Time was when, Hopkins aside, I looked forward to the dawn of a new season as, in the early days, it really was all about the candidates and their business know how. Sadly though, certainly in recent years, it feels very much as if the producers have gone the way of so many other reality shows, namely to get together a bunch of strong characters who are not necessarily talented business people, but who, collectively can create a bit of conflict, cock up simple tasks and generally act in such a way as to evoke laughter, shock and disbelief from the viewing public. Indeed, I get the distinct impression that people watch the show, not for any business insight or to marvel at the quality of the contestants, but to look on in disbelief as the participants lurch from one balls up to another.
Task one of the new series involved a trip to South Africa, with the two groups, 8 boys and 8 girls, given the challenge of creating a high quality tourist experience – the winner being the team that generated the most profit from ticket and gift shop sales. We were then given our first take away nugget by the voiceover who said something along the lines of “If you can sell something for more than you paid for it, there’s a pretty profit to be made”. Really? Who knew? Stating the bleeding obvious may well be an exciting new feature on the show this year.
Onto the teams and some of the personalities. On the boys team, a certain Thomas Skinner stood out. The sight of the charmless cheeky chappy prompted my wife, who is a genuine Cockney, to search online to see which side of the water he’s from. Turned out his manor is Romford. Also turned out that he has previous for handling stolen goods, but that’s another story (that the Google search revealed at the same time as his Apprentice CV). Anyway Tommy boy was full of himself, giving it large about his team were going to win or he’d eat his hat!
As for the girls, the streets ahead stand out candidate, but sadly not for any of the right reasons, was Lottie Lion. Only 19, our Lottie kept telling us that she'd worked for ‘the best British wine bar’, which under normal circumstances, given the task the girls opted for, would be a good thing. Not this time though. Oh no!
The boys decided to put together a safari trip for 16 people, if they managed to sell all of their tickets. The selling point, before it was rightly knocked on the head by the half of the team that weren’t selling tickets, was the guarantee of seeing the big five animals of Africa – the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. Obviously such a guarantee can’t be made when the animals are in the wild, but that didn’t stop the sales side of the team flogging a couple of tickets on that basis.
The girls opted for a luxury wine tasting experience. On paper what’s not to like? Well, for one, the price they initially came up. 2,500 rand, about £130 per person. Initially that didn't include food either. Unsurprisingly, they had very few takers at that price so were left with no option but to flog the majority of the tickets for 600 rand a piece – a discount of over £100.
On to the ‘experiences’ themselves. First, the boys. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the sight of a bunch of twenty something blokes on a coach being led by a faux cockney geezer in a sing song in order to build up the morale of the punters on the trip doesn’t scream ‘quality’. But, somehow it seemed to work, judging by the smiling faces and audience participation. Meanwhile, the girls team, having safely transported their customers to the winery, proceeded to run round like headless chickens trying to find one of the main focal points of the place – the wine cellar. Again, maybe it's just me, but you'd think someone would have thought ahead and got a rough idea of the layout of the place in advance, but no.
I won’t go into too much detail about the actual tasks as, if you saw the show you’ll know, and if you didn’t, watch it on catch up. Suffice to say there were lots of embarrassing moments and cock ups, none more so than when, during the wine tasting session, the aforementioned Lottie took it upon herself to steal the Sommelier’s thunder by butting in and reminding us about how she had worked at the best British wine bar and telling the guests what sort of flavours they would get from the wine. If looks could kill, Lottie would surely have saved Lord Sugar the hassle of a boardroom session.
The other stand out moment for me was Thomas, Tommy, The Teester, negotiating with the shocked looking lady in the gift shop. Short of getting her in a headlock and screaming “give me the money, slag!” he put sufficient pressure on her to up her commission level for his team from 5% to 22.5%, claiming he’d have got 25 if another team member hadn't spotted her terror and suggested a compromise of 22 and a half.
As always, the outcome was far too difficult to call. Either team could have lost. Neither deserved to win. In the end, it was the girls team that was slightly less bad than the boys and, putting aside their bitchiness and loathing for certain members of their team, they embraced in the reception area like they’d just own the women’s world cup. Meanwhile, back in the boardroom, one of the boys became the sacrificial lamb. To be honest, it could have been any or all of them. The main thing I’m looking forward to next week is Thomas eating his hat before we get on with proceedings in Task two.