We Heart The Mole

2010 note: this show is ten years old, if you’ve not seen it yet and plan on doing so, please be aware that there are spoilers here.

To begin with to get you in the mood, here’s the theme tune (.mp3, 288kb) to Aussie seasons three and four. Brits will recognise it is our theme remixed – and they’re right, the Australians and the British share the same music.

A group of people are bought together to perform a number of physical and mental challenges over a number of weeks. Successful completion of the challenges adds money to a group pot. But one of the contestants isn’t a contestant, they’re being briefed and paid off by the producers to sabotage as many of the challenges as possible without attracting too much attention. That person is The Mole. At the end of each episode the contestants take a computer questionaire, with all the questions relating to The Mole (a mixture of Mole activity and Mole background). Whoever is furthest away from the truth is immediately eliminated. Who is messing up by accident, and who is messing up deliberately? Eventually there will be one winner, who wins all of the prizemoney, one loser, and one Mole.

The Mole began in Belgium in 1999 and in 2000 De Mol won the Golden Rose of Montreux. There were two British series in 2001, but as it was brilliant nobody watched it. The Mole was possibly the first mainstream show where celebrities played for themselves rather than for charity (with the US’ Celebrity Mole) – after all, how bad would it look to be the one deliberately stealing money earmarked for charity?

In the beginning
One uniting feature of many versions first series is the way the game is announced to the contestants. To keep the surprise level up, producers advertise the show under the guise of something else that sounds adventury, and then when the journey begins, they reveal the true intention of the show. Lies and deceit from the very beginning.
 

 

Stock games
There appears to be a pool of stock games that different versions all take from. Some countries put their own spin on these games. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
 

 

  • Tandem skydiving, and other jumping off high platforms games.

    The first challenge is normally skydiving, to get the adventure off with a bang. Everybody goes up in a plane and if everybody comes down again then the team win the money for the pot. There are variations to this however, in the most recent Australian series, some contestants were diverted and asked to predict who would jump and who wouldn’t for the cash. Meanwhile, the actual skydivers were given a four digit number to remember for a safe-opening game later at dinner.

  • Repacking

    This normally comes up in every series. The contestants don’t know where they’re packing for and chances are they’ve packed too much. The contestants are split into two groups, one of whom are blissfully unaware of what is happening. The other group will have to repack their own luggage so that it fits into a rucksack. When they’ve done that, they’ll have to repack the luggage of their colleagues. There’s usually an associated task, however. The traditional one is earning money for guessing an item that’s been left out. The other version is having the team earning money for the total weight that’s been removed. Sometimes the contestants are given the opportunity to win the rest of their luggage back, or pay for it with money from the team’s kitty.

  • Find the hostage

    One of the contestants is taken hostage and locked away somewhere on location. The rest of the team are split into three groups, one who will travel by car, one by boat and one by helicopter. It is up to them to find the hostage. Normally each team has a mobile phone they can use to call each other, and they can also call the hostage – sometimes they can do this as long as they like, sometimes they are charged money from the kitty for phoning longer than a set length of time. There is usually a key hidden within each vehicle needed to unlock various doors and gates.

  • Professional Training

    A game that comes along in various guises. The original involves the game of golf – one contestant who has never played golf before is given a couple of hours to practice with another contestant who has played it before. To win the game, the player must hole out with a certain amount of strokes. To make things easier, the rest of the team are given questions which gives the golfer bonus shots. The more common variation is the idea of chain training – a professional teaches one contestant how to do something quite difficult. That contestant then teaches the next contestant everything they’ve learnt, and so on down the line. If enough contestants complete the task to the satisfaction of the professional under test conditions, they win the money. Examples of tasks include learning to fly a stunt plane and directing marching bands.

  • Riddles

    Teams split up and have to solve a number of riddles. There are many variations on the theme. Sometimes both teams have to solve the riddles in a set amount of time with a time penalty added for incorrect answers. Sometimes the team are split into “clever” and “stupid”, with the stupid people offered the chance of winning a free pass into the next episode if they can select riddles the clever people won’t get. Sometimes the answers open safes, sometimes the answers reveal clues to a crossword. Occasionally answers can be bought with money from the kitty, in the hope of earning more money from the game. The other common variation is to have one half of a team solve riddles for money in a labyrinthine building, and when they’ve finished the other half of the team start solving them but unbeknown to them, taking away money for each one they get. One member of the first team has to run to the second team and get them to stop.

