The Apprentice: apathy and despair in Caraca’s (sic)

By: Simon Wicks

Date: 14 July 2011

Missed the eleventh episode? Catch up here.

Week eleven and it’s the task that decides who makes it to next week’s final. Five remain – meaning it’s three against two. The odds should be against Helen and Tom, but with Jim in charge of a Team Logic unsettled by Natasha and Susan’s interminable bickering, you’d be unwise to bet against Venture romping to the win.

The task

It’s a daunting challenge, however: two days to come up with a new fast food franchise, create the menu, kit out the first outlet in the City and leave Lord Sugar and an assortment of industry bigwigs with full stomachs and happy smiles. What are the odds on that?

Natasha makes a failed bid for team leadership, citing her restaurant expertise – a hospitality degree – then spends the rest of the episode denying its relevance. Jim’s charm is wearing thin in the face of Natasha’s lapsing commitment and Susan’s manic behaviour. He promises “direction”, but hides in the kitchen and leaves them to snipe at each other. They’re all on their last chance and they know it.

Ignorance is a recurring theme this week. When thinking of a name and identity for their Mexican restaurant, Susan harps insistently about sombreros and the word ‘El’. “They always have, like, ‘El’ something, don’t they? Like ‘El…’.” Pause. “What does ‘El’ mean?” Knowledge isn’t her strong suit. She’s enthusiastic about Jim’s name suggestion of ‘Caraca’s’ because it “sounds Mexican”. It gets the vote. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to check it out: Caracas is the capital of Venezuela.

Helen’s steel and Tom’s passivity make a potent blend. She comes up with the theme (British), takes care of the planning and makes the decisions; he has fun with ideas. They’re both in their element – mind you, it takes Nick Hewer to point out that their Christopher Columbus Pie is about as British as, er, sombreros.

The best bits

Tom, wandering around shops taking photos of all sorts of things for inspiration, settles on a sticker in a window advertising the review website Qype. “Ky-py?” he asks himself out loud. It’s rather brilliant, though – he quickly makes the leap to “MyPy” and a new fast-food franchise serving small British pies has a name. Meanwhile, Helen is just being impressive; her grasp of business essentials – such as simple unit costs, for example – is streets ahead of all the other candidates. It pays dividends later on.

The worst bits

Jim, the project manager, is in the kitchen being bossed around by his chef. Susan and Natasha, the women who would “appreciate a bit of direction” are losing their cool on the shop floor. It’s not a good recipe. Asked later on about projected customer numbers and revenue for a busy lunch-hour, Jim flounders: “Errm. Errm. Well, let’s say err we expect to serve err 60 people over two hours and they spend err an average of £7. That’ll be errr £4,800.”

The winners and losers

Unlike Jim, Helen has her figures engraved on her brain. She’s like a cat playing with mice now – completely in command, even to the extent of producing a written business plan.  If she doesn’t win, I’ll eat my keyboard. Tom fares well, too – his strengths are very pronounced, but he lacks the Alpha characteristics Sugar likes to see.

Susan fares rather worse: she is the full human equivalent of nails being scraped on a blackboard – she’s manic, argumentative, insensitive and depressingly uninformed. But she’s the only one on her team to address a basic flaw – Logic’s “fast” food is actually taking ten minutes to serve. Cold.

In the boardroom, Natasha accuses Jim of having a “dark side”, which presumably does nothing for his mathematical skills. But it’s she who is given the push. As is pointed out by the ever-loquacious Jim, Natasha brought only “apathy and despair” to the task. Lord Sugar is marginally kinder: “The process is tough and if you can’t hack it then that’s a weakness.”

The ones to watch

Helen, the Android. Unless she’s unmasked as a nark for News International, next week should be a victory parade. Everyone else is there for the comedy. (Personally, I’d go into business with Tom – it would be a disaster but a lot of fun).

Business lessons

  1. Weigh up cost and quality very carefully. If quality materials are a selling point on some lines, be willing to lower your margin if it establishes your reputation and boosts your overall sales and profits. This simple calculation was a winning move for Helen.
  2. Know what you’re talking about. Logic’s complete absence of knowledge about Mexico was embarrassing. Helen and Tom went for something they knew and understood – British. Even so, they still cocked up with the Columbus Pie. Tut.

Quote of the week

“Was Byron a vegetarian, do you know?” Tom is unintentionally hilarious.

Lord Sugar’s Profitometer

A full stomach for the Bearded One this week. 

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