No, I’m not for a moment suggesting that Claude, Margaret et al are creatures of the night — not-at-all-they-are-all-lovely-people-I-have-not-been-hypnotised … what? Where was I? Went a bit glassy-eyed, you say? Can’t think what that could have been. Anyway, yes: lovely people, all of them. Wouldn’t have a word said against them.
Seriously though, if you think about it there are similarities. Like the undead monsters of legend and fiction, these four advisors tear the candidates’ business plans to shreds, suck out any lifeblood from them, discarding the irrelevancies, the bravado and the plain lies, and leave behind either a shattered torn wreck of a person or, if they’re very lucky and very strong, a new creature worthy of joining their exalted ranks.
Donald Trump is fond of describing the original US version of the show as “the interview from Hell”, but this week, as the contestants dwindle down to the final five, that description could not be more appropriate. After all the tasks, all the pressures, all the personal growth, the learning curves, the blunders, the victories and the crushing failures; after all the excuses, blame-shifting, credit-taking, the disposal of almost everyone else in their way, the candidates now have to face head-on and alone the careful taking apart of their business plans, and with it their own character.
These are The Interviews, this is the day when they are grilled by Lord Sugar’s top advisors as they try to peer past the business-speak, the self-promotion, the grandiose claims and the impressive resumes, to both the hard details of the business plan and the person behind that plan. This is it: there is finally nowhere to hide. Like the Gestapo of the Second World War (again, no offence guys!) this quartet of inquisitors will peel back the onion, rip out the heart and soul and get to the truth behind the grand words, even if it breaks the author of those words.
We’re left of course with Neil, Luisa, Leah, Francesca. Oh yeah, and Jordan, who from last week looks to be first to be likely to be hailing a cab home. But then, Lord Sugar has made odder decisions and if the plan tickles him sufficiently, who knows? The final five are given twenty-four hours to hone their business plans, make any last-minute adjustments and then present them to Lord Sugar’s aides. Despite his massive setback after the shocking revelations in the Boardroom last week, Jordan seems confident, saying he is “by far the best investment opportunity in the process”. Well, the Big Guy didn’t seem to agree last week, but we’ll see.
We first see a collage of snippets from the interviews, which shows first Luisa, and Claude does not like her comparing herself to Lord Sugar, while Margaret has withering comments on Jordan’s choice of his role model — David Beckham! Claudine Collins talks to Francesca, tells her she comes across as boring, while Mike Suter gets Leah to offer him some cosmetic advice — which she does! She certainly proves she knows her stuff, but I wonder if Mike is too pleased that he would need all this work done in her opinion. Neil however seems to be up for it, saying he wishes he could do all four back-to-back.
Claude however points out that Neil can certainly sell his own house, he has the sales skill but few people have that talent. Neil is unshakable in his confidence in his plan, even though Claude tells him he has no chance. None. Zero. Margaret grills Jordan on his work with the Oxford Entrepreneur society, while Claude uncovers the fact that Francesca does not know her numbers, confusing profit with turnover, but worse, she seems to admit putting down a figure of five million turnover on her application as a figure she grabbed out of the air!
On the other hand, he seems to be unable to find much to complain about or pick holes in with Luisa’s plan, while out in the waiting room she asks Jordan if he feels he has something to prove after last week, and he agrees he does. Claudine however starts to pull apart his story as the king of the Oxford Entrepreneurs, saying that he is taking credit for the successful businesses and ideas of others. Jordan makes a lot of those “air quotes” which I have to say really annoys me. Claudine also uncovers what we already knew from last week, that Jordan already has a business partner, whcih is going to complicate this deal.
Luisa admits to Mike that writing business plans is not her strong point; he tells her she should have written in her plan the examples she has that her business works. Claudine worries that the very idea behind Leah’s business may have moral implications, an accusation she totally refutes, while Jordan is put to the test by Mike to prove his boast that he can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes. Like every other claim he makes, this one turns out to be false: he can’t do it. This I think speaks volumes about the man. Mike also points out that the business Jordan is offering Lord Sugar a partnership in is already established, and oh look! Jordan is not on the board of directors! Fancy that!
