The Apprentice: season 11, episode 10 recap: "The Reich Stuff"
These, then, could be The Apprentice's last years, particularly if Trump's election means fascism sweeps the globe with such rapidity even Billy Bragg is powerless to prevent it and the BBC's output is replaced by state-sponsored broadcasts showing burnt-out mosques, so let's make the most of them.
I haven't actually watched it since the episode I recapped last year, but at least I am now familiar with the format. There are six berks in a house and they are informed at 5.30am that they have to leave in 20 minutes, which they somehow all manage, immaculately saucered and blown, with seemingly no one having to do without a shower and settle for a quick teeth-brush-and-armpits-in-the-sink job. This is because they have to go to the London Aquatic Centre at the Olympic Park to be told what their task is, information that could've been relayed far more efficiently by a man who is constantly stressing how busy he is.
That man is Lord Sugar, flanked by Claude Littner and Karren Brady between two massive swimming pools, the cavernous arena giving the proceedings distinctly Nurembergy overtones. They must make healthy snacks and pitch them to retailers. Fine, whatever. It's 7am, for crying out loud. This couldn't have waited till business hours?
Versatile are to make bars and the other lot healthy crisps. "I eat snack bars," says Charleine, with cold, impenetrable logic, "so I suggest I project-manage." Fair dos. It is clear to me already that project manager is an honorary title which means little in terms of actual administrative power, because everyone will just talk over you anyway, but somehow you will have to shoulder the blame for the inevitable shit-show the whole thing will turn out to be. Sitting on your hands is the obvious course of action. On Team The Other Team, Brett is PM because the other guy is more experienced in digital brand awareness or something.
While blue-skying in the vegetable crisp ideas hotbox, Brett observes that "people like cauliflower cheese", a notion so plainly unrepresentative of the populace at large that you wonder where he has unearthed it. How often does one's opinion of cauliflower cheese come up in conversation? Even immediately after having eaten it? They go in the end with the name "V", which stands for "vegetables", ignoring that this will make it impossible to satisfactorily index on search engines. "Victory," says Brett in the back seat of the bastard-carrier, "is within our midst."
Now Joseph, opening his ideas umbrella and turning it upside-down, is on to something with his snack-bar names. "Life," he says confidently down the phone to Charleine, too deep in the jars of recuperative coloured powder being touted by an obvious snake-oil saleswoman to openly laugh in his face. "Rejuvenation," he goes on, and this is accepted. Charleine is in a wonderland of magic jars, one of which contains powder that is "incredible at balancing blood-sugar levels", neatly boxing off the market for anyone within seconds of a diabetic stroke, and another which is "nature's viagra". She later repeats this as "Britain's viagra", causing pharmaceutical sales reps up and down the land to double-check their inventories in case they'd missed a trick.
All seems to be going well at this point. Is this ... is this how it works? It's an interesting question: given that all these people are energetic, at least moderately successful entrepreneurs, there must be the odd week when they all just do a great job and it goes swimmingly. There isn't, of course: the idea is to place ludicrous time constraints on every task so that it cannot possibly be completed to satisfaction. If every week is essentially just a test of how they perform under stress, it would be simpler just to release a tiger into the house every week and see how they get on.
And so it all goes to shit in a briefcase. Vana puts too much olive oil in the crisps, possibly distracted by the fact that Claude is wearing a hair net, and Charleine merrily pours ingredients into the bar without noting down what they are or their quantities, meaning when it comes time to read out to the boys in the designer's office what the nutritional information on the back of the wrapper should be, all she can do is bellow words at random into the phone then turn it off. They later have to cross out their unsubstantiated claims with felt tip on every bar, giving it the air of commissary in a Thai prison.
When it comes to pitching, they head first to Holland & Barrett, whose chief buyer is far more aggressive than you'd expect, blowing wide open any illusions you had that health food chains are run by lentil-loving hippies. At Virgin Active Brett flounders so badly he appears to be speaking in tongues, and at Asda the crisps are oily enough that the bags are invaded by a rogue Arab state the second they are opened. "It was OK," Charleine assures the rest of the team by phone after one pitch. "There were things they weren't too keen on: the packaging, the name, the product itself." All good otherwise, though.
I find myself preoccupied by whether Alan Sugar considers himself to have a beard or not. We know he can grow a proper one, because he always had one in the eighties, the luxuriant spoils of Thatcher's slack apron-strings, but now in Austerity Britain can only manage to be lazily unshaven.
As I found last year, as soon as Sugar turns up it all goes downhill. You can easily make reality TV by engineering a situation in which egomaniacs argue with each other, but it's when you have to do the scripted bits that you need someone capable of delivering them convincingly. "There's less information on this wrapper than a North Korean tour guide," Sugar observes, fooling no one that he came up with the line on the spot. This is why I don't watch reality TV: I can't get past its essential unreality. If it is scripted and its situations directed, its sole potential appeal – that without structure, real and anarchic moments might occur and we might glimpse some sort of truth beyond the reach of fiction – is lost. So why aren't I just watching a drama instead?
Because Becky wanted a week off, is the honest answer, and Christ, she's earned it. It is revealed, as it occurred to me it probably would, that none of either team's pitches was successful. This has been a waste of everyone's time. Sugar sends everyone out. "I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with this," he confides in his henchpersons, as if a whitewash wasn't the inevitable outcome of a task in which no participant had a fucking clue what they were doing and no time in which to do it. They come back in again to be told both PMs must bring back one person. Charleine nominates Gary and Brett goes for Richard, despite praising him tirelessly for his efforts.
Charleine cries, having realised the whole balls-up was her fault, and is allowed to compose herself outside. Brett fails to grasp the idea that you're supposed to blame the other guy to mask your own shortcomings, rather than just saying how great he was then answering "Massively" whenever questioned about your own aptitude and leave it at that. He is fired, but not before Sugar has asked of their brand strategy: "What's an 'iconic vegetable'? Elvis Parsley?" Somewhere in BBC HQ, a junior staff writer punches the air and says "Nailed it!"
Does he thank him?
Yes, effusively, and everyone else in the room too. "You leave here as an honorable man," Sugar tells him, as if sagely pleased by Brett's adherence to the code of the samurai.
No one is rewarded, which is a shame as I hear it was a trip to Monkey World in Dorset. Brett sods off in a taxi, everyone else drinks champagne, and it closes to music that sounds like the Bourne Identity theme. I read while writing this the next night that Donald Trump has tweeted praise for "respected columnist" Katie Hopkins, and it occurs to me that if high-profile reality stars' choreographed actions and in-character opinions are now being played out in the real world, to an audience that treats them as if genuine, then maybe I'm wrong. Everyone's an actor now, and watching Alan Sugar fumble his way through clunky pre-scripted put-downs isn't so far removed from reality after all.