EXTRA: Deep Inside ‘The Mole’

HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 14, 2000 – TV fame, wealth and a chance to indulge in your darkest impulses. What more could anyone ask? Well, that’s at least what The Mole” wants you to think. And for those without the slightest idea, it is ABC’s own copycat version of “Survivor” — where 10 real-life people must figure out who among them is the titular “mole” planted by the show, while they complete a series of “Road Rules”-esque tasks around the globe. As with other reality gameshows, someone wins a million bucks at the end.

Seizing the chance to deceive and infiltrate a show which is based upon the idea of, well, deception and infiltration, I trotted down to the show’s open call casting Saturday at Café Tu Tu Tango on the touristy Universal CityWalk, just north of downtown Hollywood.

Upon arrival, I was given an application, a pen, a numbered sticker and a place in line – which, fortunately, wasn’t much of one to begin with (with only about 30 people when I got there).

The form is like a personal ad, soliciting information about your height, weight, and eye color and asking you to rank yourself from 1 to 10 (1 being the highest) on attributes ranging from sense of humor to leadership skills to mountain climbing, and so on.

To make things interesting, some questions required written answers. For example, one asked me to “describe yourself” (my answer: “don’t know how”); another asked for my worst quality (“I like to curse”); yet another wanted to know why “The Mole” should pick me (“because I could be your Colleen!”).

Teen mallrats and tourists-shoppers cast “loser” or “this is sooo L.A.” looks my way, as I filled out the application and fought a splitting headache (which, I was convinced, would turn into a heat stroke) at the same time.

The guy in front of me told a curious onlooker that we were “lining up to see Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Then he turned around and explained, “the less people know about this, the better. Just trying to eliminate all the competition, you know.”

“Whatever,” I shrugged. The helpful “Mole” hopeful was an aspiring actor hoping for a gig and a break. So was the guy standing behind me who, during our idle chit-chat, admitted that work has been “hard to come by.”

“The Mole” Not everyone there was an actor. One woman I talked to hates her job and was just looking to be delivered from her humdrum life, or the young out-of-towner who was lunching at a restaurant in the mall and just happened to come across the tryout. And then there was me, a self-planted mole looking for a story.

After some 45 minutes, 20 of us (a group of 20 at a time) were ushered into the restaurant. More waiting, with 4 people being called in every 10-minutes or so for a one-on-one “conversation” where we were encouraged to “be yourselves.”

Tick tock, tick tock. The gang of four I belonged to was finally called. I was assigned to a 20-something with perfect hair and a perfect smile.

When all is said and done, my “conversation” clocked in at around 5 minutes. And true to ABC’s word, the meeting was informal and casual. They didn’t ask me to do backflips or jump through burning hoops. The questions were a mix between the socially generic variety (“what do you like to do” and “how was it when you traveled to so and so back in so and so,” etc) and the personal reflection, Barbara Walter-type (“what’s your greatest achievement so far;” and “if you could wipe out anything from the past, what would it be?”)

My only disappointment was that they never asked me what my greatest strength was. And as a result, my prepared answer of “I am a team player!” went completely unused.

The interview closed with a firm handshake and the promise that he’ll “jog down some notes about our conversation.”

Admittedly, the audition process was a much more human experience than I had expected. And what I mean by that my interviewer at least mustered up enough energy to make it seemed like he was actually interested in what I was saying.

And as I bid sweet adieu to the casting people and wish others like me luck, it began to dawn on me: I should have said that I would feed all the hungry people in the world when they asked me what I would do with my million dollar winning.