First things first: Recap of and commentary on Week 1's challenges. (Orange boxes mark challenges recycled from other versions, with the original episodes listed beneath the titles, which are bolded if official. NL = Netherlands.) (As a sidenote, while recycling ideas from foreign versions is good in moderation, I'd rather go and watch the fan-subtitled original Dutch seasons most of these challenges are taken from on Youtube than sit through a vastly inferior copy.)
Look, first I wasn't originally planning to share my thoughts at all outside of the usual internet forums and such. Then, after being convinced by Steve Molk and whatever Twitter nickname he's using today, I considered doing a weekly wrap. But then after sitting down to write it, I realised that there's no point when there's really no tension at all in the hunt. And also, there's no point writing a weekly wrap when, if the show's ratings get almost literally any worse (they're down 25% within two days), the show is likely to be cancelled by the end of the week. But in the meantime, it's Shaun. Consider the following:
1. In the opening hiking challenge, he is the first to realise the instructions don't tell them they have to bring their suitcases with them. He justifies this to the rest of his team with a slip of the tongue, saying with absolute certainty "We're not gonna get penalised for leaving our luggage here", despite having been given no indication at that point that there were any penalties of any kind. At the end of the challenge, his team and another team are penalised a total of $800 for leaving their eight suitcases behind. Whether this slip was intended as the standard 'blatant first episode clue' remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be too surprised if it was.
2. His team is the only one of the three teams to open their shortcut envelope, taking a rescue car to the challenge's finish line but being fined $5000 in the process. The two girls in the four-person group are hesitant to even consider the shortcut, but his slow walking throughout the start of the challenge is apparently a major contributor to Alex misjudging the passage of time and agreeing to taking the shortcut. (He also attempts to walk in the wrong direction, wasting more time, but is immediately corrected by his team.)
3. He goes first in the high-wire relay challenge, and succeeds. It doesn't sound like a sabotage when you look at it on its own, but as part of the larger picture - where if a pair fails their attempt, the money won so far during the challenge resets to zero - it means that when a pair fails, which was bound to happen either accidentally or by someone deliberately pretending to be the Mole, the amount of prize money is cut from $16,000 to a maximum of $4000. You look good, and yet you still manage to win nothing. (His crossing was negated by the very next pair.)
4. In the 'Money Bags' challenge, which involved groups of six players using an assortment of supplies to transport up to twenty sandbags along a trail from opposite directions to meet each other, he creates a simple carrier that is inefficient (only carrying three sandbags) and just plain didn't work (Aisha is later seen carrying the two component poles with no sandbags attached). The design is part of the reason twelve sandbags - worth a total of $1200 - are left behind.
5. In the same challenge, having been told that "there's more money up for grabs today than there has been at any time in the game so far", he wastes time arguing about stopping at the $10,000 bonus flag, which if the two groups were to meet would have been added to the value of their sandbags for a total of at most $14,000. The problem? Both prior challenges were worth more. (He may have known the other group had a chance to swap their sandbags for a $10,000 pyramid of champagne glasses, but the rest of his group didn't, and they have no reason to stop.) Had they stopped, the challenge would have failed and they wouldn't have won $10,800.
6. When searching a disused fortress for keys in the first part of a challenge, he is the only player to find more than one. After the search is complete, it is revealed that there was nothing to be gained from finding keys, but that with more keys found, there is more chance for money from the kitty to be spent on camping gear for the night. One of his keys is not used, but the other opens a $1000 crate representing dinner and dessert even though a $100 crate of survival rations had already been opened. (He is also notably the only person supporting Nick's decision to open a $750 crate containing sleeping mats without consulting the group, despite $500 having already been spent on tents.)
7. In a challenge the following day designed to give players a chance to recoup their losses from the previous night, he puts himself in the 'puzzle solver' group that determines the result of the challenge, then does not contribute when his group faces their part of the challenge. (Unlike past instances where players are categorised and split, there doesn't appear to be a set number of puzzle solvers, meaning the Mole was always going to wind up in the group.) Despite this, his group is successful and the money is won, although approximately half is removed because the other group allegedly failed to complete their part of the challenge (which would have made the second half impossible, not that anyone analyzes this show or anything).
8. The only way to sabotage the final challenge of the week is to take an exemption and condemn yourself and other players to spending the night chained up outside. The challenge was passed, suggesting the Mole was one of the earlier players to forgo the exemption and unchain themselves - if they take the exemption early it's too suspicious, if they take it near the end, it's almost understandable. Shaun was second person chosen to make a selection.
9. The other players are clearly almost all expecting another 'under the radar' Mole based on the approaches taken by the previous five. It seems plausible that, expecting this, producers chose the most brash, opinionated player of the bunch as a way of making the game less predictable. It seems obvious that Shaun would have fallen onto everyone's radar almost instantly (both with the first challenge and with his general belligerence), but how many of them would have kept him there rather than discounting him as too over-the-top to be the Mole based on what they know? (If you're wondering, by the way, only Shaun, Kerrie, and Alex have lost more money than they gained over the first week, and the latter two haven't lost anything since the first episode.)
So, basically, I'm ready to call it. After one week. Should I be ready? No. Alaina got to the final episode before any of her opponents even suspected her. I've watched seasons and not been able to rule out any of the final three before. And in the thirty-odd past Mole seasons I've seen, my ability to correctly pick the Mole after one week is currently working out to be three times less accurate than random guessing among the average ten-person cast. (I wish I was joking.) But what is making it so easy? Even I'm not entirely sure. Is it because of the three episodes a week thing, and the editors' need to fill time by focusing on every minor attempted sabotage as though it's a big deal, making it less "Are you sure you didn't imagine that?" and more "HOW ABOUT NOW? WOULD YOU LIKE SOME NEON LIGHTS IN THE SHAPE OF AN ARROW TO POINT IT OUT? MAYBE A CHORUS LINE OF TWINKS IN ASSLESS ONESIES?"? Is it because the other players are all completely inept at being inept and suck at the metagame, despite all of their bluster about how pretending to be the Mole is such a smart strategy? Is it because the Mole they've chosen doesn't appear to understand the power of subtlety, and is even easier to find than Petrina was? Honestly, all of the above are probably true to some degree. But I do know two things about this choice: While it seems the 'Culture Clash' edict has been fulfilled as many expected by hiring an obnoxious white bogan as the Mole, it really shouldn't be this damn obvious. And I really shouldn't feel this annoyed by the concept of having to spend the entire season with Shaun on my screen. Or feel that the entire season is bound to be ruined by the dumbest player in this show's history making it to the final by answering the elimination tests based on a personal grudge in lieu of actual evidence. And yet I do.