The Young Apprentice: Rhinestone Cowboys at the OK Corral

The opening sequence set the tone: over-statement was clearly going to be the new black. Modesty is plainly going to be worn lightly and sparingly this year, and one candidate proudly informed us “I may look like a 5 foot 1 inch angel …” The young woman in question, to be honest, looked more like a trainee air stewardess, and angelic wasn’t a word that had rushed to mind. (If you’re wondering what the dress code for Bright Young Thing is this year, we’d counsel that the Young Apprentice candidates are not the best starting point: general office consensus from a tour of their profile pictures was that we were puzzled as to why they were all dressing like they were twenty years older. Well, with one exception, but we’ll come back to Patrick …) Buckets of drive though. When these people say “I started my first business at 9”, they don’t mean a.m.

Lord Sugar’s introduction doesn’t buck the trend either: “I know everything. I’ve done everything. I’ve seen everything.” Before the hour is up, he will be viewing a wet-suit/kimono hybrid and presumably hoping we’ve all forgotten he just said that. And he may have played the ‘old dog’ card, but new tricks appear to be off the agenda. It’s the first week, so it’s boys versus girls, everyone is still holding their smartphones like Star Trek communicators, and we’re not directly told about the restrictions on using it that we assume still apply (see our interview with one of the last series’ adult contestants). As we’re dealing with teenagers here, they aren’t summoned until 10am – maybe they’re all too busy starting new enterprises over breakfast anyway – and they’re only playing for £25K, but turning tat into tenners is still the name of the game.

The programme editors appear to be giving us a steer in the opening minutes, having already introduced us to Max “11 A Stars” Grodecki. Although his profile can be read as ‘has dabbled with e-bay’, he could be – and duly was – spun to us as a vintage clothes dealer. As the first task was to ferret through the sacks of a clothing recycling centre, apply some judicious lifting and separating and to flog the nearest thing to nuggets as vintage gold in a shopping mall and the shavings in a car boot sale, Max should have been a shoe in. Instead, he mumbled into his fringe about his taste in pro-Socratic philosophers (I am not making that up) and demurred. First leader for the boys – who settled on the team name Odyssey after eventually managing to spell it – was Patrick MacDowell, formerly the youngest ever Young Textiles Designer of the Year. A striking character who came across as a notably metrosexual version of a young Buddy Holly with a Cheshire accent, Patrick’s skills playing extended to (in a possible nod to Strictly Come Dancing) sewing every sequin on by hand. There aren’t many 17 year old men who would so boldly juxtaposition Alan Bennett’s voice with Dolly Parton’s lapels. Whatever may become of Patrick, his jacket has a long career in Blackpool ahead of it. Unlike Max, Patrick also had chutzpah and a history that involved occasionally selling face-to-face. (And if there’s one thing Patrick’s going to make, it’s an impression.)

The girls flirted very briefly with calling themselves Ex Nihilo (from the Latin, dontcha know) before the ones without O Level Latin called it for Team Platinum. Ashleigh rose to the challenge, channelling Adele (visually) and the kind of landlady who has the hot water on from 5.52 to 5.57 precisely (mentally). She quickly works out 6 x 100% = 600%, so it’s going to be a walkover. Rarely has any Apprentice candidate demonstrated either such mathematical prowess or such knowingly meta-textual analytic rigour. With luck, she’ll now stick to the numbers.

There’s not, it should be said, a great deal to single out for praise in what follows. The girls struggle to tell a tumble drier from a washing machine in a launderette. Steven and David’s ability to sift tat for gems mean that Patrick’s eyebrows are soon at risk of RSI. The market research sub-team have an encounter with a woman who is under the illusion that they are going to be unearthing original Ozzie Clarke and Biba frocks, but who does sagely counsel that ‘up cycling’ (remember that?) is not the way to go. The kind of people who wear vintage clothes, despite the odd worrying whiff, apparently value authenticity over modification. Patrick’s sequins may ooze sincerity, but there are some interesting ‘re-configuration’ choices made at a pricey tailors. Ashleigh, meanwhile, just vetoes the whole idea. She’s probably sussed that although ‘modifying’ was part of the task, the only bit that matters is the bottom line. (Like its adult counterpart, Young Apprentice includes the usually guff about not just wanting sales people and then makes all the decisions based on the profit made.) The girls, demonstrating that odour is no barrier to social elan, don’t even bother washing the stuff that doesn’t actively make anyone gag.

