Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Mole Season Rankings (U.S.)

I talk quite a bit on here about my reality TV obsessions, especially as of late with my rankings of all things related to The Genius. However, there's one TV show that I've been in love with for about four years that has hardly gotten even a passing mention on my blog. It's the show that got me into The Genius, and I've long touted it as my favorite TV show of all time (The Genius has since slightly surpassed it, but we're just going to ignore that). And that show is.... The Mole.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, I'll give you a brief rundown of the premise in just a second. That being said, the actual ranking portion of this post will contain spoilers for every season of the show, so if the premise does intrigue you, do yourself a favor and watch the show before reading my rankings. I'll even embed the first few episodes below for you to check it out.

So, The Mole was a reality competition that aired 5 seasons between the years of 2001-2008. Seasons 3 and 4 were actually celebrity editions, while the other three featured casts of regular civilians. The premise of the show is that there is a group of contestants who work together in games and challenges to win money for the group pot that only the eventual winner will get to take home. However, there's a twist. One of the contestants is not actually a contestant at all. This person is The Mole, someone being paid by production to sabotage the games and keep the contestants from winning money. The actual players' main objective is to discover who among them is The Mole. At the end of each episode, the contestants all take a quiz that asks questions about the identity of the mole. Whoever scores worst on the quiz is eliminated (or "executed" in the show's terminology). This continues until the finale, where the mole is uncovered and a winner is crowned, winning the entirety of the group pot. Also, Anderson Cooper hosts the first two seasons and he's an absolute delight. Seriously, he's my favorite reality show host of all time.

OK, so there you go. If you're interested, check it out. It's a fantastic, clever show that's also incredibly binge-able. But from here on out, I'm going to be getting into spoiler territory, so turn back now if you haven't seen the entire run of the US version of the show. Per usual, these rankings are going to be based on a mixture of factors, such as the quality of the cast, the game concepts, and of course-- overall enjoyment, but I'll get to that when we focus on each season specifically. Let's just jump into the rankings.

5) Celebrity Mole: Yucatan (Season 4)

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it-- this was definitively the worst season of the show. The celebrity seasons were the weakest point in the show's history, and this was just the lowest of the low. There are two main problems with the celebrity seasons- the games are dumbed down for the celebrities... and the celebrities are still absolutely horrible at them. And not only that, but the celebrities were awful at figuring out who was the mole despite the fact that they had some of the more obvious moles. And then, somehow, despite the fact that these people are celebrities, most of the cast was so much less interesting than civilian casts. And in a weird twist of events, they decided to bring back Stephen Baldwin and Corbin Bernsen even though they were on the first celebrity season?? It made zero sense. I mean, they were certainly the most entertaining people on the cast, but... you couldn't have gotten some other celebrities?

And going back to the fact that the celebrities are bad at the games, the winner of this season was Dennis Rodman. How did he win a fairly brainy show, you might ask? Sheer. Dumb. Luck. He never took notes, he didn't really care, and he barely scraped by in the quizzes each episode. He didn't know who the mole was until the final quiz. I'm still not sure how he pulled that one out. Plus, the celebrity seasons were hosted by Ahmad Rashad, who was definitively the most boring host in the history of the franchise.

So, I've said a lot of negative things about the celebrity versions in general, but what makes this one worse than the first celebrity season? I mean... everything? There weren't as many likable people on this season. Dennis's personality was almost nonexistent, and some of the fun people went very quickly. Thank goodness for Mark Curry bringing the laughs every episode because almost everyone else was boring. The games were also slightly better on the other celebrity season as well. Overall, this is just not a bright point in the history of The Mole. I rewatch Mole seasons all the time and I've only seen this one twice-- an initial watch, and a re-watch when I showed The Mole to my best friend.

4) Celebrity Mole: Hawaii (Season 3)

Hopefully, you're unsurprised to see the other season of Celebrity Mole next up on the list, given how negative I was on the celebrity seasons in general. I have pretty much the same criticism for this season as I do for Yucatan. The celebrities generally aren't very good at the games, nor are they very good at figuring out who is the mole. Once again, our winner, Kathy Griffin, figured out the mole at the final three, which is just kinda pathetic. That being said, I thought that the players on this season were a bit more fun than on Yucatan. For one thing, my favorite celebrity contestant, Erik von Detten was on this season. I knew him from The Princess Diaries, where he played a popular jerk... which is in stark contrast to the fact that IRL, he's a smart, quiet math nerd who's actually pretty awkward. He was one of the people who wasn't totally miserable at all of the games, and he was really entertaining to watch, especially with his coalition with Kathy and the dynamic between the two of them. 

