The Apprentice, Episode 5: Taking the ‘p’ out of bump and grind

Irony abounds, doesn’t it? Entrepreneurial gladiators woken from their pre-dawn slumber, sleeping three or four to a room behind the surface glamour of their Bayswater mansion when there’s a Travelodge within spitting distance. A judging process that isn’t only all about sales rather than investment potential, but which also assesses income while ignoring expenditure. An episode that might have inspired us with a few remarks about the importance of physical fitness for entrepreneurial success, but which encouraged us to sit on our bottoms for an hour, possibly swilling a low calorie vodka or two. Did I miss the round where they invent new bar games and someone comes up with ‘Loser Stays On’?

The location for this week’s surprisingly poetic briefing? York Hall, famous East End boxing club. There was a ‘locally’ missing there, I thought, as some of the contenders looked like they thought Bethnal Green was one of Farrow & Ball’s new seasonal emulsion colours. Thankfully, no-one said anything to the effect of ‘the gloves are off’ or ‘seconds out’. ‘Seconds’ in this context are slightly inferior versions you buy as cheap as possible and then flog vigorously. And the task? Designing a new exercise class to license to health club chains. Jog on, I thought quietly to myself …

Team Phoenix, bouncing enthusiastically and possibly symbolically on their enormous balls in a gym somewhere, elect Steve as Project Manager on the grounds that he’s a Health Club Sales Manager. The scrabble for ideas doesn’t start well: skipping? Katie, who we’ve rather liked before, trying to think of a way of combining gym classes with speed dating: we’re guessing flirting in sportswear doesn’t happen where she comes from?

She redeems – if that’s the word – herself by suggesting Retro Keep Fit. As we’re on The Apprentice and this is a Business Programme (cue capital letters), this means 1980s. Everything on The Apprentice sprang from the 1980s, so perhaps its lack of evolution can be blamed on its relative youth? Suddenly, there are legwarmers, leopardskin print headbands and lurex tights on my TV. It’s like the Coronation Street cast performing Olivia Newton-John’s Let’s Get Physical. Seconds before they somehow wind up in a cab with a spacehopper, the team are doing the Michael Jackson zombie dance. It’s a lot more Off the Wall than Thriller, to be honest, although I’m remembering some of the lyrics. How did it go again?

You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes …”

The horror also gets a name: Groove Train. There’s a metaphorical whiff of lukewarm cheese in the air (something Nick is known to curdle at), but at least it’s a guilty pleasure of a taste …

Over at Team Sterling, Rickaaaaaaaay the Wrestler straddles the ringside ropes and manfully tosses in his hat, teasing us to ‘witness the fitness’. Jenna obviously feels that a past spent partly on a horse is just as relevant, and the self-assertion in her adenoidal whine propels her riding helmet into the ring, but it’s an easy victory on the vote for Ricky. Deciding that the way forward is to combine dance and martial arts, naturally they go to watch some Thai boxers. (The sportsmen, not the dogs or the underpants.) Perhaps it just because we’re in a milieu where anything involving the words ‘a Brazilian’ can only refer to erogenous topiary, but no-one seems to have heard of capoeira, an achingly fashionable mixture of dancing and martial arts with a long history rooted in Brazilian culture. Just me then?

Unaware of their inability to prove/disprove the whole ignorance being bliss argument, Sterling opt for swing jack, and Beat Battle is born. The name suggests competitive drumming or DJing, but hey ho. Perhaps they saw Tom at last week’s victory party, as they mostly decide not to dance on camera – apart from Louise, who wisely decides to don a flesh-coloured top and impersonate a lapdancer.

Meanwhile, as most of the Groove Train team fret about which retro toys can be used to work which muscle groups, Tom frets about having enough room to keep their equipment in. (This is a theme that will surface again when they shoot the video.) Despite his previous appearance in a fur stole, Tom seems sensible, and wonders how much all this endearingly archaic funky gear is going to cost and if anyone is doing any sums. Sadly, this isn’t a week where anyone seems to be giving their brain much of a workout. Steve is demonstrating a hula-hoop, in a suit, and I’m dimly remembering The Rocky Horror Show. In my head, The Transylvanians are singing “But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insa–a-a-a-a –a – ne..”), and I wonder if any of the contestants have any tattoos. As Tom and Jade try to pretend they’re not in the room, Adam teaches choreography. He’s brave and shameless, but he’s also doing this in a very shiny, very tight suit whose seams are in mortal danger.

Come video shoot time, and their nightclub mirror-balls are glittering away. Adam, his choreographic role effectively over, chips in repeatedly. Not helpfully, but repeatedly. Jade threatens to turn Crimson. Perhaps she heard him wondering if she was thick or deaf. (Tick any boxes that you consider applicable.) Having picked (on?) Azhar to be their lead model (that’ll teach him to try staying quietly in the corner), he gets handed his costume. He doesn’t look comfortable about the tiny red shorts when he sees them, and trying them on clearly doesn’t help: wearing them, he now looks uncomfortable in at least two different ways – and worried that the video might be more of a revelation than he’s prepared for.

