Season eight opens on budget day with our narrator declaring that “In business times are tough”. Thank goodness then for Lord Sugar’s personal “Work Unfair” scheme, which just like the Coalition doesn’t even guarantee a proper job trying to flog defunct Amstrad hardware at the end. “If I want a friend, I’ll get a dog, growls Sugar in the boardroom. Indeed, our favourite walnut faced business guru is on a special quest, fitting to current economic and political climes. He’s seeking “A Marks to my..” (Engels?) “..Spencer”. He wishes to find “A Lennon to my…” (Trotsky?) “..McCartney.” However he’s not looking for Wally or even Lord Lucan (or anyone who hides). In short he wants someone with the business ahhhcumen to be his “partner”*.

We get to meet a few of our hopeful candidates, just to reassure us that although times are hard, deluded self-important twats who hold phones like phasers are still thankfully in plentiful supply.

Duane Bryan, 29

Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough

Duane declares “I’m a fighter, I don’t give up easy”. The fledgeling drinks distributor is described as a “have a go hero” who’s “inspired by the Jaegermeister brand”.

“I’m an animal. I will roar my way to the top!” promises Gabriella Omar a 29 year old “architect”. Given her unfeasibly large Jade Goody style mouth she looks capable of delivering on this and her other scary VT promise (“I’m going to blow Lord Sugar’s socks off”).

33 year old Azhar Siddique has clearly misunderstood the nickname staff in his catering & refridgeration business have for him. “They call me the master puppeteer cos I have a habit of pulling peoples strings” he smarms. Mate, it’s nothing to do with your control issues, they’re calling you a wanker.

“I’m the blonde assassin” threatens 26 year old editorial assistant Katie Wright, who despite looking like a cross between Uma Thurman and mute Marina from Stingray says she has a habit of talking too much.

You ain't seen me. Right?

We don’t hear much more from her this episode.

My favourite VT comes from fin-headed (“I’m like a shark”) Ricky Martin, 26, recruitment consultant by day “professional wrestler by night”, an oddly craniumed man who looks like an inflatable member of Erasure, but reckons “when I am in a group of men, I am the Alpha male”. “I truly am the reflection of perfection” he states without a hint of irony. More like a photocopy of an arsehole.

Jane McEvoy is a bit scary and Irish. The 28 year old is a co-director of a food co-operative and reckons she has an idea that she and Lord Sugar could “take international”. Is it economic meltdown?

23 year old Tom Gearing boasts of the 3.5m turnover his fine wine investment (?) business makes. So why is he on this programme? Actually was he in it, I don’t remember. Shame as he’s potential eye candy.

All the candidates assemble in the boardroom at 8am for the first task of running a print business and buying up various items to brand and sell. On the way out Lord Sugar worries that Michael Copp, a 31 year old dyslexic furniture salesman who exudes the suave calm of a smack-addicted clown is looking sweaty and nervous. “No I’m OK” twitches Michael unconvincingly.

Risk Analyst, Bilyana Apostolova, 25 still can’t believe how far she’s risen “from a communist flat in Bulgaria” (was it an eastern block?) “..to the top of a skyscraper in the financial heart of London!” The only way is down love.

Ex Footballer turned salesman, Stephen Brady,33 looks like Iain Lee’s gangster older brother and thinks “business is simple and made complicated by idiots”. And here’s me thinking it’s usually the other way round.

Maria O’Connor is only 20 and runs a Greek restaurant, which is pretty cool. She also has a penchant for heavy blue crayola eyeliner, like a pre-emptive 1980s Amy Winehouse tribute and says things like “I’m marmite. Love me or hate me”. So she’s a mental then.

