Each installment of The Mole involves a number of contestants, averaging around twelve. During each episode, the contestants participate in a number of challenges, each assigned a monetary value. If the contestants, as a team, complete the challenge, that money is added to the final prize for the game. However, one of these contestants has been selected by production to be the Mole; it's his or her job is to try to prevent the other players from winning challenges without revealing himself or herself to others. The Mole may be told ahead of time of how to do this or what challenges to expect, while at other times the Mole must decide whether to intervene or not.
At the end of each episode, the contestants take a quiz regarding the identity of the Mole and his or her involvement in the previous activities. The player who scores the lowest on this quiz, or was slowest to answer in case of a tie, is eliminated from the game. The winner of the game is the one that answers the most questions correctly on the final quiz given when there are only three players remaining (including the Mole), and is awarded the total amount of money won over the course of the game.
While success in the challenges is important in order to build up potential winnings, it is also critical to stay in the game by scoring better than opponents on the quiz, usually by attempting to draw their suspicions of the Mole's identity toward oneself. Since the Mole must use subterfuge to misdirect attention from his/her attempts to derail the team, disingenuous attempts to emulate the Mole must be subtle, while still noticeable and suspicious.
Similar to other reality shows, The Mole features challenges in which the players received money that was added to a group pot which only one person could win. However, unlike challenges in other reality shows, the ones seen on The Mole offered players ways to disrupt the game, as well as ways of disguising their betrayal. Below are some of the more popular recurring challenges seen throughout the series:Tandem Skydiving - Usually the introductory challenge in inaugural seasons, each player must jump from an airplane to win money toward the group pot. If any player refuses, the prize money is forfeited. (USA - Season 1, Australia - Season 1, UK - Season 1)
: The majority of the players have the additional task of memorizing number combinations prior to each jump, while two others (who are not asked to jump) must predict who will or will not jump. (Australia - Season 4)
: The players are given the opportunity to tandem skydive from the airplane before being allowed to do a solo
parachute jump. Only the latter part of this challenge was worth money, however one player is isolated and his or her assignment would be to prevent
the players doing the solo parachute jump. (Australia - Season 3)
Hostage Rescue - The producers abduct a player at night and then hold them hostage. The remaining players must find and free the hostage within a certain amount of time. The hostage is generally kept locked up in a castle or prison of a nearby city. The remaining players must split into groups and use different modes of transportation (car, boat, helicopter) to find the hostage. Within each mode of transportation is a hidden key, which, when combined with the other keys, can unlock the doors that imprison the hostage. (USA - Season 1, UK - Season 1, Netherlands - Season 3, Australia - all seasons except season 3)
: A player is taken to a well-known location in the area where the season is based, and dressed up in disguise. The other contestants must search for him or her before the allotted time expires. (Australia - Seasons 2 and 3)
Library Game - Players are taken to a library, where they are given a series of clues. The clues point to specific books on the shelves which contain a ticket to ride a horse-drawn carriage. If they can find the book and take the ticket to a specific stop on the ride, they can board the carriage at that point. If all players get on board and finish the ride the challenge is won. (USA - Season 1, Belgium - Season 2, Netherlands - Season 2)
Fortress Test - Players are taken to an abandoned fort and told they must defend it from trained aggressors. The target is a glass bowl, illuminated by two spotlights on the roof. The aggressor's objective is to either disable both spotlights or move the glass bowl out of the light. To succeed, the players must keep the bowl illuminated from sunset to sunrise, or shoot and hit all the aggressors, preventing further attacks. (USA - Season 1, UK - Season 2, Australia - Season 2)
GPS Game - In variations of the game, contestants are given a Global Positioning System unit, and must simply utilize it to find a final destination. The UK version, season 1, had the Mole sabotage the other contestants' units. In the UK season 2, the contestants not only had to reach a destination in a given time, but had to hike there in a specific order, which the Mole tried to confuse. The US version gave the contestants two options at the final destination: add the prize money to the pot or examine the Mole's dossier. In the Dutch version, the talking GPS gave strange directions, such as "Drive towards Switzerland" while the show was filmed in Mexico. (UK - Seasons 1 and 2, Belgium - Season 1, USA - Season 2, Netherlands - Seasons 7 and 8)
Riddle Challenge - Logic puzzles have been used extensively across all editions of The Mole, in several variations, usually splitting the players into teams.
