The Mole first aired 20 years ago, in 2001, and is finally streaming again thanks to Netflix, which 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 The Mole season 1. Today: season 1, episode 6, “Part the Sixth,” which first aired Feb. 13, 2001, on ABC.
The Mole is down to just five players—Charlie, Kate, Kathryn, Jim, and Steven—but three of them are much closer, and two of them are even closer than that. Jim, Kathryn, and Steve’s friendship costs the group $20,000, as they’re hanging out together in a hotel room after curfew, which is the kind of rule violation penalty Big Brother should use, but of course it’s Big Brother and not The Mole so it’s going to remain crappy.
Anderson Cooper also reveals to us that there is a secret “coalition”—The Mole’s term for alliance— of Jim and Steven. Jim tells us this is a “pooling of resources for mutual benefit,” while Steven says they “struck a deal with each other” and “the last execution was a result of that.”
How exactly did Jennifer’s exit have to do with their friendship? The episode doesn’t say. But the reunion episode does. (Skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t yet watched episode 9.) Jim and Steven reveal that they each worked to convince other people that their alliance mate was the mole. So Jim convinced Jennifer that Steven was the mole, and she presumably failed the quiz and was executed. Of course, if one of them is the mole, that’s a strategy that’s going to backfire, and probably not an arrangement the mole would agree to make. I assume that’s why we’re not told in this episode what exactly their strategy was, because it’d exclude two players from the possibility of being the mole, but it is still frustrating to not be let in on that real-time strategy.
The episode presents the five remaining players with two tests that combine the physical and intellectual, which is really what makes The Mole stand out. The players are playing a season-long game of strategy and mind games—Jim literally says “mind games are fun” because of “how easily people are scammed and suckered in”—but the individual challenges make them engage both their brains and their bodies.
The first test is capture the flag, Mole style: The players literally get to defend a fortress on the ocean from four people who show up on a helicopter, and literally set off flares and start fires in the grass as a distraction. How exciting is that? It’s so exciting, even with camera work and editing that doesn’t always make clear what is happening or where people are. We see the important parts, and it’s quite a thrill ride, especially with the music, which makes it seem like we’re watching a James Bond movie.
The players have to defend a large glass bowl/vase filled with liquid. If it’s moved (i.e. broken), or if both of the two spotlights illuminating it go out, they lose. To keep the spotlights on, they have two power stations to protect, and also the bowl itself. The players can also defend themselves with paint balls. Anderson Cooper frames this as the opposite of the sniper test, where the players were unarmed; in this test, the invaders are unarmed. They can win by taking out all four invaders.
For some reason, the players decide to spread out, so that only Kathryn is in the courtyard guarding the bowl. Kate’s on the roof, Charlie is wandering around, and Steve and Jim are each guarding a power station. Charlie suggests abandoning a spotlight, and Kathryn agrees. So do I: I think the move is to put one or two people on the other power station, and the remaining players in the courtyard, surrounding the glass bowl. I wonder if they couldn’t have more than one person in a location?
The invaders stage a sneaky attack, driving erratically in a Jeep and setting off flares while secretly dropping off one of their own. Steve says that he can see four people in the Jeep, but one has gotten out. Kate actually notices that someone is missing, and then tracks that person with the spotlight she has on the roof. Eventually, that person gets into the fortress, jumps through a window, and knocks over the bowl as Kathryn fumbles with the safety on her paintball gun and cannot fire in time. It’s the most mole-like behavior we’ve seen—except Kathryn also was uncomfortable with the gun and tells us the producers told them to keep the safety lock on.
Kate blames Charlie, and Charlie blames Kate, cursing at her: “Listen you (bleep).” Later, he cools down: “I don’t see finger-pointing doing any good,” Charlie says, after pointing fingers. Kathryn, meanwhile, is blamed by Jim and Steven. “Either she’s a bad shot or she intentionally missed,” Jim says of Kathryn. “Fuck you,” she says. “I told you guys that I felt weak in here … you’re going to blame me for this?” She calls them “macho asses,” and then ends up crying in Kate’s arms.”It’s just a game,” Kate says, but it is most clearly and definitely not. It’s personal, and of course it is, as people develop real relationships even while playing a game that involves deception.
The second test is less dramatic, but is also well-designed combination of intellectual and physical. It also gives us one of the most blatant mole-like behaviors we’ve seen since Kathryn failed to shoot the invader. The players go to a library, which is just so incredible: a prime-time broadcast network show with a challenge in a library, for a test “based on your knowledge of literature.” A library! Literature!
Anderson Cooper gives the players a question or clue; the answer is a specific book. Inside the book is a ticket to get on board a carriage that is moving through town. There are eight stops, and the tickets are specific to the carriage’s stops, so the clock is ticking for all the players to find a ticket, and get to the correct stop before the carriage leaves it. During the text, there’s some playfulness and banter, and also the familiar confusion of wandering through a Spanish town looking for places. Charlie runs around and finds a stop—but it’s not the one on his ticket, and he has to go back to try to get the final stop #8 ticket all by himself, since the other players had already left.
Earlier, Anderson gives them a clue that’s just a photo of a book, and Jim finds it and is about to grab it when Kathryn approaches, and he lets go and walks the other way. It’s super-suspicious, almost comically so, like, I wasn’t touching that! Still, between finding that book and Charlie successfully deciphering the final clue, the players complete the test and win $60,000.
“I recommend you all spend a little more time in your local public library,” Anderson Cooper tells them at the end. I recommend other reality shows do too.