In my recent review on “Pressure Cooker” I mentioned how I disliked it during the early seasons of skilled competition shows when people made decisions based on “game strategy” rather than on merit. It may surprise you, then, to learn that I absolutely loved Peacock’s “The Traitors.” On “The Traitors” “game strategy” is the whole point.
The show is set in Scotland, ostensibly at the castle of our host, Alan Cumming, who was born to play this role. He has invited 20 people – 10 who have been on other reality shows (most of them from Peacock’s corporate sister, Bravo, but a few others as well) and 10, well, normal people to join him at his castle for a little game. Not being a big watcher of reality shows, I didn’t really know who anyone was, and in all honesty, it didn’t make a difference as far as enjoying the program went. There are some references to their previous stints, but nothing you can’t follow just by the dialog on this show.
Each day, the contestants engage in a mission of some sort. One day, they may be trying to blow up wood frame Scottish beasts, another, they’re struggling to roll barrels through the castle grounds. The point of the missions is for them to collectively earn money toward the prize pot of up to $250,000.
The contenders have been divided into two groups, but not everyone knows who’s in which group. Some have been selected by Cumming to serve as the titular Traitors, who’s job is to get rid of as many of the other players as possible without getting caught. The rest are known as the Faithful.
The Traitors all learn who’s on which team because each night, they don heavy cloaks, sneak through the castle carrying a lantern and meet in a creepy castle turret to decide who they’re going to murder. Once the victim is picked, their judgement is delivered to the victim, who is now out of the game.
The Faithful, however, are watching each other to try to determine who the Traitors are, and each night, the full cast – Faithful and Traitors – gather at the Round Table to discuss who they think are Traitors and should therefore be banished from the game.
In the end, if the Faithful banish all the Traitors, then the remaining Faithful will share however much of the $250K they’ve earned. However, if any Traitors remain, the Traitors split the pot.
Cumming is an exceptional choice to host this event. His Scottish accent is simply gorgeous, and he switches between witty, mysterious, devious and charming as he greets the surviving cast members each morning at breakfast, explains the missions and hosts the Round Table discussion each evening. His presence is unmistakable, and he’s an integral part of the show, but he doesn’t overwhelm the events. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but he does it extremely well.
Of course, players start quickly forming alliances and comparing notes as to whom they think they traitors are. Contestants try to decipher the Traitors’ strategy in whom they choose to murder, declare who they “know” is a Traitor and cozy up to those they believe wouldn’t lie to them. Since we know who is on which team, we recognize just how right or wrong they are, which can be pretty funny. Listening to the Traitors trying to decide whom to murder is interesting, as they work out the logic behind their choices.
But the big event is really the Round Table meeting and voting. Here accusations are made, defenses are presented, and pleas of innocence are heard. It gets raucous, to be sure, but it never feels out of hand, and the producers show enough of the dialogue to follow how the voting gets decided, but not so long that it becomes tiresome or overly repetitive. Once a person has been banished, they then reveal to the other players if they were a Faithful or a Traitor.
While the rest of the show leading up to it is a great deal of fun, and well worth watching, the ending is something that must be seen to be believed. Don’t worry, I will not go into details except to say I did not see it coming and It. Was. Epic.
So, if you’re looking for a nice bit of backstabbing, lying and traitorous deeds, you’ll want to give this a go.