: The contestants are split into two groups and taken on a tour. The first group is led to a room, where they must answer a series of riddles to earn money. They are then led to another room and can watch the other team try to solve the same riddles, only each riddle the other team answers successfully costs them money they just won. The first team must send one of their own to try and stop the other team from solving the riddles before all money is lost. (USA - Season 1, Belgium - Season 2, Netherlands - Season 2)
: The contestants are split into two groups and must solve the same set of riddles. Both teams must complete the riddles within a shared time limit, but incorrect answers will cost them additional time. (UK - Season 1, Australia - Season 1, Belgium - Season 1)
Language Barrier Challenge - A common theme in The Mole, since players are frequently taken overseas. They attempt to complete challenges in cities and towns where they do not speak the language, and must find a way to communicate with the locals to gather information. For example, in a challenge from the US version, players are given two watches. One of the watches is genuine, while the other is a fake. However, players can't tell the two watches apart. From speaking with the local watch appraisers, they decide which watch to destroy. When time has run out, they go to a firing range, where a marksman fires a bullet through the watch they deem to be fake. If the fake is destroyed, they win money, but if the real watch is destroyed, they must pay for it with money from the pot. (USA - Season 1: Cartier Test, Laundry Game, Season 2: Pizza Test, Season 5: When Pigs Fly, Dress Code, Three To Tango; Netherlands - Season 1)
: In the third season of the Australian series of The Mole
, which was based mostly in Queensland, there were no local contestants, making one of their assignments in which they must search for their luggage interesting and difficult. (Australia - Season 3)
Three Questions - The "Three Questions" test occurs when only three people are left; the exact amount required for this challenge. All players first fill out identical surveys where each question has two different answers to choose from. The answers are the names of the two other players. Later, the host leads one person to hide somewhere in the town. The other two must find their fellow player based on how they believe their teammate answered three questions taken from the survey. Selecting which route to take usually follows this premise: If Player X answered the question with Player Y, go left; otherwise, if the answer is believed to be Player Z, go right. Since no routes overlap, each question has to be answered correctly in order to win money. (USA - Season 1, 2, 3, Australia - Season 2, Netherlands - Season 4) A slight variation was done in Australia's Season 4, when it was done with four players, two questions apiece, and yes/no answers.
Night Maze - Players are taken to a large hedge maze at night and split into groups, which each have a runner and a navigator. The group will win money either for each runner who escapes the maze or if any of them do. The runners are pursued by one or more hunters, and the navigators are able to use an overhead camera view of the maze to guide the runners by radio. (USA - Seasons 1 and 4, Belgium - Season 1, UK - Season 1, Australia - Season 1, Netherlands - Season 1)
The runners' objective will not be to find the exit of the maze, but rather to retrieve light beacons (or, in season 6, envelopes of cash within an allotted time limit) from within it. (Australia - Seasons 2, 5 and 6)
The quiz is the primary device of eliminating contestants across all series. Traditionally between ten and twenty questions, the quiz asks the players to identify the Mole and several pieces of information regarding the Mole, including the Mole's activity in challenges, biographical profile, their fashion and/or culinary choices during the show, etc. The player scoring lowest on the quiz (and taking the longest time to do so, in the event of tied scores) is eliminated from the game. The US version saw a format change from twenty questions to ten questions from Season 2 on, usually with all questions available to the public. Season 5 of the Australian series had contestants answer five questions about the Mole (not filmed), plus a further five questions for the live eliminations. On two separate occasions, the live elimination computer quiz system malfunctioned and didn't record some contestants' responses. The rules stated that if this were to happen the elimination would be based on the five questions answered before the live show.
