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The Mole’s Greg and Avori on casting, strategy, quizzes, and more

The Mole’s Greg and Avori on casting, strategy, quizzes, and more
Greg Shapiro and Avori Henderson, during interviews shown in Netflix's The Mole episode 1. (Images from The Mole via Netflix)

Besides The Mole’s final three, who I previously interviewed, and Jacob, who was eliminated fifth, Avori Henderson and Greg Shapiro made it made it farther than anyone else in the game: Avori to the final four, and Greg to the final six.

But Avori and Greg were two of my favorite players because, while they each had very different approaches to the game, they both really understood that they were in a game, from Greg’s appreciation of Joi’s “shithole mole” moment to Avori’s alliance with Pranav.

I interviewed Greg and Avori separately, for about 20 minutes each, so while we didn’t debrief every detail from every episode, I did appreciate their insight into their Mole experiences, from casting to elimination.

These interviews have been lightly edited to clean up speech, and quotes organized under subject headings.

How were they cast for The Mole?

The Mole players Sandy Ronquillo, Kesi Neblett, Jacob Hacker, Pranav Patel, Casey Lary, Avori Henderson, Dom Gabriel, Will Richardson, and Greg Shapiro arrive at a house where they'll have their first elimination
The Mole players Sandy Ronquillo, Kesi Neblett, Jacob Hacker, Pranav Patel, Casey Lary, Avori Henderson, Dom Gabriel, Will Richardson, and Greg Shapiro arrive at a house where they’ll have their first elimination. (Photo by Julian Panetta/Netflix)

When The Mole was resurrected in the spring of 2021, Netflix and Eureka Productions used a working title, The Insider, during the casting process.

Greg: “I was actually the only person who auditioned through a flyer. Everybody else was recruited—either through social media or a mutual friend. I had been laid off from my job, and was doing freelance marketing on Reddit—that was one of my domains—and I saw the flyer on Reddit. I made a video and I heard back within 24 hours.”

Avori: “I got reached out to through some contacts I had in the gaming industry, and I had no idea that it was The Mole. It was one of those things like, Are you down for adventure? Do you like playing in-person games? I was like, Yeah, that sounds great. But I’m so busy with my gaming stuff, not now.

I ignored it for three months, and then one day I ran out of storage on Google Drive. I was going through and deleting e-mails and ran past the flyer again, and I was like, I wonder if they’re still casting? So I made a phone call. And it turns out I just caught it in the nick of time. Within 30 days of that phone call, I was in another country filming.”

Did Avori and Greg know The Mole?

Greg: “I definitely knew what The Mole was. And seeing The Insider flyer, you could do a quick Google search and realize that it was The Mole. I was taking it at face value, and I didn’t know that the show would be called The Mole until I was in Australia. Because I didn’t get the final word that I was cast until two or three weeks before the flight, I’d already gotten hold of the season one DVDs, and of course on Reddit, everybody has all of the files for all the international versions. So I had that with me, but I wasn’t going to watch everything available.”

Avori: “I had never watched it before. I Google searched. We had to quarantine before filming, so I was stuck in quarantine, bored, eating my daily oatmeal that was delivered to my door. I searched the synopsis of the game because I was trying to give myself a leg up in the competition, as always. When I did that little quick search of the competition, I ran across this old series called The Mole—I had never heard of it. This is really similar to [The Insider]. I’m just going to watch this show and see if I can get any ideas for how I can get a leg up in the competition. So I ended up binge-watching four seasons in quarantine.”

What was their strategy?

Kesi Neblett, Sandy Ronquillo, Greg Shapiro, Casey Lary, Avori Henderson, Pranav Patel, and Will Richardson talking to Dom on the phone in an episode 4 test
Kesi Neblett, Sandy Ronquillo, Greg Shapiro, Casey Lary, Avori Henderson, Pranav Patel, and Will Richardson talking to Dom on the phone in an episode 4 test. (Image via Netflix)

Greg: “My intuition was kind of split in two: I had game intuition, and then I had TV intuition. And sometimes they were at odds, and if they were ever at odds, I went with TV versus game—maybe to my demise. But I had a few different strategies going in. The first is to just be myself 100 percent of the time. It’s very mentally taxing to be questioning what is going on around you. So I didn’t want to put any effort into code switching: being one person and then another person. I was just myself.

