Apprentice 2013 Episode 5: Highly Dubai-ous

It’s 4.30am in Apprenticeland and the phone is ringing. We are treated to the vision of Jason in his stripy jim-jams, being far more polite into a receiver than I might be that early in the day: ah, the transformational power of knowing you’re being watched. If only it lasted …

The ‘everyone hurtling around getting ready’ sequence is its usual regrettable self. Knowing that they’re going to Dubai, Fran (I think) is wondering which of her bikinis to take. Not a garment the locals are big on in the UAE, my dear, but why did you bring a selection of bikinis to The Apprentice in the first place. And in a transparent set-up, we are presented with this week’s evictee from the outset. Zee – who I didn’t feel I needed to know wears a nipple ring – is already crowing about his local knowledge. There’s a watery trap in this series called “This Task Has Got My Name On It”, and Zee’s designer socks are already soaking wet, I fear. More perplexingly, Myles – fully dressed, unusually – is quoting the Bible at Fran in the back of a cab. I’d expect such a metropolitan man of the world to try a smoother line of chat, but life is full of surprises. Even if The Apprentice doesn’t always follow suit. (The relationship between the programme and ‘real life’ is a very odd one on many levels.)

So, Dubai. Voiceover Man gives us the patter about ‘The city of gold’, although the task – the usual one about charging around somewhere buying miscellaneous oddities as cheaply as possible – actually relates to a Waldorf hotel ‘one and a half hours outside the city’. (For the geographically challenged, this means it’s in a different Emirate altogether.) Dubai is merely where the shopping – sorry, hard-nosed, skilful international negotiation skill demonstration – will take place. The teams (where Leah has been moved to Endeavour) are firmly reminded that they are Lord Sugar’s representatives and that his reputation is on the line. The message is delivered through a not-that-impressive telly. Lord Sugar’s reputational insecurity didn’t extend to one extra seat on the plane, it seems.

For Endeavour, Zee – of course – puts himself forward, with only Leah contesting the PM role. (This turns out to be another early plot clue, although less clearly telegraphed.) As Zee plugs his local credentials again, he gets the vote, and proceeds to swaggeringly tell everyone to put the map away because he knows Dubai like the back of his hand. A crueller man might suggest that Zee might be better acquainted with his palms. And that saying so wouldn’t be a reference to trees.

For the Evolve team, metropolitan metrosexual Myles manoeuvres for masterdom, and we get to enjoy a brief vox pop about glamorous lifestyles and a business idea that is focused on luxury brands. (Smooth as this is, I wonder if Myles has been able to get much coverage of Lord Sugar on Monaco TV, and momentarily picture a short tanned East Ender reminiscing about his early days selling Rolexes and Virtu handsets out of the back of a Bentley.) Duly elected, Myles tells a camera that it’s all down to logistics and individual negotiations. The camera tactfully says nothing.

Both teams duly receive dirhams, a directory (ok, the Dubai Yellow Pages) and – despite Zee’s blandishments – a map. The need for a map when they’re going to be cabbing everywhere eludes me, but no matter. They also get the list of items. At which point the small matter of The Apprentice’s relationship with the rest of the planet raises its little moisturised head. Why, you  might wonder, would a multi-million dollar hotel – which we already must assume has no suppliers list, no purchasing team and doesn’t know a single man who knows a man who … – want two small potted palm trees, two traditional Emirati robes and two coffee pots. With 300 rooms, there’s going to be an awfully long queue for breakfast, and 298 of the people in it will presumably be either naked or have had to nick the bathrobes.

The third early plot plant (as opposed to pot plant) arrives in the list of items, one of which is ‘Oud’, which, it is stipulated, must be standard sized and made of Egyptian mahogany. Never one to be seen to say “I don’t know” in public, Zee promptly informs everyone it’s a perfume. I hate to break this to you, sunshine, but that’s oudh (or ood), a perfume made from … agarwood. An oud is a 12-stringed fretless Middle Eastern member of the lute/guitar family. I may only ever have set foot in Dubai to change planes (and not even in the sense of ‘can I have a new plane please, the ashtray is full in this one’), but I not only knew that but have actually played one. And I’m from Buckinghamshire. Can we stop the local knowledge argument now please? Particularly with reference to an Apprentice candidate whose local knowledge doesn’t appear to even extend as far as self-awareness. Ho hum … and so to battle.