All the candidates go back to the house to drool at the Big Brother style furnishings and spiral staircase (“It’s big enough to fit all our egos in” Stephen suggests optimistically) and to choose team names. Stephen suggests Phoenix (or Pheonix. I have no idea how they’re spelling it) for the boys, who acquiesce. Pheonix is made up of Nick, Stephen, Duane. Michael, Tom, Azhar, Ricky, Scruffy haired Nick Holzherr (25 – and of course he works in IT)  and Adam Corbally, a 32 year old Market Trader who reminds me of a blushing version of the serial killer out of “Manhunter”

Francis Dollarhyde

Scouse (?) Jenna Whittingham (another dyslexic as her name suggests), is supposedly 25 and runs a beauty salon (!) where she clearly spends all her time flicking through Take a Break and chain smoking. She claims her friend came to her in a dream and suggested the team name “Sterling” as it’s strong and denotes wealth. The girls pull hacky faces but can’t think of anything better. Sterling consists of Gabriella, Jane, Maria, Jade Nash (29) a glorified secretary who talks/rasps like Big Mo out of Eastenders , Katie, Jenna, Bilyana and icy Scottish bridal shop owner Laura Hogg (28) who contributes to this episode by flashing disgusted glances at the rest of her team.

Stephen seems to have taken charge of the boardroom, until he asks who wants to be Project Manager and everyone puts their hands on the floor, having watched the show before. Nick timidly suggests that if nobody else wants to, he will, and everyone immediately congratulates him whilst sighing with relief.

Meanwhile Gabriella volunteers for the girls on account of having set up a print and design stall before, plus she’s “quirky” and “creative” (another mental).

Nick’s all about products (teddy bears and bags) and prices (as high as possible), but thinks design comes second, much to Stephen’s chagrin.

On the other hand Gabby thinks design and branding are most important, and Jane hovers around muttering dire warnings about needing to work out your margins. Gabby probably thinks you do that with a ruler.

Half the teams head to a big warehouse full of blank crap, the rest to a print studio to start designing.

The girls want to corner the family market, aiming animal cartoon designs at kids, and Jade takes a break from SHOUTING throatily at people for no reason to draw a squiggly lion, tiger and penguin like Quentin Blake on Ritalin. They actually look pretty cute once the colours are added and any pretentious yummy mummy worth her Maldon sea salt would snap them up.

Nick spends his print studio time nagging Ricky’s warehouse buying squad not to spend too much on bags and bears, but at least he’s provided some figures. The girls on the other hand have an argument and call Gabby to resolve it. With Jane barking down the phone about how little time they have and how they may as well make the decision themselves, Gabby lets them make the call and they spend nearly £300 on bibs, bags and t-shirts. Maria’s not impressed “She’s just an architect, so she can draw buildings, that’s it”.

Ricky’s incensed when he realises that Nick’s design team have spent all morning playing Tron and have left themselves 30 minutes to sort out the branding. How will they come up with something creative in that time. Oh they’ve found an old tourist tat catalogue and just pick a union jack for Jack the Teddy Bear’s T-shirt, London Bus and phone-box images out. Job done. Karen Brady is less than impressed by their vision.

It’s time to print the items by hand and it looks fun and messy, but Gabby’s experience means she and Jenna do a very professional job, whilst Katie stands quietly behind the printer and tries to look like she’s doing something important. As Nick Hewer points out, it doesn’t take long for the girls to “sense weakness and turn on her”. Jane takes the time to passive aggressively work out the margin (“If we lose for the sake of ten pounds it’s down to [Gabby]”).

Meanwhile Ricky realises that hand printing red buses on bags isn’t consistently easy – with efforts ranging from ghostly splotch to Banksy with PMT (don’t ask me what period). To try to enhance the “arty” effect, the boys print above the bus the words “This is a “. Rene Magritte eat your heart out.

The boys set up stall on the South Bank where Nick tries to pep talk the team into selling the tiny UKIP teddies for £15. Stephen chips in saying none of his mates would pay that, so maybe they should lower the price, but Nick stubbornly refuses and Duane appears to be speaking for most of the team when he suggests Stephen should stop undermining Nick.

The girls babywear stall in Greenwich market looks a great idea with the girls even neatly printing kids names underneath the pictures on the products. However Bilyana has talked Gabby into letting her lead a roving team to London Zoo with dodgy unofficial merchandise, because she “knows the area”. Gabby thinks printing the gear with “I enjoyed my day at the zoo” will enhance their saleability, but after 20 minutes of them hanging around, Maria’s getting “pissed off” and tells them they’re “wasting time”. “No” insists Jane “We were giving it 20 minutes cos it was gonna give us that extra margin”. Er, yeah.

