Exclusive: 'The Mole' exposed, Craig Slike and executive producer dish
By Christopher Rocchio, 08/14/2008
Craig Slike learned he'd be The Mole's fifth-season saboteur only a few hours before the game started, and he was still able to throw the majority of the players off his track.
The 31-year-old graphic designer San Diego, CA, was able to prevent "well over $100,000" from going into the fifth-season's pot, which was eventually claimed by Mark Lambrecht, who was revealed to be winner during Monday night's finale broadcast of the ABC reality competition series.
On Tuesday, Craig and The Mole executive producer Clay Newbill both talked to Reality TV World about how a majority of the sabotage went down; why Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" will never have the same meaning again to Craig; how his medical scare during the "Midas Rush" mission was a major concern; and how Craig felt he was able to overcome several challenges presented to him.
Reality TV World: What did you receive for serving as the mole?
Craig: I think I'll have to defer to Clay on that question. Clay: Yeah, the mole is actually hired by us -- the producers. So he was paid. We can't talk about how much money he was paid, but I can say that it wasn't anywhere near what Mark ended up winning.
Reality TV World: Did you know Mark was the winner before last night's finale? If not, did you think Mark or Nicole Williams had a better chance of winning?
Craig: I didn't know who won. Actually I was pulling for Mark, even though I couldn't physically help him out in anyway. I just felt like he had played such a great game. Nicole had her attitude problems, so I was really rooting for the good guy.
Reality TV World: Okay, so you didn't have any feeling on who you thought might win? You just had to hope it was Mark?
Craig: Yeah, I basically just had to hope. But knowing his extensive note-taking, I thought he had a leg up on her.
Reality TV World: During the finale, you complimented Mark for how well he played the game both physically and mentally. Seeing as how he was on the verge of execution a few times during the season, is that a comment you still think is true? Do you think he was one of the game's best players?
Craig: I actually do think he was. In this kind of game it's kind of hard to know who's doing what. So as long as you move forward, it doesn't really matter how you do it to get there.
Reality TV World: Your game play definitely seemed to be underestimated by the other players throughout the season. Was that a conscious part of your strategy or something that naturally developed because you're a "fun, lovable guy?"
Craig: I knew that I was going to be underestimated either way so I figured I mine as well use it to my advantage.
Reality TV World: Why did you think you would be underestimated?
Craig: Just because of my size. I find that a lot of large guys -- just like blonde women -- are seen as less intelligent. And obviously I don't have the physicality of the other players, so I thought they would see me as a weak link, not as a threat.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised at how willing some of your sabotage plans were accepted by the players, such as Bobby O'Donnell's eagerness to ride in the wheelbarrow and nobody pointing the finger at you during the "Traveler" mission?
Craig: Actually in the "Traveler" mission I thought my cover was blown. I did not think that went over well at all, but when I saw it later I was amazed at how well that went down for me. (laughing) It was awesome.
Reality TV World: Why do you think it worked so well for you?
Craig: I think they had seen how badly I had said that I wanted an exemption. By going so out of character to play so aggressively, I think it threw their suspicion off that I really must have needed it. Clay: Craig came up with a great strategy that almost every time [the players] sat down to dinner or they were in a van ride or something, he would make a point of saying how badly he wanted [an] exemption. So it was something that he would always discuss with the group. We purposely played that obviously that morning [before the "Traveler" mission] that the first person to say "exemption" [would be the mission's transportation captain] because we knew that was something that Craig had been doing for weeks already. Plus, it was part of Craig's strategy to make them feel sorry for him. He was lacking confidence in the game so that he kept saying, "Gee, I really hope I can get an exemption, I really need an exemption."
Reality TV World: Craig you just mentioned the "Traveler" mission, were you ever concerned that your sabotage plans were too obvious during any other mission? I'm specifically thinking of the "Fruit of the Luge" mission.
