Half of Netflix’s The Mole has now been released, so it’s time for a spoiler-filled discussion of all of the game play, the perplexing game play, the stupid game play, and the individual tests in season six’s first five episodes.
My thoughts and criticism on the first half of the season—the weird sidelining of Alex, the lack of an overarching theme, the weak music, the way the cast is edited—are all in my review.
What kept me watching were the tests, so I’m focused mostly on those here, breaking them apart by episode and challenge. What’s here are the details, behaviors, and clues (?) that stood out to me, though I’m sure I missed and/or immediately forgot about things, so let’s discuss!
Also, I know at least a few of you are intimately familiar with international versions of The Mole, and thus recognize challenges that have appeared elsewhere, so I look forward to your insights in the comments about how the Netflix show adapted them.
Let’s start with how, at the end of these first five episodes, the pot is at $14,500, which is comically low.
Are the players are just bad at this game, or are they all sabotaging to pretend they’re the mole?
Perhaps both, but I also think it’s a function of how, well, stingy this Netflix version is. Wikipedia says—and I’ll trust their math over mine—that just $133,000 could have been earned. In five episodes!
By comparison, The Mole season one offered $125,000 in the first episode.
Both $133,000 and $14,500 are pathetically low numbers. But why is the maximum amount so low? Is it because there are fewer tests in each episode, or lower cash amounts for individual tasks, or both?
Episode 1: ‘Are You The Mole?’
Daintree Rainforest treasure hunt
While the first episode of The Mole season six is my least-favorite episode of this batch—and of any Mole season—because it’s so flat, the opening challenge is decent.
The season-one, episode-one parachute jump barely counts as a challenge (despite how fraught that was behind the scenes!), so I like immediately beginning by breaking the players into smaller groups.
I do wish the plane had been more than a prop, though, especially since they started exploring it before host Alex Wagner arrived. Are some of its numbers clues for us?
Three groups allows both the players and us to get to know each other better, and for them to observe each others’ behavior up close.
Almost immediately, we get a sense of some key personality traits: Avori knows her shit, at least about climbing; Joi is bad at navigating; Greg is bad at social interaction (the triangle, oh my god) and searching (“I don’t want to rush through this area!”); Will and Dom are annoyed when others don’t try as hard as they do.
Offering each team a clue for a price is a good way to introduce the kind of action/consequence thing that The Mole does so well, and Survivor has been trying to ram into its game the past few seasons.
There was also a secret mission, which was kept from us, too: Will found a note that said he had to steal a case without being caught (and presumably deliver it to the producers somewhere?).
While I missed Anderson Cooper making an offer to someone, the way this particular reveal played out was fantastic, just watching the players react with anger and suspicion, and then joy and happiness when they learned the twist.
That secret mission felt to me like such a possible mole misdirect, with the producers telling the mole to be sure to find it and complete that task. Attracting some suspicion but ultimately winning over the group is one way I’d try to act if I was the mole. (Not by, say, dropping the gear that I was carrying and making my teammate run back to get it. But we’ll get to that in a few episodes.)
I’m not sure why they had the players camp overnight. Maybe to bond, maybe just to give an opportunity for that secret task. Why not just go directly to that stunning house? This isn’t Survivor, after all!
Episode 2: ‘Take No Prisoners’
Episode one ends at the start of episode two, for no reason other than to annoy me. Osei was the first eliminated, which was not a surprise because of the amount of attention he got.
Jail break at Boggo Road Gaol
Some years after The Mole, when escape games became a thing, I fell in love with them because they reminded me so much of Mole challenges—including season one’s final test.
I was glad to see that kind of test appear, and while it was well-filmed and edited, the challenge design was kinda dumbed down.
Each player had one thing to help another player, with very few other possibilities in their cells, though Will’s pillow certainly paid a steep price. The inmate photos on the upstairs players’ wall weren’t a code or anything: just a direction to go look in those open cells, where a Bible with a key inside were waiting.
