Exclusive: Paul Grassi talks about his 'The Mole' experience
By Christopher Rocchio, 07/30/2008
Paul Grassi rode the strategy of riling up his fellow players.
However he came up just short in the crunch, as the 29-year-old machinist from Yonkers, NY became the ninth player executed from The Mole's fifth season during Monday night's broadcast of the ABC reality series.
On Tuesday, Paul talked to Reality TV World about how he was prepared for the worst prior to the quiz that saw his ouster; why he adopted a strategy of making The Mole the worst experience of the other players' lives; how he thinks that ultimately helped him make the Final 4; and why he agrees that he and Nicole have a lot in common despite their bickering.
Reality TV World: You seemed to be anticipating your execution after taking last night's quiz. Was that the case and, if so, why?
Paul: Well, going into that last quiz with that few people still in the running, you have expect the worst. I went into every quiz expecting the best, but when it comes down to just a few people left you always have to expect the worst. So this way if the worst does happen, you're not let down basically.
Reality TV World: You commented a few times last night that Craig was your "top suspect" since Day 1. What was it about Craig that made you suspicious of him?
Paul: I think everybody at some point has some suspicions drawn to them. Basically at any given point any one of the players could have been the mole. So when I said it was Craig, at some point did I think it was Craig? Absolutely. At some point did I think it was other people? Absolutely. But this is all stuff I think during the finale will all be revealed in the end.
[Editor's note: Due to the nature of The Mole's format, ABC would not allow Reality TV World to directly question which player Paul had believed to be the season's saboteur.]
Reality TV World: You also commented how last night's was the first time you were nervous in the competition. If that was the case, did you ever consider changing your strategy? What was your strategy when taking the quiz throughout the competition?
Paul: In the beginning of the game, it would be foolish to go after one person. Of course you're going to have your suspects, you're going to have your top suspects, you're going to have people that are just totally off the radar. So in the beginning, I generally spaced my answers out -- I took three people and did sort of whoever my top suspect was I answered four questions for them and then do a three and three kind of thing. I kind of generally tried to space things out a bit in the beginning.
Reality TV World: It seemed like your strategy from very early on in the competition was to get under the skin of the other players. What was it that led you to adopt that strategy? Did you think it played to your strengths?
Paul: Absolutely. You have to realize that this is one of the most stressful environments that I think anybody could be placed under. I knew that just my demeanor and me being from New York, people had the view that I was going to be that in-your-face kind of person. So I used that to my advantage -- knowing that everybody was missing home, knowing that everyone was basically in a real stressful environment -- I wanted to use that to my advantage.
I wanted to make this the worst experience of their lives. Hopefully they would just hate the game and want to go home or they did something foolish during the quiz. That's why I did what I did during dinners and such, because it took place right before our quizzes.
Reality TV World: How much of what viewers saw was strategy and how much was your natural personality?
Paul: It was definitely a mix of both. I have to play off my personality to begin with, but I'd say 90% of it was strategy. Knowing that every time someone would get a little scared of what I was doing or they'd get a little nervous about what I was saying, I'd just amp it up a bit and drive it home.
Reality TV World: Did you ever get the feeling that another player might have ever tried to draw you into an argument as a strategy of their own?
Paul: It didn't happen until I'd say the Clay incident.
At that point, I kind of knew what he was doing and that was probably the 10% I'm talking about where -- for the first time -- I lost my cool. The night before we had kind of had an argument as well, and I kind of realized what he was trying to do. So I think that was probably the only time that it really wasn't part of my strategy.
Reality TV World: Nicole and you constantly butted heads with one another during the competition. Do you remember where that bickering originated from?
Paul: It started from Day 1, the minute that Nicole did not want to sleep outside. It started from there. We were put into long hours doing these missions. There was a mission early the next morning, and when we got back we just wanted to pass out and go to sleep. She wound up staying in there for the rest of the night, giving me maybe an hours worth of sleep for the night.
So from right then and there, I knew that me and her were going to have our problems because we were going to butt heads because ultimately we have the same kind of personalities I would say.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Jon Kelley before the season started, he said you and Nicole shared a lot of similarities in the way you both played the game. Based on what you just said, that sounds like something you agree with.
Paul: Absolutely. I think I'm a pretty good judge of character and personalities and people. Right off the bat, I knew Nicole being as smart as she was -- because she is a brilliant woman, she definitely is -- so knowing that she's so smart, knowing that she's going to play the same game that I was playing, I was going to use that to my advantage as well.
By me and her going at it, going at each other, basically it helped my game because I was able to get everybody's minds just going. get everybody confused, get everybody worked up. Have people playing sides with each other, because then they would ultimately share information with people they thought were their friends. Then other people could play their games and ultimately throw people off of their games.
So it worked to our advantage. We played off of each other for most of the show.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when Nicole threatened to kill you earlier in the competition?
Paul: (laughing) I laugh to this day. When I saw it, I thought it was the funniest thing ever. When I heard it the first time I thought it was funny.
A lot of my strategy of getting under peoples' skins was also to hopefully get them to do something so outrageous that they would either get kicked off the show or leave themselves -- something that would be so outlandish and so outrageous that it wouldn't be tolerated anymore. So when she did that I was floored. I was like, "Wow!" (laughing) I couldn't believe that she said it. I was floored.
Reality TV World: Some of the other players have mentioned Nicole acts differently in-front of the camera and away from it. Could you comment on that? Do you agree?