Craig: I had [Victoria Garza] there with me and she's a good one for actually taking the blame. (laughing) I think she took the blame for actually talking first and we both were like, "Yeah, we forgot about the rules." It went under the radar.
Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when Paul Grassi basically came right out and told you that he knew you were the mole?
Craig: I basically had to play it cool and be like, "That's funny. Whatever." You can't be 100% sure. It looks like he's taking a stab in the dark by my reaction. I just knew I needed to stay calm.
Reality TV World: At that point you must have realized Paul was onto you. Was he a clear front runner in your mind?
Craig: I knew that as soon as the other players would catch onto who the mole was, they would beat him out on time [on the quiz]. I knew that they were faster than he was even though he was pretty fast.
Reality TV World: What went into your decision to not sabotage the "Tick Tock Boom" mission and instead lead Nicole and Mark to solve it and add money to the pot?
Craig: Actually that was a plan I was told to do because I had done too good of a job earlier in the game and there wasn't enough in the pot. (laughing)
Reality TV World: Talk a little bit about what happened during the "Midas Rush" mission.
Craig: During the "Midas Rush" mission I was told to just be a player. Going up that mountain and carrying close to 50 pounds of weight on my back, I turned it into a personal mission that I wanted to accomplish. It was really hard for me to do and I really wanted to do it. I knew that being the mole it would be easy for me to hang back and keep that money out of the pot, but it would be much better for my position in the game and laying undercover if I really tried my hardest in this one.
So I went all out and pushed myself beyond the point of safety and finished in the allotted time. I was really proud of myself for like the first 10 minutes after that. But when I got downhill my legs gave out and I couldn't catch my breath and they rushed me to the ambulance and that's when it started getting scary. The sweat that I had built up on my body from going up the mountain had started to freeze, so that was shocking in my system and I had altitude sickness and hypothermia within minutes.
It was really scary. None of that was fake. It was all real. (laughing) I know people on the message boards were saying that [the producers] might have taken advantage of that to talk to me privately and give me more instructions, but that wasn't the case. I was fighting for my life really.
Reality TV World: You just said it was scary -- which it really must have been -- but did you ever think it might have inadvertently helped your strategy in throwing the other players off your track?
Craig: Yeah, I mean it definitely wasn't planned for me to be in an ambulance. But I think that actually helped me to look like I wasn't the mole.
Reality TV World: At any point were you concerned that you'd have to leave the game?
Craig: I wasn't concerned about... I knew I wouldn't let myself leave the game. But I could be forced out of the game, and I was really concerned about that.
Reality TV World: This might be a better question for you Clay. What would have happened if Craig had been medically unable to continue?
Clay: Obviously we were concerned as well. We were still up on the mountain and got over the radio, heard that Craig was having problems and had gone into the ambulance. The first thing to do in that situation is to get oxygen into him because it's an altitude thing.
I had actually done the mission earlier that morning and I know exactly what he's talking about. You're carrying this weight and you're trudging at such a high altitude and you've got all these layers of clothing on, well the bottom layer -- the layer that's touching your skin -- actually gets drenched because you're sweating profusely and your body heats up. You have to basically take off the outer layers and let that dry out afterwards, and Craig -- because he was suffering right away from the altitude sickness -- hadn't had an opportunity to do that.
So it was a combination of those two things -- he started shivering and had hypothermia, which caused the altitude sickness. We were really concerned for a while, you saw we got some of the footage of him in [the ambulance] initially, but when he started having problems with the hypothermia the ambulance attendants -- the medics -- they closed all the doors and pushed all the cameras away and said, "This is getting serious."
At that point we were really worried. It was about half-an-hour he was in there and that they were working on him -- his blood pressure was dropping, he was lapsing in and out of consciousness. It wasn't good. In a situation like that, again, the best thing you can do is we gave him... We passed around and the players gave him warm blankets or fleece or anything like that, that would be warm and dry. They kept him on the oxygen.