But it’s all quite authentically 80s, as long as you mentally paint in some paint-stripping aftershave, Malibu bottles and a car park full of Ford Escort RS200s. Steve has a thoroughly cheese-based product to sell here, and we can only hope his buying panels aren’t lactose intolerant. I don’t know about the sky being the limit, but as far as Braintree is definitely possible. As long as they don’t spend all the petrol money on spacehoppers and skipping ropes …

Team Sterling, meanwhile, seem a little less on the money. Duane directs the video, while arguing (to put it mildly) with Laura and Nick about whose job it is. Laura teaches the models their moves, while Nick worries it’s all more dance than martial arts. Whether or not there’s enough combat making it onto tape, there’s plenty in the room. And in the cab afterwards. And in the editing suite later on. For someone accused of watering down the routine’s combat elements, Laura plainly doesn’t object to a fight. (Did the rest not see last week’s boardroom sequence, where she practically threw Gabrielle in the mud and pulled her hair.) Duane gets emotional; Laura follows suit, albeit with a slim emotional range. Do you want hostile, or would you prefer angry?

Cutting edge as ever, the Beat Battle team opt for a graffiti style element in the poster design while Ricky works on the pitches. He has not only his wrestling experience to draw on, but his career in recruitment management. (HR’s answer to the estate agent, were anyone to phrase estate agency as a question.)That he subsequently crafts polished sounding pitches and responses to questions from the purest clichés and the most unadulterated bullshit should perhaps come as no surprise, and he seems not atypically pleased with himself. Although he unusually opts not to show the video in one pitch.

Steve, meanwhile, continues to be ill-advised with hula-hoops and to ignore Tom (and Karren) over costs. Picked up on this Achilles Heel almost instantly, he plucks some very retro sounding costs out of the air. (£2 for a spacehopper? I’ll take a gross mate, and I’ll ‘ave ‘em on Fleabay before you can say ‘blaady’.) I know we’re talking exercise, workouts and weightloss, but that air’s looking awfully thin to me. And Fitness First share Azhar’s worries about having enough space to store everything securely.

And so to the Boardroom: the most vigorous workouts should always take place in the swankiest settings. As it turns out, the buyers’ verdicts were politely dressed up by Nick and Karren, but essentially boiled down to ‘both ideas and pitches were pretty bad’. Sterling lead after the first round (though in terms of ‘development money’ to improve the idea rather than buy it), but are trounced £12810 to £7970 after Virgin Active buy into Groove Train’s retro-cheesy dance toy thang.

Steve is plainly the luckiest man of the week. Lordalan, possibly not a cheeseman, didn’t get the video. The sale that gave him victory was for the family market (not what they pitched to) and at a cost of £17.50 per gym per month. If this wasn’t going to be profitable at £35, the bottom line is going to need a lot of time in a bums and tums class to overcome a sag like that. Having declared one team a loser on costs last week, the programme ignores the issue completely this week. Ho hum.

While Ricky sits in The Losers’ Caff in shock, I wait for Duane and Laura to kick off again. Although Lordalan thought the routine itself was weak (and Jenna weighs into Laura), Ricky blames the video as too dancey. The blame parcel goes from seat to seat until Ricky elects to bring back Duane and Laura for another chance to squabble.

Nick escapes, as despite being seen as expensive, the buyers would negotiate if they actually liked the product. Gabrielle and Jenna contributed almost nothing, but manage to avoid the spotlight for their virtual absence: Ricky, sternly told he’s lucky to stay (and that he owes Nick and Karren a thank you for that), is rebuked for bringing the wrong people into the final three with him. ‘A bad management move’, apparently: I’d have thought losing was a bigger problem than blaming the wrong folk, but …

Laura is here for the second week running, and still being rather … assertive. As Lordalan’s not sure why she’s there, she breathes again. (Tune in next week to see whose neck she chooses to do this down ….) The video is the stumbling block, and Duane – one of the most promising contenders to date – finds himself in the cab.

And the verdict from the sofa? It was funny in parts (Adam’s choreography springs to mind), worrying in others (ignoring costs in the verdict, seemingly not noticing Laura’s solipsistic hostility to others), and worryingly funny now and then too (I’ll need counselling to forget those shorts, as may Azhar). But we’re still stuck in a loop of ‘very sketchy briefing to final product’ in under 48 hours, and we’re still judging purely on one element. If he hadn’t been saved by Virgin Active, Steve should have been dragged out and publically flogged but, fortunately for him, the poorest performance (ie his) was on the winning team. I’m left wondering how many calories I’ll burn walking to the fridge.

Filed under: leadership development, leading performance, life, recruitment, relationships, teamwork


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