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 7, “The Seventh Betrayal,” which first aired June 25, 2002.
First, there are two tests, which we see simultaneously, but based on Anderson Cooper’s attendance at both, they were filmed separately. Why oh why does this season keep splitting the cast up? Is it because that makes the game harder, since the players don’t know what really happened at the other test?
The first is teased at breakfast, when the players are greeted by small gnomes in their coffee mugs, which have tiny clues/threats: “I will break you.” The players all furiously write down the color of each others’ gnomes’ hats, which turns out to be smart because that’s actually a question on the quiz.
Heather, Bill, and Elavia participate in a greased-gnome relay, each transporting a greased gnome across an obstacle course with different challenges, such as climbing a ladder (Heather), making a goal (Bill, who is surprised that the female goalie is successful in protecting the goal, ugh) and riding a bike, and something else that Elavia doesn’t get to do because Bill drops the gnome when going up a ramp that’s been set up on the sidewalk. It is a steep ramp.
This is most notable for giving us video footage of Anderson Cooper pointing to a container of white goo and then miming lubing up a gnome, which looked like he was giving a two-hand job to a tree. “It’s time—I never thought I’d say this—it’s time to grease your gnome,” Anderson said later. Why would he ever leave this job for CNN?
Inside the broken gnome is an exemption, of course. There are so many the producers have to store them somewhere! Fascinatingly, Heather said that she guessed there was an exemption inside the gnome, based on the “break you” clue, and considered dropping it intentionally. Smart!
There’s also an exemption offered in the other test, a Gladiator-inspired battle. Bribs’ selection of Brutus’ helmet means he gets the chance to backstab the team. He declines, and the team wins $30,000 after going to battle.
Yes, Bribs, Katie, Darwin, and Al fight off gladiators, while Dorothy, as Caesar, watches in an arena, and by arena, I mean “part of a piazza that the producers have roped off and are pretending is an arena.”
The setting aside, there’s some pretty great production design involved. Each of the competitors’ armor has an egg in the center of the breast plate, and when shattered, it spills out red paint, a symbolic kill. It’s a great visual choice, especially when it splatters all over, though the cinematography really struggles to capture some of the action between the players and the gladiators.
Katie gets a kill and tells us, “It was the biggest natural high I’ve ever had in my life.” Aw Katie. And Bribs says this challenge is living out his fantasy, which for me would have been watching Anderson Coper pretend to lube a giant invisible phallus. But I digress. Anderson does get greasy: Heather and Bill embrace Elavia, and then do the same to Anderson, which is a fun moment.
There’s a lot of fun, and at dinner the players share stories about meeting their significant others, which are heartwarming, like Bill saying he followed his bikini-clad future wife up some stairs and decided “she had the most wonderful ass.”
The next day at dinner, everyone gets $1 with their name written on it. That’s to be used for the cruel ranking test, which the producers have brought back for the second episode in a row.
Before the execution, Anderson shares who each person voted as their least-favorite player. Bill is chosen as two other players’ least-favorite, while Elavia is chosen by three people. Anderson Cooper calls Elavia up, and drops the biggest surprise of the season so far: a bribe. “You can take $50,000 if you walk out of the game tonight,” he says.
“My main motivation was never the moeny,” Elavia says. “I came in it for the experience.” She gives it some thought and then decides to take the money. “Thank you for not liking me,” she says. I don’t quite know why she was the least-favorite, because she hasn’t exactly been a jerk to the other players. The editing has barely focused on her, making her seem reserved and introverted. As someone who’d probably be equally quiet around louder and more boisterous people like Al and Katie, I felt for her.
I did, however, think she made a great choice: a guaranteed $50,000 versus a 1 in 8 shot at a quarter million (so far) and having to spend time around people who have just said, twice, that they like you least.
But Dorothy later presented an argument that I also found compelling. In a confessional, she said, as if she was speaking to Elavia, “You had such an upper hand” and adds, “We could have plucked them all off one by one.” That’s interesting: Are you actually in power position if everyone suspects you as being the mole? Elavia does tell Anderson that everyone who thought she was the mole has exited the game so far.
The whole thing is kind of shocking, and then Anderson Cooper has one final shock for the players after he returns from sending Elavia away. “All right, let’s proceed with the execution,” he says. “In a few moments, I’ll begin entering—just kidding!”
Then—and this is almost as good as him rubbing the air—he does a little dance and says, “I love this game.” So do I, even with this season’s shortcomings and increased cruelty.