A spy-themed Reality Show that first aired in Belgium (on VRT) in 1999, hosted by Michiel Devlieger, and premiered on ABC in 2001. Nicknamed "the smartest reality show ever," it's considered to its fans as unique for its emphasis on brain rather than brawn, beauty, or sociability, as well as its audience interaction through hidden clues to The Mole's identity. The premise was simple: the contestants worked together to complete various tasks to earn a cash prize—usually up to $1,000,000—that only one of them would win. One of the contestants, however, was The Mole, a double agent hired by the producers themselves to sabotage the group's missions and keep money from the pot. (That's where the spy drama part got fridgy. It's like the CIA hired a spy to take out its own agents. Let that sink in for a moment...okay.) The winner was the player who survived all elimination rounds and figured out who The Mole was.Originally a Belgian show, the USA version had five seasons and three hosts, the first and probably most popular one being CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. It has quite a dedicated fan base that made two attempts to revive it: one by sending "lemon heads" (a season five reference) to ABC, much like what was done with the CBS show Jericho, and also by posting "Save The Mole" videos on YouTube to help advertise the show. Some former contestants and season five host Jon Kelley also got involved; a compilation of their videos can be found here.
Adventure Towns: The players are always on the move, traveling from town to town (and occasionally country to country) to complete their various tasks.
Ask a Stupid Question...: One game in Yucatan had Ahmad Rashad asking the players a series of questions taken from elementary school textbooks. During one question, Rashad had this exchange with Dennis Rodman :
Rashad: On what continent would you find the South Pole? Rodman: We have to name it? Rashad:(Sarcastically) No, you just have to think it and I'll read your mind!
Asian and Nerdy: Dorothy. Very much so, as she demolished the mental challenges, but gasped and wheezed at anything involving physical prowess.
The Cameo: The Mole from the first season makes a brief appearance towards the end of the second season.
Carried by the Host: The Anderson Cooper seasons are by far more beloved by the fanbase than the Ahmad Rashad/Jon Kelley seasons, and a large part of that has to do with Cooper.
The Dutch version became this with every season after the fourth one casting Dutch celebrities only. Strangely, unlike with the US celebrity seasons which all but killed the show, the Dutch celebrity seasons haven't had nearly as much of a negative impact on the show considering that the show has remained popular enough to go on for at least ten celebrity-only seasons.
The Chessmaster: Stephen and Jim from the first season could both be seen as this.
Death by Genre Savviness: In US season 5, one of Bobby's perceived "gives" to the Mole's identity was the fact that host Jon Kelley had earlier greeted the players while eating an apple: Bobby interpreted this as signifying "The Big Apple", thus pointing toward Yonkers resident Paul. In fact, Paul was not the Mole, and Bobby paid for his error by getting executed in fairly short order. The punchline, though, is that the host's eating an apple was used as a clue back in season 2: it indicated true Mole Bill, a resident of Washington, whose state fruit is the apple. Bobby, a professed fanatic of the show, might very well have remembered that old clue and thought it was being recycled here, to his downfall. (However, the apple-eating incident wasn't mentioned in the season finale, leaving it unclear whether that was a mere coincidence or a deliberate Red Herring.)
Electric Boogaloo: Ignoring the celebrity seasons, season two is the biggest oddball — The Mole 2: The Next Betrayal. The other civilian seasons were simply called The Mole, although the fifth season is referred to on TV.com as The Mole 3.0 because of its being the third civilian season.
Eliminated From The Race: At the end of each episode, the contestants take a quiz on The Mole's identity. The player with the lowest score is "executed."
Executive Meddling: Invoked; the game's "plot" is that production is deliberately trying to sabotage the players in order to minimize how much money they'd have to pay the winner.
Fair Play Whodunit: The series always gave clues as to the identity of The Mole. Some were ridiculously obscure, but some were legitimate hints. For example, Jon Kelley never called the name of Season 5's Mole during the execution ceremonies.
Four Is Death: Four was often used as a secret number in clues because of there being four letters in the word "Mole." For example, season one Mole Kathryn Price was the fourth player to arrive at the starting location in episode one.
Friend or Idol Decision: A common Sadistic Choice for contestants is whether to cooperate with their fellow players to add money to the pot or sabotage them to gain an exemption or some other individual advantage.
Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: Occurred in season 13 of the Dutch series when each contestant stood in the same (dark) room as the (completely cloaked) Mole and asked them three yes/no questions that the Mole answered by hitting certain keys at a piano; the Mole was naturally one of the contestants that was conveniently never shown in the same shot as the hooded figure at the piano and the final shot of the season even showed them talking to an empty piano bench. Also occurred in another Dutch season when Patrick entered his name in a lottery for the opportunity to contact the Mole in spite of being the Mole himself and actually won the lottery, leading to some creative Manipulative Editing to show him "talking" to the Mole.
