Home > Business, Pop Culture, TV > Review: Shark Tank, “Season 4 Week 4”

Review: Shark Tank, “Season 4 Week 4”

Two or three different shows exist within Shark Tank, and a solid episode uses its segmented structure to balance and benefit from the strengths of each. “Season 4 Week 4” follows this approach, with the contrast standing out most sharply between the first and last segments.

We lead off with David and Nique Mealey and their chicken-based condiment Back 9 Dips. The Mealeys introduce their young son and about-to-be-born daughter in one of those soft-focused prologues that has the audience rooting for them from the word go. The Sharks fall for the couple too; even Kevin O’Leary acts downright sympathetic towards them, which happens maybe four times a season.

David has his retail and wholesale numbers down cold, but there’s very little dissecting of the actual business—things like valuation, distribution, and marketing strategy never come up. The Sharks feel for and relate with this family. They seem to be contorting themselves into knots to overcome their business instincts and, as Robert Herjavec puts it, “give them a shot.” Daymond John looks physically pained when he finally has to pass, and relieved when Robert and Lori Greiner step up.

Little in this segment gives us much idea of how successful Back 9 Dips is or could become. It’s designed solely to let the Sharks be warm and human and let the audience cheer a good old fashioned American Success Story™. It’s manipulative as hell, but gall darn it the thing works. Try not to grin when David, on the way out of the Tank, turns to his wife and tells his unborn daughter that she’s gonna go to college. Just try it, you monster.

This is Shark Tank as heartstring-strumming human interest story. On the flip side is segment four, which is Shark Tank as nitty-gritty investment procedural. Inventor Henry Penix has a nifty keychain gadget that alerts you when you’re leaving your cell phone behind, and wants a cool two mil for 10 percent.

His product and revenues seem solid, but one by one the Sharks poke holes in the façade: $9 million already invested and blown through, faltering sales, massive inventories. When Penix can’t say with any certainty how much he’s spent on R&D – sine qua non for a technology company—his fate is sealed. No backstory or emotional interludes here; this segment is strictly the nuts and bolts of seasoned investors sizing up business fundamentals, and in this case finding them wanting.

There’s another contrast between the Mealeys and the pair in the third segment, the Flemings. These brothers are pitching a cheap plastic doodad that lets a snack bag morph into a snack bowl, and while the benefit is marginal it’s also something I can see Ziploc or P&G rolling out and charging 15 cents per package more for. It’s Lori who snags both deals, but for opposite reasons. With the Mealeys it’s clear she’s investing in the people behind the product; with the Flemings she’s investing in the product in spite of the people. Because these two are kind of bozos.

Sure, they have their intentionally over-rehearsed spiel down to a T (a style of pitching you see a lot on Shark Tank, whichI refer to as Infomercial Chic). But once the questions and criticisms start flying they’re out of their depth. When pitches enter the interrogation portion, the key to surviving is assess and address. That’s to say, when a Shark expresses reservations (sometimes in a roundabout way), you have to pinpoint the heart of their criticism in order to respond properly.

The Flemings suck at this. Kevin gets defensive when Daymond tries to gauge how much effort the two are expecting from their investors, honing in instead on an off-hand remark about being mocked by friends. Brian calls Mark Cuban “Cubes,” like he’s pumping a Solo cup full of Busch Light for his frat bro. And then, when Lori decides to take a flyer and accept their exact offer ($40,000 for 33 percent), they ask for time to step out and consider it! Few Shark Tank visitors have ever fallen quite so thoroughly ass-backwards into forty grand.

Other thoughts: 

  • Mmmmmmm… chicken Slurpee.
  • Marvin Philip, pitching a new laundry hamper design in the second segment, didn’t get an investment. But he did make sure to zing O’Leary, which guarantees he endeared himself to the other four Sharks. More people should try this tactic.
  • I really hope Herjavec lives up to his promise and keeps calling Cuban “Cubes” from now on. It’s always fun when those two needle each other since they genuinely seem to rub one another the wrong way.
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  1. October 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I was wondering during that first pitch if the sharks had all had lobotomies and if I was actually watching the same show because 1) Mr. Wonderful was teary-eyed form laughing so hard (which was excellent) 2) they were so touchy-feely with the owners. I will say however, that I too fell for the couple and I’ve often heard that when you’re pitching to investors that they are investing your idea but they are investing in you much more. Great review of the show!

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