I’m not sure about this additional episode. In one way, it’s the Personal Statement section of the application form, where we get to understand their individual drivers and see their pitch in terms of strengths. It also provides Karren and Nick – who, we should attempt to remember, are the two people who have actually witnessed and observed the participants over the long string of tasks they’ve completed. (Lord Sugar’s acquaintance with them is limited to task-setting cameos, a quick game of whiff-whaff one afternoon and the Boardroom session, which focus mostly on the losers.)
In televisual terms – and for televisual reasons – it’s also the sob story/background bit. Is this supplementary information that you’d normally welcome in a recruitment process, or sentimental special pleading masquerading as light entertainment? This is the kind of material that’s usually filler in X Factor, surely? If this was Big Brother, a cartoon Geordie would announce at this point that “You decide”.
But we don’t. Lord Alan, Nick and Karren decide, and we don’t know if they even care that so and so loves his Mum or comes from good stock. After all, so do – in their different ways – Edward VIII and bowls of dripping. I’m not sure I’d want to invest in either. What really drives them? It’s too easy and tempting to say “A cab, with luck”, but here is a summary of the runners and riders for the semi-final.
The youngest and richest contestant, he already turns over £3.5m a year at the age of 23. I can think of bank robbers who’d be jealous. Tom’s mathematical prowess is a key strength, and a vital component of any team. He understands strategy and its importance, and values knowledge. A highly competitive man who may not rush in but takes big risks, he took over the family business at 20 and has turned it into a multinational operation. The downsides? He can overplay the technical aspects and over-rate the importance of knowledge (as we saw in the art task). The flipside of his youth is a comparative lack of maturity, and Mr Cool can melt rather suddenly when it doesn’t go to plan. And he may have massive cojones, in the vocab of these competitions, but he flirts dangerously with public castration. Nor is he above the occasional temper tantrum. Tom is the one that the others think they have to beat, but he reminds me of Jane Austen’s Emma. Only more hirsute and possibly in greater need of a few elocution lessons.
Sociable and creative, Jade never fails to make a contribution to a task. She seems to genuinely like people, except possibly Adam. (And might need to learn more about adapting to work with people who irritate her nostril linings and enflame her self-image.) She has immense energy, and works hard to the point of relentlessness: the word ‘passion’ got bandied around heavily in the summaries. But … she lacks management skills, and lost disastrously as a project manager as she simply didn’t grasp what the task was about. Azhar may have nagged her endlessly about strategy, but she patently didn’t have one. And she is a hesitant and poor decision maker, taking the wrong colleagues back into the Boardroom. She has the grit to make pearls but will need more than energy to obtain the oysters, even if she is focused (perhaps too) heavily on the money. Her second turn as PM showed that she can learn, although she was working ‘on home turf’. Jade is a Duracell-powered model flamenco dancer who needs to listen to the musical backing more carefully.
Professional wrestler Ricky comes across initially as a bold as a bulky bloke in a lycra leotard. He can sell pretty much anything, although his proudest product is himself. Making a first impression as a blagger, he has had to use his impeccable verbal self-defense skills in the Boardroom, losing all his attempts as PM. (After the fitness and wine episodes, Ricky is – oddly, given his firm grasp of what makes a good pitch – not a man to involve in anything that involves a promo video. Watch ‘em and weep.) Like Jade, he has brought the wrong colleagues back into the Boardroom too, and his people management skills aren’t the strongest here. But he has learned, and values learning. Ricky’s family back story (childhood divorce, first member of family to go to Uni) was played perhaps more than some of the others, and may be more critical to understanding him as a candidate: Ricky probably wants it more – at a personal level – than the others. As Nick Hewer put it, there’s a big and quick brain in what appears to be a thick skull, and a rounded version of him is emerging. ‘Less Ricky, More Richard’, as he said himself. His trajectory – unlike Tom’s – has been a positive one, but can he overcome the black marks? Ricky is a middle-weight punching his way into a ring with some heavy-weights already in it: can he land the knock-out?
Articulate, perceptive and calm, Nick stood up to PM the first task (always brave) and showed nerves of steel. Very measured, Nick always understands the task. He is also a strong teamplayer and an excellent peacemaker. Intelligent and popular with the other candidates, he has never been in the bottom three. But there are weaknesses: his innate politeness can leave him failing to speak up or to tackle problems that he has clearly identified – and this has cost his team victories. I was also left with a nagging sense that Nick’s contributions are largely around his personality and attributes, rather than specific contributions that he makes. His lack of boardroom appearances also means that he has low visibility with Lord Sugar. Of the five contenders, he has also arguably learnt the least from the experience, although this is partly because he has been relatively strong from the outset. Nick is very easy going and, if he fails to visibly shine in the semi-final, he could be fairly easily gone. Nick is – fittingly, given his heritage – a smooth, creamy bar of Swiss milk chocolate. And perhaps too milky. Puns aside, Lord Sugar might be looking for a partner who brings something other than sweetness.
A fearless charmer and a natural salesman, it was a surprise to remember Adam is 32. It might not be a good sign that this comes across as not so much younger as less mature. Undeniably attention loving, this can also play as being gobby: if this was a band, he would contribute more trumpet solos than might be appreciated. Always willing to take credit, his need to be heard can mean he overplays his hand and sticks his nose in. He irritates Jade, although some viewers might consider that a strength. Running his own business since 19 and with a million pound property portfolio for rent, Adam can undoubtedly sell – even more so than Ricky. His watershed moment came after those meatballs, where he didn’t understand either the brief or the task (or both). Adam has, however, learned, and his sterling turn in the art task showed that he can learn and adapt (although his approach to private views was ‘refreshing’). He seems to have understood that success will mean less gob and more brain, but the strength that shines is selling. Of all the candidates, he’s possibly the luckiest to be in the semi-final (Ricky has lost more often, but has a broader arsenal of strengths.) Adam certainly seems to be what it says on the tin – a very good fruit & veg stall owner. If that’s a misjudgement, it’s one that only he can correct.
The final task – luxury products (sigh) – is a final chance to demonstrate skills that the survivors will then have to defend in the interviews and with their business plans. (As the contenders who have created businesses, this should logically strengthen the case for Nick and Adam: Tom has inherited a family business, while Jade and Ricky are employees.)
As a programme that showed all five candidates in less comical/critical lights (it was far more sober and reflective than the task episodes, much to its merit), all emerged as more likeable, personable human beings: it is hard to dislike any of them. Ricky and Adam have the most to prove in terms of overturning impressions already created; Tom and Jade must show their strengths and avoid falling prey to their downsides. Nick must actually create an impression. Were I a betting man, my fiver would probably be on one of the latter three, although the interview round can always spring surprises. (Think who is least likely to have oversold themselves on paper, and can give the best verbal account of themselves in a tight corner without resorting to aggression.) The prize is as much for four of them to lose as for one of them to win, and – unlike last year – I don’t feel myself rooting for one of them.