The Apprentice: Cloche, but no cigar

By: Simon Wicks

Date: 19 May 2011

Missed the third episode? Catch up here.

The task

This week starts with a surprise. Clearly fearing that the boys are just going to mess up week after week and he'll never actually see a woman facing the sack, Sugar shakes the teams up. Natasha, Melody, Ellie and Zoe (awkward individualists) move over to Team Logic, while Jim, Glenn, Tom and Leon (agreeable team players) switch to Team Venture. It's not a remotely fair swap; but fairness has nothing to do with it.

The task is intriguing: the Savoy Hotel is preparing to reopen after a three-year, £200 million refurbishment. Conveniently for the BBC, they're short of ten really essential items. The really essential items include some toilet rolls, some light bulbs and a cloche (more on this coming up). The teams are given one day and £2,000 to buy as many of the items as they can. The catch: they must negotiate the best deal for everything. Failure to buy an item by deadline will incur a fine. The team that spends the least (including fines) wins.

“If you're going to come into business with me,” growls Sugar for the 15th time in three episodes, “you've got to dress up as a clown and feed me Syrian olives from a golden spoon morning, noon and night.” Actually, he was looking for evidence of negotiation skills, “getting the right price” and ability to work to a deadline, but it all amounts to the same thing.

Susie stakes an immediate claim for leadership of Team Venture and gets it. She's into her stride immediately, delegating, organising, motivating. She's good. She's really good. Wow. Where did this come from? They're off to a flyer and on the road almost immediately.

Team Logic take three hours to stir themselves. Gavin assumes leadership after swatting away a typically limp challenge from Vince. It's a shambles. He's surrounded by strong characters and he politely asks them to “chill out”. For someone who runs his own business, presumably with employees, he shows a worrying lack of authority. Everybody's doing their own thing, including Zoe who boldly phones a rival hotel to ask for their procurement list. Karren Brady is horrified. Zoe has just booked her place on the hit list.

It gets worse. As Susie, Jim et al whizz about chasing leads and making deals, Gavin's unruly mob are speculating on whether a cloche is a bell or a greenhouse (oh, it gets better – more on this to come). Finally, Gavin appoints the hapless Vince as leader of a team of three women and books both their places on Lord Sugar's hit list.

The result is inevitable. Despite buying some VERY expensive tea, Team Venture return with nine of ten items having clearly enjoyed themselves. Logic are in disarray – they seem to have criss-crossed London haphazardly and have just six items (no cloche, in spite of searching for a garden centre everywhere). At one point they run into a dry cleaners in Teddington asking about top hats. It's embarrassing, really. Funny, though.

“Can I suggest a very quick game plan?” offers Vince in his half-convinced way as the deadline hurtles towards him like a large brick. “We kick arse to get EITHER the ice OR the tea and we forget everything else?” That, my fluffy-faced friend, is why you are not going to win this show.

In the event it's an incredibly close call. With fines, Team Venture spend £1,381.61. Team Logic spend only marginally more: £1,389.20.

The inquest is entertaining. Tom accuses Gavin of looking like a “beaten man”. Both Ellie and Natasha accuse Vince (correctly) of being patronising and ineffectual. Zoe smirks unpleasantly every time someone else takes a blow. But she's called into the final three where she demonstrates great gumption while justifying her general lack of it during tasks. Vince looks on the verge of tears when criticised by Gavin. Then something extraordinary happens: he finds something convincing from somewhere and subjects Gavin to a stinging tirade. Gavin's only response is that Vince “couldn't run a bath”. It's over, he's gone, Gavin's history. He's too nice for this – he even thanks Sugar for sacking him. You what?

The best bits

Without doubt, Team Venture's hilarious inability to find out what a cloche is. Surely it's not beyond the capabilities of eight reasonably bright, motivated people to find out that in the hotel trade a cloche is the dome-like cover for a dish when serving food. Here's a small selection of quotes to illustrate their ineptitude:

Tom: “Just to check – a cloche is definitely a greenhouse, right?”

Gavin (urgently): “We've got six items. We don't have the cloche.”

Melody (sneering): “The 'clochay'.”

Melody: “If it was in a garden centre, it would be multi-dimensional. But it's not, it's one dimensional.”

What the flip is she on about?

The worst bits

Lord Sugar: “So how was Gavin as a leader?”

LONG pause. Whole team stares at floor.

Vincent (softly): “Not bad.”

Winners and losers

Winners, easy – Susie and Jim. The loser: Vince. Poor Vince. Poor, ineffectual, half-hearted Vince. He is so unconvincing you can tell that even he doesn't believe most of what he's saying. He's the anti-Blair. He seems to love the idea of being a sharp, seductive salesman, while actually hating the reality of it. I suspect he'd rather be on the till in Waitrose, flirting harmlessly with middle-aged women. Surely he won't last much longer?

Ones to watch

Susie was very impressive as a team leader. She was energetic and decisive and – a real winner, this – she complimented her team often. Her only black mark was a lack of judgement in sourcing cut-price goods in Mayfair (cough). Jim was less Machievellian than in previous weeks, but once again showed what a calm, competent and mentally-organised person he is. The “Irish charm” is starting to wear a bit thin now, though, and he's made a point of avoiding the responsibility of leadership, preferring instead to manipulate from the background. They make a good pairing. 

Business lessons

  1. Provide clear direction from the word go.
  2. If you're on a budget, don't shop in Mayfair.
  3. Don't give Vince any kind of responsibility. Ever.

Quote of the week

Vince: “What are you having problems with, mate? Share it.”

Gavin: “We are literally having problems with...with… everything.”

Lord Sugar's profitometer: a definite swing towards increased book sales and more lucrative speaking engagements.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.