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, concluding today with The Mole: The Next Betrayal‘s finale: season 2, episode 13, “The Last Betrayal,” which first aired Aug. 6, 2002.
For its second season finale, The Mole uses pretty much the exact same format as season one: revealing the winner and the mole during a reunion of all the players. But it’s far more successful than season one’s finale, which kind of bumbled through the reveal.
Season two is a little cheesier; instead of watching a screen with a green and red thumbprint, the final three are locked in little closets on the set, and discover whether they’ve one or lost by trying to open the door. But that does mean that the winner learns they’ve won at the exact same time that all of the players find that out, too, and there’s so much joyous energy when Dorothy emerges. Likewise, when she opens another door to reveal the mole, Bill, the crowd goes wild again.
Only three of the players predicted that Bill is the mole, which is fascinating. But it seems that most of them thought Bill was just trying to pretend to be the mole, and thus dismissed him as a possibility.
What the finale does particularly well is break down the players’ strategy. There’s a lot, so I won’t transcribe it, but it’s fascinating to learn that Heather clued Dorothy in to the identity of the mole.
The game was so challenging that, during the season, the final two players, Heather and Dorothy, were both super-close to being executed. During the episode Katie was executed, both she and Heather took the quiz and answered as if Dorothy was the mole, and they tied—but Katie was just 11 seconds slower than Heather.
Meanwhile, Elavia’s decision to take the $50,000 and leave the game prevented Dorothy from being executed, because she had the lowest score on the quiz that night.
And Dorothy beat Heather on the final quiz by just one question. It was intense competition.
Anderson Cooper said that Heather played with “integrity, intelligence, and heart,” though “emotional exhaustion and a lack of confidence led to Heather’s decline,” and said Dorothy is “smart, and she played to win,” though he also mocked her physicality and noted that her “intelligence became a source of suspicion” for the other players.
During the reunion, Anderson playfully mocked Darwin, the “king of coalitions,” who aligned with five people, all of whom were executed except for Bill, his very first coalition—but Darwin didn’t catch on to that because he’d dismissed Bill as a possibility.
As to Bill’s sabotage, we’d actually already seen nearly everything during the season. All of Bill’s obvious failures, from his inability to tread water to his stumble with the gnome, were intentional. There were a few new pieces of information, such as Bill taking credit for suggesting that Ali and Bribs pretend they’d received an exemption during the costume game.
The final bit of business for the finale was the reveal of all of the clues that the show had provided to both viewers and, sometimes, the players. These are objectively better than the dumb, dumb clues season one gave us, though some of them were still quite silly, and didn’t feel like legitimate clues at all.
The sillier clues included Anderson saying that the apple he was eating in the wine challenge was pointing to Washington state, where Bill is from, or the Romeo and Juliet reference also pointing to Bill because he shares a first name with William Shakespeare. Likewise, Anderson tried to insist that the mole’s fake journal in episode three saying that the mole was “schmoozing the ladies” meant the mole was male, or that Anderson’s episode-10 reference to “Mickey D’s” during their McDonalds dinner was actually supposed to refer to Bill McDaniel. Please!
There were, however, some very smart and fun clues pointing directly to Bill which could have been deciphered by viewers. Episodes one and two also contained zodiac references—fake stars in the sky forming Pisces in episode one, and an illustration of Pisces in episode two—and back in 2002, ABC.com had bios of the players that included their signs. The title sequence featured a bunch of letters, Matrix—style, and in episodes eight and 11, those letters briefly unscrambled to say “admiral” (pointing to Bill’s role in the Navy) and to just say “Bill is the mole.”
The best, I thought, was the telegram the players received in Italy (pictured above). The box for phone number didn’t contain an obvious phone number, but those numbers—843 665347 0024 5500—on a telephone keypad spelled out “The Mole is Bill.” How amazing would it have been if one of the players had figured that out?
It was still quite an amazing season, despite the cruel streak at the beginning, and the lack of season-one camaraderie. And of course, it was Anderson Cooper’s last season as host, meaning this episode is his last on The Mole, and although he was really doing something new and interesting in reality TV hosting, he left for CNN, and told me he has no intention of reprising his role. Let’s hope the host of the new American The Mole can make it as fun as Anderson did.