On the face of it, this was a pretty simple task. Here’s a warehouse full of stuff: pick some, flog it at profit, see what sells, buy more, flog more, building profits and stocks. Yep, got it. It didn’t go well though. A surprising proportion of the brightest young business brains in Britain – well, the contestants, at any road – simplified this further still: flog stuff. As Emperor Sugar had said “this is the re-investment task”, the clue was there at the beginning, but I wondered how many of those bright business brains stop to listen when someone other than them is talking.

One of the initial products on offer were some nodding bulldog toys, replete with Union Flag waistcoats (but minus the car insurance ad, mercifully). This naturally set up a witty off-the-cuff remark from our host aimed at Tom, to the effect that nodding widely wasn’t the whole game and he was now in ‘the thick of it’. Plenty of what was around Tom was fairly thick, to be fair, but I thought what a shame it is that The Apprentice is pre-recorded: a few months on. Otherwise, Tom could have countered by wheeling on Evan Davis – or a clip from Made in Britain – about how we need innovators and product developers as well as traders. The market barrow and the wholesale warehouse didn’t invent themselves, now did they?

It seemed to be the men who grasped the point: both Jim and Tom sold well, engagingly and enthusiastically, and fed back what was shifting: but neither saw a lot of reinvestment in proven sellers going on. Susan took a punt on an untested product she ‘knew’ she could sell – and was luckily proved pretty much right. (Just as well; flogging duvets door to door in Knightsbridge was inexplicably unsuccessful.) Natasha did, after endless cajoling from Jim – and even from Nick, stepping out of his observer role – reinvest in stock , but only to the princely sum of £20. Despite getting a fine for her self-inflicted troubles, her team even narrowly won. But there was no winners’ treat: straight back to the house, for a slice of pre-chilled humble pie and a chance to blame Susan for the errors the Board had just laid squarely in front of Natasha. Jim and Susan’s salesmanship and charm had saved her from defeat but not from her own lack of judgement. Their charm hadn’t rubbed off either. It might be the editing, of course, but she seemed to spend the task sucking lemons harder than ever and getting very snippy whenever her judgement was questioned. In she’d invested a small proportion of their earnings in self-doubt (or maybe a hearing-aid), she might have reaped more of a return.

The losing team was even less happy. As soon as the task was announced, Melody reached for her trumpet to sound a reverie of her hunger to lead. (Maybe if her biscuits had been more edible the week before, she’d have taken the edge of that all-conquering hunger?) Lacking louder trumpets, the fragrant Helen and sweet Tom conceded. From the outset, the two women were missing the point. Why would you try to sell £50 watches wholesale to the manager of a shop that had POUNDSTAR in huge colourful letters over the door? Why, as they were later told firmly in the boardroom, would you try to undercut wholesalers at all, when shops already have wholesalers in place? Where else does their stock come from, pray? Tom valiantly sold nodding dogs to small children on the South Bank, only to see his profits spent on travel kettles as Melody’s product choices remained as utterly off-song as they had done in Paris. Helen, spotting the wheels coming off her executive limousine dreams, directly challenged Melody for leadership of the task. Having no alternative strategy up her immaculately turned-out sleeve, this got her nowhere, and she blew hours of selling time and a lot of petrol money chasing duvet covers across London for a retailer who’d shut an hour earlier. And when you come to the table as a buffoon, no-one cares what a neatly presented buffoon you are.

Doomed to be labelled Hindsight Man, Tom once more sat in the Boardroom and precisely outlined what had gone wrong, pointing out he pointed it out at the time. (Karren agreed.) Helen was a woman transformed by her first Boardroom experience. But not in a good way. She slid from elegant poise albeit (with “cat’s backside” pout) all the way down to Woman Undergoing Squeaky Bum Time. (And a bum that buffed and polished is pretty damned squeaky, I’d imagine.) Many of her primary muscle groups were noticeably clenched.

On the spot for the first time, her CV’s lack of any experience of her own business was revealed. The reliable and dutiful employee had been given the chance to offer a strategic challenge, and missed an open goal: both the strategy and the challenge failed. Oops. Tom felt Helen and Melody had let him down badly. Fair enough: they had. Melody meanwhile failed to grasp the reinvestment focus every bit as much as Natasha, and also failed to grasp that respect – like profit – had to be earned, and re-invested in. Having laughed too loudly at her joke last week, Tom politely lanced her jugular: “Melody’s business is all about talking.” (In my head, a loud Northern voice added a voiceover: “One hundred and EIGHTY!”, it went.) Helen was spared the humble pie (which would probably not have taken away the taste of sour grapes in any case), while Melody was taxi-ed away to a large helping of Just Deserts.

A rum do all round. Jim and Susan saved Natasha from herself, and Tom strove on despite being failed by his PM and his PM’s would-be slayer. Neither PM understood the task, but – as “this is not a learning process” – the feedback came after the mithering failure, not at a point where it might have achieved anything. If Sugar is assessing them, I hope they’re returning the favour: performance management and giving feedback aren’t looking like personal strengths or constructive practices. Or maybe he just enjoys looking grumpy and saying “balls” on the telly? Surely that’s a waste of his talents, what with him being an ambassador for British entrepreneurialism and all that – but then another episode that was mostly about flogging tat at a mark-up wasn’t giving him much to go on. If they’d used their iPhones, the candidates could have just bunged the whole lot on eBay and gone off to find something with a bigger financial reward to do. Or just gone home.

Sadly for the viewer, we were then treated to another hour, profiling the remaining five. This involved all the additional features that corporate recruitment specialists typically use surround task-based assessment centres to give a detailed view of a candidate’s individual profile: talking head video clips from the Mums and best mates/siblings, photos of them in unfortunate jumpers or beachwear at early ages, and much talk of their life-hunger for success and striving to overcome hardship and challenge. I don’t know about Steve in Rotherham, but I damned near got the violin out once or twice. (Actually, the section on Helen skipped the ‘tin bath in front of a peat fire’ section, explaining she’d qualified as a lawyer and given it up to be a waitress and how much fun she was really. The description of her as ‘the best employee a company could have’ sounded like a set-up for a future episode where she’s taxi-ed back to being just that.) Several people’s interior décor made me think of Oscar Wilde, but only for the line “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” You get the chance to boost your offspring’s chances of landing a major business opportunity, so you choose to appear on TV on that sofa? Really? (You can see how engaged I was …)

Elsewhere, Jim’s hyper-competitive and a great salesman, Natasha is incredibly hard-working and durable, Susan is endlessly upbeat and enthusiastic and makes more sense than she appears to, while Tom is hugely creative, a dogged problem-solver and a great number-cruncher. They’d overcome divorce, deprivation, language barriers and global nomadism, dyslexia and the horrors of a law degree with courage and determination.

But still there was something lacking in all of them. The hint – in that he brings qualities Sugar lacks and would therefore be a complement as a partner, rather than a clone – was that Tom would be the best partner. Although that implied that the opposite of Sugar is sweet. Food for thought, but not hugely palatable.