The Mole UK Season 1


Last week, we put another stamp in our passport of obscure reality TV shows by watching Season 1 of the UK version of The Mole.  The Mole UK Season 1 ran in January 2001, at the same time as US Season 1 and AUS Season 2.   This is the 6th season overall that I’ve seen (2 US, 3 AUS), and now I kind of feel compelled to watch every English-speaking season I can manage to find!

The Games:

The Mole UK Season 1 featured a lot of the standard challenges we’ve seen in every season like skydiving, hostage rescue, roulette dares, luggage repack, and corn maze.  It also had a few that were in the AUS version but not the US version (at least of the first 2 seasons), like food tasting, fishing, night on an island, disguise, road rally, charity fundraising, paintball course, interrogation, sports/trivia, and sports champion challenge.

There were also a few standards that had a bit of a different spin in this season.  One challenge had players trying to identify each others’ loved ones, a challenge which has popped up in some form in all of the seasons I’ve seen.  This one involved a stage with 12 people, and the players making their guesses from the theater balcony.  Players got to visit with their loved ones regardless of the outcome, but only a certain number of correct guesses would win them any money.

The brain teaser challenge was played very similarly to AUS Season 1, with two teams, a 45-minute time limit, 5 minute wrong answer penalties, and even one of the same brain teasers.  One fun spin on the game was that it was played in an underground bunker.  The teams had to run down the dark corridors of the bunker and really seemed to enjoy it.  Location matters!

There were only two challenges that were new to me:  Death Slide and Market.  Death Slide had the players go across a long, scary zipline and answer a trivia question about something from the show once they reached the end (for example, name the players who ran the corn maze in order of time spent in the maze).

Market was something really new and different, but in the same kind of wild goose chase category as other final episode challenges like Hitchcock Hotel.  The players had to solve a series of cryptic clues in a marketplace full of different shops.  The format was pretty interesting:  the first clue instructed one player to run and find a ringing phone booth somewhere in town, which would connect him back to the players in the market.  A clue was hidden somewhere in the phone booth which lead the other two players in the market to their next clue, which told the location of another phone booth, and so on.  Some of the clues were pretty cute and had the players do unexpected things.  The idea of a ringing phone both is also very nice.  The team seemed to do really well on this one, but lost a lot of time in the beginning.

One other game worth mentioning was the Boiler Suit Drop.  Players had to dress in orange “boiler suits” (US readers, think prisoner’s jumpsuit).  Each player was then dropped off at a separate location and given a GPS to direct them all to a locked safe on the beach.  )  The players also had numbers to memorize to help unlock the safe later.)  From there, they had to travel by foot or bike (no motorized vehicles) to the location within the time limit.

People who have seen US Season 2 will recognize this as a precursor to the Top Secret game in the final episode of that season.  One thing that struck us as we were watching the UK version was how this challenge had been adapted and made much more interesting for the US version.  In US Season 2, the game was made into a very dramatic final challenge, driving home the feeling that the players were truly on their own from that point forward.  There was no time limit and no teamwork involved.  The first player to reach the ending location could choose to either add $100k to the pot or see a dossier on the Mole.  The final quiz was then taken at that location, after a physically and mentally exhausting day.  I feel like the word “drama” as used when referring to reality TV usually means fights, vulgarity, and tears, but the context and presentation of this final challenge is the epitome of the “drama” that made US seasons 1 and 2 so compelling for me.

One player on the lonely journey to the end in US Season 2


The Mole and Sabotage

It’s so interesting to see the different types of people who get selected to play as the Mole.  You might think one personality type may be more suited for the role than another, but each season keeps bringing a new type of character, making it clear that the other players will convince themselves that whatever hunch they have is right or wrong for totally arbitrary reasons.  She’s too quiet, he’s too loud, that person is having too much fun.  That person seems too genuine to be the Mole, that person seems too obviously sneaky to be the Mole.  I had already accidentally spoiled myself on the Mole’s identity for this season, but they had Nick stumped the whole time.  This was also another season where the runner-up player didn’t know the identity of the Mole, which is still madness to me.

Something unique about this season for us was the method by which the Mole sabotaged the group.  I think we’re used to things like the Mole doing poorly on the challenges and trying to cover it up or put the blame on someone else, but this season seemed to have a lot of very physical, direct acts of sabotage.  Basically, anything that seemed to go wrong (things being broken, devices not working) was an act of the Mole under orders from the producers.  For some reason, in my head I can see the producers kind of messing with things themselves to make things tougher for the players (giving the players a boat full of holes to get off of an island, for example), but the thought of the Mole actually having to do those things on their own seems so strange to me.  This season’s Mole frequently had to sneak off and commit these acts of sabotage without being spotted.  While part of me thinks this sounds like a logical and interesting part of the game, the other part of me feels like it’s way too risky!  And in a weird way it sort of gives the Mole too much responsibility on the one hand, but limited action on the other.  It might just be that the US seasons didn’t divulge much of the producer/Mole interaction, but in this season it seemed like the Mole really only acted out direct orders from the producers and didn’t do much on their on volition (except for making in-the-moment decisions between two options given by the producers).  If I were being told exactly how to sabotage each challenge, I would be nervous to do anything more outside of those instructions for fear of messing things up.