The editing of this test really shaped our perception of it, I think. For example, could Joi see the key on the floor outside Kesi’s cell as easily as we could?
As the two players who picked the teams, Casey and Dom got this test’s offers: doubling the money in exchange for taking 10 minutes off the clock, and later adding five minutes for $5,000.
They didn’t know about those all at once, but the math made sense; their choices led them to making $14,000 for a test initially worth $10,000. Also, just $10,000? For six people all breaking out in an hour?
Red button moral dilemma
The players got dressed up to go out, and I thought we were finally going to get a dinner with Alex and some time to get to know the players.
Alas, no. Netflix’s The Mole is not interested in developing its characters. Editing, say, Greg into a one-note villain wouldn’t work if we knew he’d developed a close friendship with someone else.
My disappointment aside, I loved this test, which immediately made me think of it as a non-deadly version of the Joker’s ferry dilemma in The Dark Knight.
On The Mole, the players were split in half; each team could press a red button and earn their entire team exemptions, but only if they pressed it first.
To press the button, they had to solve a puzzle that was in another room, but not all of them could go there at the same time. They also had to talk to the other team on the phone every 10 minutes, which led to some wonderful comedy with Greg’s highly suspicious word choice.
As to the puzzle, I did not catch the “in the table” clue, but I was still disappointed that, with 10 minutes left, Alex basically gave them the answer. You could almost hear the conversation in the control room: These dummies aren’t going to get it, so let’s just tell them.
That said, I loved Alex on the mic here, as she seemed like she was having fun. Let her have more fun please!
Avori and Pranav’s partnership/friendship paid off as they immediately starting working on the puzzle together, and along with Casey, Greg, and Sandy, they received the exemption.
Episode 3: ‘Knowledge is Power’
The previous episode ends in this episode, with the results of the red button test revealed, and Samara being eliminated—perhaps a function of half the players being exempt, making the odds of elimination much higher.
The dossier bribe
This test/offer/whatever immediately reminded me of the season-one moral dilemma when the players had a chance to look at producers’ notebook in the interview room.
Here, they went into an office one at a time, and read a note that offered them the ability to look at dossiers about all the players. If no one looked, $10,000 went into the pot.
Considering the high likelihood of someone looking, I would have looked, because why not? But I also I missed the (in retrospect, obvious!) clue that players who did not look would be rewarded, a nice detail.
Greg and Avori looked, because of course they did. But that was only part of the test.
After the Great Barrier Reef test, player went to speak with Alex alone, and she asked if they’d looked. (No one really thought they could lie to her, right?)
Those who had not had a choice: they could make a bet, using available money in the prize pot, and if they bet the most and guessed who looked at the dossiers, they’d get an exemption.
I originally misunderstood Alex’s instructions, and thought that if they bet and chose the right person, they’d add the amount they bet to the pot.
The incredibly shocking twist was not that a bunch of people made bets, but that Joi bet $25,000 of the $28,500 they’d earned. I was right there with the other players being in absolute shock about this.
I understand, in a game with strangers, looking out for yourself, even if it costs the group. But to take all the money from the pot in order to stay one more day is such a bizarre choice. Why stay in the game to try to win the prize if the prize is basically nothing because you wanted to stay in the game?
It’s way too obviously sabotage to be mole behavior, and it struck me that Joi is just, well, bad at this game, and knows it, so she went for it. And good for her: it made the episode far more dramatic! Even the players watching to see if Greg would look was dramatic, even though they all probably knew he absolutely did.
By the way, how was this the only test during which Alex really interacted with the players? She was there for the prison break test, to offer the time extension and clue, but this demonstrated how great she is, bantering and reacting to the players. And her shocked look to camera in the office was amazing.
Great Barrier Reef search
While this test had echoes of the Man in the Iron Mask test from season one, it was ultimately much simpler: a plane group had to spot supplies and then carry them to the boat group, which had to dive for crates.
The numbers on the crates are totally code or clues for us, right?
