Thursday, 7 July 2011

My Apprentice Predictions - Contains Week 10 Spoilers

With two weeks left to go in The Apprentice, Melody's firing means there are only five candidates left.  While, in all honesty, this series has (as ever) shown almost all those involved to be useless at business; there have still been moments when a shocking glint of talent has appeared in the sea of mediocrity.  There's a strong case for saying some of those who have been fired (Edna, Glenn, Leon) showed more potential than some of those left.  However, with next week's task looking to be fairly engaging (setting up a new fast food chain), and the final consisting at least partly of interviews, who should (and will) go on to win?  If you have an opinion (or disagree angrily with mine) then let me know in the comments, however for me, in reverse order...

#5 Natasha Scribbins

It's genuinely difficult to think of a single task on which Natasha has excelled.  She has been in the boardroom twice (with the beauty treatment and pet food tasks) and in her two tasks as project manager has produced two very suspect victories: first by producing the Lad Mag 'Covered' which ignored their market research and was described as 'vulgar' and 'outdated', and then this week by misunderstanding the task to the point her victory was described as 'hollow' by Lord Sugar, only to be saved by Susan and Jim's sales.  More than the statistics, Natasha hasn't really shown any ability in any key area of business: in sales tasks such as the week in Paris she's been weak, her personality is starting to clash with those around her (and with viewers), and as mentioned her leadership choices have been poor.  She's been out of the boardroom since week 5, but if she's on the losing team next week, expect her to go.

#4 Tom Pellereau

I like Tom.  Lord Sugar likes Tom.  Everyone likes Tom.  He will probably prove to be an exceptional business man, as he clearly has a spark of invention and entrepreneurialism that is lacking from many of the other candidates.  The problem is, in the context of this show, Tom has been useless.  Excepting the Rubbish collection task and the Magazine task, he has lost in every single show, and its difficult to remember anything he contributed to either of those winning teams.  As project manager in France he was appalling, showing no leadership and no control over Melody: yes Melody is difficult to lead; no that can't be an excuse for someone wanting to lead a large company.  He has shown in many tasks that he has good ideas, and you can't fault him for enthusiasm and personality, but at some stage very soon he needs to show he can lead with authority, and I fear that might be beyond him.

#3 Susan Ma

Despite her life persisting in being 'so unfair' and her unfortunate ability to be the most consistently unintentionally hilarious candidate ('Do French people like their children?'), Susan has in fact shown a lot of talent.  Her sales abilities are impressive, she's shown herself to be correct only to be shouted down more often than Tom has, and she's picked up two wins as project manager; admittedly largely thanks to Helen's pitch in Paris and a total absence of opposition in the hotel-buying task.  As was said in the last episode, Susan does seem almost like a bullied child, she does lack the respect of the other candidates (especially Natasha and, until she went, Zoe).  This reflects badly on the bullies, but equally Susan has got to stand up for herself: as with Tom, the inability to manage strong personalities cannot be an excuse any longer.  With this in mind, Susan ideally needs to project-manage and win in next week's task to show her steel, but at age 21 has potentially got as much up-side as any of the other candidates.

#2 Jim Eastwood

Jim certainly seems to polarize reactions: many have attacked him as manipulative and passive aggressive, while others (perhaps manipulated by his passive aggression) are in awe of his patter and the results he often gets.  Love him or hate him, Jim has been instrumental in winning many tasks: this week his sales were picked out by Nick as a 'Tour de Force'; last week his pitch to Asda was risky, but ultimately delivered a huge victory; back in Week 3 his negotiating skill in the hotel-buying task was vital in an £8 victory.   As these demonstrate, sales, pitching and negotiating are all massive strengths for Jim, the question-marks come in his business strategy and leadership.  In the Pet Food task he was instrumental in the poor decisions that lost the task; Vincent was fired just for not bringing Jim back.  Similarly in the one task Jim has led his poor decisions resulted in a loss, although it was his decision (against opposition) to target the elderly, which was widely seen as a good choice.  To attack Jim for being manipulative seems to miss that, far from being a vice of his, it is simply something he does better than anyone else: Jim's skills as a salesman are at their most desperate when they are defending his own performance, even when the evidence isn't there.  We need to see Jim produce something beyond sales in the final task (which, in fairness, he did something towards by being the sole candidate to understand the importance of re-investment in this week's task) or he could be torn apart in the interviews stage, but thus far Jim is very much a contender.

# Helen Milligan 

Picking Helen as the favorite might not be the most exciting choice, but to do otherwise could only be playing a very weak devil's advocate.  Even looking past the fact she has won on every task, she has shown plenty of signs elsewhere that she is a very strong candidate: initially she was a quiet contributor who never attracted complaint from any of her teammates, before coming to the fore in leading successfully in the Rubbish Disposal task and the Biscuit task, as well as her series-defining pitch in Paris to La Redoute.  With all this evidence her victory ought to be a formality, but (almost as if it were scripted...) this week's task threw a spanner in the works: Helen may have been correct to criticise Melody, but showed no business sense whatsoever in her own decisions in the task.  Her coup was more self-serving than any valid attempt to help the team: it has no chance of being successful (and indeed I don't think Helen knew what she would have done if it had been), and only served to amp up the pressure on a struggling Melody.  There have been small cracks elsewhere: her two victories came by £8 and by one pitch-from-Jim, and La Redoute aside she hasn't produced much at the highest level.  Nonetheless with two weeks to go she is very much in the driving seat: if she performs well in next week's task then it would seem foolish for Sir Alan to pick against her.

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