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 3, “The Third Betrayal,” which first aired on ABC Oct. 12, 2001 and re-aired June 4, 2002.
The montage of confessionals at the beginning of the episode focuses on what the players think about the experience so far. Dorothy tells us, “I can’t worry about the team getting money, I need to worry about lasting in this game.”
Elavia says, more directly, “It’s a game people. Hello, game! Why are you not enjoying yourself?” I tried to keep that in mind as I watched, because I’ve found the previous two episodes to be surprisingly mean, and missing both the camaraderie and the intrigue of season one.
At breakfast, the players fail to notice the mole’s alleged journal sitting on the table. Rob suggests destroying it, but Dorothy decides to read it. It’s obviously something the producers have written, but leads to the first twist of the episode: a journal swap.
“Do you guys find the journals helpful?” Anderson Cooper asks them, and tells them to exchange journals, rotating them four players to the left. “These are your new journals.” Patrick—who’s been taking copious, detailed notes—asks them to trade it back, but Anderson says they’re not allowed to.
This is the kind of twist that drives me nuts because it undermines the foundation of the game—or at least, the expected foundation, and maybe that’s just my expectation. In episode one, Anderson Cooper gave them journals and told them how important the journals are, and to write down everything. More significantly, the only way players can stay in the game is by doing well on the quizzes, which we’ve established are incredibly hard: season one’s winner only got a 64 percent on the final quiz, and he knew who the mole was! So the notes in the journals really matter.
“It’s part of the game. You’d be silly not to” read the new journal, Elavia tells Katie, who has received Patrick’s journal. Elavia is absolutely right, and even though I don’t love this twist, I would definitely read whatever journal I’d been given. But it turns out Katie is also playing the game: She did read Patrick’s journal, she just didn’t want Elavia to know.
Speaking of the quizzes: There’s a major change from season one, which is that every question on the quiz is shown and read to us by Anderson Cooper. These are tough questions, because not only do players have to know who the mole actually is, but they need to remember tiny details, like where the person was sitting, or what they had to drink at dinner.
I’m not quite sure what the best strategy would be for taking the quiz, especially this early in the game. Do you divide your answers across multiple people? Do you change your answers week to week if you don’t have a clear sense of the mole’s identity? Do you just go through it quickly to hope that someone else ties you and answers more slowly?
Speed does save someone this episode, though we don’t know who. But Lisa is sent home, having tied on the quiz with another player, but answered the questions more slowly.
Before that quiz and execution, there are two tests. Both are let-downs, because both are more focused on exemptions than actually challenging the players.
The first test has the group choose someone to go find a location based on photographs, which does not seem to be much of a challenge at all. Myra is selected and easily finds an envelope with a card inside labeled “Neutralizer”: another twist! What is this, Big Brother?
Myra gets power: she has the choice of “neutralizing” one person, preventing them from getting an exemption, and adding $10,000 to the pot. Myra handles this well, pointing out that three people have already received exemptions. I’m less clear on why the group settles on Dorothy, but that’s who Myra neutralizes, and the pot gets $10K.
One-third of the episode is spent on all this, so it’s 16 minutes in before the second test. At its start, Al is selected as the “matchmaker,” which I first heard as “map maker,” and was excited to watch a test based on cartography.
But no: their “simple” task is to get across a short log bridge, with each player to get across winning $5,000 for the pot. On the bridge, they must pugil stick battle against either “Little John” or “Little Jane,” with match-ups chosen by Al. Al’s strategy seems to be to sacrifice smaller people to Little John, who’s a big guy. They ultimately win $25,000, and then the five who made it across battle each other for an exemption.
Al and Bill end up at the end, and Al wins—and later learns that he’s actually won two exemptions, because The Mole 2 is overflowing with exemptions. Bill later says he doesn’t the exemption, since he had the chance to earn it, which Darwin says “just smelled funny to me.” Al decides that the men had an advantage in the test, and then narrows it to the women who haven’t had exemptions, and settles on Katie because she had the most unlikely win.
This isn’t a bad challenge, but it’s a mediocre Challenge challenge. There hasn’t been a single test this entire season that’s challenged the group to work together to decipher clues and accomplish a task. Three episodes, not a single test based on any kind of strategy.
Ultimately, it just seems like setup for the exemption drama. In season one, there were three exemptions offered and two taken. In season two, three exemptions had been given out by episode two, and two more are distributed in episode three.
What The Mole 2 is doing better is giving us insight into the players’ suspicions and coalitions. In addition to all the exemption talk, this episode has a lot of coalition talk. It’s fun to see them lounging around the pool or hanging out in the hotel, but I’m still really missing the big, elaborate, epic tests of season one.
I did really love this part, so much that I made a GIF I can watch again and again:
Yes, the players cornered Anderson Cooper after the bridge test and threw him into the ice-cold water—water so cold they were all wearing wetsuits! That’s just amazing, and just something I can’t imagine happening on any other show. Can you imagine Survivor players just pushing Jeff Probst off of one of his little bridges into the ocean? I’m glad the players are having fun, and thrilled Anderson Cooper is still game—if only The Mole 2 will step up its challenge game.