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 9, “Part the End,” which first aired Feb. 28, 2001, on ABC.
I thought The Mole’s finale was a curious artifact—a tiny bit of episode, mostly reunion—until I thought about it as basically just the second half of a two-hour finale. ABC did not air episodes eight and nine back to back, but also didn’t make us wait a week between the penultimate episode and the finale, as episode 9 aired the next night.
It opens in what looks like a living room, where the players and Anderson Cooper are seated in chairs. The Mole has done far better production design, and between the awkward plant an lamp behind them and the mix of open and closed curtains, it feels thrown together rather than deliberate, like the dramatic shot of the three players entering the ring to take their final quiz, or the way the backlight in the stadium turns to green for the mole’s grand entrance.
After almost 10 minutes of recap—which does include Charlie apologizing to Kate for his “inappropriate verbiage” (of which Kate says: “they bleeped it out”)—we go back to the ring to find out who won.
The reveal is also awkward, and even after watching it, I had to basically map out what happens. Anderson tells the final three that he’ll bring them in one at a time, entering their name into “the computer” for one final time.
One of them will be eliminated, of course, and that person is Jim. That was genuinely surprising, and we learn later that, while both Steven and Jim suspected Kathryn was the mole—and this final episode is the very first time we learn that—Steven told Jim he was going to answer quickly. Perhaps going fast tripped Jim up, but ultimately, out of 25 questions, Jim got 13 correct, and Steven got 16 correct.
The winner won with a 64 percent on the quiz, while the runner-up got 52 percent. Both are Fs on some grad scales, and quite low scores for the final two players who know with certainty who the mole is. The questions, however, spanned the entire season, and are incredibly specific, so I imagine this was about memorization and note-taking more than anything else. During the reunion, Jim admits that he knew he did badly, and guessed that he got three right. Oh Jim!
When the show returns to the arena for the reveal of the mole and the winner, we don’t see the next player. Anderson Cooper, however, reminds them of what he earlier told the final three that: if a green screen appears, “you are either the winner of $510,000, or you’re the mole.” We also don’t see the player’s name typed in on the screen. But then it cuts to showing Steven, and the screen turning green.
The problem with this moment is that Steven knows he’s not the mole, but we do not, so the green screen does not actually tell us anything. “Congratulations, Steven. You’ve just won the game,” Anderson Cooper says, but in obvious voice-over. That ADR is confirmed by what we do hear Anderson say in the moment:”I think by your reaction you know that you won $510,000.”
It’s just an awkward reveal and a stilted climax, though once the music swells, it feels like more of a moment. What I wish the show would have done is show the green screen and Anderson saying, “You are the winner,” and then—before showing the winner—revel the mole. Kathryn walks in, backlit at first with a green wash, and even though by this point we know who it is, it’s a spectacular moment.
The rest of the reunion is hit or miss. There’s some reunion filler, like a montage of Steven’s “more flirtatious moments,” and the eliminated players identifying who they think is the mole: Wendi, Henry, Afi, and Kate think Steve is the mole, Jennifer thinks it’s her friend Jim, and Manuel and Charlie both think it’s Kathryn.
We learn a lot of information that was withheld in the editing, and not just about the mole’s identity. For example, Charlie identified Kathryn as the mole on the very first day, and Kate suspected Kathryn as the mole, too, because she noticed that Kathryn’s room was always closest to the lobby or reception area. That’s something I remember, but attributed in my mind to Jim. Apologies, Kate!
In my recaps, I’ve certainly given Charlie and Kate shit for somehow surviving in the game, but they were both more astute than either I—or, crucially, the editing—gave them credit for.
The most-interesting reveals for me are the details about Kathryn’s sabotage. She said her strategy was simply to “take advantage of small things to slow us down,” and that makes sense in retrospect, because all of the things that the editing and other players identified as sabotage were just too big and obvious. In the capture-the-flag challenge, she did an excellent job of making her failure with the paintball gun look like a genuine mistake.
Sometimes, Kathryn’s actions also caused friction. During the rescue challenge, Kathryn said, “if I hadn’t wasted time then Jennifer’s disappearance wouldn’t have made any difference.” And it’s Jennifer’s disappearance that leads to conflict with Henry that ends with her breaking down in tears.
I was also fascinated—in 2001, and now—with the fact that Kathryn wasn’t always told everything that’d happen. She did not know that the knife-throwing test was fake, for example, and her fainting was very real. “They wanted to see genuine fear, and they got it,” Kathryn said of the producers.
For the final escape room test, she was given all the answers, but was basically stymied by Jim and Steven, which is kind of funny. The producers basically tried to give them $75,000, and it failed.
The Mole season 1’s dumb clues
That brings us to the absolute worst part of The Mole season 1: the clues to the mole’s identity. None of these are actual clues. The first two are allegedly in-game clues:
- Anderson holds up Kathryn’s bag during the repacking-the-bags task. “If you were watching closely you would have noticed, that the bag I pulled out belonged to the mole,” Anderson said. But I was watching closely, and I also heard you say, Anderson, that you didn’t know who the mole is during the game.
- The Cartier watch test when “Kathryn had a little bit too much information” and said they should “pull the trigger” on one of the watches. “The mole just gave herself away,” Anderson says. “How did Kathryn know that they were going to pull the trigger on a gun I hadn’t even told them about yet?” Because “pull the trigger” is a common phrase?
These seem like they were reverse engineered, and are downright silly. But that’s nothing compared to Anderson Cooper insisting these are “hidden clues that were given to you and to viewers at home.” He also says, “Had you done your research during the season, you might have picked up on several hidden clues that alluded to the mole’s identity”:
- “There are four letters in the word ‘mole’ and four was the magic number.” So in the shots of the players arriving, Kathryn was the fourth to arrive. Except, as I discussed during episode one, Kathryn is the third person shown arriving, as the first shot is of a bus, not a player.
- Anderson says he also “tied in the mole’s name” when recapping the fourth elimination (and don’t forget FOUR EQUALS THE MOLE!!!). “Henry paid the price,” Anderson says in the episode. In the reunion montage, he says, “Henry did indeed pay the price, because the mole’s name is Kathryn Price.” Yes, and “paid the price” is another cliche, and you also said you didn’t know the mole’s identity.
By this point my eyes had rolled up all the way into my head. It’s just so nonsenical, and for such a smart show to try to pretend that these are legitimate clues is insulting.
That doesn’t change what a terrific season of reality television The Mole season one actually is, and that it holds up so very well 20 years later is a testament to how well it was conceived and constructed—and to its players. Like the cast of Survivor, they were playing a brand-new game, and gave it their all—and gave us so much to discuss and be entertained by.
Read all Mole season 1 recaps