The new Mole feels just as good as the old one

The Mole is back, and after its first new episode, it feels like it never really left. I’m not quite sure, however, if that’s wild praise or mild criticism, but from the sound effects to the score to the game itself, I was left feeling like it’s 2002 and I’m watching new episodes of one of my favorite reality shows, and you can’t ask for much more.

The show really feels like it managed to avoid the evolution of reality TV in the six years since the last regular edition aired, and as such is both refreshing and a bit odd. Its first episode spent very little time on the time-wasting introductions that most series now do, and instead just jumped right in. On some level, that was like watching, say, episode five without having seen the first few episodes.

The first mission challenge test was awesome, as the players boarded rafts and went over the edge of a massive waterfall. While the second wasn’t quite as epic or grand as some of the mind-bending challenges were in the past, it was a good example of how the series makes decision-making, thinking, and analysis an integral part of a reality show. And some of the players’ incompetence was hysterical. There was a fun, lighthearted mood at moments, and I forgot about that from the original series, but it’s definitely something that makes it stand out.

I don’t yet have a handle on the cast except for a few of them (like spoiled brat Nicole who’s doing a great job of being annoying), but that will clearly change. The editors seemed to alternate between footage of players accusing every single other person for being the mole (“He farted in the van; he must be the mole!”) while ignoring more obvious behaviors, like the guy who basically quit timekeeping during the beach test, unless that itself was the product of clever editing (i.e., he quit because they decided to ring the bell and end the game).

Jon Kelley is good, although he didn’t have much to do in the first episode, and he’s almost a bit too much like Anderson Cooper for his own good. I know, I know, I’ll never be happy without Coop, but alas, he really defined the series for me in so many ways. Imagine Survivor with Phil Keoghan instead of Jeff Probst, and that’s kind of how I feel.

But the changes, whatever they may be, were so transparent I didn’t notice them. Except one thing: Anderson’s awesome laptop, in which he painstakingly typed every player’s name to get their quiz results, has been replaced by a single flat-screen monitor, on which Jon Kelley touches the player’s picture and then a quiz results button. The two-step process kills a bit of the tension, and either he’s using the world’s least responsive touch-screen or the whole thing is fake fake fake. At least it still displays the red screen of death. Like most everything else, that has not changed.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.