Finally after about half-an-hour, at that point you don't worry about the TV show. You're worried about the guy if it would have been any player, whether it was the mole or anybody else. You're worried about the person in there and everything's focused on, "Okay, let's make sure this person recovers." It wouldn't of mattered if it was anybody else -- it would have been the same concern from our point.
They said, "Okay, he's leveled off some." He got up and was walking around. Obviously there's a big crowd there, there's only about three people out there out of 100 who know who the mole is. Obviously, I'm one of them. So there wasn't a chance for me to speak to him about anything in regards to the mole. But again, at that point it was about his health, and I just had an opportunity to take to him briefly -- because there was a big mob around him -- and say, "Are you okay?"
He looked frightened, and I must have mirrored that image. (laughing) But he said, "Yeah, I think I'm going to be okay." We talked to the medics and they said, "We want to send him back to change out of these clothes, get him warm clothes, get him by a fire and have him just relax for the next 24 hours at least." The next day we checked with him again, and he still was not feeling well. He still was not 100%.
Craig's a fighter. We actually did interviews the next day and he would say, "I want to go, I'm ready to go." I was not talking to him directly, but through other people said, "Tell him he's just going to relax. He's not going to do the 'Who Said That?' dinner." He actually came out and got into the van and we had to tell him to go back and get in his room because the medics said they didn't want him.
Of course he thought they were just going to dinner. He didn't know we were going to take the players and have them standing out in 20-degree temperatures and burn journals that night. So it was a funny moment, but it was about trying to get him to rest as much as possible.
I knew that in a couple of days we'd be leaving the Andes and probably that would put the end to those concerns physically for him because once we got down closer to sea level he'd eventually be okay.
Reality TV World: How were you able to be so secretive in meeting with the producers about upcoming missions?
Craig: I'd be able to meet with Clay after interviews, but there'd be certain times when I wouldn't be able to meet with Clay after the interviews so then I would be given basic instructions for missions to come. Somehow they would try to find a way to get instructions to me.
I remember in the ["Three to Tango" mission], I didn't know if I was supposed to take the [dossier] or not. I just overheard somebody come near me and say -- I think it was [producer] Scott Stone -- "Yeah, go for the gusto. Go for it all!" (laughing) That was how I got my instructions for that game. It was just out in front of everybody, he was talking on his cell phone, and I just picked up that he was talking to me.
Reality TV World: I see, so it ranged from the secretive to the obvious.
Clay: The conversations that we would have were to instruct him as to what was going to be coming up and what we would want him to do -- whether to sabotage and how we thought was best to do that or be a player, which means don't sabotage, just go under the radar.
Craig was really good too about seeing opportunities himself, which is generally the case for the mole. Picking up and taking advantage of opportunities, such as get in the wheelbarrow. That was his own idea, we didn't know that Bobby was going to cramp up like he did. So Craig did a great job.
Craig and I came up with a code so that I could actually communicate with him with the entire group standing around listening to everything that's being said without them even knowing I was communicating with him.
Reality TV World: What did the code entail?
Clay: Generally there's some down time for us waiting to get everything set with the cameras, before we're ready to start a mission. Off to the side once the cast arrives, they'll be waiting. I'd walk over and say hello to everybody and how's everybody doing and have fun today, whatever.
Then just stand there for a little while, and sure enough, a little bit of chit chat happens. When people are talking, I would sing a specific song to myself and that would signal to Craig that there was a change in plans.
Reality TV World: Interesting.
Clay: Luckily, we only had to use it once.
[Clay proceeds to sing a few lines from Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."]
The funniest thing is that the one time we had to use it, Craig was getting a meal delivered. The players had all ordered pizza that night, and I walked with the person who was bringing them the pizzas. Craig opened his door and I'm just standing there in the background with this guy and Craig wasn't even looking at me and I just started singing the song quietly, just to myself.
Craig didn't look at me, make eye contact or anything. I was really concerned that he hadn't heard the message and he hadn't gotten it. So the next day right before the mission, I walked over and sang it again much louder in front of everybody. (laughing) He looked at me, and I'm like, "Okay, he got it this time."
