Exclusive: Bobby O'Donnell talks about his 'The Mole' experience
By Christopher Rocchio, 06/18/2008
Bobby O'Donnell was glad Ali Sonoma took a $30,000 bribe to quit The Mole since he wasn't very confident in his quiz answers.
Unfortunately for him a player was still "executed" despite Ali's decision, causing the 25-year-old restaurant manager from Philadelphia, PA to be sent packing during The Mole's fifth-season broadcast Monday night on ABC.
On Tuesday, Bobby talked to Reality TV World about a thigh injury that probably made him seem like the most physically inept player in ths show's history; how he thinks it played a role in hurting his strategy; what he thinks about several of the players still remaining in the competition; and how being such a big The Mole fan was actually a disadvantage.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when host Jon Kelley informed the players that somebody was still going to be executed even though Ali had quit? Were you confident in your quiz answers?
Bobby: I rushed through that quiz pretty fast. That was my fastest time out of all of my quizzes, and I knew -- I just had a gut feeling. I ate my own words, because earlier -- in the previous episode -- I had said something about when you become too confident is when you're going home.
I think what I was doing was I was trying to get a read on people and I was trying to spread my answers out. But at the same time I just wasn't completely... I think I was just going with my gut too much and not relying on the overall scheme of, "Are you looking at all angles here?" So I think that's what killed me in the end.
[Editor's note: Due to the nature of The Mole's format, ABC would not allow Reality TV World to question which contestant Bobby had believed to be the season's saboteur.]
Reality TV World: Despite stating that you wouldn't have taken the bribe no matter what the situation was, did you regret your decision not to take the money once you were executed?
Bobby: I can honestly say I don't regret the decision I made. I mean it's easy to look at it and say, "Oh! Why didn't you take it?!"
But when [Jon] first informed us there was a bribe I was like, "Okay, sit still. Relax, Bobby. You'll be fine. Someone's going to take it." I knew someone was going to take it. I just knew. Everyone's heart wasn't in the game as much -- people were missing families and friends and stuff. I mean I was missing my friends and family just as much, but I was just into the game. Being a huge fan, I was just totally all about the experience and I knew someone was going to take [the bribe], it was just a matter of who.
I figured, "Someone's going to take it and you'll bide your time and get a couple more days to work on strategy. It will be one less suspect in your mind as to who you think the mole is." So really when Jon told us [someone was still going to be executed] I was like, "You've got to be kidding me. I'm done." I knew I was going as soon as he said, "We're executing one more." I'm like, "Ah, I'm done. See ya."
Reality TV World: Were you actually the only one to voice that opinion after Ali left or was that a case of the show's editing just including your comments as a setup to your execution?
Bobby: I think a lot of other players were there for the same reasons I was. Some of them I don't think were into the game as much. They enjoyed themselves, I'm sure. But there were definitely people who lived, breathed and wanted to do the everyday stuff and people who were like, "Okay, if I go home I get to back to my family." I was like, "No way!" That's what kind of sucked, knowing there were still people in the game that didn't want it as much as I did."
Reality TV World: After doing well in the first mission with the waterfall, you seemed to have some major problems running up and down the beach during the next mission. Did you anticipate it would be so difficult and if so, why didn't you volunteer for one of the missions other less-physical aspects?
Bobby: Well it wasn't really our choice to pick who was doing what. It was Nicole's job to assign the roles to everyone. I really didn't have a choice, she just put me in the scavenger role. I just had to man up and do it.
But what you don't see is when we do the missions and stuff, we keep long hours. We're out there into all hours of the night doing these missions and you get little sleep and you're already stressed from being in the game and missing family -- and there's so many other added elements that viewers just don't get to see by sitting on the couch and watching it. You're exhausted mentally, physically emotionally -- everyone out there.
Running up and down the beach in jeans and being exhausted after sleeping outside. I might have gotten two hours of sleep that night on that cot after being out in that waterfall mission. So I was just out of it. My whole body was just in a funk. As you can see, I suffered from it a little.
Reality TV World: You also boasted about your previous experience as a soccer player prior to that mission, but once again seemed to have a hard time with the physicality of it. What went wrong there? Was it some sort of strategy?
Bobby: These kids that we played, they practiced with each other every single day. We don't practice and half the people on our team didn't know what soccer was. I mean, they knew what it was, but they were like, "What's a throw in? What do I do? Why am I kicking the ball over here?" They didn't understand the positions and everything.
So I was like Ali, myself and Alex will be up front because we know the most about it. We'll just try to wiz real quick by the kids and score an easy goal and hike our way to the mountain. I went full force from the start and kind of burned myself out right away trying to make up for the rest of the team and trying to do well.
