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Snake in the Grass is a promising Mole, but its Survivor alum need more game to play

Snake in the Grass is a promising Mole, but its Survivor alum need more game to play
Snake in the Grass contestants Earl Cole, Jeff Zausch, Malcolm Freberg, and Yul Kwon (Photo by Chase Bjornson/USA Network)

Every show wants to be The Mole these days, and USA Network’s Snake in the Grass is the latest in a long line of reality competitions to borrow the game at the center of the ABC series.

Filmed on the west coast of Costa Rica, it mashes together The Mole and survival-type shows, but its major twist is that there are just four players competing in just two days.

If they figure out which among them is sabotaging their challenges, they split $100,000. Otherwise, the mole—I mean, the snake—gets the cash.

In that way, Snake in the Grass is like a jungle version of ABC’s game show The Hustler, which had great theming but some frustrating game mechanics. There’s potential here, but in the one episode I’ve seen, absolutely not yet perfection.

Reality stars sabotaging each other

Stephenie LaGrossa, Rachel Reilly, Cirie Fields, and Janelle Pierzina on Snake in the Grass
Stephenie LaGrossa, Rachel Reilly, Cirie Fields, and Janelle Pierzina on Snake in the Grass (Photo by Chase Bjornson/USA Network)

The other major point of differentiation for Snake in the Grass (USA Network, Mondays at 11, and previewing on NBC tonight at 10) is that it’s following the trend of casting well-known reality stars from well-known shows.:

Among its 32 cast members are beloved alumni from Survivor, including record-setter Cirie Fields, winners Yul Kwon and Earl Cole, and players Stephenie LaGrossa Kendrick and Trish Hegarty.

There’s also Big Brother’s Janelle Pierzina, Big Brother/Amazing Race cast member Rachel Reilly, and two Nakҽd and Afraid contestants. And then there are a bunch of unknown players, too.

Some of them bring pre-existing relationships; others just know each other by reputation and televised game play. Earl tells us that he and Yul “always had that unique kind of bond/friendship.”

That history—and knowledge of each other—informs early suspicions. Alas, those immediate, context-free accusations are tiresome, as are those that really don’t have any evidence.

Malcolm suggests someone check the depth of the water, and Jeff says, “That could be something a snake would say to throw us off.” Or that could be something a snake would say.

Survivor winner Yul Kwon looks at a clue on Snake in the Grass.
Survivor winner Yul Kwon looks at a clue on Snake in the Grass. (Photo by Chase Bjornson/USA Network)

Unlike The Mole, the two timed challenges the players compete in are not to earn cash, but to win clues to the snake’s identity, written in reality TV producer rhyme.

There’s also a clue hidden at camp, and one is just given to them in the opening minutes. They’re simultaneously too specific and open to wide interpretation.

Each clue in the first episode seems to point directly at one player, which of course means that’s unlikely to be the case. One of the clues is “he even passed a bar exam,” and Yul says immediately “I’m a lawyer,” but then points out that maybe it could refer to Malcolm bartending.

Alas, the players really don’t have anything else to go on other than these clues. I am grateful that there are not piles of twists, but I wish the elements that were here offered more.

The challenges are just not complex enough, nor are they designed in such a way that gives the players a chance to sabotage or examine each others’ behavior.

The first snake’s sabotage is, well, basically nonexistent. There’s not enough time nor opportunity.

The Mole regularly split its players up for its tests, which meant parts of the challenge were happening away from some of the players, and that had the effect of adding data and amplifying suspicion.

Yul Kwon swims during a Snake in the Grass challenge as Earl Cole, Jeff Zausch, and Malcolm Freberg float on a raft
Yul Kwon swims during a Snake in the Grass challenge as Earl Cole, Jeff Zausch, and Malcolm Freberg float on a raft. (Photo by Chase Bjornson/USA Network)

It seems that, in post-production, someone was aware that there was not much to go on, so the editing throws in “tells,” which are ludicrously stupid.

During a campfire conversation, Earl talks openly about his mom’s death four years ago, pointing out that he’s grateful she got to see him win Survivor.

That moment is interrupted with a freeze frame and Bobby Bones saying in a voice-over, “Tell #3: Sob story. Snakes often tell sad stories with themselves at the center to gain sympathy and cover their lies.”

Seriously? Seeing these four competitors talk and bond is far more interesting than the challenges, and interrupting it with that nonsense is insulting.

Another time, Malcolm runs his fingers through his hair, and we get “Tell #2: Body language. Snakes often fidget, primp or groom when being deceitful and their nerves get the best of them.” Oh look: it’s a person moving their body! They must be the snake!