The fact that Kathy had such a hard time figuring out the mole is especially pathetic when you consider that our mole, Frederique van der Wal was far and away the most obvious mole across the US Seasons. I'm admittedly pretty bad at figuring out the mole-- I've only pegged 2/5 prior to their reveal-- and Freddie was the easiest one. Like, she just outright refused to do one of the challenges. I think the biggest thing for me that was weird was that she didn't even seem to sabotage that many things... but when she did, it was overly obvious. So she wasn't really a very good mole in any sense of the word.

The cast overall was the biggest redeeming quality of the season-- players were either decent at the games, or at least entertaining... or both in the case of Erik. That being said, most of them did fall on the entertaining side and there were quite a few people who were utterly pathetic at playing the mole games. The games were slightly better this season than season 4-- the final game definitely stands out, as does Underwater Charades. Overall, this season was definitively better than Yucatan but far, far, below any of the civilian seasons.

3) Season 5

So, now we move on to the civilian seasons of The Mole, beginning with the most recent season, season 5. Season 5 aired during the writers' strike in 2008 after a four year break. Essentially, ABC needed a show while the writers were on strike and they ended up settling on The Mole, much to my enjoyment. While it doesn't quite live up to the perfection of the first two seasons, it's far and away better than the celebrity seasons. The biggest complaint that most people have about season 5 is that Anderson Cooper didn't come back to host. And while I definitely agree with that sentiment, I understand why he didn't return and for me, it didn't degrade the show that much. I still really enjoyed it. Yes, Jon Kelly was lackluster compared to Anderson, but he was leaps and bounds ahead of Ahmad Rashad.

The other complaint about season 5 is the casting. People complain that people were cast more because of their personalities and the drama that they would create, rather than because of their ability to puzzle out the identity of the mole. For example, Paul and Nicole. They were both such big personalities and they were at each other's throats constantly, creating drama, and just generally being over-the-top. The same could be said of the egotistical Alex and the physically inept Mole super-fan, Bobby. And while I'll definitely agree that the season was much more drama-filled than the first couple, that wasn't necessarily something that bothered me too much personally. Yes, there was a different dynamic than in previous seasons, but I still found it enjoyable overall and found some of the drama pretty humorous. I also absolutely loved watching Paul rampage on all of the other contestants, and he ended up being my favorite out of the group. Yep, I'm one of those people. I also love people like Jeffrey Sebelia from Project Runway and Marcel Vigneron from Top Chef. Come at me, bro. 

The best part about the season for me is that it felt like the games were back on par with what Mole games should be. They were no longer the simplistic "surf for 10+ seconds" or "eat a hot pepper" games. We were back to fun ones like bungee jumping over a waterfall and racing to the top of a mountain. It was so refreshing. 

So, what makes this season the worst of the civilian seasons? Well, some of the aforementioned things. The lack of Anderson Cooper is a major blow. He made the show lots of fun. Also, I feel like the games from the first couple seasons are a bit better conceived. And while I enjoyed the humor of the cast this season, it doesn't quite stack up to the strategy evident in the casts from the first two seasons. And finally, the mole this season was definitely one of the more obvious moles, Craig. Craig was the other mole that I figured out pre-reveal. He wasn't quite as obvious as Freddie, but if you took a good second to assess the cast as it got smaller and smaller, it was fairly obvious. All that being said, it was still an awesome season of The Mole, and one of the ones that I rewatch the most. 

2) Season 2

I went back and forth so many times trying to figure out which season was my favorite, and although it's probably the consensus favorite season among fans of The Mole, season 2 has ended up here in slot #2. But just barely. Honestly, these first two seasons are two of the best seasons of TV I've ever watched, so the fact that it's not #1 isn't a knock on its quality in the slightest. It's an amazing season with the perfect host and some awesome games. 

Firstly, Anderson Cooper. Honestly, still my favorite reality show host ever. He's just so hilarious, witty, and fun. He hangs out with the contestants at dinner, jokes around with them, and even got drunk with them one time. Plus, there was the time that the contestants decided to push him into the water, which is definitely a highlight of the season. He adds this brilliant level of snark and sass to the show that's unmatched by any other hosts across reality TV.

Also, the cast. They were so great. They were all really trying to play the game, but they also had fun with it. Even the characters that I didn't like were really awesome to watch. For example, I didn't like Katie. She was naive and innocent to the point that it got annoying. But, it added this really fun dynamic when she was scared or when she was upset at some sort of betrayal. Then there was someone like poor Darwin who just couldn't get anything right, but boy did you love watching him try. He was one of my favorite contestants, but the real standout was obviously Al. Everyone loves Al. He's funny, he loves the games, he gave great confessionals, and he just came off as this really nice guy. That's, of course, contrasted by people like Elavia who no one (except me!) liked, and Patrick, who got a little too cut-throat. 

