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Margaret Mountford Apprentice Watch Week 10

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    Posted: 27 May 2009 at 11:56

By Margaret Mountford
Last Updated: 5:29PM BST 26 May 2009

Sales pitch: Kate plays her novelty guitar in the hope of strumming up business Photo: BBC

My entire experience of home-shopping TV channels consists of my trips to Peterborough for The Apprentice – Sir Alan has set different sets of candidates the task of selling things on a channel that is based there. I have never watched any of these channels at home. Nor do I know anyone who has. So I may not be the best guide to how well the candidates perform…

James is the most level-headed on Empire this week, which sees an undignified row – in the shopping channel’s car park, of all places – between his two team-mates Debra and Yasmina about who’s going to be project manager. Debra should have learned from her treatment in the boardroom the previous week, when Sir Alan rather briskly told her that she was neither Nick’s nor my favourite person. But tonight’s contretemps makes me wonder if it was all water off a duck’s back – she’s very confrontational and very aggressive. Poor old James – he has a habit of coming up with some great one-liners, and people think that’s all there is to him, but that’s not true at all.

One thing you can say for Ignite (Howard, Lorraine and Kate) is that none of them has ever watched any of these channels either. Howard puts himself forward as team leader, and Lorraine and Kate agree. Quite why they agree so readily, I don’t know, but they do. Both teams get some time to practise presenting to camera, which is crucial, because each group of three must then split into two presenting teams for the real thing – one of them a pair, and the other working solo. When the Ignite team practise presenting to camera, Howard does rather well – in contrast to Lorraine, who is absolutely dreadful; obviously it isn’t an “instinct” thing!

Lorraine often makes the right decision, but it’s the way she makes her point that puts people off her. That comes out when the teams are choosing products to sell: Ignite end up choosing a cat-themed craft kit with sequins – which, obviously, no home should be without – and a women’s jacket (which costs over £100) covered in metallic leather leaves. They also impress Sir Alan by picking an electric fryer that uses only a small amount of fat, and which retails for just under £140, in the hope that by choosing a mix of products including some with a higher value they have all their bases covered. Empire go for a totally different strategy, choosing only low-ticket items.

Preparation is crucial for home shopping presenters, both in terms of the products themselves and also having a few lines to trot out to encourage viewers to buy – by giving them the impression that they’re in danger of missing out, for example. But Lorraine doesn’t even do her homework about the fryer. She does seem obsessed with eating chips – but that’s neither an appealing trait, nor really a workable sales technique. You’d think there was only one use for the product.

In the end, Yasmina is named PM of Empire – and nominates Debra to be her team’s solo presenter. I wonder why? There’s no love lost between these two. James, paired with Yasmina, doesn’t do at all badly – at least he has the appearance of being genuine. Although I’m not sure he’d consider the toy car picked for him by Debra as making up for the racing car treat he was so upset at missing a few weeks ago. Yasmina, meanwhile, talks so quickly that you’d need a slow-motion control on your TV. I think her speech has speeded up as the series has gone on. In all the tasks she has put a real emphasis on keeping costs down; it’s surprising she gets the price wrong in this one!

Howard (rather chivalrously?) agrees to partner Lorraine for the live presenting. She certainly would have been a disaster by herself: we see all Lorraine’s bad traits, and none of the good ones. Kate ends up presenting by herself. In past tasks she’s shown herself to be an excellent presenter, and good at dealing with awkward questions. But on these channels, it seems to be a very low-key sell that’s required: the person on-screen tries to come across as if they’re in your living room chatting to you. Kate’s not exactly in her comfort zone – and it doesn’t help that one of the things she has to try and sell is a novelty toy – an “air guitar” that senses when you’re moving your hand and makes strumming noises.

Sir Alan likes this task – it gives us a usefully different look at the candidates. It’s one thing being filmed for The Apprentice by a camera crew while you make soap or sell rocking horses. It’s quite another to talk straight into a live TV camera – by yourself, for a full 30 minutes, with seven or eight people talking into your earpiece the whole time. It really does test their concentration and their ability to master a new medium quickly and effectively.

There’s one marvellous moment when Lorraine talks about how well she did “when the chips were down”. Given her performance with that low-fat fryer, I’m not sure that’s quite the phrase I would have chosen.

The Apprentice is on BBC One tonight at 9.00pm

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