  • Human Pacman

    The contestants are almost always woken up in the middle of the night for this to ensure maximum confusion and disorientation. They are led away to a giant maze, especially built for the show. The group are paired off. One of the group will watch all the action from a camera looking down upon the maze from a crane. The other contestant will be in the maze itself. Also in the maze to make it interesting are two hunters – if they catch the runner then the game is over. To win the game, the contestants can either survive in the maze for a set length of time or, usually for a bit more cash, they can try to exit the maze.

  • Beat the Locals

    The contestants are given a choice of sports and a choice of experts to play against. Going by looks alone, they’ve got to choose their opponents. Obviously it’s to the contestants advantage to pick the expert in one of the other sports! Sometimes it isn’t obvious, for example in New Caledonia cricket is a women’s sport, which proved humiliating for the contestant who chose her to play cricket against!

  • Friends and Family

    About halfway through the adventure the remaining contestants are visited by friends and family for the day. There is usually a game associated. Sometimes it’s guessing which friend belongs to which contestant. Sometimes it’s having the various family members encouraged to perform a challenge with the contestant predicting whether they will succeed or not.

  • Get off the Island!

    Contestants have to build a raft and reach a boat that’s out to sea without getting wet above the waist and within a time limit. All the materials they need are in the area. One of the more fun challenges, and also include some of the funnier Mole sabotages, in particular having one member of the team tie up the ropes that keep the raft together and The Mole surreptitiously untieing them right behind him!

  • Lost in the crowd

    A contestant who likes to dress up is chosen from the group. They’re given a certain amount of time to disguise themselves and then to lose themselves amongst the crowd. It is up to the other contestants to find them, either on cameras or from a high vantage point. Finding them earns money for the pot, losing them means giving that person a free pass to the next round. It is interesting to note that more than one person (to wit: in the Aussie and original Belgian versions) has used the tactic of dressing up as one of the shows cameramen, and all have succeeded with this tactic!

  • Sacrificial Roulette

    The contestants are bought in one by one and are offered a choice of envelopes. In all but one envelopes are two tasks – one more difficult than the other. The choice is determined by either the roulette wheel, a roll of the dice or the flip of the coin. The tasks normally consist of getting your hair dyed/shaved off, painting a nude model/being a nude model, getting a piercing/permanent tattoo and having one arm in a cast all day/both arms in a cast all day. Sadly, in that final envelope are all of the avaliable tasks the other contestants have. To win the game, at least all but one have to complete their task. This task is normally worth a bit more money than the others.

  • Complicated day, simple question

    Members of the group either go on a guided tour or other fun packed day. They have to take in as much as possible because the entire day is going to boil down to one question for the money. Happily for the contestants, it’s of the “what was the name of the tour guide” variety.

  • Paintball

    Producers of The Mole seem awfully fond of paintballing, apart from the Aussie producers of the show who seem to insist on Laserquest style shenanigans. One contestant is normally put at some sort of disadvantage – perhaps they failed to earn any free answers for the questionaire, or perhaps the team voted them ‘most useless’. This person lies at the end of the course, sometimes in a getaway vehicle, sometimes needing to be rescued and bought back to the start. To win the game, at least one contestant must make it to the placed person without being hit by any of the snipers. The placed person then has a dilemma – they can declare the game a victory or they can shoot the other contestants in the back – losing the money but winning a free pass into the next episode for themselves.

  • Moral Prediction

    The group are split. One group is watching the other on hidden video cameras when various morals are put to the test. It is up to the watching group to predict how the spied contestants will react.

  • Interrogation

    One contestant has been trained in the art of interrogation, usually a contestant who was unwittingly spied on in the moral prediction game. If he can get out of the other contestants everything they had been doing that day (i.e. spying on him) he would get a free pass. If the contestants can put up with it until dawn the next day, they’d win the money for the kitty.

  • The Tubes

    At the beginning of the series each contestant is given a tube which isn’t to be opened under any circumstances. Inside, it is said, is a clue to someone who “couldn’t be trusted”. The contestants have to keep the tube on them at all times, and occasional tube checks are carried out with the team getting fined for anyone who can’t produce it. Eventually the tubes will be checked for tampering – sometimes this is set-up with the local police to stop the production entourage and to have the contestants arrested, only to be told they’re being arrested for “tampering with their tube” after the contestants have got all angry. Inside each tube is a piece of photosensitive paper which reacts to light. Contestants who did indeed tamper with the tube are led away, contestants who didn’t have a much better future. One variation has the cheating contestants held in cells and having to solve complicated maths puzzles to release themselves. Meanwhile, the honest contestants are given personal cheques as a reward for their honesty, but can hand them back to release someone from prison. If anyone was still in prison after the time limit, the group would be fined. If not, the group would win the cash. In the Norwegian version, honest players won a luxury day of treats whilst dishonest players had to lie in a box of rats to win the cash!

