Exclusive: 'The Mole' winner Mark Lambrecht talks about his victory
By Christopher Rocchio, 08/13/2008
Although the show's finale made it seem like Mark Lambrecht was more Inspector Clouseau and less Sherlock Holmes, he says he had a strategy all along.
The 42-year-old high school history teacher and soccer coach from Mukwonago, WI was revealed to be The Mole's fifth-season winner during Monday night's finale broadcast of the ABC reality competition series, taking home the $420,000 pot.
On Tuesday, Mark talked to Reality TV World about his strategy and how it was centered on his trust in coalition partner Clay Cauley; when it was that he first started to suspect Craig Slike was the fifth-season saboteur; his relationship with the volatile Paul Grassi; and why he was so upset when his journal was burned.
Reality TV World: You said you were "shocked" to win, so does that mean that for the 12 weeks leading up to the finale's taping you were unsure if you had won or not?
Mark: I knew that I had Craig correct. I knew I had Craig right. I just didn't know if my quiz score was going to be good enough to beat [Nicole Williams].
I knew that I had missed two questions for sure -- the question about "Midas Rush," how much we had won, and the "Fruit of the Luge," where the mole was standing. Those had been burned up in my journal. So I knew I had missed those two. So I knew I had gotten 18, maybe 17.
I honestly didn't think that was good enough to beat Nicole.
Reality TV World: Watching the season unfold, did that make you more or less confident about winning? Was there ever any point while watching the season that you regretted your decision to target Craig on that final quiz instead of Nicole?
Mark: There was a brief moment when I watched the episode where Clay was playing Nicole a little bit. He went to her and acted like he might be swinging her way. There's just that little twinge in the back of your mind. Even though I knew Clay had stayed true to our coalition, there's just that little something in the back of your head that says, "Oh my gosh, this could be bad." (laughing)
But it was there for a second. It's like a roller coaster -- you hit that little bump and it makes your stomach go and then it's gone.
Reality TV World: Last night's finale really seemed to go out of its way to drive home the point that you were kind of an "accidental" winner who managed to win despite repeatedly being wrong about the mole's identity. Do you agree with that characterization?
Mark: I'm sure it looked that way. But it was by my design so I can't be upset with it.
What I did was, my coalition was really important because I used Clay -- my coalition, period -- as a shield, meaning that I knew that if Clay and I worked 100% in the same direction on quizzes, the worst I could possibly do at any given time is a tie. Even if we were both 100% wrong, the worst I could do was a tie. As long as my quiz was quicker than his, than I wouldn't go home.
So what I did often was I went ahead and did what Clay said. I know in the end there it looked like Clay and I both thought that Nicole was the mole. Really I was convinced it was Craig, and Clay was convinced it was Nicole. I pretty much acquiesced Clay and said, "Okay, we'll go with Nicole." I couldn't lose him as a coalition partner, I couldn't make him think I was wavering.
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Even though I didn't really think it was Nicole, I still figured even if it's not Nicole I'll take the quiz 100% Nicole and if it's wrong, I just have to do it faster than Clay.
Reality TV World: That's interesting.
Mark: I trusted Clay, trusted him 100%
Reality TV World: Have you talked with Paul since the finale taped?
Mark: We haven't been allowed to talk. We talked a little bit at the reunion. I do know that Paul thought that Craig was the mole from Day 1. He had it nailed. Paul and I roomed more than anybody else -- we actually roomed together more than any other two, I don't know why they did that. But Paul and I roomed together I'd say three-quarters of the time. We never shared any game information with each other. Ever.
Reality TV World: Why was that?
Mark: Neither one of us trusted each other. I didn't trust Paul. I knew anything that Paul said about the game was going to be to play me. Paul knew that I was going in my own direction. We were both worried about each other, we were both scared of each other as far as game players.
So we talked about family, we talked about jobs, we talked about life, we talked about books that we enjoy. Paul and I actually had some great conversations. Kind of like boxers sparring, we knew not to talk to each other about the game too much.
We threw jabs at each other. I remember one day I said, "You know, Nicole's going to be tough. We need to be careful with her because she's really intelligent." And then Paul came back with a quick jab, "Oh you're giving her too much credit." To me, that said we're on different tracks here so just leave it.
Paul and I just spent a lot of time really not talking about the game.