Part of being myself is being the center of attention, and I knew that when I got into the jungle, and I acted kind of outlandish, I knew that it would send a message to the mole—and to the show—that look, when the mole is next to me, nobody’s going to be looking at the mole.

I saw in watching the show that strategy worked. Kesi was next to me for every single mission. Other parts of my strategy and preparing: a lot of meditating to just remain calm. It didn’t want to form any coalitions or alliances. I didn’t really want to discuss my suspicions with anyone, and I pretty much stuck to that.”

Avori: “I went into the game saying, I have to get an alliance with someone. I don’t know why that was a goal of mine, but that was just the number one thing I wanted to do, night one, is get to know everyone and choose who I wanted my alliance to be with.”

“[Pranav and I] actually had this beautiful conversation that went a little something like: You’re extremely intelligent. I’d love to be allies with you, but how can I be sure that you’re not the mole? Pranv said, I am not the mole. I said, If you deceive me, we won’t be friends after this. And he said, Well, you have a one in 11 chance. We shook hands right there.

It was just a really beautiful moment, actually, when we had this conversation, because I was a little bit suspicious of him—but not extremely suspicious. I knew that he was highly intelligent and that putting our brains together could take out the rest of the competition around us.

Also, having a soundboard in the game is something that I needed. I’m a very outgoing, talkative person. Not telling my thoughts and sorting them out is detrimental to my personality; holding things in, I don’t do well with that. He needed me as a sounding board, and I needed him as a sounding board as well.

Once we were able to kind of get our true thoughts out on paper, we were able to come up with a strategy. If I ever played the game, again, I would use the exact same strategy. It carried him decently far through the game, but it carried me pretty much till the end. So very thankful for that.”

Being a character in the game and on TV

Joi and Greg in The Mole episode 7
Joi and Greg in The Mole episode 7 (Photo by James Gourley/Netflix)

Greg: “I think in order for unscripted reality TV to work, you have to open up your throat chakra, so you have to communicate everything that you’re thinking. So, for example, when I was looking at the dossiers, people could say, Oh, he’s just doing all of this for TV. I mean, yes, but that’s also intertwined with my brain just spewing out everything that I’m thinking. It’s the same thing.

But at the same time the TV intuition says make as big a scene as possible. You could be cut at any second; this is your moment, kid.”

Avori: “I was completely who I am, and I don’t think I ever compromised my morals or values to become a character in the game. But what I did try to do is use strategy to throw people off and confuse people. That is similar to when a 7-year-old learns how to play Uno or Go Fish: you don’t disclose what cards are in your hand. Of course, you can joke around with your opponent; you can make jokes and say that you’re holding a seven when you’re really holding an eight, or you’re holding a blue card when you’re really holding a red.

That doesn’t mean you have to compromise who you are. But what it does mean is that you can hide elements of your truth-telling; you can hide elements of how you’re playing, and use that to your advantage. That’s exactly what I did. I tried to incorporate my own personality, let people see my goofy side and see my competitive side as well. But also there were certain things that I held close to me during competition. For instance, my alliance with Pranav.”

What did the dossiers reveal?

Jacob Hacker reads directions during The Mole episode 3's test that offered the players a chance to look at each others' dossiers
Jacob Hacker reads directions during The Mole episode 3’s test that offered the players a chance to look at each others’ dossiers. (Image via Netflix)

Greg: “If I was zeroing in on exactly what I thought I needed, it would have been helpful. I wanted to see for sure if Joi actually was a pilot, and when I looked in the dossier, I was like, oh, there’s pictures of her at work, she is a pilot. You could see where people went to college. One thing that I thought that was weird that in the dossier it said Kesi spoke Mandarin fluently, and that was something that when she was asked about it, she really downplayed it. And I never heard her say a single thing in Chinese.”

“Why was Joi so confident that I looked? Because I told her that I looked. Why did all of the other contestants assume that I had looked? Not because I have this innately duplicitous energy, but because my strategy was radical honesty, and from the moment I walked out of that room, they could all see it on my face.”

What was their challenge strategy?