The actual shopping is light on amusing moments, but quite heavy on sheer incompetence. And drenched, at least for Team Endeavour (now there’s an ironic juxtaposition of nouns), in bitterness. Hopefully someone has had the cultural awareness to get Nick Hewer some dried limes to suck on as he observes this one. Leah and Zee have drawn battle lines in the hot Arabian sand from the off; sadly, they are on the same side, although I do have to remind myself of that while I’m watching several times. Leah has decided she’s heading the sub-team before it even gets discussed; I’m left thinking she then gets the vote for this as a number of people can see an entire day being spent arguing over sub-team leadership and not seeing a single shop. Despite Zee repeatedly pointing out that items will be far, far cheaper in the souk, Leah directs the driver to the mall. Once phoned en route, battle breaks out again by phone before Leah (with Neil and Alex) reluctantly U-turns away from the mall.

If global operational ability isn’t causing enough problems, basic maths is also thrown into the mix. Neil, Alex and Leah appear to be struggling to tell the difference between inches and ounces; given this is in relation to coffee pots, the illogicality of a fluid inch fails to dawn on them. Sunstroke, maybe? But worse is to come. Kurt translates 4’ x 6’ as 48 x 72 cm. (Several reviewer’s comments were deleted after that sentence: please insert your own. As it were.) As these are the dimensions of a custom-made flag, ordered in advance, Zee winds up paying for two flags. Or one flag and one silky colourful hankie, to be precise. We see Neil haggling fiercely on the price of a kandura and getting a good price, but we get to fear for Anglo-Arabic relations in the process. We also get to see Zee totally ignoring Natalie in the back of a cab. There is a certain skill in feigning total ignorance of someone you’re in direct physical contact with, but a) it’s not a key business capability and b) it’s usual to have been married for some decades before attempting this manoeuvre. The televised backchat from Leah’s subteam continues to escalate throughout the day, while the viewer is left thinking something along the lines of “look, just win the flaming task and save your skins: he has to take someone into the boardroom with him”. The only smart contribution we witness comes from Alex, who from the outset is convinced that oud isn’t something you dab behind your ears. As he memorably says, “Who wants to smell like a dining table?” They may not be cosmopolitan in Cardiff, but they’re not totally daft.

Myles’ subteam of Jason, Jordan and Luisa, meanwhile, as hit the Dubai Mall. (From the level of product placement in this episode, by the way, one might even hope that one’s licence fee has not been harmed along with one’s sensibilities.) With a little mild haggling, conducted for some reason in a cod-Arabic accent, Jason gets a kandura for 110 dirhams – twice the price of Neil’s, but without the same potential for diplomatic incident. Out in the mid-day sun (supply your own canine psychiatry reference here), Myles is getting 15% off a sago palm – when as Karren points out, if he’d taken the time to talk to the manager, he could have negotiated with someone with the authority to do so – before arriving at the flag shop to wait over an hour watching someone do some sewing. As Karren will duly point out, he can be forgiven for not realising that – as he later points out – a Dubai minute is a longer than a Western one (well at least when it’s being estimated at you), but by paying in advance he has weakened his bargaining position when it comes to asking for a discount for any delay. Despite Jason, Jordan and Luisa taking an incredibly long time walking round a mall ‘researching’ – it’s called ‘mooching’ over here, I believe – they do score a victory when they find a perfumier who knows what an oud is. (How they managed to spend all day asking without finding anyone who knew the word intrigues me: it’s a little like no-one in Oxford Street knowing what a piano is.) And despite Jason spending 300 dirhams on a coffee pot (which seems a little steep?), they negotiate in stirling fashion – pun intended – with the oud dude. Either 1850 becomes 990 remarkably quickly, or the programme editors discovered a hitherto unknown capacity for mercy. Generally, however, there is an air of comparative calm to Myles’ team: he may be slightly annoyed with himself, but everyone stays otherwise temperate: they seem to prefer beating the competition to beating each other. Maybe Evolve have started to … well, evolve.

