The Apprentice review: Sophie Lau didn't have enough fight

The opening of this week's episode of The Apprentice appeared more like an eviction night on Big Brother 7 than a BBC programme about Britain's business elite. With Luisa playfully painting Jordan's toenails, Natalie and Alex racing to answer the phone (it's a recorded message and really not that exciting - not that I was ever up early enough to answer it). And last but not least, Myles in a thong (yes… really).

An eyebrow raising opener then before the teams were whizzed off to the Angel Building, which is a fantastic office space I have had the pleasure of visiting myself. The task this week was to design a storage space solution but in the field of flat-pick furniture. Nice work from the producers.

So the candidates are whisked away from the pleasure of peering into Lord Sugar's nostrils, the last time they will do that until faced with him once more in a plumped up chair across the boardroom table.


Thus begins the team's brainstorming session, to give you some sort of perspective on this, we had exactly 45 minutes on our product design task last year to conjure some ideas. Anyone who has partaken in brainstorming sessions, which is almost everyone, will know how difficult it is to agree on a good idea in such a short amount of time. I know some solutions are inexcusably ridiculous but this is why on The Apprentice you always end up with products that are either 'multi-functional' or solve problems that don't exist.

Take last year's multi-purpose composter for this year's multi-purpose plastic cube. The ingenuity of last year's bath shield that solved the problem of water getting splashed in the bath, was only matched in originality by this year's chair which solves the problem of not having a chair.

The boys team, lead by Jordan, smelled half a good idea from Alex and decide to run with it. In these tasks essentially you have two fall guys, typically the ideas man and the salesman. So when someone enthusiastically wants to run with something it's best to let them do so and if it's half sellable, make sure you're part of the sales team. Don't do what Sophie does and do nothing (more on this later).

Over on the girl's team, led by Natalie, the creative juices overflow and the concept of the plastic container on wheels is born. To be honest with the hair, styling and makeup from the girls this year I wasn't exactly surprised to see that the aesthetics of their product was somewhat overlooked. Kudos to Rebecca though who was the only one on the girl's team who noticed their product wasn't very good.

So onto the sales, and the girls were up against it trying to shift any of their grey plastic wheelie-box debacle. And in what must be an Apprentice first, it seems that the product was so hopeless that the design team who built the prototype (and are blooming marvellous) left a note saying they weren't able to finish it off…or couldn't be bothered, you make your minds up. 

Jordan, as PM makes the risky decision to not be in the big pitches with the companies that will inevitably make or break winning the task. Not the best strategy and especially dangerous if they lose, but their superior product made this one all a bit inevitable despite some valiant selling from the girl's sub-team by Leah and Francesca.

I don't think this task was won or lost on superior pitches or salespeople, I think this was simply down to a poor product. Unfortunately the girl's had the thankless task trying to sell large quantities of their product into department or catalogue stores.

The board room

The boys, having been tantalised X-Factor style by Karen's boardroom delivery of the results, won by a huge margin and were understandably ecstatic. In a hugely dissimilar vein Karen did the opposite to our team last year in the gym class episode, teased us by telling us that Virgin Active 'hated' our idea but saw sales potential resulting in a victory.

The relief after countless hours of worrying, sitting and waiting in reception is phenomenal when you've won and you just can't get out of the boardroom quick enough.

Back to the girls and regardless of the sales ability this was lost because of design and product development. Rightly, Uzma and Sophie are brought back in by Project Manager Natalie.

Uzma, firstly for claiming she can design, knows about trends and has an eye for aesthetics - when she clearly doesn't. And Sophie for not doing much at all really. Once in the firing line however Uzma does what all good Apprentice candidates do in this situation and rolls up her sleeves and fights - which is the opposite to what Sophie does.

Ultimately, Sophie pays the wallpaper price for sitting in the background and not really doing a lot. This mirrored the third firing of our series last year when Michael Cobb saw the chop after three anonymous task performances. 

You could argue that actually in this task Uzma deserved to go for her failings more than Sophie. However at this stage in the competition Lord Sugar wants to see more from the candidates even if it is misplaced, rather than seeing nothing at all. 

Hero of the week:

Francesca MacDuff-Varley - bouncing back from a calamitous performance last week by actually selling some plastic cubes on wheels.

Villain of the week:

Zeeshan Shah - has 'next to go' scribbled all over his forehead. His edit has been far from kind, only highlighting his inability to back up his big claims.

Tom's been busy since the show finished last year. He's founder of Cult Wines, check out his business here.

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