Until Kesi took ice cubes full of money and hurled them into the snow during the penultimate mission, Avori dropping an oxygen tank on the beach may have been one of the most overt moments of sabotage during a test that we saw.

Avori: “I wasn’t completely trying to sabotage the mission. I just was like, let me just do something quirky to make people question it—make people think, why would she do that? They did show this on camera, but it wasn’t exaggerated: it was a very long hike through the bushes, running in sand. I don’t know if you’ve ever run through sand, but it’s not easy, and it was a very long walk.

You saw how much Dom was sweating, and the oxygen tank was heavy. I have ramen noodles for arms. I was like, Ah, whatever! Let me just toss it to the side. It’ll make people suspicious and I’m tired of carrying this thing.”

“Every single person in the cast did suspicious things. The question is whether those suspicious things were by human error or intentional sabotage. I can tell you, without going into too much detail, that there were definitely things that seemed like human errors that were absolutely sabotage by other players, and vice-versa. There were things that weren’t genuine human error that might have just seemed like sabotage. That’s the fun part of the game: both as a viewer and as a player, you never really know.”

Greg: “My strategy with the challenges was to be 90 percent at my effective level: be as competent as I am, and then 10 precent have just this subtle energy that I don’t give a fuck. That was mostly translated to the audience because I’m trying to be a little bit suspicious.

The first mission in the jungle: I’ve spent, in my life, probably over two months collectively in the Amazon rainforest. If there was somebody who my team should be listening to about getting this crate, it’s me. They all went past the crate, and I was the one who found it. Editing makes it seem like I knew where it was, but actually, I didn’t. I was just taking my time.

On the boat, as the person who had already found a crate in water, maybe people would defer to my maritime experience. Isn’t it interesting that the boat mission is the only mission that I don’t get to narrate? So take that with a grain of salt, but after witnessing people defer—the person who put themselves in a leadership role got hurt within 10 minutes, and I think that speaks for itself.”

How did they approach the quizzes?

Avori Henderson takes the quiz during Netflix's The Mole episode 8
Avori Henderson takes the quiz during Netflix’s The Mole episode 8 (Photo by James Gourley/Netflix)

Greg: “I think there’s a popular idea that there’s a right way to do the quizzes, where you should split your votes early on based on probability and statistics, and then eventually go all in on [one person]. I wanted to explore a strategy that was the opposite of that.

So right away, I was going all in on every single quiz, and before each quiz, and every day, I would meditate with a mantra: I surrender. So even though the quizzes do affect our elimination, in the spiritual world that I was creating in the game, we were subjected to a Russian Roulette-style guillotine, and who knows why we would go home.

For that reason, I went through the quizzes as fast as I could. I just picked one person. I would say if you are studying for the quiz, with the understanding that you are only going for one person, and you take the time to get to know that person, and you also remember all of the questions that production asked about us— which I did—I would say my quizzes were highly accurate, but not always about the correct person.”

Avori: “Every single week there were quiz questions that I didn’t know the answer to for anyone. One question makes me laugh to this day, but I was so mad in the moment. My competitive nature is like, I want to be able to actually observe things and be able to answer them. There was this one question, I think it was week two, and the question was, What color socks was the mole wearing on the prison escape mission?

I remember, in my head, being so mad, because I’m like, everyone was wearing shoes. How am I supposed to know what color socks the mole was wearing? It’s not an observable thing. I guess if you were to walk up to someone and ask, or if they were able to do something observable to show their socks.

There were questions that that threw me off every single week where there’s no way I would know the answer to that question. By chance, maybe, I just answered it correctly, or someone else answered it incorrectly, and it gave them the ability to stay in for one more week.”

Greg: “You don’t get any feedback, but I did take them as fast as I possibly could. And I did read Bill’s memoir from season two. I didn’t watch that season, because I didn’t want to be so fully immersed in it, but yeah, I did hear that speed was important, and I took them as fast as I could—probably too fast.”