Depending on the edition, players have occasionally had the chance to alter their scores, and thus their chances of surviving the elimination. In Season 1 of the UK edition, players were given chips to replace incorrect answers on their quiz in one of the challenges. In the latest editions of The Mole in the Netherlands, players can earn "jokers" to be used at any point in the series to erase incorrect answers. In 2008 the show in the Netherlands introduced "topito's", a 1/8 piece of a full circle ("Topo"). If a player has a full topo of the same color or with 8 different colors, the player will get a free pass for the next test. Only the first full and correct topo will be rewarded with a free pass for the next test. In the Australian revival in 2013, "freebies" were introduced to the game, whereby an incorrect answer is counted as a correct one.
In most editions of The Mole, however, players are usually given the chance at "exemptions" or "free passes". Should a player earn an exemption, he or she is not required to take the quiz and thus safe from elimination. Traditionally, an exemption must be earned by preventing the team from winning their challenges (such as being successful in evading identification by the other contestants in a photo hunt). Seasons 2 and 5 of The Mole in the US saw the most prevalent use of exemptions, with nearly one every episode, and multiple exemptions on occasion. In the 2009 edition in the Netherlands, the "super exemption" was introduced. In the episode the contestants were able to find two regular exemptions. If, during the quiz, only one exemption was used, it counted as an exemption for the person who used it. He or she could take someone with him or her to stay another round. If, however, both exemptions were to be used none of the players would have to leave, hence the "super exemption". In the fifth season of the Australian version, its host Tom Williams referred to them frequently as "immunity" rather than "exemptions" or "free passes".
A standard elimination checks each player's status on whether he or she will continue to the following episode. In most formats, a computer shows a green screen to signify they are continuing or a red screen to show they have earned the lowest score. Poland used red and green feathers, and some versions have used an eye instead.
Many editions have seen special eliminations. A player, for example, may be given a second chance in the game, should they redeem themselves in a challenge. In one edition, the remaining players had a chance to stop the elimination, if they surrendered their prize money up to that point. There have been several editions where either no players or multiple players were eliminated. Buy-out offers, or "bribes", may also be presented during executions, in which a player may take a guaranteed monetary offer in exchange for voluntarily opting out of the game. On the fourth season of the Australian version, there were two atypical eliminations. In one episode, a genuine contestant appeared to be the third contestant eliminated, but immediately after his elimination the players had the power to "resurrect" him and in that event, one contestant alone decided to bring him back for $50,000 added to the kitty. Later on in the season, another contestant was eliminated, but was given the offer to return herself into the game, if she'd pay $50,000 from the kitty. She accepted this offer and returned. Later on, the contestant resurrected by the group was eliminated one round short from the final, whilst the other contestant wound up being revealed as the Mole. It was later revealed in that season's Mole reveal that the fake eliminations were a trick to get people to suspect the second contestant as the Mole as none of the contestants suspected her until after her elimination and return.
A staple of The Mole franchise includes the various obscure and subtle clues planted by the producers. For example, in one challenge in the second United States series, host Anderson Cooper was eating an apple. Apples are the official fruit of Washington, the Mole's home state. Rumor has it that not even the Mole spotted this clue until it was revealed during the finale. Similarly, in the Belgian and UK's first season, the first words of each episode could be linked together to reveal the identity of the Mole; in the second season, contestants were introduced in alphabetical order of their surnames, except for the Mole, who was in the correct position for "Mole". Some players in later series chose to seek out clues, most often in vain. Allegedly, this is what led to the demise of Corbin Bernsen in Celebrity Mole Hawaii, as he was too distracted searching for clues that he didn't focus enough attention on the game.
