“I don’t know why you’re laughing,” said Karren Brady to Project Manager Vana Koutsomitis in the boardroom of this week’s Apprentice. “Because it’s just not funny.”

This has to qualify as one of the stupidest things ever said on The Apprentice, in what is admittedly a fiercely contested field. Of course Vana and her team’s cock-eyed attempts to buy nine items at the lowest price had been funny. Why else would we still be watching The Apprentice after 10 series? For the sage business advice?

No, anyone who wasn’t laughing at The Apprentice would long ago have switched off, as apparently several millions have. Last night’s episode was another highly effective exercise in mocking the witless as we watched Team Effluvia and Team Shipshape, or whatever they’re called, take on the ‘negotiation’ task.

The negotiation task is an old favourite – the contestants are given a list of diverse things to purchase over the course of a day, and lowest total expenditure wins. The switcheroo this time was that half of each team was dispatched to France to pick up things like mussels and snails and leavers lace. Leavers Lace? That’s another feature of the negotiations task – give the candidates something they won’t be able to identify, and then scoff wildly at their ignorance (while hurriedly Googling ‘Leavers Lace.’)

Don’t worry if you didn’t see last night’s episode: with a few pointers you’ll be able to guess half of the jokes. There was the one where the hapless thickoes barrelled headlong in to an Inspector Clouseau-style language barrier, led manfully by the boys’ Project Manager Joseph Valente (who as luck would have it does look a little like Inspector Clouseau, sans hat.) There was the task to collect manure, an obvious set up so that we could all laugh at our dupes shovelling excrement, and then Lord Sugar could nail that punchline about how he too was regularly covered in bullshit in the boardroom. There was the shop that closed at lunch, giving Sugar a chance to make a joke about the French work ethic.

The candidates flounced and tarried, some increasingly angry, some increasingly inert, as everything went wrong. Karren said she’d never seen anything like it, meaning her memory is shot as I saw something distinctly like it on an episode of The Apprentice last week.

Of course, the old jokes are sometimes the best ones, and as it happens I don’t agree with those who are saying that because The Apprentice is repeating itself it’s a busted flush. But I would say that this kind of sugar-coated humiliation is entertaining only when the contestants have something about them, be it conceitedness, hubris or a nasty streak. This year, at least on the evidence so far, they haven’t. It’s breaking butterflies on a wheel. By the end I found myself in the uncomfortable position of starting to agree with Karren Brady – I didn’t know why I was laughing either.

Published by Benji

Writer, Journalist, Critic

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