I actually injured myself from it. I wasn't just sore, I was legitimately injured from that soccer mission.
Reality TV World: Is that injury what forced you to ride in the wheelbarrow during the next mission?
Bobby: Yeah. What happened is I woke-up the day of that mission -- it was the pig mission -- and I woke-up that day and I was thinking, "There's no way I'm going to be able to do this." I could barely get out of bed -- I could barely even walk! -- and I was like, "How the heck am I going to make it through the day?"
Reality TV World: Where was the injury? Was it your knee? Ankle?
Bobby: It was my thighs. Imagine every 10 steps just having like 100 charlie horses. It was like unending pain. It just wouldn't stop and it wouldn't go away.
[Editor's Note: After Bobby's interview, The Mole executive producer Clay Newbill clarified Bobby was suffering from severe muscle cramps.]
When we got to the wheelbarrow mission, I'm like, "Oh god." So I started trying to walk it off and it was a sharp, shooting pain. I knew it was hurting me -- not from a player standpoint -- but I didn't want to be so obvious. I didn't want people thinking I was the mole, but knowing that was happening, I was like, "No one's going to think I'm the mole now." It was ruining my chances. It took a lot of suspicion off me by performing so awfully because of my injury. That kind of hurt me too.
Reality TV World: So did Craig and Kristen -- your partners for the pig mission -- know the extent of your injury? Who's idea was it for you to ride in the wheelbarrow?
Bobby: Everyone knew I was injured I think. It wasn't even my idea to get in the wheelbarrow -- I think Craig or Kristen suggested it. I was like, "Are you sure?" I felt bad, at one point I was telling Kristen, "I promise you, I'll give you a massage -- a full-body massage when we get back to the hotel. I'll take care of you, I feel so bad." I really did feel bad. I tried to walk, but they were like, "No, just get in. We'll save time doing this."
Afterwards, I was actually getting a rub down in an ambulance with my thighs and legs by the medics because I was really injured. I was really hurt.
Reality TV World: Just to backup for a second, what was your group going to do if they had actually managed to find some pigs to put in the wheelbarrow? Would you have been able to walk then?
Bobby: The thing was at this point, we had a huge late start getting into town. Everybody else had already pretty much gone through the town's main street and cleared everything out. So we're wasting time pretty much stopping at the stores they already stopped at not knowing they had already taken all the pigs from that store. So that was just frustrating. At one point we knew there was no hope for us, there was nothing we could do. We just tried to keep looking, but we knew all along we weren't going to find anything.
Reality TV World: A lot of viewers have been having a hard time believing your physical problems were legitimate, and -- based on what you just told me -- it sounds like they were. Why do you think ABC decided against revealing your injury to viewers? Don't you think that cast you in a negative light?
Bobby: It does, but it's a show. Obviously the show is to try and figure out who the mole was. If you look at the last quiz, the viewers online [at abc.com] actually thought at a 23% rate that I was the mole. So the producers are doing a great job of trying to throw people off and that's the whole point of the game -- to try and figure out who it is.
After that episode a lot of viewers thought I was the mole, but a lot of players in the game knew that I wasn't.
Reality TV World: When and how did your coalition with Clay and Mark form?
Bobby: Mark and I had teamed up on Day 1 as soon as we had met. Everyone had decided to go and hang out and we just stepped aside and said, "So are we on the same page? Are we here for the same reasons? You want to get together?" I was kind of wary at first because he came on strong. I was like, "Okay, maybe I'm just paranoid." Because I was paranoid. (laughing) I was like out of my mind. I literally thought I was in another world dreaming and a couple of the players felt the same way I think.
So Mark and I had a coalition and then I was trying to feel people out because we were trying to each bring a person in. We brought in Clay. I thought all along it was me and Mark until the end, and then I saw [Monday] night there's different strategies and different things being said. (laughing) It's part of the game, so you've got to take it for what it's worth.
Reality TV World: So you didn't pick up on any of that while you were out there -- Mark and Clay not trusting you anymore?
Bobby: They show you [Monday] night in the sauna, I said to Mark, "You're being a little weird. You're being a little distant lately." I sensed a change in his demeanor towards me. I didn't know what it was and I mentioned it to Clay. "Mark seems a little weird. I don't know what's up. Something just doesn't seem right to me." [Mark] took a step back from me -- I don't know why -- but he felt different. I had said something to him about it, and I guess I was right. But I don't know if it was for the right reasons.
Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when Clay decided not to participate in the Dress Code mission? Why do you think he made that decision and why do you think Mark followed suit?
Bobby: I think everyone understood, Clay right off the bat was like, "Listen, I'm a lawyer. I'm not going to do this. I hope you guys respect this." Everyone was like, "Yeah, we respect it. We respect it."