Tat as sorted as it’s going to get, the sun sets only to rise again on the selling part of the task. It’s not exactly a fly on the wall documentary about John Lewis, it has to be said. The girls are leaving still-wet clothes to dry on the bannisters in the shopping mall, while Patrick’s trousers are at least not on a pavement, where they might well stop traffic. Amy, who has a chin that would do Dan Dare proud, leads with it in her encounters with the public. She’s particularly lucky not to be punched firmly on it by the girlfriend of one poor unfortunate she bulldozes into buying a rather manky old denim jacket. On Team Odyssey, meanwhile, Steven and David are cranking up the charm offensive. Or is it the offensive charm. You get the nagging sense David is not normally allowed to talk to grown up women. You know, not after that last time … And Karren seems to be standing as far from him as possible, just in case.

As the format indicates the drama must be ratcheted up, we cut to ‘London’s premier car boot sale’. Or Battersea, as you and I know it. Andrew and Sam display an unexpectedly good line in car boot banter, especially in the case of Sam, a disconcertingly small young man with disproportionately huge hair. Max, meanwhile, has a strategy. (Disappointingly for Apprentice Drinking Game aficionados, I don’t think the word made a single appearance tonight and watching sober could well have been fairly gruelling.) Max, faced with two trestle tables and a small van full of tat, recognises that firm discipline and logistics are clearly required. He proceeds to spend the entire day folding and refolding the stock, while demonstrating his vintage clobber nous with his choice of taupe windcheater. He is clearly absorbed with important questions. “What would Socrates do?” “Togas – long or short this season?” That sort of thing.

The girls, who seemed to have grabbed an ‘ideal’ pitch in a far-flung corner, are meanwhile not selling. Maria makes noises about smelling disaster. I suspect she’s actually getting a nostril full of their own stock selection, and I do wonder if Ashleigh couldn’t have stretched their budget to run to at least one spray bottle of Febreze. There’s a hasty group chat on the Star Trek Communicators with the mall-half of the team. The latter are continuing to scare people into parting with their cash with a fair degree of success but a bare minimum of self-awareness. Amy thinks she might be being cheesy. In the sense that she’s comparable to something that would give you nightmares if encountered too late in the evening, perhaps …

At this point in proceedings, Patrick throws the plotline a curveball. His sub-team still doing well at the car boot sale, where Max is still folding the same pair of jeans over and over like a true champion, he elects to leave the mall at peak footfall time and to attempt to sell the ‘designer’ stock to the retail trade in Shoreditch. As the series disabled the participants’ technical aids (you didn’t think realism was an essential component, now did you?), they lack satnav and the programme’s gravity sensors suck them inevitably into Brick Lane. One boutique owner is, oddly, almost tempted by the wetsuit kimono but volleys the curveball by only wanting it as ‘part of a range’. If Patrick should ever contemplate knocking up his first Surf-Board Glamour Queen collection – whether for boys or girls – let’s hope he took a business card. After a lot of heaving bags up and down the road, they are finally forced to flog the lot for £40. The ‘modified stock’ may have caught the eye, but it hasn’t turned tat to tenners as it might. As a viewer, I couldn’t help but think that you don’t need to actually wear a wetsuit to be able to spot an albatross. A few frantic minutes of the usual Apprentice ’sell everything for ten pence’ panic, and their fates are sealed. Sadly, someone thought to include breathing holes.

Boardroom time reveals that the boys did better at the car boot sale element, but overall they spent more and raised less than the girls. And two out of three ain’t good. The girls duly get to squeal their way down the Thames in a budget speedboat affair – about the only moment of the show where the contestants don’t seemingly want to be 35 before their time.

Patrick clearly realises that his appeal is of the Marmite variety, and brings back David and Max for the final showdown. As we only have one week’s performance to go on, we are perhaps into the realms of judging potential more than performance here – or at least, that’s one method of reasoning that would explain Patrick’s eventual survival.

Karren correctly points out that he’s made pretty much every decision for the whole team and the others haven’t exactly rushed to contribute, but he has committed a strategic gaff (abandoning direct selling to go for low margin sales to trade) and a major crime against wetsuits and Japanese culture. Patrick’s ace card – fashion sense that has already bagged him awards – is also his downfall, in that the lure of fashion overrode the lure of earning a fistful of fivers. David’s people skills – arguing men are dogs and overly smooching the ladies – are called into question, as is his laughably boastful CV, but the Fearsome Firing Finger finds his mark as soon as Lord Sugar makes the time honoured remarks about listening to his gut. (You’d think that he of all people could afford to run to the occasional packet of Rennies, wouldn’t you?)

Plainly, the rumblings of the Blessed Duodenum have announced that Patrick has something more than waspish remarks and rhinestones left to offer. Doomed by selling almost nothing all day and for his deluded pomposity in talking up the role of ‘organiser/director’ at a car boot stall, Max must stumble off into the darkness and return to ignominy, hugging his beige jacket round him for warmth. Patrick may have failed, but at least tried and tried hard. The thing Max tried most was Lord Sugar’s patience, and that’s always a losing gambit.

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