Skip to main content

NPR host, check. Cabaret singer, check. Reality TV show host? Ari Shapiro does it all

caption: NPR's Ari Shapiro has a new side gig, hosting the Netflix series "The Mole."
Enlarge Icon
NPR's Ari Shapiro has a new side gig, hosting the Netflix series "The Mole."
Courtesy of Netflix

Season Two of the Netflix reality series “The Mole” launched last week. The competition is set in Malaysia this time. Its new host is NPR’s Ari Shapiro. He told KUOW’s Kim Malcolm about his new adventure.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kim Malcolm: For people who may be panicking slightly, I just want to clarify, you're still with us, right?

Ari Shapiro: I am still on "All Things Considered." We filmed this show last summer in Malaysia for six weeks, and I am eternally grateful to the NPR bosses for saying, “Go have fun.”

For those of us who aren't familiar, just tell us about the premise of the game and how someone plays and wins.

Okay, so you've got 12 players. They work as a team to complete missions that add money to the pot. But one of the 12 is secretly working against them, trying to sabotage them at every turn. That person is the mole. The goal of the game is to be the last player standing who wins the pot, and also figure out who the mole is.

It's not something where you get voted off by the other players. Every episode, you take a quiz with 20 questions. The person who gets the most answers wrong is immediately eliminated. The game is all about this tension between, first, who’s lying to you and who's telling the truth, and second, individualism versus teamwork, because you have to work as a team to add money to the pot. Seeing how that tension plays out is part of the fun.

I heard you auditioned to be part of the original show back in the day. Is that true?

That's true. It was originally hosted by Anderson Cooper on ABC. The host has always been a journalist. I'm not somebody who just goes around flinging audition tapes at reality shows. “The Mole” is the only show that I ever auditioned to be a contestant on. I think it is smart. I think it is intriguing. It's beautiful. The fact that every episode is in a different location keeps it really interesting.

And also, I like the fact that it's not gratuitously cruel to the contestants. There are some shows where I feel like you watch it to see people suffer. I've really never been into that kind of a show. This never feels like we’re being cruel just to watch people squirm.

You mentioned the news hosts. Is there something about journalism that helps the host prepare people for the show and lead them through it?

There are a bunch of things. One thing is that I think having a “serious journalist” host it gives the show a sense of gravitas that makes it fun. But that question of who's lying to me and who's telling me the truth is something that journalists are asking all the time. This is a show that is built around that question. I think even if you're not a journalist, you always have the experience of asking yourself, "Am I being lied to right now?" whether it's by an individual in your life or by a public figure. This game allows you to ask the question where there are no stakes. It's a popcorn show. You can take a break from the actual high stakes news kinds of things.

Fans and close listeners will know that you're a multitalented fellow. You've sung with Pink Martini, a well-loved band from around here. You've written a memoir. Is there a through line for you between journalism and all these other projects?

For me, it's all about telling a story and connecting with an audience. Some of them are more frivolous, and some of them are more serious. With a game like “The Mole,” some of the psychological stuff may feel a little bit more frivolous. But I love that the contestants came from so many different backgrounds, all different kinds of ages, occupations, political persuasions.

It's a reality show, but when you ask, "What do all the different things I do have in common?" I think the answer is help people relate to each other in a way that gets over the tribalism and gets past the idea to position ourselves in an us and them kind of way.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Why you can trust KUOW