Claudine is impressed with Neil’s wish to live up to his late father’s aspirations for him: it gets a little emotional and even the hard-nosed interviewer looks moved, though she tries to hide it. On his return to the waiting room the guys notice Neil is for once quiet; seems this part of the interview has had quite an effect on him. Luisa is accused of being a game-player, of being manipulative and when she gets out shoots something of an accusation at Francesca, who looks less than happy that her fellow candidate is bringing up the past again. What Luisa doesn’t realise is that this is exactly what she’s being accused of doing: mind games, manipulation. She’s still doing it.
Neil is told by Mike that his business plan is flawed, however this is nothing compared to Claude’s savaging of Jordan — we’ve all seen this coming — when he realises that the guy is not a partner in the business he’s offering Lord Sugar, and has no right to negotiate a percentage of it, never mind fifty. He literally throws Jordan out, telling him he is a parasite, and has no right to be in the process. Crushed, Jordan exits but says nothing to the others. Whereas Neil says he could do another interview (but they’re finished now) Luisa admits she’d rather give birth again than go through that again.
Interviews concluded, Lord Sugar meets his advisors before making his decision. Luisa comes out of the process well; few people having anything negative to say about her, though Claude admits her business plan is a little light, while Francesca’s plan is also praised as is she herself. The revelation however that she made up her turnover figure does not, of course, go down well with the man who may be investing a quarter of a million in her. He’s less happy to hear that the general consensus is that Neil’s business plan cannot, will not work. Lord Sugar looks almost as crushed about this as Jordan was when he left Claude’s office.
Leah gets a lot of praise too, though Claudine calls her “cold”, but Claude is very impressed with her. Not so with Jordan, as he now reveals that having read through his business plan it’s become clear that Jordan does not own or have any share in the business he is offering, and Mike says he is not an entrepreneur; he takes credit for other people’s ideas, as we have seen.
It’s no great surprise then (and I have to admit I enjoyed it) when Jordan is the first to be fired from the final five. Lord Sugar says he has “nowhere to go” and there’s nothing else he can do. Jordan tries to bluster that he has a “gentleman’s agreement” with the owner of the company, but Lord Sugar tells him to “cut the crap” and shows him the door. Neil he is similarly annoyed with, but for different reasons. It’s clear that had his plan been in order Neil would have been definitely in the running, but as it stands he’s been advised that Neil’s business plan cannot work under any circumstances, and he simply can’t invest in it. He tells Neil sadly that he is “the right man but the wrong plan”, and that if he were hiring, as in the earlier seasons, he would give him a job tomorrow. But that’s not what’s happening, that’s not what’s on offer, and Neil becomes the second of the final five to be let go. Man, there’s even a tear in the old guy’s eye when Neil leaves, though whether that’s from frustration, anger or genuine remorse, only he knows. Maybe he just got a bit of grit in it. Still, it looks genuine. Neil seems totally crushed, realising he has come so close and then failed. You have to feel sorry for him.
So we’re left with three ladies, and Lord Sugar has to choose between them. He tests the morality issue with Leah, but she stands up for her own strong sense of ethics, which seems to satisfy him. Luisa’s claim that she can work in a team comes back to bite her in her rather perfectly-formed backside, when Leah agrees but Francesca, who has only just a short time ago been on the receiving end of one of Luisa’s barbs gets a last shot in at her; damning with faint praise, and you can’t blame her. There was no need for her comment earlier; it was just catty.
Weighing up the three options, Lord S accuses Francesca of not being much of a leader and not explaining her idea too well. But he makes the decision and tells Leah that she is in the final, before pointing the Finger at Francesca, leaving us with Luisa and Leah as the only ones left standing.
And so the final has come down to this: Luisa versus Leah, blond versus brunette, ditzy bimbo versus cool level-headed scientist. Karren wastes no time rubbing in the fact that the final is entirely an all-girl affair, and that no matter how it turns out, Lord Sugar will be going into business with a woman. Yeah! Girl power!
So no doubt next week we’ll see the return of some of the fired candidates to help out on the final task. Be interesting to see if Jordan gets asked back. Personally I hope Jaz is not there; I really coud not stand her. But either way we’ll have a winner next week, and to the shame of my gender, it will be one of the softer sex, who have proven here that they may look better than most of us and have a different way of thinking and of doing things, but they are in no way the weaker sex.
Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen! Place your bets, and be here next week for the decider! Winner takes all on July 17.
This article was first posted on July 12, 2013