  • Catch the bags

    The team are split into different groups and are sent to various points on a river. The teams are shown a list of bags and their contents which they have to remember – in one of the bags is the money for the challenge, in the other bags are items to make camping out later that bit easier, or to give creature comforts for the Catch the Ball game. In groups, the bags are chucked down the river. Whatever they catch they can keep.

  • Knowing Me Knowing You

    Contestants have to learn as much about their teammates as possible. The most popular way of testing this the ATM game, after being given lots of important numerical information to study and remember, they would have to use it to answer questions to work out the location of an ATM machine and the PIN number needed to take cash out. They could phone the rest of the team to ask questions in exchange for a time penalty. Other ways of testing is simply have the host ask questions, or have the team run around a warehouse with questions played out on videotape. Punishments for losing can include the destruction of their notebooks, and the fake destruction of their luggage!

  • Hitchcock Hotel

    The contestants are locked away in seperate rooms in a hotel. Each room has a safe. One room is completely dark. Another room has an exercise bike, which when ridden lights up the darkened room. The idea is that clues uncovered in one room lead to more clues hidden in a different contestants room, and it’s up to the contestants to phone each other up and work this out. Many of the clues have their basis in the titles of Alfred Hitchcock films, the recurring one being that the clue “Psycho”, together with the musical shrieking sound, infers that there’s a clue in the shower. And there is, but it’s only visible when you turn the shower on and the steam clouds around it. To win the game, everyone has to be out of their hotel room within the time limit.

  • Heart Rate Test

    The contestants have to cross a ravine or other such high drop on two vertically parallel ropes, one to walk on and the other to hold on to. All the team have to go across within the time limit, or they can take a time penalty. The catch is that each member is wearing a heartrate monitor, and if their heartrate goes above a certain level they have to wait until it’s gone beneath the danger zone before they can continue. This game is host to one of the all time great Mole sabotages – making the coffee extra strong that morning! There is actually a second variation on this theme, contestants have to go shopping and spend an exact amount of money, but if their heart-rate exceeds a certain amount they have to calm down before continuing.

  • Counting Sheep

    The host asks for members of the team who can count up to a certain amount. They’ve then got to act as shepherds for the day, herding up sheep and then counting them. The answer, of course, is the number the host asked if they could up to at the beginning of the day.

  • Carraige

    A horse drawn carraige makes its way around the town to a number of stops. The contestants are in a library and host gives them questions which lead to books. In each book is one ticket for one person to board the carraige at a specific stop. The idea is to find the tickets and get on the carraige before it gets past the stop. All contestants need to get on the carraige for this to be a success.

  • Fortress

    Another paintball game. The contestants have to guard a flourescent bowl of water atop a plinth in the middle of a courtyard of a building. During the night, several attempts will be made to smash the bowl up from outside attackers. If they can protect the bowl until dawn they win the cash, if they all get shot or the attackers destroy the bowl, they win nothing. The Mole normally has a secret way to alert the attackers as to everyone’s positions.

  • Catch the Ball

    A metal is ball is hanging from an electromagnet powered by a car battery. Eventually the electricity will run out. To win the game, the contestants must catch the ball.

  • Follow the Leader

    One or two contestants have to get to a location. The other contestants have to work out where they are and get there themselves within the time limit. We’ve noticed two variations on this theme. In the first, the leading players take a number of photographs of the route for the rest of the team to follow. The second variation has the leading contestant leaving a number of ribbons to mark out the route. The other contestants are let off in timed intervals and have to follow the ribbons to get to the goal. However, they get money for every ribbon they get across the finish line, so in taking ribbons for cash they make the route more difficult to follow. The contestants don’t know how many people have been let off before them or have yet to follow, so the rather obvious tactic of waiting for the last person take ribbons won’t work. If not all of the contestants get there, the value of the ribbons is deducted from the kitty.

  • Endurance

    The team have to get from point A to point B, usually on a bike up a steep hill, or kayaking on the water, within a time limit, swapping with other team members when tired. Meanwhile, the other team members cheer from the car or boat, whilst the host irritates by interviewing the person doing all the work!

  • Three Wise Monkeys

    One person is blindfolded but has a camera attached to their head. One group can see through this camera and must act as the eyes of the team. The eyes communicate through camera to another group, but have to use mime and gesture to communicate their instructions. This second group give their interpretations of their instructions to the blind man through walkie-talkie. Together, they have to follow a number of clues so that the blindman can unlock the rooms where the groups are held captive.