And then there are the phenomenal games. Let's not beat around the bush, the obvious standout was High Card, better known by its "real" name, Anderson's Funhouse. Every time I rewatch season 2, I'm constantly looking forward to seeing Al in the Tiny Bubbles room, practically losing his mind as he has to listen to it over and over and over. It's the funniest moment of the season. But there are also some really epic games, and a few that I personally really want to do. I'd love to do the rope swing from the first game. I'd love to play the Evader game from the final 5 episode. The Clothesline game from episode 2 is one of the most fun games, and I also loved Dumb vs. Smart and Get the Key. There are like 10 other games I want to list, but I'll leave it at that. 

The only weak point for me was the mole himself. I personally didn't peg Bill, because I got fixuated on Dorothy really early and since she kept making it through, I kept suspecting her. However, every time I've shown the season to someone else, they've pegged Bill in episode 2 when he went for drinks instead of returning to the train. However, he did write a book about his experiences on The Mole, which is really cool, so bonus points to Bill for that. That being said though, it's just an incredibly strong season and I typically re-watch it at least twice a year, if not more. 

1) Season 1

I'd have to really sit down and think about it, but season 1 of The Mole might be my favorite season of reality TV ever. The 4 seasons of The Genius would give it a real run for its money, but season 1 of The Mole is such an iconic season for me. I love absolutely everything about it. The games are phenomenal. The contestants are phenomenal. Anderson Cooper is phenomenal. EVERYTHING IS PHENOMENAL.

One of the contestants on this season is still my favorite Mole-testant of all time. And obviously, that's Jim. Also, his last name is Morrison which is a hilarious coincidence. Anyway, Jim is just TV gold, but honestly the entire cast really was. There was Jennifer, the jock, who got way too into every single game. There was Kate, the "older" woman of the cast who somehow got offered exemptions way too often. And of course, there was Charlie, the grumpy old man who constantly bagged on poor Kate. And that's even without mentioning our mole, Kathryn, and our winner, Steven, who were also two of my favorite contestants. There was a pretty small cast this season, but they picked people based on who they thought would be good at sleuthing versus who they thought would be big personalities. However, they still hit the jackpot with some really great contestants who were also really good characters. 

And in addition to this, there was also the phenomenal powerhouse coalition of Steven and Jim. Never again in the history of the show have we seen a coalition this successful and that did this much damage to the rest of the field. They absolutely wiped the floor with everyone else by throwing suspicion onto each other, creating false alliances with other players, and shielding the actual mole once they figured out who it was. It was such awesome gameplay and I was stunned when they revealed it in the finale. Such a standout moment of The Mole, akin to some of the awesome twists in The Genius. 

And then, of course, are the games. At this point, I've re-watched the season so many times that every single game is iconic to me. I mean, they start the season by skydiving-- how much more epic can you get?! The cornfield maze was one of the really awesome games, as was Trap University, which was one of my favorite games of the season. The final 3 games, Three Questions and Three Rooms, are also some of the most iconic. I need to stop myself, because I'm about to list every single game. It's just such an awesome season of games. 

And our mole this season is definitely the best mole we've had on the show. She was definitely the most secretive of all of the moles we've seen. She was sneaky, she was crafty, and it was really difficult to figure out who the mole was. However, despite her being so undercover, she sabotaged quite frequently. She just did such a good job at both of her jobs as the mole. Sure, by the final 4 everyone knew it was her, but I think that's more of a testament to the quality of the players rather than to her as the mole. Across the board, this season was just absolutely amazing.

So, those are my rankings of the 5 US seasons of The Mole. Like I said, this is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and I'd really like to do more posts about it on my blog. I'm not sure how many people would actually be interested in seeing more posts about it, so pleasepleaseplease let me know in the comments! Right now, I'm thinking it might be fun to do some sort of series going back through the show episode by episode, but I'm also wanting to do a one-off where I rank my favorite Mole games of all time. Either way, let me know if you'd like to see more Mole posts, and let me know what your rankings of the seasons are!

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  1. I haven't really read the post (skipped by almost all of it, really) - but you mentioning the show got me interested in the Mole and I binged a season. Show's good, Jim's good, everyone is good. Except Henry's clairvoyance. Hurray!

    1. Haha yeah, Henry's clairvoyance is a bit of a disaster. But I'm so glad that you ended up watching the show and enjoyed it! Hope you continue on to season 2-- it's a favorite among mole fans.


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