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 8, “The Eighth Betrayal,” which first aired July 2, 2002.
Half of The Mole 2’s players have been executed, and that means it’s time to bring more people in: the players’ loved ones. There are two tests; both have family member visits as their reward. It’s somewhat of a pause in the game, as there’s very little game talk, though the players do end up earning $80,000 for the pot across both tests.
Anderson Cooper introduces the first as “very valuable,” saying that successfully completing the test means “you will earn the right to see your loved one for one night,” plus $5,000 for the pot. Anderson is also clear: “If you are not successful in this game, you will not see your loved one.”
That’s the opposite of the (much nicer, sweeter season one), which had competition reality TV’s first family visit after a similar test, but only briefly pretended that two of the players wouldn’t get to see their loved ones. Season two, though, isn’t fucking around; it’s perfectly content with leaving several players in tears or despondent (Katie, Dorothy, Al).
The test asks each player to choose another player, and then spend 30 seconds describing their loved one. Armed with only that description, the person has to look out a second-story window and identify the first player’s loved one from a crowd of people wandering the piazza below.
I’m actually unclear on how difficult this was. As viewers, we get a bunch of close-up shots of people, so it was easy for me to say, That’s Dorothy’s mom! That’s Katie’s dad!
But it’s never quite clear how well the players can see from upstairs, or if they’re directed in some way to only certain people: the people standing still or sitting, perhaps. What would have happened if a random person just walked by and was identified? Heather, dismayed at choosing the wrong person, points out that no one was actually facing her, which would certainly add to the challenge.
I definitely like the challenge of having to describe someone, and some players’ descriptions are better than others. Katie and Al both say their loved ones (dad and sister, respectively) look like them, but I 100 percent had no idea what Al was talking about. Katie, though, totally! I just wish the choosing took place in something more like a lineup situation, with the chooser having a group of people to select from.
The game seems designed to inspire suspicion and get the players to turn on each other, but those who choose wrong (Heather, Bribs) feel bad, and the other players don’t seem to blame them.
The reunions in the piazza are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and Bill. There’s more affection between The Mole players and Anderson Cooper—and between Anderson Cooper and that gnome—than between Bill and his brother-in-law. They shake hands while standing seven or eight hundred feet apart, and Anderson Cooper even mocks the chilly reunion, wiping away fake tears. Even though Bill got his reunion, I did feel bad for him, since he learned that his wife couldn’t find her passport and thus couldn’t make the trip, hence the brother-in-law’s presence.
The other disappointing part about the reunions is that we don’t get much time with the players and their loved ones, like season one gave us. There are a few interviews, and some fun moments like Bribs’ mother throwing shade at him about his use of Mole terminology. But Heather and her boyfriend are the only pair that get extended time, and that’s for a public proposal, and I have previously griped about those.
The second day’s test also offers the loved ones as a reward, but it’s even trickier: The player has to determine whether their loved one said they’d bungee jump off a crane or not. All of the family members, it turns out, say yes, that their player will jump.
Dorothy, it turns out, is the only one who guesses wrong, assuming her mom will say she would not jump. The Mole 2’s producers show a tiny bit of humanity and allow Dorothy and her mom to spend five minutes together, while everyone else gets the night and a day.
The bungee jump isn’t really cinematic; it’s a crane over a parking lot, and with zero production design. Fear Factor made these kinds of challenges look cooler. But the absolute highlight is Katie jumping. She hesitates (“Can I have a minute”) and then the bungee operator tells her not to think and kind of pushes her off (“Don’t think about it, just fall. 3, 2, 1…”).
“Did I scream really loud?” Katie asks while back on the ground, after screaming “oh my god” so much and so often that I have no doubt it’s still echoing in the Alps 19 years later. Watching her bounce and scream and have so much fun actually brings tears to Katie’s dad’s eyes, and that is the one part of this episode that made me teary.
Katie gets that thrilling experience and time with her dad, and then goes out on that high note, executed after tying with another player. She apparently annoyed some people (Al), but like Myra, I will miss her energy and heartfelt approach to playing this game.
That’s apparent throughout the episode, especially in the moment when she’s sitting with Dorothy and their sadness over not getting to see their parents, and Katie calls over a dog that’s wandering around. “Come here, puppy! Doggy!” Katie says. The camera operator zooms in and gets a perfect shot of the dog as it opens its mouth and pours out vomit. “That was so gross!” she says, laughing with Dorothy. “I thought it was its tongue. I’m like, Why is he licking the ground? … At least we got to laugh about something.”