It’s that time of year the BBC find Lord Alan Sugar the nation’s best “entrepreneurs.” Or for the purposes of good TV, a selection of dimwits that promise to be mildly entertaining with the odd potential gem thrown in. The contestants are treated like schoolchildren (“Good morning, Lord Sugar.”) and he has his favourite headmistress and head boy to help.
Of course, they are Baroness Karren Brady, The First Lady of Football. That dour face trying to make us forget she spent years hanging about the Birmingham City team bus and footballer Paul Peschisolido out of her.
We also have Claude Littner, better known for the interview stage. Now he does that and the weekly observing. Mr Littner likes to play Good Cop, Bad Cop playing both roles himself. It keeps the contestants on their toes – volatile people in the mix tend to breed that response.
One thing that was clear during this twelfth series was the tasks have become worn out. 18 contestants were squashed into the process, giving the guarantee that some weeks would see multiple heads fall. Sadly, the mundane early running meant we didn’t care.
Sometimes they had to sell stuff, sometimes buy stuff. Sometimes run around, buy stuff, sell stuff, maybe design stuff, look for stuff. Talk over one another. Some stuff. All the time wondering if any of them know their stuff and realise they are becoming parodies of young upstarts.
Too many concepts presented the same challenge. The “Boat Show” episode, in essence, was no bigger stretch than any of the selling tasks (and most of them are). Even ones like designing jeans or “Corporate Candy” require the good old fashioned sell. And as they should, I suppose. Lord Sugar wants to make money and sees those that can shift stock and make profit as key to that business plan.
It’s also important to think outside the box. Not like the extremely hot Jessica Cunningham attempted on a few occasions. She liked to sprinkle in a few lies to shift product. But in her defence, she was the best seller, most engaging, and could think outside the box because her head is out of it. And it’s a bit cheeky of Lord Sugar to preach no lying then have the production team skirt over her history in the final five round-up.
Yes, I’m talking about Jessica’s lap-dancing past. A top business woman who wasn’t scared to take on hard jobs on the way to the climax of the process.
There were notable characters this year, many for the wrong reasons. First to go wasn’t, it was Michelle; next up, Natalie Hughes – you wouldn’t hire her to answer phones; third, wet fart Oliver. Week four is better remembered for Aleksandra King walking away from the process. At that point, I could see why, I was close myself.
Highlighting the point was marketing guru Rebecca Jeffery in week six. The Mancunian proving Northerners aren’t made for the real city, especially when they have the personality of a wet flannel.
But finally, the show had some life come week seven and it was the boat show that saw two fall foul of the axe. It was a shame to see Karthik Nagesan lose his place, he was a true bit of energy. Sadly for him, and his team, he could run a team about as well as Samuel Boateng could follow instruction from the project manager. He joined him in a taxi the same week for this very reason.
Fiery Paul was axed the following week. He liked to kick-off to be fair. In case this was in any doubt (it wasn’t), he even got a bit aggy with Alan in the boardroom. And goodbye. You can’t bully the Sugar. You need to sit in the chair and laugh at his Christmas cracker one-liners.
Dillon St. Paul made it easy the following week for Al (totally dropped his peerage now). He compared his struggle as a gay man to that of women in the workplace. You could see Al’s face change. He hates an excuse. Suggs pointed out there were single parents in the room, Sofiane who had taught himself English and made a business from scratch, and Alana, who was just learning how to construct full and complete sentences in the boardroom despite the ability to be a catty bitch during assignments.
It was this week the eventual finalist, Courtney Wood, went from constant winner in the shadows to a standout performer. The challenge was designing a virtual reality game and even with his team against his input (apart from the giddy Jessica), he managed to design a concept that smashed the opposition.
Not long after we got the final five and it’s here the format of business partner as opposed to apprentice calls the show into question. Al must know what business he fancies beforehand and what he can’t stand. Why else would the always dominant Grainne McCoy fail to make the final two. Her idea was solid for the industry and no more far-flung than previous winner Leah Totten.
Thankfully this means Frances Bishop was also axed with her really original idea of making a TK Maxx for kids off the back of a few failed attempts she tried to bury beneath two relative successes. Maybe the idea was decent? She was just a walking migraine and hopefully the WAG (not a proper Premier League one, like at the best club ever Arsenal) will never be seen again.
So, Courtney looked favourite based on the principle. He was a novelty gift (tatt) designer, something Sugar knows inside out. But the Lord went for Alana and her cakes. Her big margins for profit must have tempted him. If years from now you’re eating an Alana cake in Costa, spare a thought for Courtney, who will still be designing a novelty personality for his currently bland character.