The Apprentice 2008 episode 9 review

Sralan Sugar's firing finger seemed to be pointing in the wrong place last night, throwing the outcome of the series into even more mystery...

Sir Alan Sugar in front of his car

You could almost sense it last night. Even though last night’s episode of The Apprentice was filmed some time ago, wily old Sralan Sugar must have felt it in his water that ratings would be down the previous week. And this gave him an obvious conundrum: do I sack the person who the past near-hour of television should make it obvious I sack, or do I try and protect the ratings?

Like you don’t know the answer.

The task this week was to brand and design a box of tissues, then create a television advert to promote it, along with some press ads. Not that anyone seemed to bother with the press ads: the teams might have produced them, but the programme makers weren’t that keen to dwell on them.

Sralan picked his team leaders again, and it was bad news for Michael. After last week’s ‘I’m not begging to stay but your shoes are looking a bit dirty and my tongue could do a fine job on them’ outburst, he pleaded to be made project manager again. Yet Sralan chose Raef to lead Renaissance, and Alex to lead Alpha. Not that the team names seem to matter anymore, given how often they’re switched around. But in retrospect, by making that pair project managers, are they the two he was looking to get rid of?

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But back to the task. Alpha clearly had some kind of breakfast brainstorming to get themselves going, because they promptly put together a tissue box that looked like a Weetabix packet. Granted, they came up with a good name – Atishu – but the problems here were evident fairly early on. Alex has project managed once before in the series, right back in episode one, and there were few people then who would have nipped off to Ladbrokes to put a fiver on him to win. And there are even fewer now, we would suggest, off the back of his team’s reasonably shambolic performance. Again, Lucinda came across a bit whiney, but you couldn’t disagree with the points she was making about the product (apart from her suggestion to aim a box of tissues at the gay market), even if Alex and Lee barely seemed to give her second shrift. That said, if someone was trying to make business conversation with me while wearing a Holly Hobbie hat, then I could kind of see their conundrum.

The real action though was on Team Renaissance, where Michael and Raef were happily turning the episode into a musical at one point. The pair clearly had ambitions to be movie directors, yet Martin Scorsese, the last time we checked, was not shitting himself. To be fair, some parts of the commercial they filmed were good, namely the bit with the two kids at the end. To be equally fair, the Sian Lloyd segment was horrible. Fair game to Sian Lloyd for fessing up to the fact that she had no idea why they’d called her in either, because that pretty much reflected what we were thinking. Insert one or two Sian Lloyd gags of your choice here, if you want.

Naturally, Helene and Claire, though, the rest of Renaissance, were fine team players. You could positively see them sharpening their swords in the few bits of the task that the programme editors allowed us to see them in. Although to be fair, Claire did helpfully pipe up that “Cheryl Cole would buy these tissues” at one point. Is that supposed to be a good thing?

Anyway, back to the commercials. It’s fair to say that Alpha’s was the kind of cheesy crap that you could easily see being shown on the telly. The script was something along the lines of: “TISSUES! Have you got any TISSUES? Aren’t TISSUES great?”. We’ve paraphrased. It was bland, it was boring, it had dead flowers, and you knew it’d win. The other commercial, as soon as we got a sequence with Renaissance bickering over including the product close-up, you knew would lose.

And yet here’s the thing. As the mighty Sralan pointed out, Renaissance did 95% of it right. Their pitch was far better, their commercial had far better content in it, yet they failed to brand their product. Therefore, the unimpressive Alpha, led by the unimpressive Alex and after an unimpressive pitch by Lee (who was, to be fair, being unimpressively henpecked during its preparation), won.

Which is where things started to get a bit odd. Firstly, Michael decided that everything good was down to him, and everything bad was down to everyone else. The viewing public, particularly after last week’s shambles, had every right to think that he was going to pick up his P45 as a result. Next, Claire was berated for not intervening when she had the chance, and not for the first time this series, her team playing credentials were called into question. Maybe it could be her that was going? Then Sralan said that he was firing the person who he thought was full of hot air. Blimey, we thought. Is he sacking himself?

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And yet the finger pointed at Raef, amazingly. Amazing, because, while he didn’t cover himself in glory with the task, he owned up to his mistakes, didn’t shirk responsibility, and generally seemed to do a better job than at least Michael. But ratings are ratings, and gobby Claire and turncoat Michael are far more likely to get us tuning in next week, it seems.

We’re coming closer to the point when the decision will be made as to who wins the show, and not for the first time, it’s very much up in the air. What’s clear is that Sralan isn’t that keen on toffs, and he leans towards people who in some way remind him of himself, hence – surely – the endurance of Michael in the competition, and the bizarre hiring of Simon last year. What it’s making for though is puzzling viewing, and within five or ten minutes of the opening episode, the mental guess we had of at least some of the people who wouldn’t make it this far has been proved correct. Hmmmm. This isn’t good, is it? A pity, because the strange ending aside, last night’s episode was strong.

Next week? Lucinda seems to be in a bit of a tizz again, but we wonder if the bell is going to toll for Alex at last. He sure ain’t going to win it.