchers in Golders Green with a “Shalom” and a handshake. He bags the chicken, while Mark and Katie beg for a knackered-looking sink in a junkyard for a price their rival team swiftly beats them on, for an even more knackered-looking sink.

Roisin's diamond heist. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But it’s not all poultry and plumbing. Scallops are also required. “Fish and chip shops don’t sell scallops, do they?” asks Sanjay in his very own Peter Mandelson moment as they whizz by some fast-food places.

And even posher than that, diamonds must be purchased. This is where we all laugh incredulously at silly old Roisin because she starts ringing round independent jewellers, asking if they sell diamonds! Oh, Roisin. Such naiveté! As Karren Brady reminds us, with tired disdain, only “diamond dealers carry loose stones”.

It turns out Roisin’s shocking ignorance when it comes to diamond dealing doesn’t matter at all, as she manoeuvres the price of a diamond down from over £100 to £50. Agreeing to close the deal, the Hatton Garden trader informs her, “I like blonde women.” But surely not as much as he loves being completely ripped off and cheerily sexist on primetime television?

“You basically just stole that diamond off him,” giggles Sanjay as he and Roisin scramble off up the street with their cut-price stone.

A world away from Hatton Garden, Mark and Katie are wandering around a deserted council estate trying to find some oud. The oily rather than stringed kind this time. “It’s nothing like Sunderland,” says Katie, dazed. A man emerges from a stairwell with a tiny vial of oil. They buy it off him for £48. Good practice if ever Lord Sugar runs out of ideas and makes the candidates go drug dealing in broad daylight.

Bianca has a bone to pick with Solomon. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Solomon and Bianca are tasked with finding an anatomical skeleton. This ordeal is made tougher by the fact that Solomon can’t get his head round the pronunciation of anatomical, asking the shop-owner if they have any “antomological” models. They eventually find one, called Mike or Adam or something else standardly male only a scientist would be mad enough to name a skeleton, and eagerly purchase it after checking its teeth like a horse. Solomon throws the skellington over his soldiers, and they scamper off to find their next item.

The other team, guided by Felipe, buys a flatpack paper skeleton on the cheap. This leads to one of those immortal boardroom lines, like “I am the judge, jury and executioner” and “I like to see a lawyer punished” which could only ever make sense on The Apprentice or in a revenge tragedy:

“I asked you to get me a skeleton, you didn’t bring me a skeleton.”

The guide price and a fine is whacked onto the sorry box of flattened bones, and Daniel's team loses by about £50. 

So in an astute reference to The Law, Lord Sugar does an unorthodox third-person voice firing by telling Felipe: "Judge Sugar here says you're fired, Supreme Court Judge Sugar also agreed."

The question is, will Felipe take this decision all the way to European Court Judge Sugar?

Felipe plans his appeal. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Candidates to watch

Bianca

She's a bit negative, not enjoying Solomon playing happily with the skeleton, but she is quietly quite good.

Daniel

According to Felipe, this was "the time when Daniel became a man". Let's watch this closely, shall we?

Katie

When they shuffle the teams up next week, it's her chance to escape the awful bullish infighting in Team Tenacity.

 

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.

Photo: Getty
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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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