This story about “The Traitors” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
As a competition series mixing physical challenges, psychological warfare and reality TV star power, “The Traitors” gave Peacock one of its first watercooler shows.
Based on a Dutch format and produced by Studio Lambert (“The Circle”), the show is set in a castle in Scotland and featured 20 players in its first season, made up of reality television personalities like “Big Brother 22: All Stars” winner Cody Calafiore and “Below Deck” star Kate Chastain,” along with regular folks. The players, who are known as “Faithfuls,” work together to grow the collective prize pool of up to $250,000.
But among them are three covert “Traitors” selected by host Alan Cumming who decide to “murder” a Faithful each night — after those Faithfuls have kicked out a player in the hopes of flushing out the Traitors. It’s Mafia meets “Big Brother,” with a dash of the messy drama that comes with Bravo TV personalities.
“It’s a psychological game at heart before it’s even a TV show,” “Traitors” executive producer Toni Ireland said. “And you can play along: Are you a Faithful? Are you a Traitor? You can back either side and enjoy watching the show play out. We all love a murder mystery, we all love a whodunnit.” “The Traitors,” Ireland added, “is ‘Knives Out,’ it’s ‘Clue.’ It’s a bit of everything.”
Each episode, Cumming tasks the players with challenges to earn money for the prize pool. The missions range from a capture-the-flag-style treasure hunt, where the contestants have to fight the clock while one of their teammates is buried alive, to a vicious final challenge that kicked off with players having to jump out of a helicopter. Traitors and Faithfuls are vying for the same prize, but with a catch: If any Traitors make it to the end, they steal the loot for themselves.
“The great thing is you know who the traitors are. As the viewer, you’re watching them try to play this game. How do they lie? How do they cover up what they’re doing? Who do they throw under the bus?” executive producer Mike Cotton said. “You get to see all of that play out, which is a fascinating insight into human psychology.”
Part of what makes “The Traitors” work so well is Cumming, who seems to be having the time of his life. Delivering his lines with dramatic flair in his natural Scottish burr (“Close. The. Coffins.”), he fully embraces his role as a tartan-clad laird of the manor doubling as emcee.
“He was in the castle watching stuff all the time, watching the game unfold,” Cotton said. “He was really into the game. He became immersed and became this character from being in the game.”
The casting of “Big Brother” and “Survivor” fan favorites also helped attract viewers. The show premiered with its full 10-episode season Jan. 12 and quickly picked up steam among reality television fans. While Peacock does not share viewership data for its shows, positive critical reception for the series and social media chatter indicated it was striking a cord. Chastain’s stint as a Faithful on the show set social media on fire, as her indifference to her fellow players and lack of effort when competing in the challenges made her the perfect scapegoat for the Traitors.
“The Traitors” gained such popularity that, along with a Season 2 renewal, Peacock greenlit a reunion special for Season 1 hosted by Andy Cohen (Bravo’s crown jewel producer and reunion host) to give viewers resolution after its heartbreaking finale. (Spoiler alert: “Survivor” alum Cirie Fields took home the prize money after deceiving her Faithful friends and making it to the end as the sole undiscovered Traitor.)
With a big win of their own under their belt, the “Traitors” creative team have their eyes set on delivering an even bigger and more twisted second season, which is already in production.
“Next time the cast will come into it having seen Season 1 and potentially maybe seen some international versions [of the show] as well, and they’ll think they’re going to know how to play this game,” Ireland said. “Well, they’ll have no idea how tough it is… It’s a tough game to play. And I suppose it’s our job to come up with more twists and turns so no one really knows what’s coming down the tracks.”
The first season of “The Traitors” is now streaming on Peacock.
Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.