'The Mole' is the Toughest Reality Competition Series on TV – Esquire

Netflix revived the once-popular game of deception—and it’s far better than it ever was.
When a

reality competition show isn’t based on having physical or artistic skills, the best strategy is usually to just be the most likable person on screen. If you appear to be everyone’s best friend, you can win something like The Circle or Big Brother. If you’re the most desirable person, you can win the likes of The Bachelor or Love Island. In Netflix’s newest reality competition series, The Mole, you have to be smart—but not in a Jeopardy! kind of way. It won’t matter if you know trivia about Austrian monarchs or potent potables. On The Mole, you have to be observant, deceitful, and calculating. After watching the first eight episodes, I’m just about convinced that The Mole is the hardest game to win in the history of television.
The Mole, a revival of the popular ABC series from over 14 years ago, has a simple premise. If the contestants can work together as a team to pull off missions such as scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and fake heists, they’ll earn cash that is added to a pot week by week. One contestant, however, is embedded in the show to sabotage the group’s chances of winning any money. This secretive double agent is known as "The Mole." At the end of every challenge, the group takes a quiz and the person who knows the least about which contestant the Mole might be is sent home. What follows is a game of deception, confusion, and watching people get flat-out duped. Yeah, I’m hooked.
Picture just how complicated someone’s strategy would be in this game. This show isn’t about making the best cake, being the best kisser, or putting together the best fit. The Mole is sometimes just about getting from Point A to Point B in 30 minutes… and somehow still failing. Here’s how it usually goes down in The Mole. You and a teammate are given a map and told to retrieve a red box hidden in the woods. You and your partner, for some reason, can’t follow the map, and you don’t retrieve the package in time. How do you process what just happened? Did you mess up and fail the challenge because your teammate is sabotaging you as the Mole? Is your teammate just dumb? Maybe that person is actually pretending to be the Mole. just so that you guess that it’s them on the quiz and get eliminated!? The strategy options are endless. There’s nothing you can do but play the game.
As the series goes on, the best part of The Mole becomes watching people get eliminated. Not only have I personally been wrong about who I thought the Mole could be on multiple occasions, but learning that a contestant was just really bad at the game may be the most entertaining aspect of the show. Oh, she actually couldn’t see the key that would have unlocked her escape room door and won her $30,000? She wasn’t lying?? Awesome. Well, that’s embarrassing! Some of the most perplexing challengers this season include a professional gamer with little investigative skills, a commercial airline pilot who keeps getting lost, and a firefighter paramedic who often doesn’t act with a single plan in mind. Is one of them the Mole? You can’t be a pilot and be bad at using maps, right?
By the way, it’s not too late to get into The Mole in real time. The final two episodes of the season (where, presumably, the titular mole will be revealed) drop this Friday, October 21. Trust me. It’s worth it. The missions are thrilling, the failures are so unbelievably funny, and the contestant’s reasonings for who the Mole could or could not be are so outrageous and unfounded that you’ll be obsessed 30 minutes in. I am taking notes and I still couldn’t tell you with absolute certainty who among them is the Mole. Now that’s good television.
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his work can be found at Spin, Insider, Vibe, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com

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