Paul: I totally agree with that. Nicole off camera was a sweetheart. We had a lot of time that you guys don't see where we would hang out and she wouldn't bother me at all. I'd have a nice conversation with her, we'd play around, we'd joke around. I felt that the minute that camera came on she was a totally different person. Whether that was her true personality coming out or she was playing it up for the camera, I think it was a little bit of both.
Reality TV World: Were you ever aware that Nicole was considering "self execution" prior to watching it during last week's episode? If not, what was your reaction when you saw that?
Paul: I think I kind of knew. I would not let up with her. I would not let up with Nicole. I would constantly drill her whatever chance I had. If I had dinner and the cameras weren't around. If we were in the car. Whatever she said I would make little comments and stuff like that.
I think the stress of the environment, the stress of the game, was getting to her. I think my strategy almost worked with Nicole. I think a lot of that wasn't her playing it up, a lot of that was real.
Reality TV World: Could you talk a little bit about your relationship with Mark? What was your take on him as a player?
Paul: Me and Mark, we had the opportunity to room together a lot during the game. I think Mark is a wonderful guy. He's a stand-up man. He's the epitome of what every man should be. He's a true competitor, he's a family man and he's a brilliant guy. So me and Mark had a pretty good relationship the entire time we were there. There's nothing I could say about Mark that would be bad. He's the ultimate man.
Reality TV World: Did you consider him one of your biggest threats?
Paul: He was absolutely a threat. But I knew Mark being the man that he was, I could also use that to my advantage as well. There were times where I was playing Mark a lot during the game, in her off times when we were in our rooms talking by ourselves. There was a lot of little things that I would feed him that I would see his eyebrows raise and I'd see him wondering and I'd see him jot stuff down in his journal.
So being the man that he was was his strongest point, but it also was a little bit of his downfall.
Reality TV World: You were very upset at the way Mark claimed the competition's final exemption, and you let the other remaining players know about it. Was being so vocal about your displeasure a strategy or is that how you genuinely felt?
Paul: Obviously I was upset because we were going into the final round and that one person has an exemption. That plays a huge role. Me being vocal was how I truly felt. I felt that I didn't want anybody to have the exemption. It just makes it that much harder going into the next quiz.
Reality TV World: Did you form any coalitions during the competition? If so, with whom?
Paul: During the first episode the coalition with Marcie was totally real. My original plan to play this game was not going to be to play the bad ass that I turned out to be. Once Marcie was executed in that first episode, it totally destroyed the game that I had planned. So at that immediate point, I had to change things up.
But on the same token, I had already built a secondary coalition with Alex. So I kind of strung that along knowing that I already had that in place. But I kind of strung that along, but I wanted nothing to do with any other coalition from that point on. I knew I had to play the game by myself for myself to ultimately get me to the end.
Reality TV World: It seemed like your journal wasn't very important to you at all. Was that the case?
Paul: (laughing) That was another part of my strategy. I didn't use my journal at all. I wanted people to think as we got farther into the game, "How could this loud utility worker from New York get this far in the game without using his journal?" I happen to have a very good memory despite what some of the bloggers out there may think, regardless of what some of the viewers out there think. It was all part of my strategy.
The less I used that book, the more I make people wonder about how I'm getting this far into the game without using it.
Reality TV World: In hindsight, do you regret that strategy at all?
Paul: I don't regret that one bit. I didn't use my journal at all and it got me into the Final 4. How could I regret it?
Reality TV World: Was there anything you expected to be show that wasn't?
Paul: You've got to give the producers a lot of credit, there's hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of footage that they have to sift through. Of course there's going to be some things I wish were shown -- the lighter side, the more enjoyable times I had with the other contestants. But ultimately I think they did a great job putting the season together.
Paul: I saw a casting online. I saw a posting online for a casting call. I was a huge fan of the show before I saw the castings -- Season 1, Season 2, the celebrity versions, the U.K. versions. I've probably watched every episode of The Mole. I'm a huge fan. So I put in the casting, went down to Manhattan for an interview. Probably a week later I was in California, couple weeks later I was in South America.
Reality TV World: You might have already touched upon this a bit, but what did you think would be your strong points and what areas of your game play were you concerned about?
Paul: I was definitely concerned about the stress. I had no idea what we were going into. I've never been on a reality show before. I was very, very concerned about how the stress of the environment would affect me.
But I also knew that it would kind of be my strong point. I've been all over the country, I've met people from all over the country. You tend to realize that people tend to get scared of New Yorkers. (laughing) I knew that the stress of the environment and me having an outspoken personality would be to my advantage in the game.
Reality TV World: What's the reaction been like by your friends and family members who watched you on the show?
Paul: The reaction has been amazing. The fans of this show are great. There's nothing more you can say about them except that they're awesome. The day after my wife and my daughter were on the show, we were walking in Manhattan and getting stopped left and right.
It's amazing to see the type of fans that watch this show -- you have everything from little kids to old ladies. You have every spectrum of people that watch this show, and that was probably the most amazing thing to see, the different type of people that would come up to me, take pictures, ask for autographs. It was amazing to see the reaction and the support from the fans.
Reality TV World: Overall, what was your favorite memory from the experience?
Paul: I don't know if I could pick one. (laughing) Probably the long hours in our rooms... No. (laughing) The missions were great. Jumping off the waterfall was amazing. Jumping off that bridge was amazing. Running through the streets without any clothes is something I never thought I would do in a million years.
Every aspect and every portion of this journey was just an amazing experience. So I don't even think I could pick one.