Averted in season five, when the players (sans Craig, who was ill from the last challenge) were instructed to find a volunteer to have his journal destroyed. When Alex reluctantly came forward, it was revealed that the whole exercise was a Secret Test of Character and that his journal would be spared while everyone else's journals would be burned. Mark was not amused.
In the first Celebrity Mole, the mole was supermodel Frederique Van Der Wal. When Stephen Baldwin and Corbin Bernsen returned for the second season, they had a conversation when they wondered if the producers would have a second supermodel (Angie Everhart, who had been acting pretty suspicious) be the mole again, or if that would be too obvious. She was, but Steven and Corbin apparently talked themselves out of it, and both were eliminated. AGAIN.
In season 14 of the Dutch series, the first episode opened with the contestants being told right after they arrived that they were going to have the test and execution on the spot. Any genre-savvy viewer will know that there's no way in hell that they'd actually send someone home before doing even a single challenge.
Especially obvious, since the Dutch Mole pulled the same stunt all the way back in Season 5.
Man Child: During The Mole 2's Three Questions Game, Dorothy describes herself as one of these in relation to the question of who would be a worse babysitter (between her and Heather) to Bill's kids.
Mistaken for Evidence: The first episode of The Mole 2 had a brief view of the players' bags, one of which had the name "Michael" printed on it. Since there were apparently no players with that name, many viewers believed that this had to be a clue, and speculated on what it could mean. As it turned out, however, "Michael" actually was the name of one of the players, Michael "Bribs" Bribiesca, who preferred to go by his nickname only. Later, his bag had his preferred name Bribs written in marker on a strip of masking tape that covered up the 'Michael.' People also thought that was a clue.
Metagame: Due to the elimination quizzes, there are three key elements to being a good Mole contestant.
Gathering as much information as possible about the players and their activities, whether by copious note-taking or by establishing an alliance with another player to share info (although this information is not always reliable);
Tracking who's suspicious of whom, so that when a player gets executed, you know the player they were suspecting is less likely to be the Mole.
Mundane Made Awesome: Season 12 of the Dutch series had the contestants play a high-stakes game for an exemption to the finals. The game? Go Fish.
Happened in the sixth Aussie season, too (though in that case it wasn't a free pass, but rather the opportunity to reduce your time on the quiz by 30 seconds).
My Greatest Second Chance: Stephen Baldwin and Corbin Bernsen in Celebrity Mole: Yucatan after having competed in Celebrity Mole: Hawaii. Neither star did much better.
In fact, they both did worse: each of them went out one round sooner than they had the last time.
Never Gets Drunk: Hilariously subverted when a challenge involved mashing grapes for wine. Anderson Cooper got plastered with the players.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Contestants screwing up on purpose, to make other contestants think they're the Mole and thus do worse on the elimination quizzes. Yes, it decreased the winner's take, but it increased their chance of being the winner.
Non-Gameplay Elimination: In the Dutch series, Roeland from season 5 and Manuel from season 10 (both became too ill to continue) and Janine from season 13 (got injured after she jumped the wrong way during a challenge). Just barely averted by Gloria in the second episode of UK season 1; she was too ill to actually participate in or observe the events of the episode, but decided to take the quiz anyway. Quite predictably, she scored lowest.
Novelization: The Mole from the second season wrote a book about their experiences on the show, appropriately titled Reflections Of The Mole. It can be found here (link contains obvious spoilers).
Obfuscating Stupidity: A tactic sometimes used by contestants, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Dennis Rodman stands out as an example— seemed like nobody could figure out if he was stupid, The Mole, or actually really brilliant. Turned out to be brilliant— he won the game! When they did the journal swap thing, it was discovered that he'd taken no notes, which led some to believe he was The Mole. He actually just had an amazing memory for details.
Another excellent example is the Mole from Season 3 of the Dutch version who remains the most beloved Mole of that version because they were so good at painting themselves as too lovably goofy to possibly be the Mole.
Off the Rails: In the Season 5 mission "Travelers", Craig was chosen to pick out modes of transportation for the rest of the group to reach a monument within a set amount of time, and was told he would be given an exemption if none of them made it. Going for the exemption, he chose modes of transportation that were... unhelpful, including stilts, scuba gear and a two-person llama costume (Bonus: He assigned the head and rear of the llama costume to arch-rivals Nicole and Paul, respectively.) Rather than participate in the game, the remaining contestants unanimously decided not to play this game right at the start and simply drove to the monument in the vans, forfeiting the money and netting Craig the exemption. This was Craig's most blatant sabotage of the game. Doubles as a CMOA for Craig, as despite single-handedly ruining that mission, not one person suspected him of being The Mole.
Only Known by Their Nickname: "Bribs," a.k.a. Michael Bribiesca. He even wrote it on a piece of tape and stuck it over his real name on his bag.
Previous Player-Character Cameo: Non-videogame example with Art Rooijakkers on the Dutch series. After participating in Season 11 as a contestant, Art was hired to replace the retiring Pieter-Jan Hagens as the host of the show, and has hosted every season since.