Reality TV World: Based on the feedback we've gotten today, although they're happy for you personally, some viewers are pretty disappointed that the person who seems to be best player (Paul) didn't win. How would you respond to that sentiment?
Mark: I don't have any problem with that. I think Paul as far as his intuition goes, his game was better. He knew Craig was the mole from Day 1. I had to do a lot more detective work and I relied on my coalition with Clay -- just two different ways to meet the same goal.
I think the fact that I was able to sit back and play the game and do everything I could to win that last exemption, I think that's what allowed me to win the game. I think Paul's approach to really just stir everybody up and try to get everybody completely off their games and executions eventually backfired on him a little in that final quiz. Then it just came down to him and Nicole and Nicole beat him by four seconds and that was the game for him.
So I think we just played two different games. I give him all the props in the world for having Craig pegged and I know that his line to throw people off their game was very effective. It didn't really work with me. I come from a loud Italian family as well, so most of the time it didn't affect me at all. There were a couple of times it bothered you, but it didn't throw you off a whole lot.
People like big personalities. I know that a lot of people like Paul and they like Nicole and they like the kind of outlandish, out there behavior. I decided to take a different tact. I figured I was the oldest man and I was the second oldest player. I think the closest in age was [Kristen Willeumier] and she was seven years younger than me. I was the oldest man by 10 years.
So I knew that my social game was really important, that I needed to play a game where people would be comfortable talking to me and confiding in me and letting me into their conversations. To me, to play like Paul or to play like Nicole would have been so counterproductive. I wouldn't have been accepted, I wouldn't have been able to get information.
So I just chose a different route than Paul and Nicole did. I was the anti-Paul and Nicole. Whereas people hated talking to Paul and Nicole, everybody loved to come and talk to me. That worked to my advantage.
Reality TV World: You described Craig as an "affable" guy, which is why you didn't really suspect him as the saboteur. What are some of the other qualities Craig had that made him such a good saboteur?
Mark: I just think that socially, you don't want to... You look at Craig, who's a great guy. he's really nice and he's really funny, but you see that he has all these physical limitations in these missions. I just think whether it's psychologically or it's socially, you just don't want to go, "That means he's the mole."
So it's almost like you talk yourself out of it. I was saying in my interviews from Day 1 that Craig had the perfect cover. But I could not talk myself into that they would do that -- that they would play on our emotions like that and know that we wouldn't want to think that the guy that just couldn't run fast and couldn't do certain things was doing it on purpose.
It was almost like reverse psychology, and it helped him, on top of the fact that he is such a great guy. It was like a double whammy. You use the reverse psychology on us, and on top of it, he's just an amazing guy. He's just a really neat human being and he's done so many good things -- missionary work and tsunami relief and he's so intelligent.
I just think it made it really hard for anybody other than Paul to just go ahead and accept that he was the mole.
Reality TV World: We've already discussed your coalition with Clay, what was it that initially made you trust him?
Mark: Right off the bat, Clay's face. Clay is just a good, strong, Christian family man. On the very first night, I had a bit of a breakdown. We had been "on ice" for about five days, preparing for the game. Then we were turned loose on our first mission, which finished up at 4AM. We got back to the cabin about 4:30AM.
I was laying there and it hit me like somebody punching me in the stomach that if I was going to win the game, it meant not speaking to my wife for over a month. It was almost like sitting and thinking about denying -- it's inevitable. I thought, "I want to win this game, but that means I have to be disconnected from my wife for over a month." It kind of overwhelmed me.
Clay actually barricaded the door so that the cameras couldn't get in to see me like that. He held the door so that nobody could come in and see me being upset. He just spoke to me as a friend and as a Christian man. To me, that's just a real man. That's somebody you trust.
Reality TV World: Who did you consider to be your biggest threat?
Mark: Paul. Absolutely. Paul's confidence wasn't a mask, it wasn't a front. Paul was confident because he knew Craig was the mole, yet he wasn't sharing with anybody. That's threatening. So I saw Paul as a major threat. Nicole just kept you so off balance that you weren't sure what was going on with her.
I figured Craig was the mole the night [Victoria Garza] left.
Reality TV World: Interesting. Why was that?