And so to the Boardroom.

Discussing Endeavour first, Zee promptly whips out his ‘I know Dubai’ card. The team promptly backstab and disown him, dismaying his over-dependence on bravado. Leah, predictably, is particularly vocal, and Zee claims she has been no support. (Which probably falls under ‘rude but true’.) Kurt’s imperial to metric conversion skills are briefly laughed up sleeves about, but he has the grace to instantly confess while the look in his eyes suggest he’s mentally packing his suitcase.

Myles’ performance as PM is much more warmly reviewed by his team, although there were undoubtedly errors and failings: Jordan’s sub-team wasted too much time on research, an hour was lost watching a sewing machine, and opportunities to negotiate with organ-grinders rather than monkeys weren’t always taken. But the numbers will decide it, and there is a lack of suspense as they are announced.

Evolve: Got 6 items for £311.54; failed to get 2 items, so total figure including fines = £695.15
Endeavour: Got 4 items, but the kandura was the wrong specification and therefore doesn’t count; their total including fines is £783.36

The crucial difference – apart from £90 – has been detail (wrong size flag, wrong kandura etc.) and a divided and cantankerous team. As Myles team head off to sip cocktails in what appears to be an oak-panelled phone booth, Team Endeavour trudge to the Café of Shame. Neil, who’s been thankfully subdued, promptly plays the strategy card so beloved of Apprentice losing team members. (Why do they never mention it sooner?) Zee says he’s not taking anything personally, which – given the offers he’s about to receive – is as convincing as his performance. Kurt, in a lowering of the conversational tone, is ‘very pissed off’. Better off than on, sweetness …

And so back to the Boardroom. Better negotiators, they lost as they failed to source items. Sadly, that was the task. And lo, battle doth commence once more. Unfortunately for Leah’s position, she is asked why she didn’t simply overrule Zee and walk into the mall. The answer appears to be that blaming Zee is easier. Predictably, Zee chooses to bring her back for the final sequence, along with Natalie, whose contribution he feels was largely absent. Given that we’ve just seen him ignore her completely, these feels a little ironic. A little like locking someone in the coal shed and then telling them off for not walking the dog.

Possibly thankful for a few seconds peace, the panel conclude that Leah is doing nothing but accusing Zee. Natalie, who has had her card marked for under-contributing in the past, needs to be mindful that saying and doing are very different things. While this is true, as a viewer I can’t help but think that being given the chance precedes either of these.

The final sequence starts as charmingly as it means to go on, as Zee lets the door swing into Natalie’s face. Zee is promptly challenged on his choice of people to bring back to the boardroom, and is equally promptly defending himself from charges of having issues in working with women. (On a team that failed to cover itself in cotton let alone glory, I couldn’t help but think that Neil and Kurt should have been in Natalie and Leah’s seats.) Little of the rest of the conversation goes well for anyone. Zee is fingered for arrogance, a lack of modesty, being a know-all who isn’t, and admiring Napoleon. Who, Lord S points out, was never fired from Phones4you. (There is much funnier but less broadcastable comparison with Napoleon on the British Ex-Pats web-forum, btw.)

Leah is told that the panel hope she is not using personal difference in the boardroom discussions. Natalie is reminded that she’s been here before, but has at least now demonstrated some passion. And quite a few tears. But this is her ‘very, very, very last chance’. But the goner is a foregone conclusion. His mouth having outrun his abilities, as Nick correctly summarises, Zee gets the free cab home. (Hopefully not to Dubai.)

Not a gripping episode, and Fran and Rebecca seemed to disappear altogether. The task’s relationship to reality was so tenuous, entertainment was sorely needed and there’s only so much excitement anyone can wring out of a shopping mall. Moving the mall to Dubai doesn’t essentially change matters. If anything, the episode therefore focused on the candidates as people: from a viewer wishing for some form of relief from the crassness of the task, that was sadly a mixed blessing.

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