The note read: An official from the company is on their way to your establishment. We trust you will be sufficiently prepared to receive him and show him around.

These words were enough to sent the entire place into a panic.

“I thought they had to give more warning than that! At least a week?”

“Not for surprise inspections.”

“This is a surprise inspection?!”

“Quick! Get something on the stove!”

“Start polishing the floor!”

“No! Do the tables first!”

“How long does it take for them to get here?”

“I don’t know! Does this place look like I expected a surprise inspection?”

In the end, the inspector arrived three hours after the message.

The household was now a lot calmer than it had been. Every surface was free of dust and gleaming. Enticing smells drifted from the kitchen.

The inspector took his time looking around the house as the others followed him about. He looked under the beds, chairs and tables, frowned over the cupboards, scratched his head over the bookshelves.

Later, they served him lunch and waited for the comments.

“Delicious,” said the short, corpulent man, patting his stomach. “You’ve certainly passed my most important test!”

The others were too nervous too laugh.

“As for the rest … it’s certainly very clean. Perhaps too clean … it’s really rather impersonal, don’t you think?”

The group did not reply. The inspector continued, “We expect people’s houses to reflect their personality. Perhaps one or two of you are religious? Does somebody here have a totem of some kind, something they can put on display? There aren’t even any photographs, and the pictures, while pretty, lack a certain character…”

The men and women sitting opposite him hardly dared breathe. Somewhere, dramatic music was playing.

“But it was a good effort all round. I think … an eight out of ten.”

The group breathed again. That should keep them safe.

And then a voice from out of nowhere. “So it looks like House A escapes the Elimination Challenge for this week! Who will fail the surprise inspection and who will go home? Find out next time on Extreme Housekeeping!”