Mark: Well I had suspected Craig all along on a periphery. What Clay and I were basically doing was splitting our answers and any time there was a question that could be answered with a majority, we would answer the majority. So if it said, "Does the mole's name have an odd number of letters?" or "Did the mole where blue pants?" or "Did the mole where a collared shirt?" we just answered whatever the majority was because you just played the odds.
Then we were splitting our votes -- we were splitting them between Victoria and Kristen. There had been some clues pointing towards Kristen that I saw and then Clay just for some reason was picking up on Victoria. So to honor our coalition we honored each of our opinions. So we were splitting our votes between Victoria, Kristen and playing the majority.
The night Victoria left I got a feeling we were on the wrong track and I really do think it's Craig. I was pushing Craig on Clay for the remainder of the game, but again -- because my coalition with Clay was so important to me -- that when he would say, "Well I'd still like to stay with Kristen," or when Kristen left, "I'm 100% convinced it's Nicole now."
I figured it's better to stay with Clay and make sure I had somebody else taking the quizzes the same exact way I am than to say, "Well Clay I think you're wrong" and go on my own. Then if I'm wrong I go home.
I don't know. I guess you could call it cowardly. I just decided to stay behind my shield the whole time. Once Clay was gone, I knew 100% it was Craig.
Reality TV World: You were described by several of the other players as being "obsessive" about your journal. Is that something you would agree with? Were you really that obsessed with your journal -- both personal info and stuff related to the game?
Mark: Yes, absolutely. My journal was my focus. It was a way to stay focused. I get distracted pretty easily. I like doing a lot of different things. I could have gotten very caught-up in the history that we were seeing, and very caught-up in the tourism and just having fun with everybody. That could have pulled my attention away from the game.
So I used my journal to focus. It was a way for me to stay focused on the task at hand, which was winning the game. It had a bipartite use -- I was using it to keep my notes and I was journaling every single thing I was doing to my wife, keeping a real-time journal for Brenda as to everything I was doing.
Paul knew that. I even was showing Paul everything I was... Because he'd go, "What's this? What's in there?" I'd show him. I'd say, "Here, look." [Alex Jacobs] -- in the deleted scenes -- you see him steal it off the table. He wrote, "Alex is the mole" in it. Well the reason they really didn't look in there is because they knew three-quarters of what I was writing was just journals to my wife.
So when I got upset at the journal burning, it was more that they had taken that gift from me that I was going to give to my wife.
Reality TV World: At that point, did you ever think there was a chance that it was a twist and it might not actually be your journal they were burning?
Mark: I was there. [host] Jon Kelley is not David Copperfield. Those journals were burned and they were burned right in front of us.
Reality TV World: Were you confident that you'd be able to regain your composure in the competition? Was that the most rattled you were in the competition other than the first night?
Mark: Yes, absolutely, which is why the "All for One" mission was 100% the turning point for me. I told the producers, I told the other players, "If I make it through this execution you're all in trouble." I told them all. I felt like a fighter jet that had been clipped and I was in a tailspin. If I could pull out of it I'd be fine.
So the "All for One" mission really was my chance and Clay nailed it -- it was my chance to be the real me that cares about other people and plays the game, or I could have become just nasty. I chose to do the right thing. I honestly think not taking the exemption was the right thing.
Reality TV World: Speaking of exemptions, how important winning that final exemption? Had you not won it, did you think you would have been executed on the next quiz?
Mark: It would have been a three-way tie. It would have come down to time, so it's hard for me to say. If I had not won that exemption, it would have been me, Nicole and Paul all taking that quiz for Craig. It would have just been a crap shoot on time.
I know Nicole's times were ridiculously fast -- they said she was taking the quizzes faster than anybody in the history of the game. Mine were normally in the high 40, low 50 seconds. I never knew what Paul was doing.
So winning that exemption was enormous because then I knew it was going to come down to Nicole and I, and hopefully I had taken better notes than her.
Reality TV World: I know Jon asked you this last night, but how difficult of a decision was it for you to look in the dossier instead of add $75,000 to the pot during that final mission? Was it basically to cement your belief that Craig was the mole?
Mark: No. There was never a doubt in my mind. To me, it was always for the dossier. They didn't even have to put the $75,000 on the table. All three of us would have taken the dossier, none of us would have taken the money. Especially in the last portion of the game it's the quizzes. That's all there is.
