I loved The Mole.
It was a reality show that did a lot of things right, many of which I could list for hours on end (And that my Elder brother waxes nostalgic about in this old blog post, although the YouTube videos are dead), but there is one that needs to be highlighted: more than any other reality show, it made the viewer a part of the game.
When we watch Survivor, we are watching a social experiment from the outside looking in, judging these people based on a situation we can’t understand. When we watch The Amazing Race, we have the visual sensation of enjoying the sights and excursions but without the same sense of killer fatigue that has done in many racers. And, when we watch American Idol, we can vote as much as we wish but we will never have a deciding voice as part of the tens of millions of votes cast.
But watching The Mole, the viewer is a player in the show’s central game: discovering who, out of a group of 12 strangers, is the one hired by the network to sabotage their efforts to earn money for a group pot is something that the audience gets to enjoy just as its players do. Sure, we aren’t part of the games, and that ol’ “Parts not affecting the outcome were edited out” disclaimer means that we obviously don’t have the whole story, but at the end of the day the viewer is the 13th player in the game.
Perhaps its because my eating habits would keep my from surviving on Survivor and The Amazing Race, and that my voice is not quite good enough for a music competition series, but of all of my various non-options (Go Canada!) The Mole is the one reality show that I would actually want to participate in. And, after being seemingly canceled and seeing its host move on to a far shinier gig, Americans with my mindset have their chance: tomorrow night, June 2nd, The Mole returns to ABC.
And consider me cautiously optimistic.
[EDIT: Welcome, more recent visitors. As you’ve noticed, ABC has started airing quick snippets to help preview the return of the Mole. If you seen anything involving a premiere date or any more information, feel free to comment below!]
They just don’t make reality series like The Mole anymore. Some of the more recent shows can be described as an amalgam of various parts: Survivor meets The Apprentice, or The Amazing Race meets Big Brother. It seems as if truly original ideas in the reality competition field are all but gone, which one might think is only further evidenced by ABC’s decision to bring back an old reality show to fill their summer schedule. It seems like it’s just another series coming back because of the Writers’ Strike, a lame attempt like American Gladiators to cash in on an existing property.
But there’s something different about The Mole, both in terms of the nature of its return and the quality of the programming. The show’s first two seasons were fantastic examples of how to do reality television: it was smart, humorous, and featured personalities that we rooted for. It had twists and turns that didn’t feel choreographed, and surprised the contestants as much as it surprised the audience or vice versa. Its return, according to the story being circulated today by Variety, was a labor of love from original producer Scott Stone, whose original shingle has dissolved and who had to fight to regain the lapsed rights to make it happen.
Can you imagine someone fighting for the lapsed rights to any other canceled reality series from this period? Sure, two celebrity editions which followed were not quite appointment television, but the original was beloved and has enjoyed a strong word of mouth credibility in recent years. A lot of this has to do with its host, Anderson Cooper – while he’s since moved onto bigger things at CNN, and thus won’t be returning to the series, his big break was acting as the lovably sarcastic and mysterious guide for this journey.