How The Traitors Became the TV Hit of the Year

It’s the breakout hit that has everyone talking. The Recs explores what has made The Traitors such must-see telly.

It’s only so often that a television series arrives with not a lot of fuss, a simple promo advert, but then suddenly, word of mouth sets it ablaze. This year The Traitors was that show.
Its initial low-key launch seemed as if viewers (The Recs included) almost reluctantly decided to give it a try, playing the first episode with low expectations. Until 10 minutes in…
All images by BBC/Studio Lambert Associates/Llara Plaza

The show, based on a Dutch TV hit De Verraders, has a remarkably simple concept.  22 contestants enter a Scottish Castle. Three of them are chosen in secret at the start to become “The Traitors”. The remaining contestants become “The Faithful”.

It is the Traitors’ job each night to ‘murder’ one contestant. The Traitors have to agree among themselves who should be their victim. Perhaps it’ll be the one that stands the best chance of discovering the identity of the traitors or maybe they’ll choose a random victim to throw the group off the scent.

The faithful have the challenge to unmask the traitors in a nightly banishing ceremony at the roundtable. Based on who they suspect might be a traitor they collectively banish one contestant. As it turns out, the chosen banished  contestant might be a traitor or they could be an innocent faithful wrongly accused.

And, of course, in these frequently heated and emotional discussions, the traitors are in their midst trying to influence who will be banished without revealing their hand too keenly. It is a psychological game of cunning and duplicity for the traitors to keep their identities secret while picking off their ‘victims’.

Why has The Traitors become the must-see TV show of 2023?

The Traitors does what every great reality tv show does: it makes you, the viewer, constantly think ‘What would I do’. The second the audience starts imagining themselves as Traitors or Faithful you’ve got them hooked.

The show is all about strategy and understanding what makes people tick. There is no luck or chance involved. There are no random routes to win the prize money. It has the same irresistible appeal as murder-mystery stories. Dangerous people and puzzles to be solved are a winning combination: how else did Agatha Christie become the world’s best-selling fiction author of all time?

The roundtable discussions have the same innate drama of a jury trial. Whose arguments will prevail? Who can influence the group? Will herd mentality prevail or will individuals dissent from the what appears to be the majority opinion? Watching at home, it’s impossible to remain detached. You do end up thinking ‘who would I vote for’. 

Casting Claudia Winkleman as the show’s host is a touch of genius. We know from her many TV appearances that Claudia is naturally funny and has a devilishly quick wit, and both qualities are present and correct on The Traitors. Except this isn’t lovely supportive Claudia from Strictly Come Dancing who comforts deflated celebs who have just received a mauling from Craig with a kindly word. No, this is her campily darker counterpart.

While the contestants were all trembling-lips when the first person to be murdered by the Traitors was revealed, “Dark Claude” removed their painting from the wall and chucked it on the floor with venomous indifference, we gasped and howled in equal measure. You’re not in the Strictly ballroom any more,  Toto!

Swishing around the Scottish Highlands in a serious of gorgeous outfits that Claude herself has described as “a touch of Ronnie Corbett, a bit of Princess Anne and Madonna when she married Guy Richie”, we couldn’t think of a better host for the show. 

The Recs Bradley suggested to us that people get a thrill out of people getting away with things. When a “villain” (either fictional or real life) is well done, you become involved in a will-they-get-away-with-it. From soap baddies like JR Ewing in Dallas or Janine Butcher in EastEnders, a gleefully immoral rogue always catch the imagination and become the ones you love to hate. 

Even more relevant here, the very premise of The Traitors incorporates the DNA of one of the most memorable pieces of reality show history. Say Big Brother and it won’t be long until someone mentions “Nasty” Nick Bateman. Rather than playing by the assumed rules, Bateman caused a stir in the first series of the British show by secretly pitting contestants against each other. The point where his fellow housemates sat him down and accused him of cheating was electrifying telly. Nick’s defence was he was playing the game.

The Traitors takes this kind of double-dealing behaviour and embeds it into their show. “We just need to play the game” declare The Traitors as they despatch contestants and pit the players against each other.

One of the reasons that this first season of The Traitors has taken a grip on the nation is because one of the chosen three traitors is the most inspired choice. Amanda is playing such a blinder, she’s beginning to scare us a little. She has brilliantly taken the group’s latent prejudice against her – that being the “Mum” of the group is the same as being Mumsy – and is using that for all its worth. Coupled with a lovely soft Welsh accent, the faithful have wrongly assumed that she is about as threatening as a mug of Horlicks. She has been publicly sympathetic when there is upset in the group. Hilariously, when a faithful revealed to the group that the traitors had tried to recruit her, Amanda went full moral indignation: “I think it’s a bloody cheek, I do”. As someone on Twitter succinctly said “Meryl Streep should be quaking in her boots”.

Three things need to happen.

One, Amanda must win – not least to see all their astonished faces.

Two, this show deserves to win ALL the awards going.

Three, can someone form a Traitors support group for when the show finishes next Thurday?

The Traitors continues tonight on BBC One at 9pm with subsequent episodes airing

on Friday 16, Tuesday 20, Wednesday 21 and the last episode on Thursday 22 December.

Episodes available to view on BBC iPlayer.