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The Traitors: some of the most addictive, electrifying TV in years
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The Traitors: some of the most addictive, electrifying TV in years


Last year, after receiving multiple notifications to renew my TV licence or face severe consequences (emphasized with bold and red letters), I made the decision to save myself £159 by declaring that I would not watch any free-to-air television.

This did not feel like a significant compromise. I am not someone who typically switches channels or mindlessly watches whatever is on, and I do not have a TV.

I do not think this elevates me above others; I also have many other ways to spend my time. When it is at its finest, free-to-air television serves as a cultural indicator and a place where people can come together with ease.

However, my previous efforts to participate in the discourse have resulted in me being a silent observer on the outskirts, unsure of what I am missing. Love Island, for instance, which is often praised for its influence on popular culture, sociological significance, and clever analysis of X, failed to captivate me. The show consisted of twenty minutes of attractive but uneventful individuals forming relationships while on vacation, but it was stretched out to an hour every night. Who has the luxury of that much free time?

In January, only one hour of BBC One convinced me to quickly visit the TV licensing website and happily pay the fee. After only two weeks, I can confidently say that it has already been worth the cost.

I am discussing The Traitors, a show known as a “reality game”, which will have its season-two finale broadcasted this Friday. This series has been the highlight of my January, and possibly even my entire year.

For those unfamiliar, The Traitors is a social game (similar to Mafia, Werewolf, Secret Hitler, or Wink Murder) that takes place in a Scottish castle and is hosted by Claudia Winkleman. Teams compete in physical challenges to earn a potential prize of £120,000. However, there is a group of “Traitors” among the players who secretly work together to eliminate the “Faithful” players and keep the prize for themselves, while the Faithfuls try to identify and vote off the Traitors. This creates a surprisingly exciting and well-planned television show, with elements of deception, flawed reasoning, emotions, breakdowns, and even panic attacks. The players’ level of investment and emotions are noticeably different from shows like Love Island, where hooking up with someone for a chance at a sponsorship deal is less emotionally taxing than being accused of betrayal on national television.

The first season of The Traitors, which was broadcasted in December 2022, was a huge success for the BBC, with an average of 3 million viewers per episode. It also featured three truly surprising and memorable moments on television (Nicky’s toast, the social media magician’s reveal, and the Shakespearean finale).

However, even amongst supporters, there was doubt that the same success could be replicated. The popularity of reality shows tends to decrease as participants become more knowledgeable about the show’s structure. The revival of Big Brother featured several individuals who seemed comfortable with playing the antagonist role, while dating shows now primarily attract social media influencers seeking to elevate their online presence rather than individuals genuinely seeking a romantic connection.

The genius of The Traitors’ format is that the clear parameters – relative to the risk of emotional entanglement on Love Island – permit the players to give it their all. As any family or friend group who’s survived an especially heated game of Mafia or Werewolf will be able to attest, the fact “it’s only a game” doesn’t keep emotions from flaring, or the stakes from feeling sky-high.

‘Unexpectedly thrilling’ … Claudia Winkleman in The Traitors series two.

Season two has followed the same formula as season one, but played out as a very different show, thanks in large part to Paul: a Traitor whose unfettered glee for the role made him as watchable as a panto villain. Last Thursday’s episode drew 4.4 million viewers: more even than season one’s nailbiting finale.

At this time, you may not be aware that Love Island has been airing. The new All Stars season on ITV2, which features returning contestants, hints that there may be a lack of new ideas for the show’s format. Additionally, viewers seem to be having a hard time finding excitement, as only 800,000 people watched Wednesday’s episode.

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The difference, which audiences seem to be twigging to, is spectacle – there’s a whole different level of drama between seeing people endlessly interrogate relationships that they don’t seem all that invested in and watching people play a game as if their lives and legacies depend on it, sometimes while wearing silly cloaks.

Although it may appear to be staged, the key to The Traitors’ triumph is its emphasis on character and real-life encounters. As stated by Lauren O’Neill in GQ, the 36-year-old Paul’s villainous behavior was particularly captivating because it mirrored the type often encountered in our daily lives, such as in property managers or HR departments.

Amanda Lovett, now 56 years old, was a Traitor in season one and used her image as a friendly Welsh grandmother to evade being caught. In the current season, 63-year-old Diane Carson is recognized as the most astute member of the group, while the younger ones vie to claim her as their mother or undermine her abilities.

Winkleman, likewise, brings her decades of experience to the table, presenting as steely and supportive by turns in order to play the room and make the best possible television. The format itself has stores of potential, as suggested already by the US and Australian iterations: could the Traitors’ identities be kept secret – from viewers, or each other? How will they best Paul?

I haven’t experienced such excitement for a new TV episode since the prime time of HBO Sundays. When The Traitors ends this Friday, I will miss it not only during my weeknights, but also on X and in my group chats. I am eagerly anticipating its return.

I have already accounted for my £159 TV license as nine episodes at £18 each. Even if I do not watch anything else for the rest of the year, I will feel satisfied with the value of my money.

Source: theguardian.com