The boys don’t break with the tradition of remote teams choosing crap locations and Stephen drags his group off to St Pancras to harass business class passengers with their racist bears, so he can slyly bamboozle Nick over the phone into allowing him to drop prices.

“We’re all going to the zoo!” sing Bilyana, Jane, Katie and Jenna excitedly, well they would if they hadn’t been stuck in traffic for an hour. “Are we nearly there yet?” whines Jenna and everybody studiously ignores her.

Once at the zoo, Bilyana leaps into action (“I’ll handle this one”), tracking down vulnerable parents and accosting them with the dress sense and insincerity of a 1980s Caledonian air stewardess. “Hellloooo good afternoooon madam can I interest you in this organic cotton hand pressed bag”. Every time one of the other girls starts talking to a potential customer, Bilyana pounces in and takes over like a terrifying lanky tartan leopard. Jane gets all killy and starts channelling Jim MacDonald (“She needs to cop onto herself”). The girls confront Bilyana about giving them a chance to sell, but she blithely ignores their concerns (“That was an amayyzing opportunity though!”).

The boys are now desperately searching for bulk sales and Azhar uses his Mr Shaky Hands Man mind magic to harass a shop woman into buying twenty Bus bags for £3.50 each. Unluckily the woman decides to look at the 19 gore splattered horrorshows that Azhar has cunningly hidden underneath the one perfect Bus bag, and calls him back to issue a grovelling refund. “They all have infections.. so unprofessional” she gripes.

Bilyana wants to leave the zoo and sell to trade as the “stress is beginning to come across in group”. That’ll be you. She insists that she knows where the shops are, refusing to give Jane or Kate a say as they randomly circumnavigate Regents Park and most of Primrose Hill. Jane grits her teeth and turns her sarcasm down to 11. “OK. We’ll go on your amazing local knowledge”. Finally they chance upon a corner shop which Bilyana tries to pretend is the motherlode that she had been leading them to all along, and they all go in and shout at the bored looking woman behind the counter trying to make her buy pointless baby wear or at least cry. “We don’t like buying under pressure or stress” insists the now slightly distressed looking woman and the harpies flap off with Bilyana bitchily snapping “Let’s go, we’re wasting our time here”. Brilliantly the shop manager pulls the girls outside and gives them all a stern talking to for being such rude cows to his colleague. There should be more of this on The Apprentice.

Back in the boardroom, Stephen’s not shy at taking credit for the team name Pheonix, but he joins the rest of the boys in shiftily examining his shoes when Nick points out he was the only volunteer for Project Manager, despite the fact that Stephen and Azhar both wrote on their CVs that they’d happily PM every week.

Nick admits that he’s embarrassed by the designs (even the bear they’ve brought into the boardroom appears to be stained with stray bag juice. Maybe it’s also infected… with Rage.

Lord Alan’s more impressed by the girl’s design, but Gabby gets a less than unanimous vote of confidence from her tea. Jade thinks Gabby was “flustered by having strong women under her”, but then she thinks the guys would have been too (I bet they would hurr hurr!). Gabby tries to pretend that she put Jane in charge of margins and looks crestfallen when she doesn’t get any back-up on this (Jane: “I wasn’t officially put in charge, I just took over as it needed to be done”). Oops.

Anyhow it’s results time and as usual the rubbish team selling over-priced crap triumphs, which must warm Lord Alan’s cockles. Sterling only sold £670 worth in the end (with two thirds of those sales in Greenwich) and spent £475, leaving £214.80 profit. Pheonix managed to sell £1015 and only spend £399, giving a profit of £616 – meaning that people who buy things are fucking idiots.

The victorious boys get sent home to drink things off tiles. Adam thinks the boys prospered because they all pulled in the same direction. I think he’s talking about the task and they haven’t been playing a tile-based version of the biscuit game.

In the reflective space of the Bridge Café the girls all shout bitchily over each other. “I’m shouting now!” shouts Bilyana.

