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 4, “The Fourth Betrayal,” which first aired June 4, 2002.
The previous episode of The Mole 2 was the last episode to air before the show was pulled off of ABC’s Friday night schedule, leading to a nearly eight-month gap between episodes three and four. Thankfully, ABC re-broadcast the first three, too, because this would not have been a great way to be introduced to The Mole.
It’s a solid episode, with character development and two tests are better than most of the ones this season has delivered. And it does let us spend time with the players enjoying themselves as tourists in Venice, after they travel to Italy from Switzerland. But a lot of what happens relies on some knowledge of players and previous events, including the game talk.
Each player only participates in one of the two tests, which is another one of my frustrations with this tests this season: none of the tests so far have let them all work together to solve some kind of problem. This season does have more players, and perhaps the producers saving all of the full-cast challenges for the back half. (I genuinely cannot remember anything about this season except the mole’s identity, the winner’s identity, and one or two big moments, such as the bag-burning test.)
The first test involves five players, four of whom rappel down the side of a dam, read a question, and radio its answer—a single-digit number—back to the fifth player, Al. He has to take the four numbers he’s given and then rappel face-first to a treasure chest, and use those numbers to open a lock.
There were several challenges here: knowing the answers to some pretty tough questions (like about eliminated players’ ages), being able to do math while rappelling, and swinging to the side to be able to actually read the questions. This seems so very difficult to me!
The last person to go, Darwin, has a chance to look at all four questions, and then Anderson Cooper gives Al all of the questions. Basically, there are several opportunities to get the questions correct—or to introduce errors (and suspicion). And that’s what happens; Darwin and Al fix one of the answers, but get two wrong.
In between the two tests is a secret test. As they’re boarding a bus, a hot younger woman asks the players to help her and another hot younger woman change their tire. Bill helps by denting their car with his butt. Then, when stopping at a gas station, they’re approached by a hot older woman who also needs her tire changed. Because they change both tires, the group gets $30,000, which seems like a gift. Did the producers really think they might refuse to change the hot old woman’s tire, especially since by that time they knew something was up?
There’s some attention given to how eager the (presumably straight) men were to give help to these two women. “We get to change their flat tires and get a hug and a kiss in the process,” Patrick says in a voiceover while we see him hugging one of the women, and then giving her two kisses, grabbing her face for the second. Then we see that same sequence from a different angle, and in the background, you can see the other woman giving a hug and two cheek kisses to Darwin, though the two interactions seem very different.
That’s when Heather tells us, in an interview, “Patrick is very sexual in nature, and he’s always making sexual innuendoes and gross jokes, and he just makes people uncomfortable. For some reason it’s okay from some people’s mouths, and from his, it’s not. I don’t know why.” The show doesn’t explore this further, and I wonder if, in 2021, a reality TV show would have handled it differently.
Patrick also alienates himself from the group in other ways. He asks to borrow back his journal from Katie, and tears some pages out, even though Anderson Cooper previously explicitly said that they couldn’t do that. That costs the group $5,000. Gee, these penalties sure do seem random, don’t they? Darwin and Katie leaving their rooms in the last episode only resulted in a $1,000 fine each.
There’s so much piling on Patrick: “You can’t play the game like Patrick,” Darwin says, “because people don’t trust him.” Over pizza, when Patrick confesses tearing out journal pages, Heather tells Patrick directly: “there is not one person involved that’s going to give you any information.” After Patrick is executed, the players basically reminisce about him by repeating these things, though we also see some footage of him just having fun.
The second test divides the six remaining players into a smart group and dumb group. The dummies have to choose five brain-teasers for the smarty pants to answer. The catch: if the dumb players choose brain teasers that totally stump the other players, each of them get exemptions. If the smart players get all five right, they get the exemptions.
So yes, so many exemptions! You get an exemption! You get an exemption! You get an exemption!
Katie, Myra, and Patrick decide to go for the exemption, but are thwarted by the nerds’ intelligence, as they get all five questions right. Two of those questions are wrong, but Dorothy pulls out the correct answer in the one minute they have to propose a second answer, including unscrambling the word “mistrustfulness” and figuring out a word problem that gave me flashbacks to standardized tests, so I spent the rest of this episode rocking back and forth on the floor.
“Can you believe that?” Bill asks, after Dorothy correctly answers 90 for the word problem. “Dorothy was a star,” he says later. Myra calls this “very suspicious” and Katie agrees. But friends, this isn’t The Hustler! The Mole doesn’t have all the answers, they just have instructions to help them sabotage some of the games.
The players ultimately earn $80,000 in one day, minus Patrick’s penalty, bringing the pot to $166,000. By episode four in season one, the players had $310,000. Different tests, of course, but still quite a big gap there—and a similar one between the strength of season one and what we’ve seen so far in season two.