The Spanish prisoners

"The Mole," Episode 5: On this show, we're all in the dumb group!

Published February 7, 2001 4:26PM (EST)

Over the course of what we calculate were the 167 hours last week during which we were not watching "The Mole," the ABC reality TV program, we were quite content.

We sometimes woke up in the morning, ascertained that the lark was on the wing and that the snail was indeed on the thorn, and concluded that all was right with the world.

But faced, for the fifth week in a row, with the antics of a lineup (now totaling six) of not-that-interesting characters doing irritating and pointless things -- and hosted by Anderson "Coop" Cooper, reality TV's dimmest star -- we began to contemplate getting into another line of work.

Like volunteering for cosmetic testing.

The group is still in Andalucia, near Seville, in southwest Spain. ABC would seem to have exhausted the dramatic potential of the country, what with the exciting laundry challenge two weeks ago.

But the never-say-die network brain trust, promulgators of both "The Mole" and "The Geena Davis Show," is persevering. Tonight's first exciting challenge puts the groups into three groups of two each and tells them to find their way to a hotel in another town.

The smart group is Jim and Jennifer, who are pals and are both gay. The dumb group includes Charlie and Kate, the two oldsters; they don't get along. The resourceful group includes Kathryn, who teaches law, and Steve, the undercover cop.

The smart group gets in an automobile -- one of those little European Smart cars, get it? -- and has to go driving around the hinterlands.

The resourceful group is given a junky van, which eventually breaks down. Then they travel via bike and a motorized scooter. Then the scooter quits, so Kathryn ends up riding on the back of the bike as Steve gamely pumps the pedals.

The dumb group gets taken to the swanky motel; Kate and Charlie are plied with foot massages and Jacuzzis. Then they get told they're supposed to call the smart group up on the phone and try to misdirect them.

Oh, the compelling television that results.

In the end, in one of those suspicious "Mole" coincidences, the smart group gets to the hotel with literally seconds to spare -- and the resourceful one gets there just a few minutes late.

Under the terms of the game, the losers -- Kathryn and Steven -- have to spend the night outside in the Smart car. It doesn't look very comfy.

The next day, the group goes to the castle of San Marcos, in the town of Santa Maria.

"This is the castle of, uh, San Marcos," mumbles Coop as the sextet assembles in the courtyard

The challenge today is to mill around while being told that the show had interviewed some of their loved ones. The players are supposed to match up information gleaned from that process with themselves.

This boils down to who's the best hugger, who's the most romantic, who's a nag and so forth.

On top of this seemingly unmatchable entertainment, there is an even more dramatic development -- Kate and Jennifer can't decide who's the nag and who would be described as most likely to be shot out of a circus cannon.

We'd personally welcome the chance to treat either of the two -- with or without Coop and any nearby ABC prime-time programmers -- to the experience.

In the end, Kate gets Jennifer to switch with her, which will have very not-so-fateful results.

The trick is that each player who gets their description right gets to spend some time with a loved one!

Coop leads the group, one by one, into a weird wine-storage room. Sometimes a loved one pops out from behind the wine barrels; other times, there's just sad silence.

Charlie gets to see his wife of 38 years; Kathryn her fiancé Steve his wife; and Jim his ex-lover, a guy who, charmingly, wears his keys on a chain off a belt loop of his baggy jeans -- just like Jim!

They are suddenly reality TV's cutest couple. We can't help hoping the romantic setting will help bring them back together.

Jennifer and Kate, however, get only silence. They get their descriptions wrong -- Kate, surprise, is the nag -- and don't get to see any friends.

Jennifer goes out in the courtyard and cries. Kate goes out to comfort her but Jennifer walks away. "I had it right the first time," she says bitterly.

She's hella upset.

You have to give ABC credit -- for once, here's a game that has real tactile prizes for the winners, and genuine hurt for the losers.

Except for the fact that it's all a fraud.

It turns out Jennifer gets to see her lover, Amy, anyway. And Kate gets to see her son, who's a chub just like her!

All the players get to spend the rest of the day and night with their friends. This hardly seems fair. Either the contests mean something or they don't.

Finally, it's execution time. At this point, we want everyone offed: Steven, still a complete cipher; the annoying Charlie; the self-satisfied Kate; Jim, the churl; Jennifer, Miss Grumblepuss; and uptight Kathryn!

It's Jennifer! She's sad. She walks out of the room without saying anything. At the goodbye to Coop, beaming with her girlfriend as she climbs into the exit van, she actually kisses Coop on the cheek.

She's the one who just got kicked off the show -- why does he look like the loser?

(Bill Wyman)

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By Salon Staff

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