A brain-powered reality-based television game show - with a twist.

The Mole is a game show where a team of contestants complete a series of tasks for money. But there is a twist: one of the participants is a mole, a spy sent to disrupt the tasks and cause them to fail. The competitors must guess the identity of the Mole to progress to the next round of play.

Each television series is based on one group of contestants, and each episode covers one round of play - two or three days worth of tasks. At the end of every round, each contestant must answer a quiz about the identity of the Mole. Whoever knows the least about the Mole leaves the group.

The series originated in Belgium as La Taupe in 1999, and has been licensed in 51 countries, including Australia, Britain, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden and the USA. Some of the tasks in the original series were repeated in other countries as the game show spread across the world. It has won several awards, including the Golden Rose of Montreux and a Logie for Best Game Show.

The Rules

A group of contestants - between 10 and 14 - are given a series of tasks to complete. One of the contestants isn't a player, but a Mole: a secret saboteur who aims to fail each assignment. The participants and the audience don't know which contestant is the Mole.

Each task is worth a certain amount of cash, and successful completion of the task adds the cash to the prize-winner's pool. If the group fails the task, the money is added to the Mole's total - so the Mole has a genuine interest in making sure that each game is lost. However, the Mole must keep their identity a secret in order to win the money. This means they must enthusiastically participate in every assignment. Trickier still, the Mole must try to make other people fail the games, to draw attention away from themselves.

At the end of each round, each contestant must answer a series of questions about the identity of the Mole, and whomever knows the least about the Mole is dropped from the group. There are roughly 25 multiple choice questions, some of which are general - "Which group was the Mole in this morning?" or "Does the Mole wear glasses?" - and some of which are more specific - "What was the Mole wearing today?" or "How many children does the Mole have?". This way, a player who has a good suspicion of the Mole's identity has a better chance of survival than one without. This also encourages the players to learn a lot about one another. The final question is, of course, "Who is the Mole?".

The prize money, naturally, depends on the number of successfully completed tasks. In Australia, the maximum prize money is USD$150,000, and in the USA, USD$1,000,000.

The Tasks

There are two kinds of tasks in The Mole: full-team participation and small group participation. For example, the competitors may be divided into two groups; one group is sent into a Pacman-style hedge maze and the other group must direct them out before they are found. In other actions, the group may be sent on a scavenger hunt, and the group must decide on a game plan to get the items. Both involve strategy and co-operation.

Unlike Survivor, physical strength is not a cornerstone of the tasks. The more physical assignments include abseiling and skydiving, where the emphasis is on conquering fears. One challenge offered $500 for each person who completed a skydiving jump, but if all the contestants finished the jump, the kitty would be raised to $1,000 per person. In this way, individual actions always affect the whole team.

The show's key focus is on brain-power, and for that reason, The Mole is referred to as "the smartest game show on television." One task involved recording one minute of the laughter of strangers. It's harder than it sounds: in one hour, the jokes and antics of the contestants could only procure 46 seconds of laughter. In another, the group had to spend $5000 in three hours, "without giving the money away, wasting it or owning anything."

The Australian version of The Mole was notable for its elaborate set-ups and lavish tasks. The players underwent acupuncture, dyed their hair purple, posed nude for a painting in a classy Melbourne cafe, drove racing cars and played lazer tag in a shopping mall. There was also a cross-over with The Weakest Link, where the contestants were challenged to win as much money as possible during the game.

The US version saw the contestants travelling around the world: in Season 2, the players travelled through Venice, the Swiss Alps, and over 30 other cities.

The Tactics

The players are actively encouraged to form alliances and talk freely amongst themselves about the identity of the Mole. However, the only way to survive each round of play is to know the most about the Mole, so misinformation is rife. Much of the game is based on lies, lies, treachery, deceit, and more lies.

In a similar fashion, it might be possible to find the Mole by watching who leaves the group each week. If Mike suspects John and Mike leaves, that puts John in the clear, right? Wrong. John might be the Mole, but Mike might have forgotten the general knowledge questions about the Mole's life. Or Mike might have lied when he said John was the Mole.