What stands out the most for me is Avori’s attempt to make other people think she’s the mole, which manifested as 1) pretending she was sick on the plane, 2) completely missing the dinghy, even though she was looking out the window at it along with Kesi, and 3) dropping an air tank on the beach and making her team go back for it.
Those seem such clunky mole moves, especially the air tank. Yet that in particular seemed to work: Dom switched his suspicion to Avori as a result of her dropping the tank, and then he was eliminated at the end of this episode.
Meanwhile, Greg reached peak Greg here, standing on the boat and shouting condescending things at other players, it was very curious that he was blamed for dropping the air tank—but Casey handed it to him, which we did not see.
At this point, Casey became one of my top suspects. She appeared to be trying hard, but was also slowing them down, having to go down multiple times to blow up the balloon, for example. Not that I could dive under that cloudy, murky water and hold my breath without panicking.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Casey the COVID nurse is the mole, and all the other players are anti-maskers or anti-vaxxers, and at the end she’s like Fuck you all! I took your money! Okay, yes, I know that will not happen, and she’s too nice for that, and I hope all none of these players are not misinformation morons like some Survivor cast members have become, but I digress.
Episode 4: ‘Bank Heist’
The return Dom to the game game
Dom was eliminated, and then Dom was locked in a car while the players drank in a bar. He learned this was another test: get the team to help him guess the bumper sticker on his car (“Seattle”), and he’d be back in the game with $10,000.
When he learned they wouldn’t help him, he decided to answer on his own—which he probably should have been doing the whole time. Incredibly, he was down to two cities, but guessed wrong, and stayed out of the game.
I like the moral choice here, but I also think the test was hurt by the low stakes. $10,000 is far more than the pot had, but Dom would also re-enter the game with an upper-hand, knowing what he got wrong on the quiz. What if the offer was $50,000, or $100,000? It needed a few layers of complication.
A bank heist
The players’ excitement over this task mirrored my own, and watching one team leap over the counters of the bank to get to the vault was one of the few fun moments that we’ve seen so far.
The two teams had two completely different tasks, each aided by one team member identified as their “critical thinker,” who had access to information but could only communicate directly with one team member.
In that role, both Pranav and Kesi had key opportunities to sabotage, but also tough jobs it’d be easy to screw up.
That said, Kesi missing the code in her book is more suspicious. Once Kesi and her team realized that just trying safety deposit boxes wasn’t going to work, someone must have realized they were missing a clue. How did Kesi not see that—nor even think to just read the list to her team, so they could all try to figure it out together? Some of the clues were hard, for sure. But maybe one would have triggered something.
Pranav had do some complex math, without a calculator, and then rely on his team to count various bills correctly—which, as we saw, Jacob was not doing.
Still, that the editing is showing Jacob’s screw-ups so much—and others’ suspicion of him—makes me think he’s not the mole.
Sandy getting a bill’s denomination wrong seemed so suspicious, and between that and her being the first to reject bringing Dom back, I had suspicions. And then Sandy was eliminated.
Episode 5: ‘Human Lie Detector’
A run for the mail
By this point in the season, I was missing the smaller tests, or the ones where one group does something completely different than another. This mail-gathering task did split the players into three groups, and they each had very different tasks, though they were all ultimately connected.
The mail run test worked because the difference between sabotage and screw-up is hard to tell. Was Avori really exhausted, and just not able to run as fast as the other guys? Is Joi really that bad with a map? How could Jacob fail to drive maybe 10 miles in 90 minutes? Why did he turn around to stop at the mailboxes he spotted by the trailer, but then drive almost all the way back to the start?
While the foot crew certainly had the biggest physical challenge, the train crew had the hardest task, and one of those that is challenging enough, so it’s easy to screw up and/or sabotage.
Greg was impressive with that hook. I thought he’d lost it both times, just because of how challenging that appeared, so Kesi dropping the bag was the least-suspicious thing.
This entire test was only worth $18,000—again with the low amounts—but it ended up netting the group $11,000.