  • Traffic Jam

    A game based around a classic puzzle based on a parking lot. The contestants have to move white cars back and forth to create a path for the red to drive to the exit. The Australians had two such puzzles, offered a much simpler one first before offering a double or nothing gamble for the second one.

  • Modern Art

    Members of the team are challenged to create a piece of modern art which will be shown in a museum. If they can fool a member of the public (or an art expert) into thinking that one of the proper pieces of art is the fake then the team win money. Whatsmore, if the rest of the team can work out which piece is their teammates, even more money is won.

  • Know Your Enemy

    Contestants have to answer three questions either on moral issues, either what would the answerer do, or which of the two other contestants would be better/worse in a given situation. Using this information, the player is hidden in a room. The host asks the same questions to the remaining contestants, and leads them to different places depending on their responses. If all the answers match, the host will lead them to the room with the player in (adding money to the pot), if not then money is taken away from the pot.

  • Egg Timer

    The team are challenged to measure a certain amount of hours overnight using only an eggtimer. If they blow their horn within a certain margin of error at a certain time, they win the cash. One version played a variant of this game for a free pass into the final and not for cash. Whichever contestant came out of their hotel room soonest after four hours and one minute could claim the free pass for themselves.

  • Negotiation

    Four contestants that are left negotiate with each other to take a suitcase. In each one are either a free pass to the grand final, free answers to the questionaire, a personal cheque and nothing (other variations have a “speak to The Mole” prize, where the contestant gets to have a phone conversation with a heavily disguised Mole). To win the game, each contestant must take a different suitcase. But as long as nobody picks the same suitcase as you, you win whatever you pick whatever happens. If two people pick the same suicase they win nothing.

Sneaky Twists
They play as a team to win the prizemoney, but only one of them can win. What sneaky twists have producers come up with to undermine the hive mind?
 

 

  • Free passes

    Certain members of the team are offered immunity from the computer questionaire for deliberately betraying their teammates in a challenge. These work best when introduced halfway through the adventure – let them bond for the first episodes, alert them all to the possibility on episode four, disadvantage a contestant and then take them to one side and give them an offer in episode five. Episode five ends in fireworks. Beautiful. This point is often missed by producers around the world by offering them from the very first episode.

  • Unpopularity Contest

    The contestants are asked to list the other contestants most likable through to least likable. The results are tallied. The least popular member gets a free pass, but can sell it back for some extra prizemoney. The other variation is to offer the least popular member a substantial sum of cash to leave the game. The second US series employed both of these things!

  • Free Answers and Penalty Answers

    On occasion, contestants can win bonus points to be added to their questionaire score, giving them a better chance of survival. On the flip side, a few games give people the chance to take off points from their competitors, with the added risk/reward of failing the challenge.

  • Second Chances

    A player is eliminated. The rest of the team are offered a lot of money for the group pot if at least one of them says “yes” to the proposition of bringing that person back into the game. In a variant, a recently eliminated contestant is offered a chance to get back into the game at a cost to the pot.

  • Percentage

    The total percentage of correct answers in the first questionaire is worked out and nobody is eliminated. However, every time the test is taken, the percentage has to be higher otherwise two people are eliminated.

  • Final Audition

    The second Aussie series began in quite an interesting way. It began with 16 contestants in four groups of four, and each of them would have to make their way to Melbourne by 4PM, and each team would have to use five different modes of transport. Whatsmore, each team is given twelve cards with information on the other twelve players they’re not travelling with. It is up to the contestants to remember as much as possible, and to get the correct information out of their fellow teammates. When they get to the hotel they take a questionaire on how well they’ve learnt the information. The ten people who score highest are on the show proper and immediately go onto their first challenge, the losing six go straight home, so near yet so far.

Cross promotional opportunity!
For the third series of Aussie Mole, one of the challenges was to appear as a team on their domestic version of The Weakest Link – broadcast in itself as a proper episode where The Weakest Link is normally shown. The team made a record – the lowest amount ever won on The Weakest Link. In theory, that money will have gone into the kitty and the show’s overall winner won a free pass into the next episode.
 

 

But there was a catch! During recording breaks the contestants were let into the Green Room, and in that Green Room had been “accidentally left” production notes with all the questions from that show. In their contracts, the contestants are forbade from looking at production notes of any kind. This is a test of honesty. If the hidden cameras found that they did indeed look at them, there would be no free pass, and the money won on the show would actually be deducted from the pot.

