THE MOLE. 10 tonight, Channel 6.
TONIGHT, ABC asks the not-so-musical question: Just how hard do you want to have to think this summer?
If you've watched anything at all on the network in recent months, you've probably caught the subliminal promos for the return of "The Mole," the globetrotting game show whose first two seasons were hosted by a pre-CNN Anderson Cooper.
You've also probably seen the far-less-subtle come-ons for "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show," two summer series that those who knew that John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) of "Lost" fame had switched philosophies when he adopted the pseudonym Jeremy Bentham will probably consider beneath you.
(As someone who was checking out Bentham on Wikipedia during Thursday's Season 4 finale - and who couldn't help laughing during the extended "Wipeout" clips ABC showed to advertisers last month - I'm not sure I qualify to be a snob on this one.)
Truth is, I gave up on "The Mole" long before Ahmad Rashad replaced Cooper and celebrities replaced "real people," weary of a game that reminded me too much of high school, where knowing the answers to the questions on the final exam on the first day of school didn't mean you'd get to skip the class.
A contestant on "The Mole" could know who the saboteur is in Episode 1 - they're asked to identify him or her in the show's opening minutes tonight - and would still have to stick it out for the season, running rafts over waterfalls and pursuing "Robinson Crusoe"-themed scavenger hunts while gathering intelligence for the show's weekly quiz and trying to obtain enough prize money for the pot to make winning worth something.
Because like nearly every "reality" show from Fox's "American Idol" to CBS' "Survivor," "The Mole" is an elimination contest, albeit the only one I've seen in which losing contestants are "executed."
Given that this involves little more than an annoying graphic device, a "Mole" duffel bag and being walked away from the set by the show's new host, Jon Kelley, it's considerably less upsetting than what happened to Anne Boleyn on "The Tudors" last night.
Still, along with the usual warnings about not giving away important plot points, ABC's asking critics "that you not reveal which player is executed in episode 501."
The secrecy extends to the full names of the players, which an ABC spokesman declined to reveal, though we appear to have three locals: Bobby, a 25-year-old restaurant manager from Philadelphia; Alex, a 31-year-old musician from Haverford (or HAY-verford, as it's pronounced on the show); and Clay, a 32-year-old attorney from West Grove, Chester County.
Feel free to e-mail me if you recognize any of these guys. Though I won't reveal which, if any, is or isn't "The Mole."
Unless waterboarding's involved.
Not that I actually have a clue. ABC made the first two episodes available online for critics, but I watched only one, frustrated, as always, by the herky-jerky motion of the video player the network's insisting on using for its screeners and that freezes every five to 60 seconds in the presence of a perfectly good broadband signal. Right now, I'm thinking whoever chose the software is "The Mole."
Bad video, fortunately, shouldn't be a problem for TV viewers, though there is an ABC.com component where couch potatoes can take "The Mole" quiz along with contestants.
Like the players onscreen, you probably won't get to know if you're right till the very end.
But at least no one's going to be sending you over any waterfalls.*