Punny Name: In a late episode of season 2, host Anderson Cooper and the players are all eating McDonald's food as a reward. Anderson states "that all of this is compliments of Mickey D's". Aside from the fact that McDonald's was a sponsor of the show, guess who else involved with the show has that nickname? Hint: they're in the title.
Put on a Bus: The entire show after Season 4. Four years went by before the 2008-09 WGA strike led ABC to revive "The Mole" due to a lack of new material to fill its schedule. The show was finally officially cancelled after Season 5.
Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Besides the mystery of The Mole's identity, the other big part of this show's watchability is the sheer fun of watching the contestants try to complete the various tasks.
Reality Show Genre Blindness: Lampshaded by host Anderson Cooper in season two. When the team was instructed to split up into people who wanted to cook and people who didn't want to cook, Anderson later informed them that the people who didn't want to cook would end up having to cook for their challenge, and the team that wanted to cook would be doing something else. He chided them by saying, "This is, like, Basic Mole!"
Red Herring Mole: Produced by Manipulative Editing, lies, or simply following the wrong clues. It's amazing the elaborate theories some fans cooked up, only to have them smashed at the big reveal.
This is especially prevalent in the Dutch series where every season has at least one contestant who comes across as incredibly suspicious and blatantly sabotaging and makes it all the way to the finals only for someone else to be revealed as the Mole instead. The winner of the 13th season even said during the reunion episode that EVERYBODY in the Netherlands, including their own family, was convinced that they were the Mole to the point that they received a ton of mail from viewers all saying, "I know you're the Mole!"
Reunion Show: All five seasons had one. Season one was the only season where The Mole and The Winner were revealed through episode footage shown to the players at the reunion show.
Scenery Porn: Almost all the time, as the players are always moving.
Secret Test of Character: Every civilian season has had this in one fashion or another. Most famously was the second season, when the team travelling by bus were stopped first by a pair of pretty ladies, then later by an older woman, to fix a flat tire. They fixed both cars, and were rewarded. Had they just fixed the pretty ladies' car, they would've lost money.
Shocking Elimination: Arjen in season 10 of the Dutch version. Not only were they the heavy fan favorite to either win or be revealed as the Mole, but the first five minutes of the episode after their execution were dedicated to the remaining contestants talking about how stunned they were by it.
The Show Must Go On: During Season 13 of the Dutch version, one of the contestants suffers an accident during a jump from a cliff, crushing one of her vertebrae. The show wasn't cancelled, and the contestant actually says during a 'confession' moment that she's happy the show wasn't cancelled.
The Stoic: Dorothy from Season 2 acted like this throughout the game, with not even losing the opportunity to reunite with her mother (apparently) fazing her that much. Naturally, that made her a prime suspect amongst the other players. Also, Michael from Season 2 of the Australian version. His lack of reaction to, among other things, tasks won and getting "shot" by a fellow contestant were stated as a clue to him being the Mole in the finale.
Bobby from Season 5 as well. The only way you could tell he was gay was when he explicitly mentioned it in an early behind-the-scenes interview, stating that his "Gaydar" senses will help him get a feel of people's intentions. Otherwise, it isn't telling.
From the Dutch series: Frits from Season 12 and Freek (there is one gratuitous scene in which he talks about ogling a hot man at the beach, but other than that you'd probably never guess that he's gay) from Season 14.
Too Awesome to Use: Jokers in the Dutch series, which can be used to negate incorrect answers on a test and can be hoarded for use on future tests. Many contestants have been eliminated with a joker or two (or even three!) in their pockets because they either thought that they were safe and didn't need them, or wanted to save them for later rounds.
Mostly averted in Australia's sixth season, which had a similar concept (they were called "freebies"). Players seldom saved more than one. Sam had four on him when they were decided by the group's treasurer Hillal to be exchanged for money, but this is because he hadn't had to sit the last three quizzes.
Uncancelled: Season five premiered four years after the previous season.
Season 6 of the Australian version aired 8 years after the previous season.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Corbin Bernsen and Stephen Baldwin in Yucatan were constantly looking for clues that weren't there.
Indeed, Corbin actually caught on to one of the clues (seven candles on the dining room table indicating that Journal #7 was held by the Mole), but he was such a scatterbrain that he didn't act on it.
Darwin from the second season fits this trope big time. While a smart player, he ultimately got all of his coalition partners as well as himself executed for targeting every single person on the quiz EXCEPT The Mole.
Daniel from season 13 of the Dutch series admitted in the final episode that he didn't really pay attention to other contestants' behavior because he was so focused on being an Action Hero during the challenges...on a show in which paying careful attention to other contestants' possible Mole-like behavior is absolutely essential to win. Fortunately for him, he happened to be on a season where almost everyone had a hard time figuring out who the Mole was, which enabled him to survive longer than he would have otherwise.
Wire Dilemma: Done in the season five challenge "Tick, Tock, Boom!"