Fish pedicures are so last year, don't you know? Such was the ruthless judgement of Tobias Tschoetsch (yes, that really is his name), managing director of Groupon UK and You're Fired panellist, on one of the daily deal offers that Team Sterling came up with on this week's task. Harsh, perhaps (as Dara O'Brien put it, what about all those poor hungry fish now out of a job?), but it was good to see some definite winners and losers on the show after a few weeks of indeterminate outcomes and lucky escapes.
The stakes were high on this task - as Lord Sugar made it clear last week, both teams disappointed him with their English sparkling wine campaigns, so everyone had plenty to prove. But it was perhaps salesman Stephen Brady who was under the most pressure, having effectively bet the farm on success this time round by agreeing to be project manager and promising to bring in a victory.
But, unfortunately for Stephen, in the boardroom it became clear that business development manager Jade's team had outperformed his by a long way, and Lord Sugar rose to the drama of the occasion splendidly with a double firing, first teasing us by reeling in architect Gabrielle Omar before swiftly hauling in the big catch that everyone wanted to see: yes, finally, it was goodbye to Stephen.
The sector for this task - online daily deals - seemed one guaranteed to produce this kind of outcome. It's a tough market, where only the hardiest swimmers survive. Even Groupon, the giant of the business, has had very public problems in recent months. Those outfits that do well here need to have a ruthless focus on the quality of the deals they offer.
Which brings us back to the performance of the two teams. Often on The Apprentice, the candidates who fall down do so because they don't register the key elements of the task they've been given. It's an easy mistake to make in the heat of the moment, but one which is nearly always fatal on the show. Here the main man at the daily deals website made it clear from the beginning what he wanted: high quality offers. What did he get? From Team Phoenix: lunch with Marcus Wareing and a day at luxury spa The Sanctuary; from Team Sterling, some hungry goldfish and what looked like virtual crazy golf. I know what I'd rather spend my money on. And the website's customers agreed, leading to substantially higher sales figures for Team Phoenix. Jade's strategy of planning carefully before embarking on pitches and then spending time coaxing out a unique package was simply better suited to producing something that suited the needs of this choosy bunch than Stephen's pile' em high approach, where the focus seemed to be on closing as many deals as possible rather than ensuring that they fitted the brief.
So get some sashimi-grade tuna for Jade and her second in command on this task, entrepreneur Nick Holzherr, while Stephen and, it has to be said, Gabrielle, who also performed poorly, deserve no more than some day-old fishy scraps. But the subteams, to a certain extent, tell a different story.
On Jade's winning team, onetime golden boy wine entrepreneur Tom Gearing, who managed to win the vintage furniture task without raising his voice or much visible effort, has seemed a bit dead-eyed on recent tasks. This week he and greengrocer Adam Corbally did poorly at persuading companies to agree to deals and none of the ones they finally managed to clinch ended up being accepted by the website. But I think he still looks like a serious contender, unlike market trader Adam, who is surely still in the programme on the behest of its producers purely to provide viewers with regular doses of comedy. He didn't disappoint this week, deftly dropping Tom in the proverbial in a posh candle shop by claiming Tom bought their products for his girlfriend (not true, we heard earlier...) and by begging for free tea AND coffee to be included in a meal deal (don't forget to mention it in the boardroom, Adam).
Over on Team Sterling with Stephen, recruiter Ricky Martin was a lone ranger this week as Stephen decided to keep Gabrielle with him (you can't let these girls roam unsupervised in business, can you Stephen?) And armed with his silver tongue, it was Ricky who clinched Sterling's only moneymaking deals, leaving him looking like a serious contender, even though his team lost.
So, on balance, I think Jade, Nick and Ricky have the strongest currents behind them as the candidates swim into the final rounds, all hoping to be the one who eventually gets to nibble at Lord Sugar's feet (metaphorically speaking, that is, I hope - I'm sure that even giving 110 per cent doesn't need to go that far). And Tom remains a strong contender, if he can up his game after a few off weeks. And could Adam advance any further, and even end up winning? Only time will tell - Lord Sugar certainly seems to like him, maybe seeing something of himself in the plain-speaking market trader, and stranger things have happened in the commercial world, after all. Want to buy a fish pedicure, anyone? Thank goodness they're no longer in vogue.