So now we've finally seen Team Phoenix get into a pickle they couldn't get out of. Presented with Lord Sugar's condiment challenge, they made a fiery pepper sauce which nicely matched their name but failed to make as much profit as their opponents' pineapple chutney.
Why couldn't the gang cut the mustard in this task? Well, as it's often said, the proof of the pudding, or the condiment in this case, is in the eating. Sadly, Taste-o-vision has yet to be invented, so I'm unable to give a personal verdict on the contents of a bottle of "Belissimo" (sic - and more on spelling later). But it didn't look as bad the first batch of Team Sterling's yellow goop which, thanks to a liberal dose of chilli, made drinks distribution entrepreneur and team leader Duane Bryan splutter with shock when he tried a spoonful. "Deadly", pronounced Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer, who was following the team this week. But the guests and audience of You're Fired got to try the final versions of both savoury delights, and judging from their reactions they were equally good - or bad: "One of them took all the enamel off my teeth, but I'm not sure which one", mused comedian and panellist Jenny Eclair.
Maybe, then, the dodgy spelling on Team Phoenix's labels was the crucial slip-up? Aide Karren Brady, perhaps because of the Italian roots she shares with her husband Paul Peschisolido, took a dim view of the error in the boardroom, but I think that, especially as candidates have no internet access, dropping an "l" from a foreign word is an understandable mistake to make. What was less forgivable was to decide to make what sales manager Stephen Brady called "an Italian table sauce". Have you ever seen a Heinz bottle alongside the salt and pepper in Rome or Catania? Want some more ketchup on your risotto alla milanese? Some salad cream with your tiramisu?
But luckily for Team Phoenix, they weren't selling their product in "la bella Italia", but in the UK, the spiritual home of spag bol topped with cheddar, limoncello shots and dough balls, and their red gunge went down a treat with the great British public. Trade clients like shops and delis, however, were another matter. Thanks to some production trouble, the team were left with fewer bottles than they'd originally anticipated and research director and leader Katie Wright was therefore forced to hike up the unit price to preserve profit margins, leaving the trade sales team the difficult task of marketing a mass-market product at a premium cost. Which is where furniture business owner Michael Copp's chances in the competition began to coagulate. Sticking to Katie's firm instructions on the high unit price, the subteam he led only managed to sell 53 out of their quota of 80 bottles, leading inevitably to Katie dragging him into this episode's three-way showdown.
Her other choice was also a shrewd one. There was a strong case to be made against recruiter and Puerto Rican pop sensation (only joking...) Ricky Martin. He's not exactly a Latin heartthrob, but someone was certainly "livin' la vida loca" in the kitchen under his command as a whole batch of sauce had to be ditched, which was arguably at the root of the pricing problems which restricted Michael's sales. And the effect that Ricky's mismanagement had on the team's eventual failure certainly didn't go unnoticed in the boardroom, which culminated in a short and not-so-sweet dressing down for him from Lord Sugar. "The lack of volume", said everyone's favourite tycoon, "meant that this project was doomed". Sounds fairly clear to me - home time then?
Not so fast! Ricky was dangled by Lord Sugar over the spicy salsa of dismissal, but it was Michael who ended up being dunked in, bitten off, and spat out of the competition. Why did Ricky escape? I understand that when he's not training hard to be the next business wunderkind, he's training hard as a wrestler, and I think his bellicose (or should that be "belicose", I wonder) approach saved him on this occasion. He turned in a champion-worthy performance while selling to the public and in front of Lord Sugar while, as You're Fired panellist and professional meanie Claude Littner noted, Michael hadn't been strong enough on the task and, crucially, failed to fight his corner in the boardroom. Michael even admitted to Lord Sugar that he wasn't a great salesperson, a fatal error as selling is key to Apprentice success and arguably all business activity, and ended up being totally overpowered by Ricky's swagger.
So the products may not have been to everyone's taste, but the outcome of this task was all about the mouth in the end. Ricky won through thanks to the sheer bottle of his defence. While Ricky spewed out insults to Michael and made some ridiculous claims, such as that Katie didn't make it clear to him that he was expected to make as much sauce as possible, Michael was surprisingly quiet, as he had been throughout his time on the show - and lost out.
Allowances, however, should perhaps be made for Michael - he revealed on You're Fired that he'd been suffering from gastric flu during his time in the competition, which goes some way towards explaining his silence and some troublesome perspiration back in week 1, and means that this week's culinary-focused task was almost certainly one that was particularly challenging for him. But no sick notes are allowed in the tough-talking world of The Apprentice, and for the other candidates the blood of Michael's defeat, his sweat, and, who knows, perhaps even some tears are all just gravy. And as far as I'm concerned, this series is finally hotting up, and I'm relishing the prospect of episode 4...