Instead of getting actual lunch, the players got some terrible food instead, but also had a chance to earn $15,000 that was sitting on a faux bomb. Two of them sat on chairs with detonators.
After each course, they voted two people off the table, and the goal was to keep the players who had real food, because they had the detonators. But the players with bad food wanted to stick around, because there’s an exemption up for grabs, so they had to do their best to pretend what they were eating was, for example, peas and not wasabi.
I loved everything about this test, and though I do not love having to wait a week for its outcome, it’s the most well-earned cliffhanger.
I have so many questions, though! Did the players select a chair randomly? Did the mole know where to sit? Or did the producers just pick two people after they’d sat down?
Trying to camouflage their reactions to spicy food made for great television. When Greg coughed from his apple cider vinegar beer, I laughed so hard.
It came down to Joi and Will; Joi was not on a detonator, so she was given a choice: defuse the bomb and earn the $15,000, or screw everyone over and get an exemption.
That Joi can prevent the group from earning $15,000 to get an exemption is a hell of a cliffhanger, and I’m honestly not sure what she’ll do. I thought Will might explode when she stopped reading the second card mid-sentence, so if she chooses that, there will be some very mad people.
Then again, the group is already annoyed, so why not let them be more annoyed?
The most unexpected part of the ending was a QR code and URL directing us to this: Think You Know Who The Mole Is? Prove It. It’s a Netflix-produced quiz that, like the quiz the players take, asks questions about The Mole’s identity.
I took it with my number-one suspect in mind, Casey, and was told “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong hunch about who the Mole is.” However, I guessed at several questions, because I couldn’t remember details like where people were sitting (and didn’t want to cheat!), so is it my memory that’s bad, or am I off?
Then I took it again, answering by playing odds—e.g. two of the three groups in the first test returned with red cases, so I said yes, the mole was in one of those groups, since there were more players in those groups. For questions I couldn’t answer like that, I just guessed.
And guess what? “It looks like you’re on the right track.” But I really am not! I love this show, and can’t wait to see what happens with the next three episodes.
The Mole recaps and spoilers
The Mole: recaps, analysis, and spoiler-filled discussion of The Netflix and ABC reality TV competition show that has one player working to sabotage the other players' attempts to earn money.
"Mole, noun," Anderson Cooper read from a dictionary entry. "A spy. A double agent who establishes a cover long before beginning espionage." With those words, and then the sound of wind whipping across the Mojave Desert, The Mole season one began in early 2001 on ABC. Ten players—Afi, Charlie, Henry, Jennifer, Jim, Kate, Kathryn, Manuel, Steven, and Wendi—had to figure out who among them was the mole, in order to avoid execution and win the pot.
The Mole: The Next Betrayal, also just known as The Mole season 2, premiered just seven months after season one concluded on Feb. 28, 2001. But after three episodes, it was pulled off the schedule, and returned in the summer of 2002, airing opposite American Idol. The Mole seasons one and two are now streaming on Netflix, so you can watch 14 players—Al, Ali, Bill, Bob, Bribs, Darwin, Dorothy, Elavia, Heather, Katie, Lisa, Myra, Patrick, and Rob—work together in tests while trying to avoid execution and figure out who among them is the mole.
My spoiler-free review of Netflix’s The Mole, which has thrilling tests, but no sense of identity, and underuses its terrific host, Alex Wagner, while under-developing its players. It’s watchable, yet also a missed opportunity.
Monday 10th of October 2022
this cast seems more like actors versus actual people on a tv show. I just get that feeling from watching that they are just a bit to over the top / over acting through the show.. only so much can editing do that, the rest is from them.
thats I think most of the vibe that seems off and different from the OG versions of the show. Its a cast seeking attention for fame versus playing the game at hand.
Tuesday 11th of October 2022
@raphael, I've been thinking the same thing. It's the only explanation for how badly some of them are playing.