Their mole suspicions—and eliminations

The Mole's Greg Shapiro and the mole Kesi Neblet during an episode 7 mission
The Mole’s Greg Shapiro and the mole Kesi Neblet during an episode 7 mission (Photo by James Gourley/Netflix)

Greg: “I actually had a dream about somebody the first night in the jungle, and in my dream, I was at a dinner party and I got kicked out of this dinner party because I made a big scene, because somebody—a woman—was dressed wearing a bandeau outfit. I didn’t know who this was out about at the time, and I took that dream to mean that I shouldn’t make a stink about who I was sitting next to.

So, at the first elimination, I was really passive about where I was sitting, and Sandy was next to me, and that’s actually who I was voting for the first night. It wasn’t until shortly after that, we were in the airport, and I saw Kesi actually wearing a bandeau.

There were other things, too; my threat level was very, very, very high around her. Sometimes I categorized that threat as the mole and sometimes I categorized it as a fellow competitor. But if you look at my elimination, where I go home, that dinner party, Kesi’s wearing a bandeau.”

Avori: “I know why I went home. Back in episode four, me, Sandy, Pranav, and Jacob were on the bank heist team, and we all worked together. During that mission, I developed a pretty close relationship with Sandy. Because the money was counted incorrectly, [Sandy] started to believe that I was the Mole, and she actually ended up going all out on me on the quiz that night.

But before she took that quiz, she and I had a conversation—a very in-depth conversation—about how I told her I was extremely suspicious of Kesi, and that I was going to put some answers for Kesi. But Sandy, not believing or trusting me, told me that she was going all out on Kesi on the quiz. She said, I’m gonna go all in. I’m voting for her. If I go home, that’s who I’m going for.

I trusted her good words throughout the remainder of the game—which is funny because, in my dossier, it says I trust people’s good word too much, and that’s my weakness. That’s ultimately what led to me going home: I truly believe that Sandy went for Kesi on her quiz.

But as it turns out, Sandy actually went all-in on me. So through the remainder of the game, I kept going back and forth in my head: Kesi is really suspicious, she keeps doing this. Then I was like, nope, Avori, don’t let yourself go there, because Sandy went out voting for Kesi.”

Greg: “I think it was definitely a spiritual journey for me. For the audience, who’s only seeing less than 1 percent of the show, the game is about maps, and money, and all of these props that are being thrown around in these challenges.

But when you’re spending this much time with people, the game is about seduction. It’s about sirens. It’s about hypnosis. It’s about mind control. And it’s about making someone feel really good about going deeper with you, when really, that relationship is by design meant to dismantle you, piece by piece.

So, I was taking all of the antics and missions with a grain of salt, especially because you bring seemingly competent people together—mole or not mole—it doesn’t mean we’re going to be successful as a team.”

What we didn’t see on The Mole

Greg: “I single handedly put [$10,000] in the pot across two different missions that you didn’t get to see. That would have been great because I’m proud of the fact that I’m smart, athletic, agile, and can get it done. I would have loved for the audience to see that.”

Avori: “I’m super quirky and goofy. I am very calculated; I’m very analytical, exactly like the show portrays me to be. But I also have this complete other side of me where I’m just a dork. I’m a really giddy and bubbly person. This game brought out my very competitive side.

So I wish that I personally would have relaxed a little bit, and been a little bit more of my goofy side, and that would have came through more. That’s 90 percent of who I am is goofy and joking around all the time. But put me in a competitive game and the calculated, analytical Avori is what you’ll get, I guess.”

Greg: “The dinners were fabulous. There were times where me and Avori really backed Kesi into a corner after the bank mission, and it was quite entertaining how close we were to really putting the heat on. But they were fun, and I think it would have been nice for the audience to see the place that I had carved out for myself in the group. I was a jokester. I was one of the older contestants. I was somebody who people looked to as a leader.

But my style of leadership was asking for permission first, like in the train mission: Do guys mind if I take the lead on this? As a focus group moderator, I love to moderate, too, so it would have been fun for people to see these different dynamic conversations and moments that we had.

But ultimately, the essence of the show, the essence of the story, is there, it’s on TV, and if people are getting caught up in what wasn’t there, or whether it was for $5,000 or $10,000, you’re kind of missing the point.”