Clues
The production team often leave deliberate clues to the identity of The Mole – the British version loved doing this sort of thing, the US version less so (indeed, apparently the reason they added so many to their second series is because they were inundated with people finding things when there was nothing to be found in the first one). Favourite clues include:
 

 

  • Numbers. Look out for numbers on The Mole, as if you convert them by a telephone keypad, or using A=1, B=2 etc, you might find a really big hint.
  • Tacit admissions. The only reason the Mole is wearing fluffy slippers to elimination is because he knows he isn’t going home anytime soon.
  • First words. If you take the first word from each episode, sometimes they make a sentence revealing the identity of the Mole.
  • The British version is, as far as we know, the only version to give real cryptic clues to the contestants. The problem with this was that when someone on the Internet worked them out it rather lessened the excitement of future episodes. They were rather clever though, a 3-2-1 style riddle and some stopped clocks revealing the name of the Mole but in semaphore. Other versions of the show have let people hold conversations with heavily disguised (visually and aurally) Moles.

Briefing the Mole

To be able to sabotage the challenges it’s important for The Mole to be aware of what’s going on.

  • The Mole knows all the challenges far in advance and has lists of suggested sabotages.
  • Sometimes the crew are in on it. This is particularly dangerous of course, as the more people who know the easier it is for the secret to slip out. This is the easiest way to capture hidden footage of sabotage in action for playing out during the reunion show!
  • Sometimes, normally when they double up as a producer as well, the host can brief The Mole privately with what’s happening with a game later that day whilst doing the Confession Cam. At least one version has the host briefing The Mole via secret video at the beginning of the episode.
  • Sometimes only the producer knows who it is. Clandestine meetings in the early hours, bugged personal stereos and the like are the order of the day here!

What if?
The Mole is often referred to as a “reality show” – we feel this is a bit of a misnomer because we think it has more in common with the action-adventure genre than anything else. But we have on occasion wondered if it would work as a proper reality show – one challenge a day, fill the rest of the half an hour with footage of the contestants living together, do a live elimination every couple of days.
 

 

Funnily enough, this is exactly the route the Italians took with the celebrity version of La Talpa. Less surprisingly, Brigitte Nielsen was a contestant. It’s the only version of the show that’s set in Mexico, by our reckoning.

With thanks to Who is the International Mole, a splendid resource on Mole facts.

This article was originally written in 2005, the following comments were left in the original comment box:

Chris:
I think the british version should return. The campaign starts here!

Robbie:
Hear hear! 😉
Nice feature!

 

Nick:
I adored this show – best reality TV show ever – and yes it was reality TV… some of the scenes in the 2nd series had some FABULOUS fights between the contestants, particularly when Tanya screwed them for a free pass by faking she had twisted her ankle over the finish line and when they failed the task in the school – the final 5 were yelling at each other so much!! Fabulous stuff!

John Phillips:
Truly wonderful show, one of the best TV shows of any genre I think I’ve ever seen.
Can imagine production companies are weary about making it though, after all if the identiy of the mole were to slip out to the contestants, or if a newspaper got hold of the info while the series were on, it would wreck the whole thing. Big risk to take!

 

9 thoughts on “We Heart The Mole

  1. Mart with a Y not an I

    Superb stuff.
    The BBC should have brought the rights when Channel Five had enough. OK so it’s a high burn out idea, and eats challenge and hidden clue ideas at a rate of knots, so would’nt much go beyond 3 more series – but it would have been better than killing off this format after two series.

    Reply
    1. Brig Bother Post author

      It keeps coming back in The Netherlands and Belgium every few years, so there’s no real reason why it couldn’t be tried here again.

      Reply
    2. David B

      The BBC didn’t ‘get’ reality shows at the time. When the Mole was offered to them, they asked for a script of the whole show. A script!

      Reply
  2. Andrew Warren

    The Mole is my favourite television show of all time. That’s all I can really say.

    Except that I love the feature!

    Reply
  3. John R

    The ‘Introduction’ clues were genius, I still remember the exact words that made up the completed sentences today!

    And so was the clue in one of the Series 2 games that linked directly to the ‘final quiz’ location but you had forgot about the game by the time the final episode was aired (Or I did, anyway) and then kicked yourself for hours after watching the ‘Debrief’ show!!!

    In fact, I’m going to dig out my digital copies to watch right now 😀

    I also quite enjoyed the remake of the Mole USA (‘Season 5’), annoyed when my prime mole suspect got booted off in Week 4! Although then it became a little too obvious near the end.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Peake

      Ah – so do I!

      This is your first clue.
      Time there were answers.
      Not some ordinary game.

      …were the first three. I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s lived under a rock and hasn’t watched S2.

      Reply
    1. sphil

      a tenner? i’d buy the rights for myself for anything up to £13.50.

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Alex Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.