The Mole

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ABC

The crew and its saboteur

The conventional, and mistaken, wisdom about last year's crop of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire knock-offs is that they failed because they were bad. Some were. Others--like Fox's deliciously crass Greed--had their appeal. But all failed to understand what made Millionaire Millionaire: the simplicity; the pace; the good-cop, cranky-cop irascibility of Regis Philbin.

Of all the Survivor wannabes to date, The Mole (ABC, 8 p.m. E.T., for nine episodes) most exhibits this kind of copycat failure. It's a diverting enough game: 10 contestants trot the globe undertaking challenges for money--it's Road Rules to Survivor's Real World--but one player is a "mole" secretly planted to sabotage the group. Poker-faced host Anderson Cooper, a former telejournalist, lends The Mole a sort of '60s spy-series vibe. But like the tone of the whole show, he's as hard and cold as a suitcase of bullion.

It would take a special issue of this magazine to describe the convoluted challenges, but The Mole's problem is captured in how players are voted off. Each answers questions about whom they think the mole is. (Is the mole male or female? What did the mole have for breakfast today?) A computer crunches the responses; whoever gets the fewest right is "executed." In Survivor you vote against someone, which makes it personal. The Mole's endgame is as bloodless and involving as an ATM transaction. No mole can compete with snakes and rats.