Clues are generally planted for viewers to catch, rather than the players themselves. Some clues are only given to the viewing audience, added in during post-production. For example, two episodes of the second US seasons featured words quickly displayed in the title sequence. However, their cryptic meanings often remain hidden to everyone until they are revealed at the end of the season. The second edition in the Netherlands contained two voice-clues. These clues were added to scenes that showed the country. If played backwards "Nico is de mol" (which is Dutch for "Nico is the mole") could be heard. During a Belgian season the location of the group was small on screen during the introduction of the host. The letters faded out, but some letters faded out slower, combining those letters lead to a phrase in the bible revealing the identity of the mole.
In the opening titles of the fifth and sixth seasons of the Australian version of The Mole, clues were planted in the opening titles, with the Mole being shown as fourth in the line-up, his or her name containing four letters, and the word "mole" having four letters. In the latter series, the Mole's name was also hidden in one of the keywords of the show.
In total, over 50 series/seasons of The Mole have been broadcast around the world, since its inception in 1998 in Belgium.
(5) Currently airing
(13) No longer airing
The Australian version of the program that aired on Seven—hosted by former Blue Heelers star Grant Bowler—began in 2000 and was followed by five more seasons.
The producers offered to tell Bowler who the Mole was, but he declined the invitation, believing that he could better host the show and play around with the contestants if he didn't know. Some reports, however, claimed that he was told the identity of the Mole in the fourth season.
Like the UK version, the first two Australian seasons included a 'special episode' which revealed all the clues as to the identity of the Mole and how close each player had been to finding them. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly popular with audiences and so, in subsequent seasons, it was replaced by a five-minute segment at the end of the final episode in which all of the clues were briefly revealed.
In the second season it was decided to alter the structure of the beginning of the game by bringing in 16 (4 from Brisbane, 4 from Sydney, 4 from Hobart and 4 from Canberra) contestants with an early challenge deciding which 10 of them got to continue playing. This elimination process was not continued in later seasons. The second season was replayed during the day in December 2006.
In the third season, the contestants were spontaneously sent on a trip during the play of the game, but not knowing why. They were blindfolded for the entire trip back, and all was revealed when they found themselves at Seven Studios on the set of The Weakest Link. They had to play a game, as well as endure host Cornelia Frances, for a shot at $100,000 added to their kitty. In the end, they achieved $14,100, which was touted as the lowest amount ever won on the Australian version of The Weakest Link. However, as all amounts have been rounded off to the highest thousand, $15,000 was added to the kitty instead.
The program's fourth season, in 2003, was set on the Pacific island nation of New Caledonia and entitled The Mole: in Paradise. In an attempt to steer any suspicion from her being the Mole, Petrina was eliminated in one episode but returned on the next episode after accepting an offer from the host to buy her way back into the game. While this worked for a short time, it was not as successful as had been hoped, with some of the other contestants even more convinced that she was the Mole. This series was replayed during the day in April 2007.
Poor ratings resulted in there being no 2004 season but in July 2005 The Mole returned to Australian TV for its fifth season, subtitled as The Amazing Game. Tom Williams (Co-host of The Great Outdoors and winner of the Australian edition of Dancing with the Stars) was chosen to take over as host from Bowler, as he was not available for the project due to family commitments. This was met with mixed reaction from fans. This season also introduced a new concept to the show - live eliminations. The contestants spent the weekend in New Zealand working on various challenges, and then their actions were broadcast on TV the following Thursday night, with a live elimination following directly after.
The sixth series of the Australian version of The Mole began airing on 2 July 2013, and concluded on 16 October 2013. The series had intended to run until mid-August, with the show running three episodes per week, however, low ratings resulted in the show being shifted to a late timeslot on Wednesday nights and the season stretched out longer than planned.
The show originated in Belgium, in 1998. There were three series, all hosted by Michiel Devlieger. The show was extremely popular with the Belgian audience. The original plans were to only make 2 series, in order to avoid milking and stretching out the format too much. In 2003 the producers caved under huge popular demand and made one final series, which once again had very high ratings. On 22 June 2015, the Belgian producer and the television channel VIER announced that there would be a new season in 2016. The season was renewed in 2017.
