We finished watching The Mole Australia Season 3 last week and really got to talking more in-depth about the differences between that version and the U.S. version. Keep in mind these comparisons are only between the seasons I’ve seen, U.S. 1 and 2, and Australian 1, 2, and 3.
Our conversation started because of one baffling trend. [Slight spoiler alert] In two out of the three Australian seasons we had watched, the runner-up player did not correctly guess who the Mole was on the final quiz. In the two U.S. seasons we had watched, the winner, runner-up, and sometimes 3rd place player all knew very well who the Mole was, sometimes many episodes in advance (or even from nearly the beginning of the game). How could a player make it all the way to the end of the show without knowing the identity of the Mole?! It seemed crazy!
I think it all comes down to the degree of emphasis on the psychological aspects of the game. In the U.S. version, players had journals where they detailed every moment of their journey and all of their suspicions, but I didn’t notice any journals or note-keeping in the Australian version. In the U.S. version, there was a strong “every man for himself” mentality, while in the Australian version some players felt personally slighted any time the Mole made a move (one player even had an angry outburst during the reunion/finale episode). In the U.S. version, players lied about their personal details and had to deal with the fallout of misleading others too much. I didn’t see any of that in the Australian version.
Another huge element in the U.S. version that never seemed to pop up in the Australian version was the forming of coalitions between players. In the U.S. version, some players reached out to others out of loneliness and the need to trust someone in a sea of lies, while others formed secret coalitions with practically half of the players to gain information, essentially betraying them all. Coalitions ended up playing a huge role in the final episodes of the U.S. version. The only thing I saw in the Australian version that came close to a coalition was an agreement between three players to split the winnings. Other than that, nobody seemed to make any attempt to band together. I think it’s because they didn’t really feel the need to, because nobody was being terribly sneaky or untrustworthy apart from the Mole.
And that’s where we decided that the simple difference between the U.S. and Australian versions of the show was that the contestants on the Australian version just weren’t playing the game. They were completing the challenges and getting angry at the elusive Mole for losing money, but the trust games and the mind games just weren’t there. Nobody seemed to want to actively sabotage anything to draw attention to themselves and away from the real Mole. The only time a player would act in their own self-interest was to win an exemption. Nobody seemed to feel the need to lie to anyone else. The producers also didn’t seem to provoke players to do these types of things nearly as much as in the U.S. version.
It almost feels like a passive vs. active thing. On the Australian version, players seemed to feel like being alert was their only way to determine who the Mole was and therefore win, but doing the challenges and earning more money was really their top priority. In the U.S. version, players seemed to feel like their own actions could help them determine who the Mole was, or mislead other players, or turn the game in their favor in any other number of ways, while earning prize money was just a secondary objective. They didn’t hesitate to try and work the game from every angle to get an advantage. [U.S. Season 2 Spoiler: Season 2 starts off with one savvy player actually trying to hold team money hostage in an attempt to buy two exemptions for crying out loud! That player’s words when explaining his actions to his teammates? “We’re a team, and we’re not a team.”]
It’s hard to say why these versions were so different. Part of it could be that the U.S. version was filmed after the first Australian season had aired, and it had the opportunity to improve on the show’s formula. Nick suggested maybe the U.S. version had a larger pool of players from which to cast the show, helping them find more savvy, conniving contestants. A lot of it might have had to do with the general drama-driven climate of American reality TV. The way the U.S. producers presented the show to its players might have been completely different than the way it was presented to Australian players.
I’m definitely interested in watching the rest of the U.S. and Australian seasons to see if this trend continues. Without the mystery and intrigue that comes with the players’ conniving actions, The Mole just becomes another challenge-based reality game show.
“It’s fun, it’s fun playing the mind games. It’s fun watching how people work. And how they don’t work. How people are so easily scammed and suckered in.”