We chat up renowned producer and Raleigh native David Burris about his new Netflix reboot of The Mole.
Into unscripted adventure and mystery? It’s time to add a new show to your watchlist. Uberpopular unscripted TV show The Mole is getting a reboot, slated to hit Netflix on Oct. 7 (!)—and to boot, one of the executive producers behind the show is Raleigh native David Burris, who previously spearheaded production of several wildly successful series and films (think CBS’ Survivor, Ultimate Ninja Challenge and Some Kind of Hate). Burris’ latest endeavor expertly blends suspense, adventure and brain teasers into one unbelievably bingeable show. With both Burris and Netflix prioritizing storytelling, cinematic presentation and strong characters, fans are sure to be on the edge of their seats all season long.
Raleigh Magazine recently chatted with Burris to get the scoop on The Mole, its creative/production process and why being from Raleigh rocks (natch!). No bad streams here…
Let’s dig in. Give us the lowdown on The Mole reboot.
The Mole is a tried and true competition adventure format. It’s sort of the classic dynamic of what I like most about unscripted reality television, which is taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary situations. It becomes part adventure and part sociological experiment. In this particular situation, we’ve got 12 Americans traveling all over Australia and engaging in adventure challenges to win money. You’ll watch contestants scale a cliffside mountain or see them robbing a bank in the outback—and if they succeed in the challenge, they win cash. Of course, the twist is that someone else is there who has a different mission entirely—to sabotage the efforts of their ‘teammates.’ For those that aren’t the mole, their goal is to accumulate cash by doing well in these high-adventure challenges and to figure out the identity of the mole so they can keep playing the game.
We’ve gotta know… how do you cast a mole?
Once we decided on our 12 competitors, we started to think about basic strategies of deception, manipulation, believability and someone who was intelligent enough to pretend to be trustworthy—but not actually be trustworthy. And we all agreed as producers and with the gang over at Netflix about who we thought should be the mole.
School us on your role in the production process.
I’m what they call a showrunner—it’s sort of like the director for the whole series. I’m essentially in charge of creative decisions, like ensuring the creative vision for the show is maintained, the story structure is cogent, that the arcs of the characters are coming out and the right questions are asked during interviews. Basically, I oversee that everything going into the creative soup of the series is also in line with our intentions; from setting up the structure of the show, the cast, where challenges will take place and what the twists will be… and it all has to line up logistically—basically, the marriage of creative and practical.
What are your tricks for surviving the unexpected aspects of filming?
I consider myself fortunate to have been through the ringer quite a bit. After 10 years on Survivor dealing with typhoons, getting chased by elephants and dealing with a leopard stalking a camp, I’ve built up an ability to stay focused and maintain the creative course while insane unpredictable things happen every single day. It’s all unscripted and you have no idea what’s going to happen, so you have to be prepared for whatever comes down the pike. After Survivor, I’ve learned to be ready for anything, to maintain my calm and more than anything else, to take the challenges as one of the fun parts of television, rather than one of the pains in the ass of making television and just going with it.
How have your Raleigh roots contributed to your creative career?
I was born in Durham, grew up in Raleigh and was educated in Chapel Hill—so I’m a real Triangle baby. I still have a house in Raleigh and spend a good bit of the year there when I’m not working elsewhere. I think Raleigh is one of the coolest midsize cities in the country, if not the planet. It’s a wonderful combination of things that make the South great without a lot of the things that make the South not so great.
What do you think sets Raleigh apart?
It’s a creative and friendly place and a lot of really creative individuals have come out of the Triangle community. My theory as it stands currently is that it’s an open, progressive and supportive community that allows a creative individual to believe they can see their dreams come true and that it’s worth pursuing them, whether that’s to be a huge rock star or a Beard Award-winning chef. People have the space to fail and say ‘that didn’t work, let me try again’—largely because of how valued the education system is there, which is a cornerstone for creatives. Education is all about working at it, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and then carrying on. That’s my theory on why coming from the Triangle area is a good thing and why it’s produced so many super-talented creative people.
And why should people press play on The Mole?
If you’re looking for a bit of escapism and want to watch people do adventurous things in exotic locales, you’re going to get that watching The Mole. The cinematography is beautiful and the things the contestants have to do are fascinating, engaging and interesting. It’s like a perfect combo of fun, high adventure television and intellectual processing, keeping your brain engaged almost to an addicting level.
*Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.