The attrition rate, at just one business hopeful a week, is just another example of the differences between The Apprentice and real life, but still it trundles on, dragging its self-belief behind it in its black wheeled suitcase. We now have just the dozen disciples gathered at the table, but sadly the last supper is still many weeks ahead of us. And for something presented as a business spin on the reality tv model, reality remains as elusive as ever.

Last week, they went shopping. A list of fairly random items for The Savoy, which had somehow forgotten everything it’d learnt over its 121 years of glitteringly successful trading and omitted to put top hats and tea on its shopping list. Tsk. Stranger still, it had elected neither to refer these oversights to its purchasing department nor call its existing list of preferred suppliers, some of whom might have donated a gratis limb to get a free mention on such a popular telly programme.

Instead, it decided 14 random, inexperienced business wannabees – several of whom clearly knew the geography of London as well as they could map the surface of Neptune (“trust me, I’m the expert on this”) – would make a better job of it, and deliver everything on time and under budget. If The Apprentice is trying to tell us business is an act of faith, it might want to reflect on the comparative educational strengths of overstatement vs. plainly stated repetition. An aside about worshipping false gods would help too.

Cue 45 minutes of people squabbling in taxis and bargain-hunting in Mayfair. Still no-one Googling or buying a Time Out shopping guide. (Why not ask the crew, dear? They do this task every year.) And still the myth that a bunch of 20-somethings will all inherently have highly developed skills in every aspect of business – accountants make great negotiators, salesmen are natural team-builders: did Lord Alan actually say all that stuff about doing what you do best in the first episode? If fighters are ideally suited to situations that involve courage and confrontation, it looked like Gavin’s skills were in search of an opportunity centred on either pancakes or cabers.

Given the paucity of things he seemed capable of pulling off single-handedly, his tragedy turned out to be his inability to cohere a team. Despite running an opticians, his foresight, insight and vision were sadly lacking, and he was the third to face the Wrath of His Lordship.

And so to Episode 4: selling beauty treatments in Birmingham shopping malls. The metaphorical pig was ready to have its tail curled, and pouted truculently in readiness for its smear of lip gloss. As it turned out, there was a lot of glossing and a fair amount of lip. But a precious paucity of treatment.

We did, I think, get one very good lesson – the damage you can self-inflict through hubris. Susan, self-appointed Queen of Cosmetics, was saved from losing the task by team-mates who halved her order on the low margin elements – but not exactly spared their ridicule. She survived, however, and the glowing shine she has achieved despite her rhino-hide suggested that she may yet turn out to know at least something about cosmetics. How to conceal cracks and blemishes, perhaps?

Felicity meanwhile walked into the Gavin trap of talking about the strength of teamwork in those she had spent the day failing: collective responsibility applies to Cabinet Ministers, sweetness, but the PM ultimately carries the baby.

I looked on, wishing they’d be doing over-the-counter medication. Nick and Karren’s expressions strongly suggested either trapped wind or constipation, neither of which would be cured by a hot massage shell or the ineluctable lure of stripping to paper undies for a televised amateur spray tan in a small room next to a branch of Tie Rack in Dudley. What with the spring draught’s effects on Nick’s French crops and West Ham’s recent showing, you can only hope for them that they’d driven hard bargains in negotiating their BBC feeds for this. Once you’ve made it plain what kind of girl you are, you owe it to yourself to calculate your break-even point.

Last time we reviewed The Apprentice, I was worried about the effect on television of reality. The effect of reality on television – that people might not be spontaneously moved to strip off on camera for personal treatments from someone with four hours training and a tv crew to satisfy – impinged obtrusively, but without comment. The contestants aren’t the only ones who should be taken aside and told to behave.

Tom – so not a cosmetics salesman, bless him – rightly pointed out that having your buttocks de-stressed while a stranger had their hair curled (possibly superfluously?) eight inches away in a corridor, three floors up from the place where you were lured into the idea, might lack a certain allure. Leon protested (rather too much, in many web forums’ opinion) about spray-tanning a half-naked man and modelling ‘discreet cosmetics’, but actually came good on the task as if discovering his own potential charm for the first time. His learning obviously struck home: “Will you stop going on about the location?”, his students responded, passive-aggressively. Glenn tried some cheesy chat-up lines to sell nail varnish, while Ellie was more of a man that all of them. Susan modelled a new shade of foundation – Recently Smacked Arse – for her boardroom appearance, and everyone massaged Felicity’s back till the results came in and the knifes came out. And quickly went in.

So long Felicity, it was fatuous, pointless and slightly tedious knowing you, although Lordalun thought you were ‘very pleasant’. No leadership qualities though, apparently: perhaps the two are inversely proportionate. Or maybe some of the players in this anodyne drama could do with a trip to Gavin’s, now he’s back in the spec business. Someone he employees might help them see what they’re missing.

And all the while, Sofaman in Rotherham (see previous review for explanation) was probably grimacing at the screen trying to work out if it was a parody or a sitcom. Victoria Wood couldn’t have made some of this up – and would, I hope, have the self-respect not to. (And the respect not just for the people watching but for the ‘characters’ too.) Sofaman’s choice to continue drinking lager and breaking wind into the Draylon is, under the circumstances, perfectly legitimate: how else do you respond to 12 hours of watching people who will only ever be stricken by gilt?

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl