If you were hoping for originality from the two remaining Apprentice contenders for 2018, you would not have found it in this finale. “I’ve come here to win this,” announced James, while Sarah opted for the even triter “failure is most definitely not an option”. Yet it would soon be so for one of them.
In Apprentice history, neither will stand out as a memorable winner or near-winner. Bland is perhaps the kindest description you could give either of them, whether steady, sensible Sarah, hoping to seal the deal for her retro sweets business, or ambitious, overconfident James, keen to set the world of IT recruitment alight. Hardly the ingredients for a dynamic last task.
Luckily, we had the culled candidates to keep us entertained. After winning the coin toss James opted for Jewish contestant Charles as his first pick (along with Joanna, Elizabeth and Anisa), giving a clue to the bromance that had formed in the heady days of hotel decorating and corporate hospitality. “Life without you has been tough,” sighed Charles after the reunion. Perhaps the BBC should commission a follow-up series as this duo schmoozes its way round the business world?
Sarah, meanwhile, chose back-up from Michaela, Harrison, Andrew and Siobhan (there was no sign of the other Jewish candidate, Elliot, indicating that he’d wisely chosen to forgo an additional round of reality TV humiliation). Teams assembled, it was time to bring their business ideas to life, complete with branding, a video and TV advert, and a website to boot.
Astonishingly, despite being so convinced of their business plans that they willingly chose to go on a show known for its high shmuck quota to secure investment, neither had given any thought to a name. “RecruitIT?” suggested Charles to James, before the realisation of what the last three letters spelt out hit him. Sarah settled upon Chic Sweets, until a sleepless night confirmed that this was terrible and she went with the slightly more memorable Sweeteze to describe her letterbox deliveries of confectionary, a name Lord Sugar was rather impressed by.
For both, it was the usual catalogue of disasters. Sarah’s "oompa loompas", as Lord Sugar described her helpers, naturally ignored her request for an advert that was neither tacky nor novelty, and came up with an image of Siobhan being sheltered from a sweet-storm by an Andrew dressed up as Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Practically imperfect in every way. “They’re meant to be helping her but nothing about this screams stylish,” groaned Claude.
Still, the TV advert they produced was relatively slick, what with it remembering to show the product and everything. At the pitch, Sarah impressed the crowd gathered at City Hall, bringing the enthusiasm she had occasionally mislaid in the past. Whether Lord Sugar was paying attention was anyone’s guess; he seemed to spend most of the time sampling the merchandise and grinning, appropriately, like a kid in a candy store. Later, he disarmingly noted that the packaging was “like a delivery from Ann Summers”, an image no amount of scouring will now clear from my mind.
James was second to take to the stage, and his performance was shakier, even despite him donning his “make me look clever” specs. He was not helped by an error-strewn advertising campaign for First Tier Talent (yawn) and a dose of Elizabeth’s very particular brand of teamwork. “Branding is the most stressful thing I’ve ever done,” said James, who has in his pursuit of victory spent a day scooping up dog poo and another making his catwalk debut.
Charles was on form starring in the advert as a lobster (just the costume for a nice Jewish boy), which Elizabeth explained by way of the fact that the crustacean mates for life and the business was all about commitment. Personally, it just made me think of Ross and Rachel.
Ultimately, though, this wasn’t about the pitch; it was about who Lord Sugar wanted to go into business with (or who he wanted to not go into business with less). Faced with two possible winners, neither offering a business idea set to change the world (or even their particular sectors), the boss had to follow Claude’s advice: “In the end your gut tells you everything”.
Lord Sugar’s gut, as it turned out, told him to do something he has never done before - double his investment and choose both candidates as his business partners.
Never in the history of the show has there been two winners.
"I just couldn't decide," the conflicted peer explained. "It's cost me half a million quid but it's going to be worth it."
Chutzpah of the series: Lord Sugar, for still eking life out of a tired concept more than a decade on.