But little did I know Craig thought like I was trying to change the mission twice.
Craig: I heard it the first time and then with the second time I was like, "We haven't set up for this? What's going on?" (laughing) Luckily I just went for he was just reiterating the first one.
Reality TV World: What mission was this prior to?
Craig: It was for when the family's came.
Reality TV World: So Craig did you use your journal for anything?
Craig: Everything in my journal was all about the game. I took notes in my journal just as if I was a normal player. I took all the quizzes the same way, trying to do the best I could on the quizzes. So I would study my journal, I would write down all the quiz questions after the quizzes.
I would use it like a normal player because I was so paranoid that I would be the worst mole ever and get myself kicked off if I didn't do well on the quizzes.
Reality TV World: Of all the other players, which one do you think did the best job of trying to portray themselves as the mole?
Craig: Nicole actually gave a lot of confusion. I don't think everybody 100% thought that she could be the mole because when she did sabotage, she'd tell everybody about it. So you didn't know the whole time if she was telling the truth, if she was sabotaging, if she was messing up on accident or on purpose. She really confused a lot of people throughout the whole game.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for The Mole and at what point in the process was it that you were approached to be the season's saboteur?
Craig: I don't know anything about the selection process. I'll have to defer to Clay on that, but it was only a few hours before the game started that I as asked to be the mole, the night before. Clay?
Reality TV World: Just to back up a second, how were you cast? Had you always been a fan?
Craig: Yeah, I remember watching the show. I had seen Season 1 where they went bull fighting, and they looked like little bulls so I thought I had a few pounds on them. I thought I could take them. I was like, "This looks like a great, smart adventurous show that I definitely want to go for." A friend sent me an email saying, "Hey, this is my favorite show. I think you should try out for it, you'd be awesome." So I auditioned.
Reality TV World: Okay Clay, so how did you select Craig as the saboteur?
Clay: It's one of those areas where we can't reveal too much. I can tell you that one of the things that as producers Scott and I do when we are casting the show is we want to cast people who have a "high mole factor" is what we call it. So any one of the players we select to be on the show, a viewer could look at it and say, "That person could be the mole."
One of the other things we do is... Craig's not an actor that we hire specifically to be the mole. He was a person that came through casting. It's important for us to make sure that everybody who's a player also is interested in being actually the mole. There were a couple of players that were actually upset that they weren't the mole when we told them that they would not be the mole.
Craig obviously was a great choice for us. All I can say is in talking with Craig, when I asked him what his strategy would be as the mole, he told me and his strategy was exactly what I was hoping what he would say. He had the perfect strategy, and that's when I was sold.
Reality TV World: Craig, what was your initial reaction when they asked you to be the mole?
Craig: I think I yelled, slapped my hands and started hyperventilating because I was so happy.
Reality TV World: So you would you still have been interested in applying for the show if you knew you were going to end up being the mole?
Craig: Yeah. Clay: I think Craig actually blacked out and we had to revive him. Craig: (laughing) Yeah, I don't think they were expecting my reaction.
Reality TV World: Had you not been the mole, how do you think you would have performed as one of the players?
Craig: You can't say because I wasn't one of the players, but I'd like to think I would have done pretty well.
Actually, I was a little reluctant. I was flip-flopping with it, whether to accept the position of the mole after thinking about it. I really wanted to challenge myself, and I knew that if I was the mole there was no way I could get executed so it wouldn't be that much of a challenge. But I also wanted to have this entire experience and that was the guarantee that I could do it and stay there for the full time.
Reality TV World: With the "Midas Rush" mission, bungee jumping and several of the other missions you completed -- it seemed like you did challenge yourself quite a bit. Is that something you'd agree with? That in the end you got the challenge you were looking for even though you were the mole?
Craig: Definitely. I think I got way more out of this than I ever expected. I definitely challenged myself as a person and found out a lot about myself. I found that I had some fears, I faced those fears, and I'm a better person because of it.