Sunday 9th of October 2022
I have a stupid question and I've seen every single season of The Mole. Is The Mole on their own or are they getting direction from production throughout the game?
Sunday 9th of October 2022
@Christopher, Depends on the version. In the international versions, the Mole knows everything about every challenge and has nightly check-ins with the producers unless the twist of the season is that the Mole is picked on site (which has happened in both NL and BE). I think the US one was more broad strokes in the original seasons.
Sunday 9th of October 2022
Both! At least in the original US version, the producers sometimes told the mole to just participate normally, and at other times gave the mole information or direction. (More about how that worked is here!)
Saturday 8th of October 2022
After finishing the first five episodes, several of my reactions are exactly the same as Andy's. Either the producers got incredibly lucky with the worst performing cast in reality history or something else is going on. Having read Andy's oral history of the original Mole, what caught my attention was the producers of that show wanted to make sure that there was real money in the pot.
Apparently not this version. The stakes are too low which allows someone like Joi to decide to just keep playing because half of this cast probably wants to be internet influencers or on the bachelor or road rules or something else. I blame this on the casting department.
I do like the tasks and while the prison breakout was relatively easy, it required working together.
I really miss the music! Also taking the quiz and execution afterwards is surprisingly flat. There is almost no suspense there. I think having them around a table at execution is a mistake. Facing towards the "red screen of death" is much better.
But, I'm still looking forward to the next three episodes. I think we need to have a message thread where people guess how large the pot will be at the end of the next three episodes. If you go over (price is right) you're eliminated.
Wednesday 12th of October 2022
@Adam, do you not know what "wokeness" means?
Tuesday 11th of October 2022
@AK, Sounds like you have the problem since no one mentioned race at all!
Tuesday 11th of October 2022
@Adam, so you can't stomach this season because there too many non-white contestants? Given that there's been zero discussion of social justice or other political topics, it's hard to know what else you could mean by "wokeness." Sounds like a problem with you, not the show, though!
Monday 10th of October 2022
@Robert Karp, Well said, Robert! You took the words right out of my mouth. I am glad the show is back but this cast is abysmal at best. There should have been a cap at how much contestants could have bid when guessing who opened the dossier. The "wokeness" of this season makes it indigestible for me.
Saturday 8th of October 2022
So, I know I said a lot of my stuff in DMs, but here's the quick rundown of the changes (for the worse!) that were done.
This is also with the caveat of them definitely having watched België Germany when planning this season - it was the most recent one when they filmed, and also the only one filmed during COVID so to make up for their lack of travel (usually they fly to a far-flung location - this time they drove across the border to Germany), it was heavily-themed.
Firstly, the lab game was in a nuclear bunker where they split the final ten into two groups and said it was a double execution - if anyone pushed, their team was safe and the others had a 2/5 (or maybe 2/4!) chance of going home. Oh, and there were explosives under the chairs so the winning team blew up their execution seats.
Secondly, the "integrity will be rewarded" assignment was in the episode themed around East Germany and its secret police. In saying that integrity will be rewarded, but so will betraying your friends, it works far better thematically than just placing it in a random Aussie mansion.
The Dom second chance game is *the* iconic Belgian cliffhanger - it ended their 2016 premiere with the first boot being told that the first execution is a crapshoot and they can return by typing their number plate into the computer. One wrong number plate and the timer speeds up, two and they're out - and more importantly a paint bomb sets off over them and their luggage. This was also adapted in the 2020 German reboot of the Mole for their second execution.
Finally, the spicy dinner. In the België Germany version, the detonators set off a paint bomb but the safe person can pick an advantage for themselves and the other person if they don't want to put money in the pot - this was jokers, rather than an exemption. Jokers change wrong answers into right ones on the test.
I believe I'm up to 36 seasons of Mole watched now, and this is the only one where it's not great, it's not bad - it's just there for me. US Mole has always been a bit Wizard of Oz, in that once you've seen behind the curtain and what other versions offer it becomes less appealing but it's just so neutered.
