The Mole first aired 20 years ago, in 2001, and is finally streaming again thanks to Netflix, which has also acquired the format internationally and is filming a new season with American contestants. This summer, I’m re-watching the first two seasons, and recapping, analyzing, and discussing each episode, starting with season 1, episode 3, “Part the Third,” which first aired Jan. 23, 2001, on ABC.
Before The Mole’s players headed to Seville, Spain, to be knocked around by some bulls and some diabolical producers, Anderson Cooper caught us up from inside his leather jacket. He pointed out that the players are getting closer but asked, “is it honest emotion, or is it he work of the mole?” That’d be some amazing work right there. Anderson also reminded us that Afi left the game, and at the end of episode three, it’s Wendi who’s executed.
Their exits made me think about the game’s structure, and how it deprives us of an episodic arc for its players. The executions themselves are very dramatic and surprising: the music just stops and the red screen appears. But I wanted to know why Afi and Wendi were eliminated. I mean, I know: They got the most questions wrong on the quiz about the mole’s identity. But neither episode gave me a sense of who they thought was the mole, or why they were so far off.
Since the executions are not related to the actual challenges, just the quiz, it’s a little anti-climactic. I do like the montage we get of their time on the show, and the reflections of the other players, which speaks to the bonds they’ve formed. It is early in the season, and early boots from any reality show tend to be a little underdeveloped, just because there hasn’t been a lot of time with them. I don’t expect Survivor-like editing, which focuses on a handful of players and you know one of them is going home because of that, but I’m curious to see if, as the season goes on, there’s more and more in the episode that connects to the quiz itself.
In Spain, the contestants first hike to a bull-fighting ring, where they each take turns showing they don’t know how to follow what appear to be some really weak instructions. So many of them hold the cloth in front of themselves, not to the side, and that means the bull plows into them. The first to get knocked over is Charlie, and it’s a stunning moment. Anderson Cooper literally leaps into action, like he’s going to run into the ring to save Charlie, though he’s standing on a wall above so he can’t do much more than move a few feet. But the concern is real and felt, and then Anderson personally walks Charlie to an ambulance to get a few minor cuts bandaged up.
The editing has more fun with this than Charlie probably did, turning that moment into a cliffhanger, and then showing us Charlie going down again and again. Other players, too, get knocked over, including Jennifer “The Jock.” I don’t know why it took me until episode three to notice the titles under their names (Kate “The Investor,” Kathryn “The Lawyer”), but it did. It’s quite Amazing Race in its reductiveness.
While having a bull charge them placed the contestants in danger, Anderson Cooper offered them up to $25,000 more for any one who’d perform a tienta: $5,000 for each contestant who grabbed the bull by the tail and yanked it to the ground. That was just uncomfortable to watch, because it didn’t look great for the bull. Then again, at least The Mole skipped the part where the matador pierces the bull’s heart and kills it.
While the players have been staying in five-star hotels, Anderson Cooper informed them that they’d be camping: they “will rough it, camping out under the stars,” he said. But Survivor players would laugh, because The Mole’s cast got tents and catered meals on plates, plus live music and, in Jim’s case, cigarettes. (Incidentally, this episode aired five days before Survivor: The Australian Outback’s post-Super Bowl premiere.)
They also had alcohol, and Charlie got drunk and was a dick, saying shit about Kate, following their earlier conflict in the van about the air conditioning. (He wanted it on, she did not—DRAMA.) A day later, though, Charlie was cutting casts off Kate’s legs, and had newfound admiration for her. That’s because of what Kate agreed to during one of two tests that happened simultaneously the next day.
Let’s back up. The day-long tasks split the players into two groups, each of whom did something completely different. That’s an interesting choice, and it mostly worked, though the laundry test was far less interesting. It felt somewhat similar to the Cartier watch challenge in that the team was racing around, asking locals to help them. In this case, they were actually asking to do laundry in people’s homes. (I hope the production paid those generous locals!) Although Jennifer had to spend the day with her two least-favorite people, Charlie and Henry, it didn’t produce too much interpersonal drama, and they earned $10,000.
The other five players had a less physical but more psychologically challenging test. Each of them rolled a large die to determine which of two tasks they had to complete. If three of the five players actually did their task, they’d get $40,000. The catch, and the best part of the challenge design, is that they did not know what the others chose until the test was over. And the tasks were not easy. As Jim pointed out to Anderson, both of his options sucked: getting a cast on one leg or both. By the way, this episode’s disclaimer was specifically about the dice:
Game play has been edited for time. Dice closeups have been inserted. None of these affected the outcome.
Of the first four players, three refused the tasks: Steven wouldn’t get painted nude, Kathryn refused to shave her head, and Jim wouldn’t get both legs put into casts. Wendi was the only one of them who said yes, agreeing to wear stocks, and upon learning that the others refused, she said, “You guys suck!”
But it was Kate who was the hero. She had the most difficult assignment: roll the dice four times, and do all four tasks for $40,000—and an exemption for herself. We didn’t see Kate make a decision, we saw her emerge from the shadows into a town square, both legs in casts, hair dyed green, dragging chains, and carrying a portrait of herself. It was an incredible reveal, and the joy of her fellow players showed just how connected they all are already.
While these were not easy choices, the producers went easy on Kate and Wendi: They only had to stay in their casts and stocks until the next day, which turned out to be midnight, when they were still all eating dessert (flan, I think). I can’t remember if Kate’s green hair stays the rest of the season or not, but I will never forget this moment: