"I'm not St Alan – patron saint of losers," said Lord Sugar, welcoming the candidates to series seven of The Apprentice with the reassuring avuncularity for which he's become famous. You wouldn't think anyone would need to be told this kind of thing any more – let alone the kind of frantic money-junkies who put themselves forward for the show – but the Apprentice liturgy demands this moment. It's a kind of Elevation of the Host and it's as fixed a part of the opening rituals as the mini-contest which always kicks off a series.
The challenge is simple. Which candidate can make themselves look the biggest fool in the smallest number of words? Personally I think Melody edged it with her aspirational motto – "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footsteps on the moon" – but it was a photo finish, her competitors having decided that boardroom psychopathy is this year's fashion. "My personal life, my social life doesn't mean anything to me," confessed one. "I'm cold and hard – I am unstoppable," boasted another. "I'd stab nursery school children and sell their organs to make a profit," said a third. Well, ok, I made that lastone up – but it can only be a matterof time, given the desperate desireto appear more ruthless than thou.
There is one substantial change this year. Lord Sugar is no longer going to force his long-term employees to share office space with the winner, but will instead offer "£250,000 worth of cash and value" to the last wannabe standing. My business tip to them would be to check what the proportion of "cash" to "value" is before signing any big cheques – but for Sugar this twist has a political message. He is, he said, "sick and tired of this moaning culture", and wants to prove that with enough Sugary grit, youcan start a business even in the teeth of a recession. That's for later, though.
Last night he was giving each team just a thousandth of the big prize to buy fruit and vegetables and process them into a profit. Lord Sugar began his business empire with beetroots, and has a nostalgic fondness for the simpler forms of added value.
The men opted for Logic as their team name and succumbed to Edward's naked determination to be first in command. His plan was simple. He wouldn't make a plan at all but just "roll with the punches". Edward liked this phrase a lot. He said it at every available opportunity and then reminded his team how often he'd said it. It didn't seem to have occurred to him that not getting punched in the first place would have been a better business strategy.
"We are going to make soup like we've never made soup before!" yelled Jim encouragingly as they began the working day. A quieter voice observed that that wouldn't be difficult since none of them ever had.
The women prevailed, after some witty hard-selling of fruit salad to Canary Wharf office workers ("Have you had some fresh fruit today? No? Oh... thank God I'm here") and Edward was left trying to explain why failure should mark him out as the man most likely to succeed – a task for which he unwisely adopted a steely terseness of expression. "Can you stop talking to me in semaphore," snapped Lord Sugar, who doesn't do gnomic mystery. "You remind me of a very slow internet line." Then he disconnected him.