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 9, “The Ninth Betrayal,” which first aired July 9, 2002.
There are only six players left, and the episode opens with Al lamenting the “limited knowledge” he has about the identity of the mole. Considering how early some of the season-one players identified Kathryn as the mole, it seems like season-two has been much more challenging. Perhaps that’s because of the twists that the producers keep throwing in, which cast suspicions, or perhaps they’re just better at developing tests that conceal the mole’s sabotage.
Of the episode’s three games, two take place simultaneously: Bill, Bribs, Darwin, and Dorothy have to get a small car into a greenhouse, which has a locked door making it impossible to fit the car through. They’ve been given a bunch of tools and 2.5 hours to win $20,000, so they start disassembling the car immediately.
I won’t give myself credit for immediately realizing that there was twist, because I did watch this season 20 years ago and thus, somewhere in the dusty recesses of my brain, I know what happens even if I can’t recall it. Darwin is the first we see who thinks the actual trick is in the greenhouse, and eventually he discovers a combination lock. (I appreciated how the camera operator gave some subtle Amazing Race-style glances at the lock before Darwin noticed it.)
The test is about unlocking the door, not disassembling the car, even though they’ve taken the car almost entirely apart. Dorothy tries the numbers on the license plate, but when those don’t work, just starts trying combinations of numbers while everyone else starts putting the car back together. Eventually, she gets it: 6,5,4,3, but she does so by guessing. The number is actually also on the odometer, which Bill conveniently notices after Dorothy gets the lock undone.
It’s a great hidden brain-teaser, and totally the kind of test I love seeing on The Mole. I’m also surprised it took them so long to figure that out—as are they. “I can’t believe we were so asinine as to not take into consideration the clue” from breakfast, Bribs says later. The clue said: “I’m counting down, dwindling numbers are key.”
So, too, is, Heather and Al’s test—which is actually three games in one, plus the bonus of drinking wine with Anderson Cooper while sitting in a vineyard. They’re charged with producing five bottles of “wine” (i.e. grape juice) with their feet in 90 minutes to earn $10,000.
Once they’re done with that relatively easy task, Anderson Cooper offers them $5,000 each if they can successfully balance four glasses of wine without spilling a drop. If they fail, $5,000 comes out of the $10,000 they just earned. This happens after they’re somewhat tipsy; Al has had seven glasses of wine, and Heather four. They decide to go for it—and we don’t even get to see drunk people try to walk with wine glasses, because they both spill the wine while pouring it.
Al is annoyed that he’s failed before even trying, suggesting it’s basically impossible to pour wine without spilling. “As someone who once waitered, I can show you,” Anderson Cooper says, and then demonstrates graceful pouring with a gentle twist of the bottle at the end—and then he drips red wine all over the white tablecloth, too. He’s embarrassed (“I’ve been drinking with you guys for the last hour and a half!”) and it’s a charming moment.
The final part of the three-part test: Al and Heather have to convince the other four players to drink the bottle of fruit juice at dinner, but cannot explain that $10,000 is up for grabs. Their mysteriousness leads the other players to question their motives. Is an exemption at stake? If they drink it, will that prevent the two from getting an exemption?
Eventually, the players go for it, and win $10,000—and the knowledge that it came from Al’s feet. The real winner is Dorothy, who doesn’t drink wine, and just takes a tiny sip so that she’s contributed. All the players report that it tasted just fine, like grape juice, and I wondered if that was actually just store-bought grape juice in a bottle, since it wasn’t exactly produced in sanitary conditions, and I wonder if the production would risk anything happening.
That night, Anderson Cooper shows up at each player’s door at 12:15 to introduce one final test. “I was a little surprised when Anderson came in,” Darwin says. “He usually doesn’t wear a suit when he sneaks into my room. He comes in his pajamas—just the bottoms, usually.” 😱😂🤣
The players are offered $30,000 to keep a ball on a strong moving all night long, but have to hit it in order. If it stops moving or someone hits it out of order, the test fails. Heather calls this “one of those impossible games,” and as someone who really needs sleep every night, I probably would have tried to convince everyone to just give up and go back to bed.
However, they play, perhaps because they all know an exemption will be offered. They’re confident about that because earlier, Dorothy was neutralized, and isn’t eligible for the exemption. As the last person to stand up from the breakfast table, Bill is given a sticker by Anderson Cooper, and tasked with putting it in someone’s journal during the first test. If he succeeds, the player is neutralized; if he fails, he’s neutralized. It ends up falling flat, but I can see how this sequence could have created much more drama, especially had someone caught Bill going through people’s bags.
As the players do their best impression of bored cats and bat the ball around, Anderson appears periodically and lets people go back to bed. The first person to volunteer is, of course, Al, who jumps up and volunteers to go first for everything.
The third offer goes to Bill—but it’s for an exemption. If Bill takes it, the game is over, and he’s exempt. Bill takes that offer, but not before Bribs hits the ball twice, effectively ending the game before Bill can be offered the exemption. The producers nor Anderson Cooper either don’t notice this or don’t say anything, just as they don’t notice or say something about Darwin missing his turn earlier. So Bribs’ brilliant move didn’t actually end the game, Darwin’s “mind fart,” as he calls it, did.
The execution takes place in catacombs, where grates overhead have been lit with bright lights, so that when the players walk in, Anderson Cooper is standing in a pool of green light. It’s simultaneously cheesy and cool, although it looks weirder when we just see his green face. The actual execution has slightly less drama, as Anderson goes through every player without a red screen by the time he gets to the final player, Darwin, so it’s the first time we know who will be getting executed before the red screen appears.
The production design is definitely ramping up, even if the pot is only creeping up: it’s only at $376,000. But a big jump is coming soon.