In Bulgaria, The Mole was called "Kartitsata" (Къртицата). It was aired on TV7. Both seasons were hosted by Ivan Hristov and Andrey Arnaudov.
In Catalonia (a region of Spain), the program was called El talp. The season was recorded in September, 2003 and watched the following autumn by TV3, the television of Catalonia. Pol Izquierdo was the showman. Players could win a maximum quantity of €90,000, but they only managed to retain 44,500 of the potential pot. Gemma was revealed as the Mole and Núria won. Ferran was the runner-up although he was the first one who correctly identified the Mole.
In France, the 1st season started in 2015. It is called "Qui est la taupe?" ("Who is the mole?").
The German version of The Mole, called Der Maulwurf – Die Abenteuershow aired on ProSieben. It ran two seasons: the first season in 2000 was hosted by former professional tennis player Michael Stich, and the second season in 2001 was hosted by Steven Gatjen.
In Italy the format is different from the other countries: the Italian version of the show wasn't recorded but it was broadcast live. Contestants were celebrities who had to live together for about 60 days in a home. Every day a 20–25 minutes recap of what happened the day before in the home was broadcast on TV and, once a week, there was a 4 hours prime-time live show with the contestants linked from the location of the game. The missions where the Mole could act against the rest of the team to add money to her Loot are various:
- Weekly Mission: usually a physically based challenge recorded during the week
- Night of the Mole: a special long-resistance challenge recorded in a casual night of the week (generally contestants had to resist for some hours in a very particular and tiring position/situation)
- Special Ceremony (in the 1st series)/ Access-Challenge (in the 2nd series): a prime-time challenge where the contestants had to undergo a particular ceremony, traditional of the place hosting the game (for example eating a particular food or drink typical of the local tradition). If the Team passed a challenge of these, then some money were decanted from the Mole Loot to the Team Pot. The main difference between the two challenges is that in the first series this particular game was only proposed to the contestants, by a production crew decision, when the Mole Loot was reaching the same level of money of the Team Pot, while in the second series this was instead a fixed moment of the prime-time live show. Besides, in the second series this challenge didn't have a money value, but it was used to give an extra penalty to the Team in the Weekly Live Challenge, in case the Team didn't pass it, making the Live Challenge more difficult.
- Weekly Challenge (live in the prime-time): this was the main moment of the prime-time live show, and was usually the biggest and hardest challenge the contestants had to face every week. It generally was a physical extreme challenge, studied by the production crew to put to the test the limits and the fears of every member of the Team.
Another news is that the people watching the show could vote by telephone or SMS which was their suspected Mole during all the game; so, the most suspected contestant became the first executable member of the Team. Next, it was time for the Team nominations: each of the participants had to nominate his suspected Mole(with secret votes only in the first and second series): the contestant receiving most of the votes became the second executable Team member; in case of draw between some contestants, the one of them who received most of the votes by the audience was declared the Team suspected contestant. So, the 2 suspects had to answer a 10 questions questionnaire about the Mole identity: the contestant who got most of the answers wrong had to leave the game. In case of draw, in the first series the contestant spending more time answering the questions was eliminated from the game; in the second series, during the questionnaire contestants heartbeat was controlled by a "cardio frequency meter", so the contestant having the fastest average heartbeat was executed: that made the Mole executable too! In this eventuality (never happened), a new Mole had to be selected by the production crew.
The mole was only informed of his identity in the first prime-time show, with a particular ceremony: each contestant had to open a folder containing a secret paper with a "No" or "Yes" inscription: so, the contestant receiving the "Yes" paper could know to be the Mole. Then, contestants had to burn in a brazier that paper (Typical of the show the tag "Apri, leggi, e brucia!" - "Open, Read, then Burn!").
In The Netherlands the original show's name was changed to Who is the Mole? (Wie is... de Mol?). It's the longest-running iteration of the show, now spanning seventeen seasons, not including the "Junior" (kids) season. The show ran for four standard versions, after which twelve celebrity versions, like in the US, followed. Though unlike the American celebrity editions, the show was still called Who is the Mole?, without an explicit reference to its celebrity status. Also, the Dutch version of The Mole is the only one that has recorded any of its series in Asian countries.
