A few weeks ago, I reviewed the US edition of The Traitors, a new show on Peacock that I enjoyed quite a bit. There have been several iterations of the show from various countries, and Peacock is now offering the UK and Australian versions as well. This past week, I binged my way through the UK’s take on the show, wonderfully hosted by Claudia Winkleman, and found it just as much fun as the US version was.
The way the show works is that a group of people are brought to a lavish setting where they complete missions to raise money for the prize pot to be awarded at the end of the show. Certain players are chosen by Claudia to be the Traitors, and the rest are known as The Faithful. The Traitors pick one of the Faithful each night to “murder”, eliminating them from the game. Meanwhile, the Faithful try to determine who the Traitors are, and “banish” them from the show during a nightly Round Table meeting. If the surviving Faithful banish all the Traitors by game’s end, the Faithful will split the prize pot. If any Traitors remain, however, they get the money.
The US and UK versions are very similar, being set in the same castle in the Scottish Highlands, and they use essentially the same missions. These challenges can involve anything from trying to blow up a giant wicker rabbit-monster (you read that right), to finding teammates who have been buried alive, escaping from a rather disgusting cabin within a certain amount of time, defeating a laser field or rolling barrels worth varying amounts of money over some difficult ground. The familiarity of these elements, however, didn’t affect my ability to enjoy both shows.
Programs that pit contestants against each other like this one does can easily become trashy, with some players deciding they’re going to be the show villains, sabotaging other players, creating alliances and then screwing their supposed allies over and otherwise playing down-and-dirty to get the upper hand. In general, I can’t stand those shows. Part of what makes The Traitors different is that – for several reasons – there’s very little of that.
Even though the whole conceit of the show is that a small group of players is trying to deceive the rest, there’s not a lot of incentive for anyone to sabotage anyone else during the challenges. If they want to have any money to win, they have to work as a team. Then, during the downtime, when the contestants can sit around and get to know each other and attempt to suss out the Traitors, the Traitor’s job is to blend in as well as they can. If they go overboard in endeavoring to deflect suspicion away from themselves, it often makes them seem even more suspicious. Of course, some will set out to persuade others they know who is or isn’t a Traitor, and the Traitors have to strategize who they want to murder, but the rest of the time, the atmosphere is largely collegial. The only times they truly play as oppositional forces are when it comes to committing their nightly murders and banishments.
Another thing I like about the show, and which I think helps keep the feeling in the castle lighter, is that the Traitors aren’t self-selected. They don’t volunteer for the part. Claudia chooses them the first night. This provides an extra challenge to the Faithful, as it means they can’t just home in on who seems most likely to want to be a troublemaker, and puts the Traitors in a position they may not have expected.
There’s a lot of psychology that goes into the game, and it’s fascinating to watch how the individuals and their relationships to other players can change. Some build very close friendships, to where they simply can’t imagine that their friend would be a Traitor. Others keep their distance, hoping to avoid that trap. I find this to be the most interesting part of the show. The Traitors have to plan their murders to avoid making their overall strategy obvious, and the Faithful have to figure out – based mainly on who has or hasn’t been eliminated – how they think the Traitors would behave.
All-in-all, I think this is one of the best non-skill-based competition shows I’ve seen in a while, and I am excited to check out the Australian take on it in the upcoming weeks.