Back in the boardroom Jane thinks they lost because “the guys focused on margins and what they were going to buy”. “That’s called strategy Jane” Karen soothes facetiously.

Poor Gabby seems to fall apart in the boardroom. “The first couple of hours it was MENTAL for me” she er gabbles.

It transpires that the team had 93 items left over – 40% of their total stock, which mainly ended up with the fated zoo expedition. Bilyana tries to big up her attempts to offload the gear to “trade”, but Nick also isn’t buying. “You attacked the shop keeper.. she was cornered by a pack of baying hyenas” he slams her.

Bilyana continues to claim she took the team to the “closest available shop” based on her local knowledge. “What about Camden Town” asks Lord Alan curiously. Maybe it was too obvious? Bilyana just refuses to admit when she’s wrong and insists that Camden Town is further away than the corner shop at the end of sanity that she located, and she blames the 20 minute delay to add words to the T-shirts for being “critical in terms of lunchtime traffic” (oh please!). Jane snidely asks if the “20 minutes walking across a park” was as time-critical.

Jade voices concerns about what Katie did, despite not having been in the same part of the team. It sees people have been “talking”. Katie gets another chance to prove what a chatterbox she is. “I was a fantastic team player. I made lots of sales”. Lord Sugar’s eyebrows hit the glass ceiling and she quickly adds “Well, people jumped on my sales leads” before adding that she “won’t shout over people to get my voice heard”. Sorry, what was that?

Gabby unsurprisingly chooses Bilyana (for “making everyone waste time”) and Katie (she’s not sure if she pulled her weight) to join her back in the final boardroom.

Lord Alan suggests playfully that Bilyana was being ganged up on and she immediately grasps this idea. “I’m so glad you picked up on that I was increasingly sidelined”. EH? You couldn’t sideline this woman if you ran her over with a roadsweeper.

The penny seems to be dropping with our grizzled Lord that she’s a fucking nightmare (“You’re talking like a city strategist. This is a 2 bob outing, not a takeover of Goldman Sachs”, “Oh yes I completely agree!”).

Poor Gabby starts wittering on about how she “made everyone work to their best”; not a wise move for the PM of a losing team. “Everyone respected me” she adds desperately.

Lord Alan’s had enough and turns to Katie as at least there’s no chance she’ll interrupt him. The daft bint has only listed her main weakness in her CV as “hiding behind others”. Well at least she’s honest. Fool. However, when put on the spot, Katie shows she has some backbone and tells Bilyana “I have found it very difficult to work with you”. Go Katie!

Bilyana’s asked why she should stay and starts reciting her life history (“I have achieved so much from my humble beginnings. I was also made head girl at school. I…”. But Lord Alan don’t want no sob stories or violins and although he thinks Bilyana’s “clearly capable” that she’s “not given anyone else any credit for doing anything”.

True to form when Gabby begs for another chance to prove herself as PM, Bilyana imperiously gloats “You already had your chance…”

Katie’s nearly in tears as Lord Sugar launches into his pre-firing pre-able and makes it clear that he won’t tolerate people hiding, and for that reason.. his finger’s almost pointing at her and everything.. and…

Bilyana JUST CANNOT STOP TALKING.

“Just give me one more chance” she begs, incapable of believing that something isn’t about her. And wonderfully she snatches a taxi ride home from the jaws of a few more nights in a house decorated by a child with ADHD surrounded by other ambitious tosspots as Lord Sugar realises she’s never going to listen to anyone else so why should they have to listen to her, and fires her. Her jaw hits the table.

In the taxi of doom, Bilyana’s still delusionally slagging off all the other candidates. Whereas in the car back to the house, Katie admits to Gabby that the simple girl from the communist block of flats has done her a massive favour. “I owe her a drink… she buried herself” smiles Katie shyly. And I wonder if she could actually be a silent assassin.

Sort of liking: Nick, Duane, Katie, Jade

Like, but could end up hating: Stephen

Meh: Maria, Gabby, Azhar, Adam, Jenna

Not even registered enough for a meh: Tom, Michael

Disliking: Laura, Jane

Demanding sport (and hip action) from: Ricky Martin

Bye bye: Bilyana

* In a not very real sense.

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