The first five series were presented by Angela Groothuizen, the sixth and the seventh by Karel van de Graaf, the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh by Pieter Jan Hagens and the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth series are presented by the winner of 2011: Art Rooijakkers. In the first four seasons, Groothuizen was informed from the beginning who the Mole was, but in her last series (the first celebrity edition), she was not told. Van de Graaf and Bousema (Junior series) chose not to know. Before the final episode of the 2006 version aired, in which Frédérique Huydts was revealed as the winner, she died of cancer. Huydts chose to donate her money to the WWF and KiKa, a fund for children with cancer. She also expressed her wish for the show to be aired normally. When Hagens hosted the eighth season, he didn't know the Mole starting out, but was informed for the fifth episode. In the ninth series he didn't know the Mole at all, but in the tenth and eleventh series he knew from the start. When Rooijakkers took over the hosting, he too was informed of the identity of the Mole from the start onwards.
In Poland The Mole is called Agent, aired on TVN. Fourth edition the title is changed to Agent – Gwiazdy (The Mole - Celebrities) and the players are celebrities. Bartosz Arłukowicz, winner of the 2nd edition, became Polish Minister of Health around 10 years after his participation in the game.
The first three seasons of Agent had a distinctive way of presenting the elimination of contestants. At the end of each episode, the host and the participants sat at a table to have a dinner together. Each of contestants was given an envelope which contained a feather. One by one, participants opened the envelopes, revealing the color of the feather. If it was green, contestant moved on to the next episode. Red feather meant elimination of the player. In the final episode of each season, one of the envelopes contained a black feather, which revealed the identity of the mole.
In Spain The Mole has had different editions. Regional channels TV3 and ETB aired local version of the show. In Summer 2006, a nationwide version took place. It was called "El Traidor" and was based on the fifth Australian season. It was aired on Cuatro. The first and only season was hosted by Luis Larrodera and Sergio Muñiz.
However, in June 2009 the competing private channel Telecinco started a new version of the show, based on the latest U.S. season, under the name "El Topo". The hosts are Daniel Domenjó and Emilio Pineda, and Australia is used as location. The show was cancelled on its second week due to the lack of audience. According to Telecinco, it was unbearable to produce a weekly show from Australia with such a little market share (9.0%). Natalia was then revealed to be the mole and the rest of the contestants shared the €10,000 in the group's pot.
In Sweden, The Mole is called "Mullvaden" and airs on Kanal 5. It was originally hosted by Pontus Gårdinger. After a six-year break, the show is back on Swedish television, but now with Hans Fahlén as the host.
The show had two series in the United Kingdom, hosted by Glenn Hugill on Channel 5. Despite its cult following and despite adverts to appear in the next series appearing at the end of the second, a third series was not commissioned. Both series had a special episode at the end detailing the various clues about the Mole's identity, and general details on the production of the show. The top prize is £200,000 (about US$396,000).According to host Glenn Hugill, Paul received an unspecified share of Chris's prize money since they had become good friends over the course of the show. Contestant Dafydd Williams, eliminated in the semifinals, also received a small amount of the prize money.
The premiere season of The Mole on ABC in the United States debuted in January 2001. The second season, Mole 2: The Next Betrayal, debuted in September 2001, but was put on hiatus after only three episodes following disappointing ratings in the wake of 9/11, and the poor Friday time slot. In June 2002, the second season returned, restarting from the beginning, running as a summer replacement series.
The third and fourth seasons featured celebrity contestants, and were collectively referred to as Celebrity Mole. In late 2007, Stone and Co. Entertainment secured the rights to bring back the show, and the fifth season started June 2, 2008 with Jon Kelley as the host.
The Mole has also been produced in Austria, Norway (Muldvarpen), Israel (Ha-Chafarperet), Portugal (O Sabotador), New Zealand and Ukraine (Krot)