A whole lotta bull

"The Mole," Episode 3: Charlie gets gored where it really hurts; Kate takes it all off, but a suddenly demure network shows us no skin.



Salon Staff
January 24, 2001 11:19PM (UTC)

"The Mole" is a weird show. When one of the players has to go have his portrait painted in the nude, demure ABC blurs out the nipples in an inoffensive line drawing of a woman's nude torso in the background.

Reality in ABC's conception doesn't include nipples, unless they're poking through a nubile young star's shirt on the hit sitcom of the moment. Indeed, when one of the players does agree to the nude pose, it turns out to be a zaftig woman in her 50s and we are not treated to the leering peeks at the session we suspect we would have been granted had the subject been more shapely.

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But look, if you want bounteous half-naked babes, you're watching the wrong show. You want "Temptation Island." That's the new reality show people actually watch.

"The Mole" has flop written all over it.

Posing in the nude isn't even the most ignominious position the cast members find themselves in on this, the third episode of the eccentrically unwatchable show. That position, is, in fact, getting knocked on one's ass, hard, by a baby bull.

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We could only wish the bull had been a year or two older; you have to figure for every cast member actually killed in the line of play, that would mean one less week of "The Mole."

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"The Mole" will go down in history as the reality TV show it was difficult even to describe. Basically, 10 people are being moved around Europe, and forced to play odd little games or accomplish odd little tests. If they do these things, the group earns money, in chunks of $10,000 and more, that goes into a pot for the eventual winner.

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One of the players isn't a player; he or she is the mole, and is supposed to be trying to undercut the group at any turn.

Each week, the players have to take a complicated computer quiz about who the mole is. Whoever scores worst on the test gets bounced. The last player standing with the mole wins however much money is in the pot.

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Got it?

When "The Mole" screens scenes from the previous week's show at the beginning of the new episode, you feel as if you're revisiting an unpleasant dream.

"What do I know? -- I'm just the simpleton here, trying to get through," Steven, the undercover cop, says in the prologue, speaking for much, if not all, of the show's dwindling viewership.

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The last few days the group has been in the South of France. Now numbering eight, they are taken to Spain. On the ride to their new hotel, they bicker in the van -- Charlie, the retired detective, is mad at Kate, the real estate investor, who won't open the window. Wendi agrees that Charlie got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.

Then they're on a dirt road where they are dropped off and ... made to walk for a while.

This is the sort of anti-drama that fuels this show.

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The group wanders up a trail to an old wooden bullfighting arena. The test this time is that they each have to get in the ring, as it were, and endure two passes of a smallish, but still hefty, young bull sprouting two nubs of horns.

Charlie, who is 63, gets head-butted by the bull first. It sure looks like he gets it right in the groin. It seems really painful. The viewer's relief that, for the first time, a reality TV show draws some real blood is tempered by the fact that this is a genuinely dangerous and foolhardy act.

The players have no idea how to bullfight; most hold the cape right in front of their crotch. Time after time they seem surprised when the little bull knocks them on their ass.

Several of the players end up in the dust wrestling with the animal.

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Playing amateur bullfighter looks like a good way to lose an eye, or one's ability to procreate.

Anyway, the angle is that if everyone doesn't agree to go out and risk his or her life with the bull, the group loses. But in the event, all do it. No clues to the mole here.

The group has to camp out that night. At dinner, Charlie, Wendi and Jennifer do a little rhumba. But Charlie drinks a little too much and goes off on a foul-mouthed rant about Kate.

There are two tests the next day. The first is another "Mole" exercise in tedium. Three players are assigned the task of getting eight loads of laundry done in eight different places in a small Spanish town when they don't speak Spanish.

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The other five endure a much more complicated procedure. They are each given a pair of tasks, one annoying (dyeing one's hair, wearing a ball and chain for a day) and one rather unpleasant (shaving one's head, wearing stocks for a day). They each roll a die: One through three means they get to do the annoying task, four to six the unpleasant one.

Steven for example, is faced with drawing someone nude -- or posing nude for a painting. He rolls a high number and is faced with having to pose nude, but backs out at the last minute.

Oooh, maybe he's the mole!

Jim's test: a cast on one leg, or a cast on two legs (for a day). He refuses as well.

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Ooooh! Or maybe he's the mole!

Wendi ends up with stocks around her neck.

Kathryn flat-out refuses to shave her head. Mole?

Kate is presented with a proposal so complex we refuse to figure it out. At the end of the day, the players meet in the town square, and Kate walks up with her hair dyed, both calves in casts, wearing a ball and chain -- and showing off a drawing of herself in the nude!

She wins $40,000 for the group -- and probably isn't the mole.

That night they have the regularly scheduled execution. Wendi, the designer, gets it. "Have a good game!" she says to Coop, by way of goodbye.

Then comes the show's slo-mo remembrance of the departed chump. "She'll definitely be missed," everyone says. That's what people say when you won't be.

-- Bill Wyman

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