There has never been a season worldwide with adult contestants that has had a maximum age as low as 40. The cast is *diverse*, but not in age or backgrounds, and the insistence on cliffhangering everything means that the tension is sucked out of the show - the taxi elimination is *the* cliffhanger from Belgium, and they don't even use it. In addition, the rigidity of sticking to 42 minute episodes (which is ~10 min less than basically every other version) means we don't get any scenes of them interacting outside of assignments and loses the fun game side of the show for me.
Alex is a good host (at least when allowed off-script, like with the bunker teasing) and the cinematography is great, but it's just a bit soulless for me.
Wednesday 12th of October 2022
Seconding this. Mole US has always been pretty weak by comparison to other versions in terms of capitalising on the places they're visiting. But even compared to the ABC version... like, within the first three episodes of season one you've got Paris tourism, the Man in the Iron Mask hostage rescue, Cartier watches, bullfighting, and street laundries. Five episodes into this season and all we've really had is an "Australia was a penal colony!" justification for the generic prison break challenge and the food at this latest meal challenge (and even if we're being generous and agreeing with the show's false assertion that that was a meat pie, they were so far away from the part of the country where peas are a common addition - Adelaide - that it was equivalent to doing a Philly cheesesteak challenge in Lincoln, Nebraska).
I'm sure the argument producers would make is along the lines of "we're travelling to a new region every episode, and we're focusing on the spy aspect anyway", but... like, this isn't Amazing Race (not that these producers are good at doing that either, judging by their revival of the Aussie version), they're not doing anything relevant enough or scenic enough in any of the locations to justify the constant travel (even the Great Barrier Reef challenge could have been done on basically any coastline), and the spy theming is kind of halfassed?
They're in this weird middle ground where the half of the challenges they're taking from Belgium are good choices but they're being neutered because the producers haven't understood WHY they've worked, and the other half of the challenges are basically all underdeveloped treasure hunts and escape rooms. Which are fine in moderation, but when you think of the iconic US Mole challenges, how many of them feel like they could be done this season, even if suitable locations could be found? Anderson's Fun House? Evader? The dice game? Defending a fortress? I'm not sure any of them could turn up now.
I know the showrunner mentioned being a superfan of the show but it's like... you know how in the early days of Survivor how there'd be a whole bunch of buzz about the new season premiere and people would tune into episode 2 only for it to have a gross food challenge and then they'd complain that it was "that show where they just eat bugs"? It feels kind of like that except the only episode they saw is the "three hotel rooms" one.
I'm not sure how I'd grade this season. It's better than Yucatan in that at least they haven't resorted to racist stereotypes, but even then it doesn't feel like it's going to wind up being more than a 6/10 at this point. Any of the individual flaws with the season would be the sort of thing you could overlook on its own. It's the fact that we've got neutered challenges AND wasted locations AND an underused Alex AND awful pacing issues AND bad editing AND a cast loaded with dull people and blowhards that's the issue.
Sunday 9th of October 2022
@Andy Dehnart, Yeah, Belgie loves its paint bombs (just as NL loves laser tag) but the versions they've done here just lack a bit of bite for me.
Because the host is also the showrunner, he was able to actually interact with the Mole in the "integrity will be rewarded" challenge and ask if they thought they could get away with the bid they'd chosen, for example.
The level of humour from Belgie is missing in the challenges too - from the Germany season, they did their take on Carpool Karaoke. While four people were learning to play a piano piece, there was one note not used at all (la note diabolique, as we dubbed it). The others were in paddling pools in the back of a truck going around a race track, doing karaoke to German songs to earn cash for the pot. However, if la note diabolique was played, the driver brake checked. It's a level of comedy and comfort with the show as a whole that this version is just missing.
Saturday 8th of October 2022
Thanks for all this insight, Michael! Even though I haven't seen any of these, I already miss the layers of creativity—theming, production design—that's just not part of Netflix's Mole for some inexplicable reason. The car challenge seems particularly light compared to what you describe!