Final Thoughts

A good season with an unexpected Mole and some very different (for us) forms of sabotage.  Still lacking a lot of the interpersonal aspects that we love so much about the US versions (and the beautiful soundtrack), but certainly worth watching!  Now I’m looking forward to checking out Season 2 as recommended by a friend, and with that we’ll have wrapped up the UK version of the Mole!

7 comments on The Mole UK Season 1

  • Jason

    The Mole sounds very cool (in all of its incarnations). I missed it when it was on, but I definitely need to check it out.

    My all-time favorite puzzle-based reality show was Treasure Hunters. It had some of the smartest, toughest mental challenges of any reality show I’ve seen. Alas, it only ran one season, which left me wondering if it was ‘too smart’ for the average viewer. It was sad to see it flop, but worth watching if you can find it.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Hadn’t heard of Treasure Hunters. Looking at the Wikipedia article it sounds like it was very similar to Amazing Race, but more puzzley/cryptic/mentally challenging like you said, which means I will DEFINITELY have to check it out. I finally watched a full season of Amazing Race last year and was really disappointed by how mindless and silly some of the challenges were (eat a whole cauldron of cheese fondue, carry a couch several blocks, etc). Treasure Hunters sounds like the show I wanted Amazing Race to be! Looks like all of it is on Youtube too… I think I might have to check this out before moving on to Mole UK 2 =) Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  • watersnake

    I was worried you won’t think much to S2 – but then decided it’s the Mole, can’t go far wrong! I may watch some of the Aus version then join you for US3.

    • clavicarius (author)

      It turned out we hadn’t watched Season 1 after all =) But I had read who the Mole was unfortunately (still enjoyable though!). Season 2 might have to wait until I’ve checked out this Treasure Hunters show recommended by Jason, sounds amazing!

      • watersnake

        Treasure Hunters does sound good – in fact I’ve just watched the first episode! The premise sounds like a show we had in 2007 called ‘The Search’ – this was two teams competing in puzzles based on history across the world, such as Italy/India/Peru – it had a heavy focus on codes and glyphs, and I seem to remember the contestants all had special skills (mostly history/Classics/languages) with were very mixed ages (24-64). Sounds brilliant right? Unfortunately it was terrible. I can’t think I even watched to the end – as I recall it was a bit overly dramatic and took itself too seriously. Letdown, especially from the trailers which looked very exciting and made me wish I was on it!

        So this episode was engaging – there was a lot to take in – basically 30 people in two quite separate environments with I guess 6 puzzles to solve altogether. I found it rather a passive experience though – there wasn’t a way for the viewer to join in and try to solve the puzzles alongside the contestants. Also the phone messages from the host were very odd – I’m sure they must have been recorded later and some producer gave them the instructions direct. On the other hand the show was able to focus on a few stories which were entertaining – particularly the competitive pastor’s family – hope there’s more of them. I think it will get better as teams are eliminated so you can get to know them a bit more. Will keep watching I think.

        • clavicarius (author)

          The Search does sound great, too bad it was apparently awful! I’ll probably still try to hunt it down and check it out for research though, so thanks for the tip =) It’s good to learn from others mistakes, and there are probably some highlights somewhere in there as well.

          Haven’t had a chance to get started on Treasure Hunters myself (and I think we’re going to try and alternate between seasons of the X-Files and old reality tv series, so we’ve got some X-files to get through first!), but looking forward to it and I’ll e-mail you once we’ve started. I think there’s only so much they can do with TV to make in interactive for the audience… The Mole was great because it was kind of vague and open. Sure, they had the things encoded in the intros and stuff, but beyond that it was just up to the audience to use their own intuition and perceptive skills to narrow down the suspects. But I haven’t really seen any good examples of a puzzle that translates well for the audience to experience (we would sometimes pause whenever The Mole episodes would have a brain teaser and try to work it out ourselves, but you can’t do that with a TV broadcast). I remember frustratingly watching a puzzle on The Amazing Race involving nautical flags and wanting to try it myself (and getting reeeallly annoyed at the slower teams, hah). I’m not sure if there’s a solution to this with TV!

          Reality TV definitely gets better as teams get eliminated =) I’m currently watching So You Think You Can Dance (no puzzles there, haha, just one of my favorite shows) and having trouble keeping track of all 20 contestants. This week should be easier, as four people got eliminated last week!

          • watersnake

            I’ve had a little look around for episodes or even clips of The Search and not found much – hope you have more joy.

            Re: playing along at home – I take your point about viewers actually solving puzzles – maybe what I really mean is that I like it when the audience can see what needs to be done and can judge the players’ performance – like the Crystal Maze perhaps, and many Mole games – perhaps I just like shouting at the tv!

            I haven’t seen any more episodes yet – give me a shout when you’re getting stuck in and I’ll try to follow on.

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