But then when Mark said it a little while later... He was all gung-ho about it! He was the first one to take off his robe and then he just out of nowhere like, "Okay, I'm not doing it either." We're like, "What? What are you talking about? You're in your underwear already!" (laughing) So that was a little weird. Everyone's like, "What's going on? You're doing it with us." He's like, "Nope, I'm going with Clay. See ya."
Reality TV World: You also seemed to be very close with Victoria, who stood up for you on several occasions when you were being verbally attacked by Paul. What was your relationship with Victoria like? Would you say you two had a coalition?
Bobby: I love Victoria. She's a great girl. I was trying to feel Victoria out on Day 1, and actually her and Marcie came up to me and were like, "Us three to the end. We're all good, we're all good." I thought they were playing me, I'm like, "Yeah, sure. We're all good" -- thinking, "These two girls are trying to play me or something." So when Marcie left I'm like, "Oh my gosh what is going on?"
Victoria was probably one of the players that I got along the most with. But there was just something about her, I didn't know if I could trust it. It was always in the back of my head. It was hard because you want to be friends with these people and you want to believe everyone, but at the same time one of them is not really your friend.
Reality TV World: Paul seemed to rub a lot of players the wrong way -- especially before the dinner that preceded last night's quiz. What was it about Paul that the other players had a problem with? Did you ever consider it might be a strategy on his part?
Bobby: He can say it's a strategy, but I really don't know. You can treat people a certain way, but he would verbally attack people to their face and just rip them apart. I don't understand how that's a strategy, personally. He tries to throw people off their game, which is understandable. But to attack people's personal things, he just goes straight for the heart. Paul knows what gets under everyone's skin. He'd jab it in there and turn it a little bit just to get a rise out of you. I don't agree with it, but if it's a strategy and it works. If he's the mole, it works even better. I don't know.
Reality TV World: Were you in the group of people that had a problem with Nicole? What was it specifically about her that rubbed the group the wrong way?
Bobby: Actually Nicole, she's kind of similar to Paul but a lot milder version I think. I probably got along with Nicole better I think just because we always had that common bond of butting heads with Paul. (laughing) Nicole is one way in-front of the camera and another way off-camera, so it was hard to read her.
A lot of the players were like that I think. Some of the players were one way and then they'd be your friend the next second. It was kind of confusing, like, "Is this strategy? What is this? What's going on?" So that through a lot of people off.
But Nicole actually isn't as bad as she seems. I look at it now and I laugh at the comments she makes to Paul. My whole family is like, "Wow. She's out of control." But she's really not that bad. She is funny. She wants to be liked just like everyone else. I don't really have a big problem with her.
Reality TV World: You were one of the more vocal critics of Alex for trying to be a leader and doing a poor job at it. Do you think Alex could do a better job leading if he wanted to and is simply holding back as a strategy?
Bobby: I don't know. Alex is a hard cat to get. I don't know. We're both from Philly, which is kind of weird -- we should have like the Philly bond, but we don't.
We would be in a mission and he would make these really weird jokes. He was kind of like Nicole sometimes where he would play a little bit in-front of the camera, and I was kind of thrown off by that. But as far as him taking the leadership role and stuff, he thought he had the answers for a lot of stuff.
I remember actually when we were done the soccer mission he was like, "Everybody in the van! Everybody in the van! Everybody in the van!" I'm like, "We're not taking the vans! We're running through town! We're not taking the vans!" He's so fly-by-the-edge-of his-seat. Everybody had to listen to him because no one else would speak up. He just threw people off because he would give everyone the wrong directions and everyone would still keep listening. So I don't know.
Reality TV World: Did you use your journal at all?
Bobby: Yeah, I did use my journal a lot. I probably could have used it more than I did. Some people I literally wrote nothing about in my journal because I figured there was no way they're the mole. So I would just [completely] discount them. I don't know if what I was writing was good or what I was writing was bad because it all comes down to the quiz. You can write a million things in your journal but you have no idea what the quiz questions are going to be. It's like preparing for a big test in school but you don't have the material to study with because you don't know what's going to be on it.
Reality TV World: Was there anything you expected to be show that wasn't?
Bobby: (laughing) There's actually one funny thing I knew wasn't going to be on air. When we were leaving the hotel for one of the missions -- I think it was the soccer mission. We were at the hotel and I was actually driving the van because Alex and Paul had driven every single time. So it was okay because I was driving and it was stick-shift and half of the players didn't know how to drive a stick.
So Paul's in the other van with half the crew and I'm taking the other half of the crew with our van. I'm about to turn out and Craig is in the passenger seat and he's like, "Pole! Pole! Pole! Pole! Pole!" I didn't hear what he said and I ran right into this pole. It dented the entire side of the van. I put it in park and look up and everyone in the other van is just laughing at us and we're laughing hysterically.