So if you put $75,000 in the pot but you fail the quiz, you lose. It was worth the bet to at least hope that there was something in the dossier that would give you the one question that would give you the quiz. Even though it didn't work out that way, it was nice to at least worry Nicole. She was worried.
Reality TV World: We saw you not participate in the "Dress Code" or "Traveler" missions. Was that strategy on your part? What were some of the other things you did during the game to lead the other players into suspecting you as the mole?
Mark: The only time I ever did anything mole-like was the "Dress Code" mission. That was the only time I ever tried to act mole-like.
Before I went on the show, I asked my wife, "You know how I am, if there's a game in front of me I'm going to win it. So you need to tell me right now if there's anything you don't want me to do." She said, "Do not run around naked." That was her one instruction for me. So when Jon put out the "Dress Code" mission, I never intended to do that. Never.
But I figured, "All right, I can at least make it look a little suspicious." So I threw my robe off and -- to be honest with you, we had been doing so much stuff during the day, we had been in the pool and out of the pool, in the showers, back out by the pool -- I thought I had my swim trunks on. But it really didn't matter anyway because I had no intention of doing it.
I threw my robe off, gung-ho, and then I was going to back. I figured, "Well, this might put a doubt in some people's minds."
Reality TV World: So with the "Traveler," you just didn't think the mission was possible?
Mark: All of us -- en mass -- were in a bad mood that morning. We were all in a really bad mood. There had been a very... There had been a very off-putting event that morning that put everybody off. It carried over and was still being dealt with right at the beginning of that mission. So everybody was going into that mission at first with just a bad mind set.
[Editor's Note: The Mole executive producer Clay Newbill subsequently clarified that the morning of the "Traveler" mission, Nicole broke one of the game's rules by going online in the lobby of the hotel where the players were staying. "She wasn't supposed to do that so she broke a rule," he explained. "When word of that got to me I had a discussion with all the players and basically gave them a little talking to and reminded them of the rules. It put everybody off into a bit of a bad mood."]
We were all very tired. Our hotel that we were staying in at that time was super-noisy. We were just tired and we were cranky and I think the editing was brilliant because it looked like I kind of masterminded. All I had to do was mention. It was one of those times where I said what everybody else wanted to say.
As soon as I said, "Look, there's no way we could run full pace this distance." Everyone went, "Yeah, good. We're out." There was no way. They tried hard to get us to do that mission. They kept throwing us more and more and more reasons for doing it. We just weren't doing it.
Mark: I had auditioned for a different adventure reality show last summer... The casting producer for that really liked me, but it fell through. So that was just the end of it.
About seven or eight months later, they contacted me and said, "We remember you from this other audition. We really liked you. We'd like you to apply for The Mole." I was so excited because I said, "The Mole? Are you kidding? They're bringing that back? That's an amazing show, it's one of my favorite shows ever." So I jumped on it and applied and went down to Chicago for an interview and ended up in L.A.
I consider myself so, so, so fortunate to have been given that chance. There's 300-plus million people in this country and 12 got to play the game. That's an honor for me. I honestly view it as an honor.
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 you win or did they suspect you as the mole?
Mark: I think the majority of people around here thought I was the mole. They know how hyper-competitive I am, they know that I would be capable of messing with the missions if I wanted to. I think I seemed a little more friendly. (laughing) The guys that I coach with were surprised in how friendly I was.
I think a lot of people thought I was the mole, and the main reason online thought I was the mole was because of my competitiveness and for some reason people couldn't handle that I really wanted to do this for my wife. I don't know why some people thought that was weak or some people thought that was lame and that I must be acting. I guess it's a little disappointing that people are that cynical, but now everybody can see that it's true.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my last question. Besides being able to let your wife not have to work, do you have any other plans for the $420,000?
Mark: No. That $420,000 is for the family, it's for the baby, it's for the kids and it's for my wife. It's for peace of mind.
Trust me, I understand that my wife and I are not the only people in the world who have worked two jobs for twenty-something years... It's real. A lot of people say, "Quit your whining. Everybody works, everybody works hard." Yes, everybody works hard. But if you were given the opportunity to be able to change that, why wouldn't you do it? So I'm not ashamed that I did this for my wife so she doesn't have to work anymore.
I think if anybody was put in the position to change their life and give their spouse what they always wanted, I think anybody would do it hopefully.