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, continuing today with The Mole: The Next Betrayal. This is season 2, episode 2, “The Second Betrayal,” which first aired on ABC Oct. 5, 2001 and re-aired May 28, 2002.
Despite my affection for The Mole, the first episode of its return ended on a bitter note, with the players’ belongings having apparently been burned as a result of an otherwise useless game. This episode makes sure we start with that feeling, with a montage of several players in confessional interviews lamenting what’s happened. “Cruel game. Cruel, cruel game,” Bribs says.
When Anderson Cooper introduces the first test to the group, he twists the knife, even though it’s clear he’s kidding, too: “Well, I know you’re all sick of your filthy clothes. I certainly am, because you’re all pretty rank and smell a lot and you’re followed by flies everywhere you go.” He tells them they’ll get new clothes in St. Moritz.
There’s a $20,000 game first, though, and its focus is…humiliation via silly costume. Anderson even tells some of them, “you’re the next contestant on public humiliation.” Yes, The Mole has gone from escape rooms and complex games of search-and-rescue in order to become Big Brother.
Dorothy, Bill, and Elavia assign the costumes, and every player who wears what’s been chosen for them to St. Moritz will earn $2,000 for the pot. Most of the cast is game for this, and I did find myself laughing along with them, while still being irritated at the producers.
There’s a bunny costume for Darwin and a cow costume for Rob, while Bribs ends up in a pink nightie and Al gets a corset. Katie and Myra end up in something that looks like traditional or stereotypical Scandinavian costumes. Patrick is particularly gam even though his outfit is just a speedo. “The Swiss are not ready for this at all,” Anderson Cooper says as Patrick runs down the street, the first real sign of Anderson’s aw-shucks demeanor we’ve gotten this season
In pairs, the players have to find the train station, and have about two hours to do so. Pretty simple. But there are two twists: First, Anderson offers Dorothy, Bill, and Elavia the chance to double the pot if they’ll wear diaper costumes. They refuse, attributing that to Bill’s implausible claim that he’s somehow representing the Navy. “I’m a retired admiral and that’s not a big deal but it still means that I represent the Navy and my family,” he says. Instead, he represents the Navy and his family by picking out lingerie for men to wear while on a reality show that’s grounded in lying.
The other twist is that Bribs and Ali decide to not go to the train station, but instead go to a bar to drink together without telling everyone else. Bribs’ argument—”let’s go out and have fun in Switzerland”— is somewhat understandable, especially since they had so much time. But not letting everyone know that they’re not lost is, at the very least, short-sighted.
The group sends Bill and Lisa to look for them and come right back—and Bill and Lisa find Bribs and Ali and then join them for a drink. It’s so suspicious and also frustrating. But the most egregious thing of all happens when they finally do return, with 15 minutes to spare. Ali lies and tells everyone that she and Bribs were offered an exemption and aren’t going to get on the train.
The other players are pissed off. Darwin takes off his bunny ears, thinking the game is over and the money lost, but then Ali reveals this was all just a silly joke. Because Darwin removes part of his costume, they only make $18,000 for the pot—though blaming that on Darwin is neither fair nor accurate, because it’s 100 percent Ali and Bribs’ fault for pretending that the game was over. It’s just a string of selfish actions that don’t take the group into account. Al argues with Bribs about it on the train, but Ali and Bribs don’t seem persuaded.
Maybe that’s the way to play The Mole: get everyone mad at you by doing obvious sabotage so the other players are either flustered or think you’re the mole.
When the players get to their hotel in St. Mortiz, Anderson Cooper reveals that their bags were not burned after all, and it was all a big laugh. And then he adds another joke: “Katie, I am sorry, I did burn your cow.” (Is it just me or is this season just meaner so far?)
The second test is uninspired: The group goes to a casino where four of them play blackjack with $20,000 from the pot. They can double it, or lose it all—and of course they lose it.
Honestly, this really had me worrying about the challenge design on season two. The poker game itself gets turned into a montage with Anderson Cooper narrating, because it’s that uninteresting to watch.
But The Mole’s producers are not done yet. At dinner, Dorothy is unknowingly randomly selected for another test because she eats a piece of cake without a blueberry on it. Ironically, no one chose that piece of cake, so Anderson Cooper has to be like, Um, will someone eat that so we can have more drama for this episode?
Anderson, still in a tux, comes to Dorothy and Lisa’s room, and offers them an exemption if they can convince any two players to break the rules and come to their room. They choose Katie and Darwin, and have a bit of fun trying to convince them, but that crumbles as soon as Darwin and Katie learn they’ve been duped. Katie leaves, angry and upset that Dorothy has targeted her as a naive person, and Anderson Cooper has to fetch her to wrap up the scene.
Darwin says, “that’s totally evil,” and Katie tells Anderson Cooper, “but you told us to come in. That’s crap.” And Katie is 100 percent right: I went back and verified that Anderson does indeed open the door to Darwin while saying, “Come on in,” as if everything’s fine. I suppose you can argue that just by leaving his room, Darwin broke the rules, but he also got permission from the host to enter another player’s room.
The rule-breaking costs the players $2,000 from the pot, and at this rate, the winner is going to owe ABC money at the end of the season.
Interestingly, we do see Darwin talking to Patrick, his roommate, about what happened, and basically strategizing about how to use this against other players. Darwin says, “The best thing for us to do is not stress how excited Dorothy was in getting that last piece” of cake. His rationale is that Dorothy’s actions make her seem like the mole, and if both Patrick and Darwin suspect Dorothy of being the mole, they don’t want to point that out to other players.
This is the kind of strategy we learned about in the reunion of season one, but didn’t get during the season, so I’m the editing is including it, even if we still don’t have a clear idea of who the players suspect or why players are being executed (tonight, it’s Ali, a kind of comeuppance after her shenanigans).
Between the aftermath of the bag-burning and then the consternation the producers and players caused in episode two, the start of The Mole 2 has been quite a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil.