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 5, “The Fifth Betrayal,” which first aired June 11, 2002.
My frustration with The Mole 2 has been its challenges—or tests, as the show calls them, apparently to differentiate itself from Survivor and other competitions. They haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t reached the epic scale or espionage thriller heights of season-one’s tests. Not one test has so far asked the players to work together, and that continues in this episode, as the group is split 7-3, and each group gets a separate test.
Thankfully, they’re truly excellent reality TV challenges. The first uses seven players, who have to work together to answer a series of questions to win $20,000 for the pot. The challenge is perfectly structured and offers multiple layer.
Three players—Elavia, Dorothy, and Rob—are runners, who have to go the center of town, and communicate with the talker, Katie, via a cell phone. She gives them a clue; they run off to find the answer, which will fill in the blanks on a board. Once they get three answers, they take highlighted letters from those answers and unscramble them to get a final answer.
The other three players—Bill, Bribs, and Darwin—are literally the timers. They have to tread water in the hotel’s pool, and as long as someone is still treading water, they can keep trying to solve the puzzles. The complication is that the swimmers have to take on a 1.1 pound weight every five minutes. There’s great strategy here, with the three deciding to give all the weight to the weakest swimmer, Bill, first, and keep the strongest swimmer, Bribs, weight-free until the end.
Bribs lasts 1 hour and 13 minutes, and even refuses Anderson Cooper’s pleas to stop—and then, after he sinks underwater and fails, refuses Anderson Cooper’s outstretched hand to help him out. Bill, who’d bragged about how long he can last in the water because of his military training, lasts just 7 minutes and 32 seconds. Bill really is a lot of talk, isn’t he?
There’s some particularly smart game play with the second question, which asks for the number of stairs in a particular location. Dorothy runs off to go count, but is quickly exhausted. Darwin, who’s treading water, suggests that Katie just start guessing, and together they eventually guess correctly—which is great because Dorothy never even returns. (The producers did not limit the number of guesses, and Anderson Cooper is just standing there, saying no repeatedly.)
Darwin is kind of the hero of this challenge, because even from the water, he’s strategizing and helping. For the first clue, Elavia gets the spelling of an author’s name wrong, and Darwin suggests changing the last letter. “How did you know that was an A?” Katie asks, and Darwin jokes, “because I’m the mole!” (Of course, it’s because, in Italian, ending a name with an A makes sense.)
Working together, the seven players get close: The final clue make it obvious the answer is Romeo and Juliet, but the letters, scrambled, are for the Italian spelling, and Katie also misses one of the letters on the board. “I feel like an idiot; I didn’t see the G,” Katie says later, crying. I feel bad for her, but was also so thrilled to see her cry from a simple mistake rather than emotional manipulation from the producers.
As the icing on the cake, Anderson Cooper reveals that all of the clues fit together and connect to their host city: Vicenza, Italy, home of Luigi Da Porto, who wrote a novel that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Even though they fail the test, it’s a joy to watch.
The other three players, Heather, Myra, and Al are far more successful: they earn $40,000 for escaping from three locked cells. It’s a literal escape room! The mechanism of escape is a lot more obvious than season one’s escape hotel rooms, but it’s still a great challenge.
There are two complications: First, to retrieve a key, they have to shatter a light bulb, which will plunge the room into darkness, with the exception of some things that glow in the dark, like the always-luminous Anderson Cooper.
Second, if they don’t escape, they have to spend the night in the cells—and won’t be able to call their families on super-cute 2001 video conferencing phones which are ancient, sure, but seem to me to be about as clear as a Microsoft Teams video chat.
The three of them work so well together, and make all the right decisions, such as having back-up plans, like laying down blankets to catch the key if it falls outside of the basket that’s underneath it.
There’s one final twist, after they escape: Heather, who’s the first to leave her cell, is stopped by Anderson Cooper, who offers her an exemption to leave the other two locked in overnight. She doesn’t hesitate. “There’s no way. We did this together, so I’m letting them out,” she says. Myra even asks, “Are you sure?” Heather tells Anderson, “It wasn’t worth one more round to leave them in here.”
That’s an impressive show of humanity, and I was so worried Heather would be executed after giving up immunity. Instead, it’s magician Rob and his spiky hair who takes a walk with Anderson Cooper.
These tests are also great because they consume most of the episode, and while there’s an exemption at play, it’s an afterthought, not the reason for a full test.
There is some interpersonal drama, but it flows from the events of this episode and previous episodes: Al is mad that Darwin suggests Al should not be the person the players choose as a lead yet again. “Maybe you shouldn’t try to run the show,” he tells Darwin. Darwin tells the cameras, “If there’s an Olympic event for jumping to conclusions, Al would be the champion of the world.” They make up, and all is well; next episode, we’ll even see the sharing the same bed in their hotel room.
There’s also time for a charming Mole dinner with Anderson, which is everything I want from this show, and 100 percent why it’s the only show I applied to be on. Rob has a nice moment—it turns out to be a parting moment, though he doesn’t know it yet—as he does a card trick for Anderson Cooper.
“If this freaks me out I’m going to punch you,” Anderson tells Rob, and then punches him, in a moment that has more genuine reactions than the last five seasons of America’s Got Talent combined. Camaraderie, great tests, Anderson Cooper: It’s a near-perfect Mole episode.