The toll of The Mole

Avori Henderson in "The Bird Cage" episode and test, when she was literally locked inside a bird cage
Avori Henderson in “The Bird Cage” episode and test, when she was literally locked inside a bird cage. (Photo by James Gourley/Netflix)

Avori: “I think one of the hardest things for me is when the first five episodes—and even up to the first eight episodes—dropped, there were so many articles, threads on social media, that were like: We’re predicting Avori as the winner.

I was, obviously, happy to see that people had so much faith in me. But then I think about it, and I really wish I could have done that for people, especially because I have such a large following in the gaming community. I felt like I was letting everyone down; I felt like I was letting my whole community down.

I think that’s why when I returned home, and the show aired, it’s been actually hitting me way harder than it hit me immediately after filming. Nonetheless, I’m just thankful for the experience and the opportunity, and I can only hope that this leads to more in-person games for me.”

Greg: “What you don’t see in the game is how psychologically, emotionally, and mentally incapacitated you are by the end. Avori speaks to it a little bit before her elimination, but there is this underbelly, offensive game that’s going on, that really just brings you to your knees.

I needed to just take some time away: be on Grindr in Sydney, have fun. I didn’t meet up with anyone [on the cast] because I wanted this finale reunion to be real. I didn’t want to cheat the audience out of any conversations that they would have really been interested in. The first time you see me on camera with the cast is the first time I’ve spoken to them or seen them since I was eliminated.”

Avori: “I’ve never played a game that lasts that long. I didn’t even feel like I lost. I don’t know why because I’m very competitive, and obviously I wanted to win. But for some reason, I never had that feeling that I lost until I got home from filming. Then I was like, Man, that would have been really cool if I would have won.

Genuinely—and I think you see this in my exit interview—I was so proud of myself. The mental game of being in a game, and having to play this character, and act suspicious, act like I’m not mad when I am mad, act like I’m content when I’m really upset, or act like I’m not happy about something when I’m ecstatic and wanting to jump up and down, having to suppress my emotions and not converse with other people about my true feelings.

I was relieved in the end because it had been so long that I had not been able to just relax and converse with people. These people are your competition, but they’re also friends—they’re my friends now. When I got home—man, I was losing sleep over it. I still to this day, lose sleep over it sometimes.”

Greg: “I’m really, really, really grateful for it. I think The Mole is an elite type of competition, and I am really proud of what I did on the show. To make people laugh, and to hopefully have people potentially learn lessons from the mistakes that I made, really makes the whole experience worth it.”

Avori: “I kind of knew what to expect, but to be honest, you can never expect what actually transpires as the mental game. You expect the physical challenges and you’re like, oh, maybe I’ll do something to throw people off.

But the game is long—we were filming for 60 days. So that’s 60 days of a mental game, 60 days of being this character on screen, on camera, off camera—you can’t ever break character because every little aspect of what you do and say, whether cameras are rolling or not, is part of the game.

No one could have ever prepared me, nor could any training that I could do on my own have possibly ever prepared me for a game like this, which is also why I absolutely loved it.”

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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!

Joe

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

Wait! That was a 60 Day shoot? There were 10 (not full hours) of episodes. Yikes! They must have cut out a lot. I'm curious do you think they really need 60 days for The Mole? Obviously, Survivor was always 39 days until the "new era" and it's now only 29 days but isn't 60 Days a bit excessive? Great interview and keep up the good work.

Patrick

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

Wow, filming for 60 days? That's a long time in this kind of a game where you literally can't trust anyone. Mentally, The Mole seems more trying than Survivor.

Fascinating read. Makes me like Avori even more than I already did. Greg was a great character, but I'm surprised he utilized an 'all-in' strategy on the quizzes. He came across so smart and analytical. Guess he didn't have as firm a grasp on the game as I (or he) thought.

Melissa

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

Super interesting read, thanks for the insight!

Molelinkluck

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

I know that I am an overly old-school fan, but it is just REALLY bugging me that the producers and cast seem to have felt the almost NEED to steer clear of how the U.S. version of The Mole was produced. This season was just missing SO much for me. It was just Mole Lite to me and I hope, hope, hope it is more "Classic Mole" the next time around.

Mike

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

That is some really good insight. I have been a fan of this show from the original airing and Bill's book is a really good read. I hope we get another season of this show but with a wider age range for the cast.