A four-year hiatus has been kind to “The Mole,” a reality-elimination game with a complicated twist: One of the 12 participants is assigned to scheme against the collective effort to win money, with players booted each week based on their ability to identify the plant. Interactive component and cloak-and-dagger shenanigans can become more than a bit silly, but a mix of intoxicating South American scenery, clever challenges and a slightly more cerebral approach should establish this as a breezy summer fill-in. The series represents an amusing footnote to Anderson Cooper’s journalistic career (he was the original host), with “Extra’s” Jon Kelley comfortably presiding over the espionage this time around.
Perhaps foremost, the once-convoluted rules seem less onerous this time — having been simplified, thank goodness, without completely dumbing them down. (A little dumbing down was in order, frankly, for everyone except those determined to pursue a degree in Mole 101.)
Almost before the players are introduced, they’re presented a harrowing-looking stunt to perform, trying to snag bags of money before plummeting over a waterfall. Even tethered to a bungee cord, it’s an impressive feat to start the game, and a subsequent scavenger hunt and second-episode soccer match exhibit considerably more smarts than your run-of-the-mill reality fare.
In essence, “The Mole” borrows from the best — combining the travelogue component of “The Amazing Race” with the challenges and squabbling of “Survivor.” Fingering the mole, in fact, becomes secondary to the slickness of those elements, which of course doesn’t prevent the players from babbling incessantly about it.
Mostly, the series has benefited from the glut of poorly produced copycats. Measured against that yardstick, “The Mole” feels revitalized — or at least, as fresh as any reality show with a 24-year-old model in the cast can.
“The Mole” also sits at the forefront of what appears to be a new wave from ABC dealing in adventure-oriented reality with a whimsical streak, including the stunt-laden “Wipeout” and self-explanatory “I Survived a Japanese Game Show.”
Given how rarely reality feels real nowadays, there’s something to be said for simply making it fun.