June 16th, 2008
If there is a single thing that sets The Mole apart from other reality shows, it’s the tasks that the players are forced to do. They’re different than the other shows, relying not on skill but rather skills like communication, trust and in some cases pure ingenuity. The two tasks at the centerpiece of the fifth season’s third episode represent those which open up the game’s best elements, leaving room for the players to hang themselves and for them to have to think fast on their feet in tough situations.
There’s a lot of elements here that remind us of the show’s previous seasons, including more strong hosting from Jon Kelley and a pre-execution shocker that changes the dynamics of the game in a major way. And yet, there are still subtle differences: perhaps it’s that it isn’t new, but there’s a certain shift in the way the game is being portrayed (and in some ways played) that reminds us that this isn’t the same show.
That being said, it still remains the most watchable reality series for the summer months, and a worthy successor to its predecessors.
The episode begins as we’d expect, with a breakdown of last week’s hilarious (but kind of frightening) death threat. I don’t quite know if I’ll be so quick to believe that Nicole was only playing the game in being as crazy as theoretically possible. Paul, of course, starts an episode-long hissy fit about this and everything else in his life, a tactic he also chalks up to playing the game and trying to annoy/offend his other players to their doom. I refuse to believe that this is simply a reflection of gameplay and not severe personality flaws, so I don’t quite but the excuses on either front.
Regardless, the first task is all about that level of trust. There’s no skill involved – while they play up the danger of the Luge, no one ever seems to have much difficult or to have to overcome any particular disadvantage from being blindfolded. The task really only existed to draw out Mole-like behaviour (From Victoria/Craig, Nicole/Alex, Bobby/Clay), in particular in the first pair. It was an easy sabotage for anyone who was really paying attention to the rules, and was just one of the areas where Victoria raised some serious suspicion in this evening.
The game was all about following rules more than getting them right, although I would have been awful at the game due to my inability to recognize an Avocado (So Bobby, I feel your pain, if not quite to the crippling arthritis levels it often soars to). It’s intriguing, though, to see how so simple a task can quite literally implode out from under them in the blink of an eye, a sign that the game is still working its magic.
As the episode continued into the second task, we saw more of the same. It was probably the strongest task this season in that it combined embarrassment (A key part of any Mole task) with both a hidden “easy” solution (That the laundromat had their clothes all along) and the need for everyone to show a little ingenuity. I feel bad for some of the contestants, especially the girls who had two buses full of Catholic school boys following them around like they were pied pipers, but it was good television.
Some could argue, though, that it took the embarrassment a bit further than we’ve seen before; it was in some points bordering on gratuitous, considering the booty shorts that they gave to the female contestants in particular, but I felt like they always kept things within the context of the game. There was a nice tongue-in-cheek element to it all, and at the very least we got the usual triumphant edit even if we consider the rather long period of frustration that Victoria/Ali/Kristen went through in particular.
The task did open up into the largest coalition we’ve seen yet, Mark teaming with Bobby and Clay. Bobby’s Mole-like behaviour quickly draws the other two away, but it is clear that Mark and Clay are still a team when right after Clay opts out of the second task Mark is right behind him. It’s a strange move, considering the smart observation that Mark was apparently the first one to drop his robe indoors, and it certainly seems like he needs to play that one closer to the chest if they want to continue in the game. This is especially true considering Mark’s trust in Clay, but Clay’s trust in himself, being the most important part of their respective games – Mark seems desperate, as the final dinner pointed out, and he doesn’t want to open himself up to some sabotage.
The biggest problem with the episode, though, was in its conclusion. No, it’s not in Ali’s decision to take $30,000 and run (A decent move, but I thought she could go far in the game so it’s a bit of a let down), nor is it in Bobby’s departure (Meaning that they no longer have a use for what wheelbarrow they’ve been keeping in storage just in case). Rather, it was in that dinner conversation where Paul went from loudmouth New Yorker to complete jackass. He said it was part of his game strategy, but there is a certain point where the game stopped and just complete jerk took over.
Paul just isn’t any fun to watch, and those dinners (Once a fun and engaging part of the series’ structure) have been reduced to horribly uncomfortable sequences that make for tiresome viewing. I can only hope that at some point someone offs Paul (Although not for good, as Nicole might want, just from the game itself) in the near future, because the game is slowly become unbearable in the process.
But all hope is not lost, and there’s definitely some Mole-like behaviour at play. For me, Victoria seems the most fake: her talking heads lack spontaneity, in particular her “Oooh, I was paired with Craig, I’ll talk about how his fat was like a shield,” and I thought that her appreciatory talking head about Bobby was both factually inaccurate (He’s not that charming) and suspiciously positive. Combine with her eagerness at the execution (Where she was acting way over the top), and you have someone who seems to be acting out a lot more than most of the others; when we factor in that she pretty single handedly cost the team $14,000 in the first task, you’ve got a strong candidate.
- Liked how Paul managed to find a New Yorker who had a pair of “Whoever needs ’em, take ’em!” dress pants hanging at a hostel; he’s also a smart New Yorker, presuming that Paul was playing on some type of reality show based on the cameraman following them.
- At this point, Clay appears to be playing a smart game, so it should be interesting to see how he manages to overcome moments like his “dignity” speech before the second task. He needs to be careful that his aversion tactics, if that’s what they are, don’t too clearly designate that he’s not The Mole (That’s too obvious, even for them).
- Craig continues to entertain, always excited and engaging and hopeful. He cares when he doesn’t do well, he works to try to overcome that struggle, and the hope is that he is able to at least stick around for a while to counteract Paul’s poor behaviour.
- Nice twist on the Season Two “Buyout” that we saw previously – this time, the $30,000 got her out of the game in case she was about to be eliminated, but it didn’t allow for Bobby to be safe. It was especially poignant when you consider that Bobby was labeled the “fan,” and had right before that commented on how he would have never taken the money.