Monday, January 15, 2001

Mariemont grandmother could be perfect 'Mole'

        PASADENA, Calif. — Could Kate Pahls of Mariemont be The Mole? Some of her fellow contestants on ABC's adventure game show think the 55-year-old grandmother could be the “Mole,” or the double-crosser who is subverting their efforts to amass a $1 million payoff for the nine-week reality series.

        “What better Mole than your favorite, neighborhood grandmother?” asks a contestant named Steven, a 30-year-old undercover police officer from Colorado, during the second episode screened for TV critics at the winter press tour here.

        Mrs. Pahls plays a major role in the second show (8 p.m. Tuesday, Channels 9, 2) shot last September in Crest, France. She leads a three-person team of Mole players who have two hours to determine if a Cartier watch was real or fake. They almost didn't make the deadline because Mrs. Pahls, who had a touch of flu, was winded climbing up the hill to their chateau.

        Her inability to find a crucial clue Tuesday also contributed to the contestants failing to win $50,000 by finding a kidnapped contestant within another two-hour deadline.

        “There are a lot of things that Kate did — maybe on purpose — in order for us not to find out maybe not fast enough,” says Wendi, 29, an Iowa artist, during Tuesday's show.“I know she is a very smart woman, very bright.”

        Each week Mole contestants are given a series of group challenges, called “tests,” that the Mole tries to sabotage. At the end of each show, the contestants are given a 20-question quiz, and the person who knows the least about the Mole is expelled (“executed”) from the game. (The Mole will never be eliminated because that person knows everything about him/herself.)

        Three contestants will make it to the final episode March 6, when one person will win the jackpot and the Mole will be revealed, says Scott A. Stone, executive producer.

        Mole producers told me that Mrs. Pahls, wife of retired Jergens president Jim Pahls, had all the qualities they were looking for while reviewing almost 5,000 applicants for the show.

        “She's a 55-year-old grandmother who has been in the Peace Corps, who was a building contractor and now a real estate investor, and has two kids, and is willing to do just about anything,” Mr. Stone says.

        The Cincinnati adventurer has swam in the Antarctic, climbed Malaysian mountains and lived in the Philippines.

        “She's had a very eclectic life. She's well-traveled. She's independent. She believes in herself. For her demographic, she's a very good representative. She's an amazing woman,” says Clay Newbill, co-executive producer and former producer of MTV's Real World and Road Rules.

        “If you were to write a description of who you would want on one of these shows, all of that would be right on the top,” says Mr. Stone, an Indianapolis native who has cousins in Cincinnati.

        “I love people from the Midwest. I find them to be so refreshing and so honest. Kate was exactly that... and she has a great smile,” Mr. Stone says.

        The Mariemont woman caught producers' attention with a videotape audition of her in a safari hat and talking like a big-game hunter, Mr. Stone says. Like Survivor 2 contestant Rodger Bingham of Crittenden, she flew to Los Angeles for an audition with show producers and network executives.

        After the 10 contestants were selected, producers then picked one to be the Mole. At that point, the Mole became an employee of the production team, Mr. Stone says.

        “The Mole did not meet any of the players, nor did they know anything about any of the players, until the very beginning of the show,” Mr. Stone says.

        So Mrs. Pahls could be the Mole. Then again, any of the contestants could be.

        Each of the 10 had “some characteristic about them that made a viewer think, "Gee, maybe they could be the Mole.' We always look at that as we were kind of looking at the combination,” said David Stanley, executive producer.

        The Mole, based on a Belgian reality series, is ABC's answer to CBS' Survivor, the smash summer series. But The Mole isn't as engaging — or as simple — as the CBS island games.

        While the Survivor castaways struggle to survive, The Mole folks try to run through a cornfield maze in three minutes, or determine if a wristwatch is authentic. Who cares?

        Unlike the CBS series, viewers do not learn much about the contestants' personal lives. And unlike Survivor, the home audience is excluded from the dramatic final quiz which determines who stays and who goes.

        ABC refused to show TV critics all of Tuesday's episode, so I can't reveal who gets executed. All I know is that Mrs. Pahls, whatever the outcome, is ready to be ribbed by her friends for losing her breath walking up the hill.

        “Kate kept saying,” Mr. Stone says, “that her friends back in her gym were going to give her a rash of grief about that.”

        But it would be worth it, if she really was The Mole. Or the $1 million winner. Stay tuned.


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