Anderson: Carolyn Johns
Bruce Fretts
January 11, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Notice anything familiar about ”The Mole”?

The latest entry in the reality TV sweepstakes, ABC’s ”The Mole,” debuted Tusday night, and the good news is that it’s much closer in production values to ”Survivor” than it is to ”Big Brother.” The slickly packaged nine week series puts a group of 10 contestants through a series of physical and mental challenges. The hitch is that one of them is a spy — a mole — working for the producers to undermine the squad’s progress. Every week, a quiz is given about the identity of the mole, and the player who gets the lowest score is ”executed,” or booted off the show. That term seems a tad harsh, but then again, ”Survivor” didn’t succeed because it was subtle.

The question is: Is ”The Mole” too similar to ”Survivor”? Like CBS’ summer scorcher, it’s a carefully edited, melodramatically scored soap opera that takes place in exotic locations (the first episode was filmed in the Mojave Desert and France). Furthermore, several of its stars seem strangely familiar:

?Charlie, 63, a retired New York City detective, fills the grumpy old man slot so memorably taken by a certain ex- Navy SEAL on ”Survivor.” He’s already expressed a Rudy like hostility towards two of his young female teammates.
?Kathryn, 28, one of those unlucky women, is a law school lecturer who graduated second in her class at Stanford. With her haughty attitude (she was embarrassed by her cohorts’ boorish behavior on the streets of Paris), she seems like the prissy attorney equivalent of Stacey.
?Kate — not to be confused with Kathryn — is a 55 year old grandmother who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. You might confuse her, however, with ”Survivor”’s well meaning older woman, Sonja. Just pray she doesn’t play the ukulele.
?Jennifer, a 35 year old sports enthusiast, is reminiscent of river guide Kelly, although her expertise is in snowboarding (she was formerly a world ranked champ). It could be worse — she could remind us of Sue.
?Henry, 23, an African American bartender from Miami, calls himself ”a people person.” You can call him ”Gervase II.”

True, a few of ”The Mole” people seem like genuine originals. Too bad one of them, Southern California single dad Manuel, was the first competitor to get the heave ho. (His early exit brought tears — or were those crocodile tears? — from two of his female teammates). And did anyone else think lawyer turned helicopter pilot Jim was a dead ringer for ex- ”NewsRadio” star Dave Foley? Goateed undercover cop Jim, meanwhile, could go undercover as Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath. But thankfully, squirrelly ”Mole” host Anderson Cooper bears absolutely no resemblance to the perma dimpled Jeff Probst. Another thing ”The Mole” doesn’t have in common with ”Survivor” — at least so far — is big ratings: The first episode took second place in its time slot, behind CBS’ ”JAG.” Now if ABC could just plant a spy on THAT show.

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