By Andrew Wineke
OAK HARBOR -- Orthopedic surgeon, retired Navy rear admiral with top-secret clearance, father of three -- Oak Harbor's Bill McDaniel sure seems like the kind of guy you could trust with your money.
Even maybe $1 million.
It just ain't so, though, as millions of TV viewers found out Tuesday night on the finale of the ABC reality game show "Mole 2: The Next Betrayal."
McDaniel, 59, was revealed to be the mole. While the other 13 contestants on the show tried to solve puzzles and win $1 million, McDaniel was charged with sabotaging their efforts.
Dorothy Hui, a 24-year-old New Yorker, won the game and walked away with $636,000. McDaniel got considerably less for his efforts (his contract forbids him from saying how much), but he did earn the satisfaction of keeping everyone guessing.
"I will tell you this," McDaniel said from his home, "the mole doesn't do this for the money. It's really hard to go for seven weeks without blowing it."
More than 100 of McDaniel's friends and family members watched the finale. A few people had seen the East Coast satellite feed, but kept their lips sealed.
"They were threatened with the time-honored Navy tradition of keelhauling," McDaniel said.
One person other than McDaniel, however, knew the secret.
"I had to tell my wife," McDaniel said. "She would have picked it up anyway."
McDaniel had to keep the truth under his hat for an entire year. Even his three daughters didn't know.
He applied for the second season of the reality show in spring 2001, and the producers told him he was picked in mid-May, just two weeks before taping started.
An hour after the first call, the producers called back and told him he would be the mole.
"They did a background check on me that rivaled anything that was ever done in the Navy," he said.
At the beginning of June 2001, McDaniel and the other contestants were flown to Switzerland for seven weeks of taping. The cameras rolled the whole time, so the contestants never had a chance to let down their guard or relax.
"They gave me 30 seconds (of instructions) in Switzerland and then told me to go sabotage the game," McDaniel said. "I had to watch every word I said.
"For whatever reason, nobody would bite on me. Nobody would believe that I was the mole."
"Mole" wrapped up taping in mid-July 2001. The show was supposed to debut Sept. 14. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pushed the premiere back to Sept. 21, and by then the viewing public wasn't very interested in a lighthearted reality show featuring mock executions.
"Frankly, we had enough reality on our plates then, and I didn't even want to tune in," McDaniel said.
"Mole" struggled in the ratings and ABC pulled the plug, promising the show would return in January or February. January or February slipped to March or April, and by May McDaniel was resuming his longtime project of hiking the Appalachian Trail when the word came the show was coming back.
The show did better in the ratings on its second try, despite going up against summer sensation "American Idol" on Fox, and was a modest success by its finale Tuesday.
"It's an intellectual show," McDaniel said. "It's not a show like 'Survivor' where everybody knows what's going to happen. As the games started to getting better, people started getting interested."
McDaniel and his wife, Shirley, took a cross-country trip last month and people recognized him everywhere. At their local Costco, McDaniel hasn't been able to walk down the aisle without being stopped.
"I can hardly get through the store," he said. "What I really like are the little 6- and 7-year-olds, kids that for the life of me I can't believe they understand the show and they love it."
On Wednesday, McDaniel kept busy doing radio interviews and e-mailing his fellow contestants. The group is planning a reunion this weekend in Las Vegas.
What's next for the mole? Well, ABC is considering a "Mole 3" for midseason or next summer. And for the mole? McDaniel doesn't think the show will bring him any lasting fame, but he is enjoying the ride while it lasts.
"I think our Tuesdays are going to be so empty," he said with a laugh. "My wife and I have been married for 33 years, and this is the funnest summer we've ever spent."
You can call Herald Writer Andrew Wineke at 425-339-3465 or send e-mail to email@example.com.