The Mole first aired 20 years ago 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 8, “Part the Eighth,” which first aired Feb. 27, 2001, on ABC.
“Three cunning competitors who’d also become friends” are all who are left on The Mole, as Anderson Cooper explains to viewers from the middle of a stadium, the same place he’ll also reveal the winner and the mole.
While that won’t come until episode nine, episode eight is effectively the final episode, because episode nine is a reunion and a recap and the reveal of the most controversial part of The Mole: its hideously dumb clues.
First, though, there are two final test, the first of which is clearly an attempt to create drama, and it works. The players have been asked questions that Anderson Cooper describe as both embarrassing and “downright offensive.” They’re also false dichotomies, as the questions force them to choose one of the other two players as the answer.
The players’ answer sends them walking in one of two directions in a small village, with the final question’s answers represented by two doors. If the two players are right, the other player is behind that door. It’s another fun and simple combo of intellectual and physical—although here it’s mostly just a mindfuck.
For example, Jim and Steven have to figure out which of them Kathryn identified as the answer to this question: “It is Kathryn’s last day on earth. Who would she rather NOT spend the day with?” The answer, Jim reasons, “from a purely sexual point of view … it ain’t gonna be me,” while Steven points out that Jim is funnier, so it’s either “straight sex or humor.” Anderson calls this “the age-old debate.” (Do you think that, based on his selection of co-host for CNN’s New Year’s Eve, we know Anderson’s answer?)
The final question—”Who is more likely to cheat on their significant other?”—leads to the second episode in a row where the game gets to Kathryn. She’s convinced that Jim’s answers will always make Steven the positive answer and her the negative answer, yet another indication of Jim and Steven’s tight bond. They may be three friends, but there’s an alliance within the alliance—I mean, coalition within the coalition.
“This is a hideous game,” Kathryn says after they settle on Kathryn as the answer. Jim’s logic makes sense to me: He says he answered Kathryn because she’s not yet married, while Steven is, and so she’s not yet constrained by marital vows. I also understand Kathryn being upset at even the suggestion, as she’s left her fiance for weeks to play this game.
As Anderson gathers them and starts to recap the test, Kathryn says, through tears, “Do we have to do this right this second?” Anderson says, “We don’t have to do anything,” and walks her away from the cameras. Can you imagine other reality show hosts doing that, versus trying to milk that moment?
The final test of the episode—and season—is an escape room, or more correctly, three escape rooms. This aired in 2001, and it’d be more than a decade before I’d get to experience an escape room for myself. So watching them do this was thrilling in 2001, and I remember trying to play along.
But it was quite frustrating to watch in 2021, in part because I remembered some of the bigger clues, and in part because I’ve done a bunch of them since then, and so now I think of myself as an expert. Mostly, they just weren’t strategic or thorough at all in their search for clues.
Perhaps the editing makes them look worse than they were, because at times it’s almost like they want to lose. (THE MOLE?!) The three are split up into three different locked rooms, and each of their rooms contains clues to help the other two escape. This is just great challenge design, especially touches like the stationary bike in Kathryn’s room that, when pedaled, turns on blacklights in Jim’s otherwise dark room, illuminating clues written on the walls.
They figure out that they can talk by phone, but the editing suggests Jim and Steven have some middle-school phone time with each other while Kathryn is desperately trying to call them with clues and information. Kathryn gets out first, and starts running between her room and Steven’s room, talking to him through the door.
Meanwhile, Anderson sits in the lobby, looking at watch. I love this show.
Time expires, and they lose the final test. It turns out Steven and Jim and Kathryn have missed quite a few clues, and as Anderson Cooper walks them through it, it seems to take almost as much time because there’s so much they missed. For example, there was a package waiting at the front desk with a bunch of nested packaged inside, and the clue inside that. So disappointing!
After a final dinner together—without Anderson Cooper, which I assume was their punishment for doing so badly on that test—the players take the final quiz. And in its final wicked act, The Mole makes us wait for episode nine, which aired the following evening, to reveal the results.
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