Unquestionably, the smartest tactic employed in The Mole was used by a contestant in the first Australian series. Jan Moody slyly pretended that she was Mole by offering conflicting details about her past. This drew attention away from the real Mole and encouraged people to vote for her at the end of each round - and since she wasn't the Mole, people who voted for her were removed from the group, one by one. Meanwhile, Jan's close observations allowed her to work out the true identity of the Mole. The series ended with three contestants: Jan, the Mole, and another player who was absolutely certain that Jan was the traitor. Jan's cunning allowed her to leave with the money.

The Mole

The Mole is chosen by the television station separately from the rest of the group. In some versions of the show, the double agent is chosen well before the selection process for the contestants begins, so that the Mole can appear at the interviews. By the time the show starts, the Mole is a familiar face amongst the players.

Alan Mason, the first Mole from the Australian series, says, "The challenge for the Mole is perhaps more difficult than it seems. For eight episodes he or she needs to keep his or her identity entirely under wraps. If he or she is too obvious when compromising a challenge, then the cover is blown. If the Mole doesn't do enough to affect the assignments, the contestants will have more chance of winning all the money." The job of the Mole is to make others fail the task. This can be as simple as using words that another contestant might not understand, or as difficult as encouraging another player's nervousness about a task.

Series, Winners and Moles

Series 1: Jan Moody, 40, a smart and subtle school services officer, was the first Australian winner. She drew attention away from the real Mole by giving slightly conflicting answers about her past during the series - so that other players believed she was the Mole. She split the prize money of $115,000 with the other competitors, including the Mole himself: Alan Mason, a 37 year old Victorian environmental officer. One of Alan's methods of sabotage was to incorrectly answer questions about flora and fauna (which an environmental officer should have known).

Series 2: Bar manager Brooke Marshall, 24, won the series after carefully observing the sly actions undertaken by 33 year old Michael Laffy, a Victorian builder.

Series 3: Alaina was revealed as the Mole and Crystal-Rose walked away with the cash.
Series 4: Currently on air.
Series 1: Hugo saw through Magda, the Mole, at the beginning of the series and went on to win the prize.

Series 2: In a neat reversal, this season's Mole was named Hugo, who was caught by Marianne. She noticed his incredible luck in a blackjack round, which was aided by cards given to him by the producers.

Series 1: David went so far as to tamper with his group's GPS handsets to sabotage their assignments. Zi correctly identified David as the Mole.

Series 2: Series 2 is still airing.
Series 1: The Mole, Sabine used her perfectionist nature as a cover for ruining the tasks. She was caught by Edeltraud, who prided herself on being a good listener.

Series 2: Season 2 is still being aired.
Series 1: Deborah, the Mole, suffered a setback when she accidentally chose the right answers in a multiple choice quiz. Nevertheless, contestant Petra caught her out and won the prize.

Series 2: Nico, the mole, confessed that he found the role of secret agent very stressful. "It's difficult to keep up. The weird thing about it is that it became more fun to do. I feel less guilty." Both Sigrid and Yvonne knew that Nico was the Mole, but Yvonne worked it out much later in the series - so she didn't know as much about the Mole's past. Sigrid came away with the money.

Series 3: The third series has just begun.
Series 1: Israel's first season of The Mole began in February 2002, and is still airing. The series has already become mired with controversy because one contestant betrayed her team to gain a free pass - an exemption from the quiz.
Series 1: Series 1 began airing on 29 January, 2002.
Series 1: Liwia correctly guessed that Agnieszka was the Mole, in the most expensive television show ever produced in Poland.

Series 2: Season 2 is still being aired.
Series 1: Hans, the winner, uncovered Christian as the Mole.

Series 2: The Mole was played by Joakim and hunted down by Wilhelm.

Series 3: Lena out-witted Fabian to win the prize by revealing the Mole, Christine.

Series 1: Steven won Series 1 by using his skills as an undercover cop to catch the Mole, Law School lecturer Kathryn Price.

Series 2: Kathryn Price returned as a behind-the-scenes writer with the show, helping to create tasks and a storyline. After disappointing ratings, attributed partially to 9/11, Series 2 was pulled from the air after screening only three episodes. It was quietly returned the next year.