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''The Mole'' will be unmasked

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Anderson Cooper, The Mole
Anderson Cooper: Carolyn Johns

”The Mole” will be unmasked

At long last, the entire nation will find out who the mole is on ”The Mole” (Feb. 27 and 28, 8 p.m.). Well, ”the entire nation” may be putting it a bit broadly: ”The Mole,” though firmly slotted into the ”reality TV” / game show category of CBS’ ”Survivor” and Fox’s ”Temptation Island,” hasn’t attracted the audience of those shows, but it HAS improved ABC’s ratings in the Tuesday at 8 p.m. time period previously occupied by the once huge ”Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,” and has proven to be better entertainment than the D+ grade I originally gave it in Entertainment Weekly.

For this, I will eat a small plate of crow. The first couple of weeks into ”Mole”’s run, I was annoyed by the show’s vague rules, its foreign locales (which seemed used primarily to keep the game players at a linguistic disadvantage), and its low key participants. This is a long way of saying I found the show boring, and thus the low grade.

As the weeks have gone by, though, that last quality has given ”The Mole” an advantage; the remaining contestants — pilot Jim, lawyer Kathryn, undercover cop Steve — each, in their brooding, shifty eyed way, seem capable of being, as host Anderson Cooper says at the start of the show, the ”saboteur,” the ”traitor,” trying to subvert the game being played, which makes for good suspense coming into the home stretch. (If I had to predict, I’d say it’s the interestingly neurasthenic Kathryn but fear it’s Steve, a man whose profession obliges him to be dull and colorless.)

But I’m now much more interested in who the mole is than whether any of the couples stays united after this week’s ”Temptation Island” denouement (Feb. 28, 9 p.m.), if only because Jim, Kathryn, Steve, and host Cooper all seem, unlike the Islanders, to have brains that they actually enjoy using. ”The Mole” has also become more clever in its challenges and more revelatory about the personalities of its contestants.

”The Mole” has been picked up for another season, and its producers say they’ll tweak the format a bit in hopes of improving its ratings. (My major suggestion: Show us much more of the quiz that each player takes at the end of every episode that results in the elimination of one player each week. Keeping the quiz questions from viewers always leads to a weekly feeling of frustration — we want to match wits with the contestants, you silly producers!)

”The Mole” has proven to be reality TV’s class act — not an honor widely sought by the entrants in this genre, since the ratings seem to go to any program that’s meaner or sleazier. But it’s also the show with the widest demographic: Come tomorrow night, my 11 year old and I will, as we have for the past weeks, be glued to the set, ready to ferret out a mole who could probably defeat all the rats backbiting each other on ”Survivor.”

What’s your favorite reality TV show?

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