Reality TV World: I know you just said you didn't have much time to think about it, but in approaching your task as the mole, what did you think would be your strong points and what areas of your game play were you concerned about?
Craig: My strong point was definitely my interpersonal skills. Whenever I roomed with somebody, they were sunk. (laughing) I knew Mark was a little suspicious of me from the beginning, but then we would room together and from then on he didn't think I was the mole until there was no other suspects left. (laughing)
With Bobby, I roomed with him next and I had him sold. Then I roomed with [Clay Cauley], same thing. I think if I had roomed with Paul earlier in the game I probably could have dissuade him from his path a little easier. But by the time I did end up rooming with him, all his other suspects had already gone home.
Reality TV World: Were there any areas of your game play were you concerned about?
Craig: I was a little concerned about being able to accomplish what I was supposed to do in each mission and trying to be subtle about. You know, trying to sabotage the missions but not have everybody think that I obviously sabotaged the mission. Subtly is not usually one of my strongest points. I had to stretch myself a little bit.
Reality TV World: What's the reaction been like by your friends and family members who watched you on the show? Were they surprised to see as the mole or did they think you were the winner?
Craig: I've heard that if most people know somebody on the show they automatically assume they're the mole. A lot of people say, "I knew it! I knew it from the beginning!" But then they never had any hard evidence. They just had this feeling that they knew me and they knew I could get away with a lot of things. Clay: Craig, you should tell them how you viewed the show [Monday] night. Craig: (laughing) It was amazing. We've been having viewing parties weekly at a pub in Claremont -- I've been going there about seven years and my friend's band has ben playing there for six years. It was the band's anniversary, my friend's birthday and the finale of The Mole all in one -- so we had this 80's prom night. I was dressed in a tuxedo with a bow tie and a vest, the whole nine yards.
We decorated the bar, had drink specials, live bands at the viewing. The place was packed, there was a line going all the way down the street. When they revealed Mark was the winner, everybody was disappointed. But then when they revealed that I was the mole, the place just erupted. It was the loudest roar I've ever heard. It was amazing, all these people cheering for me, and it went on for a long time. All the dialogue on [the finale], I didn't get to hear at all. (laughing)
Whenever I came on the screen, people would start saying, "Craig's the mole! Craig's the mole!" It was a good night.
Reality TV World: Did you notice those broadcast clues that they showed Monday night during the show's actual broadcast run?
Craig: Oh yeah. There was actually a lot of clues in the show that accidentally pointed to me that were never intended to.
Reality TV World: Could you give an example?
Craig: The wine barrels in the vineyard, there was "N20" on one of those and November 20 is my birthday.
Reality TV World: Overall, what was your favorite memory from you're The Mole experience?
Craig: You know what my favorite experience was? The mission's that were the hardest for me to do. Like the bungee jump, "Midas Rush," going over the falls. Those were amazing and I really learned a lot about myself and I'm really proud of myself for doing it.
But I also made some great friends. I can't wait to get in contact with the other players from the show and just continue our friendships.
Reality TV World: Is there a reason why The Mole's saboteur doesn't just win the money he prevents the players from earning over the course of the season? Would that be too direct an incentive?
Clay: Actually the Australian version, in their most recent season -- I think it was [season] five or six, which was produced last year -- they tried that. It's something we've discussed since the first season. Does any money the mole prevents from going into the pot, does that money then go into their pocket?
I think you have to be careful. (laughing) The mole could become quite ruthless at that point. You may end up with the mole winning $1 million, and the pot's at $500. (laughing)
If you think about it, the great thing about the system as it's designed right now is that the mole's incentive to do a great job is they're going to get a payment but it's not going to be anywhere near the prize package that the winner ends up taking home eventually. But if you had a mole that came in and was just driven by the money, it would not make a very good game, because if the mole sabotaged everything than obviously everybody knows who the mole is and you end up with a bunch of players who tie every episode [on the quiz].