Even though they’re playing for less than two days, you can feel the desperation in the players for something, anything to do in the way they jump on the clues. Perhaps more cleverly written or designed clues might have yielded more-interesting analysis.

By the time Snake in the Grass’s players arrive at Tribal Council—I mean, “The Snake Pit,” except it has caldrons of fire and fake ruins so it’s a knock-off Tribal Council set—the players just don’t have enough evidence or data points to work with.

Instead, moderated by an otherwise nearly invisible host Bobby Bones, they sit and parse too-obvious clues before voting in secret. If all three players agree, and identify the snake, they split $100K; otherwise, the snake gets it.

In that way, the two-day format actually hurts the game play.

The players just don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, and neither do we. That said, the editing’s focus in the first episode gave it away for me, and I correctly guessed the snake based on that.

Jeff Zausch, Yul Kwon, Malcolm Freberg, and Earl Cole during their one night of camping on the Snake in the Grass episode "Masters of Gameplay"
Jeff Zausch, Yul Kwon, Malcolm Freberg, and Earl Cole during their one night of camping on the Snake in the Grass episode “Masters of Gameplay” (Photo by Chase Bjornson/USA Network)

Since the challenges and clues don’t deliver much, I suppose I expected the survival element to play more of a role; as Survivor fans know, the physical challenge wears on the players mentally, which affects the game.

But while Snake in the Grass is produced by the same production company as Nakҽd and Afraid, they are not even attempting anything similar.

The players spend one night on a beach in Costa Rica with a camp toilet, sleeping bags, a tarp, lanterns, and pre-chopped firewood. We don’t see them eat, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re eating catered food off-camera.

Sleeping on the sand is definitely not a luxury European hotel with Anderson Cooper pouring wine at dinner, but it is absolutely an easy vacation compared to Survivor, Nakҽd and Afraid, and maybe even Big Brother.

I’ll be curious to see if the challenge is more strenuous for those who’ve never been on a survival reality show, and that’s the majority: 22 players.

Alas, NBC/USA provided just one episode to critics, the one with Survivor’s Yul, Malcolm, Earl, and N&A and which was labeled as episode eight on the screeners and episode three in photos, but has now become episode one.

“That was a heck of a game,” Bobby Bones says at the end of the first episode, and if this was the eighth or third episode filmed, and this was “a heck of a game” compared to the other episodes, I’m worried.

But I really do like the foundation Snake in the Grass is laying, and the opportunity to see reality TV show players in a new context, like on The Challenge USA. I hope the other seven episodes offer better challenges and more opportunities more game for them to play.

Snake in the Grass

A promising twist on The Mole’s game play, but not enough depth to take advantage of the players or format. B

What works for me:

  • The simplified version of The Mole’s format
  • The lack of unnecessary twists

What could be better:

  • Better, more-complicated challenges
  • More opportunities to gather data
  • Dropping the stupid “tells”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

Stephen

Monday 1st of August 2022

Watched the 1st 20 minutes of one on 8/1, and the whole show seems fake. 90% of the dialogue seems scripted to me. Sorry, lost me in 20 minutes.

Tori

Monday 1st of August 2022

I am begging the networks (looking at you especially, ABC) to PLEASE just bring back The Mole instead of trying to do the format in different ways every couple of years. What happened to the rumoured Netflix reboot?

Andy Dehnart

Tuesday 2nd of August 2022

It's not rumored; it filmed last summer. Why it hasn't yet been released, or why it's taking so long in post-production, is the mystery!

BadMitten

Thursday 28th of July 2022

Talk about a snoozefest of a host, Bobby Bones was legit putting me to sleep every time he spoke. Could we not get a more energetic host for this?

Unlike you, I didnt pick up on the editing this first episode, but feel like I probably have the blueprint for future episodes going forward. I feel like the snake got by far the least amount of confessionals.

David

Thursday 28th of July 2022

I agree it just doesn't quite work. I think the clues should just go away. Like the mole, the snake tries to reduce the winning pot size or increase their own. Tell the audience who the snake is too, so they can edit the show more sensibly and show the deception with better confessionals.

Melissa

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Sounded kind of interesting until I got to Rachel Reilly. That's a big fat nope from me!

BadMitten

Friday 29th of July 2022

@Chuck, that episode still hasn't happened yet lol

Chuck

Friday 29th of July 2022

@Melissa, Rachel AND Janelle in the same episode.. yeah.. nope. Glad I missed this one.

Melissa

Thursday 28th of July 2022

@Andy Dehnart, Ah, they've got different people for each episode? Got it, thanks!

Andy Dehnart

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

😂 There are seven other episodes, if you do want to check it out.