There have been “cheat to win” game shows before, but there’s never been something quite as diabolical – or as stylish as The Traitors, currently in Peacock and all around the world. It’s highly stylized, very camp, and strangle effective and addicting. I have no idea why.
I don’t watch a whole lot of reality shows or fake competitions Yeah, The Amazing Race for the scenery, all of Gordon Ramsey’s food competitions for the cuisine and the drama, but by and large the whole Big Brother and Survivor and Real Housewives stuff? Pass.
Except, of course, for The Trators (properly pronounced with a broad Scrooge McDuck Scottish accent). Alan Cumming, the single most flamboyant host of a reality show this side of RuPaul’s Drag Race, is a terrific actor, who starred on Broadway in Cabaret, who killed it in Schmigadoon, who had a really fun and short-lived murder-mystery show called Instinct (available on Paramount+ or Amazon) for a couple of years, he was was in a hundred or more episodes of The Good Wife and was Gazoo in The Flintstones and frickin’ Nightcrawler in the X-Men movies twenty years ago, and that barely scratches the surface. And he really does have a Scottish accent, but not as thick as this. He’s camping it up – majorly – to the point of sounding worse than the engineer of the Enterprise. But it’s fun.
It’s a strange and wonderful premise: pull together, like, twenty people to a remote Scottish castle – no, actually, a castle out in the middle of Nowhere, Scotland – and offer them hundreds of thousands of dollars in silver bullion (why silver? Who knows Looks cool, though). BUT .. right up front, Cumming secretly chooses a few – two, three, maybe four – of the participants t be Traitors, while the rest of the unsuspecting masses are labeled the Faithful. Every night, the Traitors get together and mock ‘murder’ one of the Faithful – have them privately and permanently removed from the game. And every evening, just before the ‘murders,’ everybody – the Faithful and the secret Traitors – get together to ‘banish’ – ie, eliminate – one of their own – one of the players they think is a Traitor. Because when it gets down to the final three in ten days or so… if any traitors remains, the surviving Traitor gets all the silver, and any remaining Faithful are left out in the cold of the Scottish highlands.
Oh, there are plenty of twists and turns, surprise changes in the rules, and wild-ass challenges that they have to go through to build up their pot o’ silver, all under Cumming’s deeply sarcastic and diabolical direction. It’s all designed to get weirdly personal, to see how people stand up to pressure or give in to greed, to see how truly dumb most people are at sussing out the truth. And to see what new outfit Cumming will wear with virtually every new appearance, multiple times an episode.
You will find yourself rooting for certain players, maybe even some of the Traitors, but unlike the British Bake-Off or The Amazing Race, there is no point is trying to guess a winner; Cumming and the producer hiding behind him are twisted as hell, and the rules and resuls change every damn week. Just… go with it. You’ll love it.
The Traitors actually started as a show on Dutch TV, then showed up in the UK, hosted in the exactly same castle by legendary British presenter Claudia Winkleman, she of the startling eye make-up and amazing bangs. There’s also been an Australian edition which was huge fun but only lasted two seasons, as well as Canadian and New Zealand editions. And now there’s even a rip-off show on Netflix called The Trust. It’s a thing now.
In the first season, the participants were normal humans like you and me. In this second season, as if the drama wasn’t elevated enough, the participants are reality show contestants from all the other reality shows…. And surprisingly enough, some of them are pretty damn sharp.
Peacock is showing the British version as well. Or if you have a good VPN like I do – Nord VPN, free plug – sponsor me, guys! — you can log in to a British or Australian server and watch those shows on the BBC’s iPlayer or its Australian equivalent. Or you can get pretty much all of them but the U.S. by using that VPN to log into a Canadian site and watch them all on CTV. Each nationality’s program has a different flavor, a different personality based on their separate cultures – and let me tell you, Australia’s was wild, especially the second season.
Regardless, find ‘em where you can, and while away an entire weekend watching perfectly decent people betray each other, cackle madly, and burst into tears as if their fellow participants were actually dying. It is the darkest kind of ‘fun’ you can have, but it really is unmissable.
Bet you’ll love it at least half as much as I do.