It was one of those moments like, "Uh-oh." It was one of those moments that no one else saw, but it was such a funny moment. I was like, "Do not talk about this when we get out of the van. Let's not talk about me being a bad driver. Let's do the mission and get on with it."
Bobby: I went to an open interview at Dave & Buster's [restaurant] in Philadelphia. I went by myself. I called my mom up and I'm like, "Guess what I'm doing?" And she's like, "What are you doing?" And I'm like, "I'm going to try out for The Mole." And she's like, "Oh god."
She rolled her eyes because she knew I was obsessed with this show when it was on. So she's like, "Okay." I called her and I was like, "I got a call back." She's like, "Okay." I don't know. I guess they were excited but they didn't think I'd be able to make it -- I didn't think I'd be able to make it. I still can't believe I was on the show. It was all so surreal.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Jon he said you were a huge fan of The Mole. What is it about the show that you enjoy so much?
Bobby: What's great about it is it's just such a smart show. It's not like any other crap that's out there where it's like, "Who do you like best? Who's voting off who?" It's all up to you on how well you do and how long you stay. It's a very smart game. You're always looking for clues, always wondering what aren't clues. I probably made a million clues up in my head that were red herrings. Everyone else does too, and you just try to pick out the good from the bad. It's like a mystery -- I love playing [the game] Clue and I love watching murder/mysteries. I used to have murder/mystery dinners and stuff and it always used to remind me of The Mole.
Reality TV World: Do you think your familiarity with the show and how it works gave you an advantage or do you think it put you at a disadvantage because you might have been over-thinking, like you said, red herrings.
Bobby: I thought it was going to be an advantage going in because it was like, "Okay, I know how it works. I'll be pretty good." But I really think it was a disadvantage because the thing is the other players who didn't know the show as well, I think they took the quiz differently than I did.
You didn't know how the other players who don't know how the game works were taking the quiz, so that screwed you up. That sounds kind of confusing but it all depends on everyone else's answers, not just your own... You don't know how people are answering the quiz. People try to answer in the majority of the questions just to fit in with everybody else and slide by. That's what I should have done -- answered in the majority.
Like if there was a question about a large group of people and two people, people would just [give the large group] answer to be safe to make it to the next round. So that kind of hurt.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy heading into the competition?
Bobby: My strategy was definitely to get a coalition. I tried doing that with Mark, so I thought I'd be pretty good. But every second of the game changes. You try to have a game plan, but when you meet everyone and it's finally revealed the other players you're playing with and you're trying to figure out who's the mole -- your whole game plan gets thrown out the window. So you're constantly adjusting your strategy, you're constantly fixing coalitions and plans and partners. It's really weird.
Reality TV World: What did you think would be your strong points and what areas of your game play were you concerned about?
Bobby: My strong points were I knew I was mentally... I knew I would have been able to put my family and friends and life back home aside. I knew some other people, I could play on that maybe a little bit and be like, "Oh, you miss your friends?" because everyone talked about that a lot. I knew it would be a weak point for them and they wouldn't be focused. So I knew I would be mentally in the game, more than a couple other people.
As far as disadvantages, everyone's going to say the physical thing. But I do physical activities -- I play tennis all the time with my roommates and I take the dogs back into the woods and run around. I can do physical things. I almost want to post a YouTube video of me on a treadmill to show I can run. (laughing)
Reality TV World: What's the reaction been like by your friends and family members who watched you on the show?
Bobby: [Monday] night was actually kind of upsetting when they found out I was leaving because even my own mom didn't know. Everyone kept hyping me up like, "We know you make it far! We know you do so well!" Each day, you're like, "Oh, we'll have to see." Not being able to tell them is what the worst part about it is. They're all pumped up and they're telling their friends and their second-grade teachers and everyone -- friends of friends of friends. They pump you up so much to do well and I'm like, "Okay, Episode 3. See ya."
So I felt like I was letting them down a little bit. It was kind of hard. But they were really supportive. They love it and they're still going to watch it. My mom made The Mole T-shirts and everything. For the first show we had a huge party, it was great. It was so much fun.
Reality TV World: Overall, what was your favorite memory from the experience?
Bobby: It probably sounds cheesy, but I really miss just being with the other 11 people. We really did bond ridiculously fast and we all became really close. Everyone leans on each other because the only people who know what you're going through are the other 11 players. You can't explain it to someone who's watching it on TV, you really can't. They see 47 minutes of what we spend day in and day out breathing and living.
So I really miss the other players. I'm really excited to see them when we film the reunion.