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The Traitors: Addictive Armchair Cluedo Chaos – Why do we love it so much?

4 min read

From a humble party game to a worldwide phenomenon, has skulked its way into the rare category of ‘event television' thanks to a whole lot of camp, chaos, and .

For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of The Traitors, it was originally inspired by the party game – Mafia. Claudia dons an array of farmer-chic fashion and opens the doors of a grand Scottish castle to 22 would-be sleuths. Three competitors are chosen in secret to become ‘traitors' while the remaining innocent players are dubbed ‘faithfuls'. Once per day, the group has the chance to vote out one player in the hope of catching a baddie, while the traitors are allowed to ‘murder' one faithful come nightfall. If only faithfuls remain come the end of the game, they split the prize money – but if a traitor is lurking in their midst, the money is stolen from right under their noses.

The Traitors is the game in which you can be voted out for being too loud or too quiet. Too aggressive or too timid. Too popular or too hated. For not wearing pink on Wednesdays. For putting the milk in first. For going sock-shoe, sock-shoe instead of sock-sock-shoe-shoe. It's like playing Cluedo, but your only clues to go on are that Professor Plum took the last croissant at breakfast and Miss Scarlett said her favourite song is Mr Brightside. The Traitors is the only show on TV where, for three weeks only, a PE teacher from Croydon can become public enemy number one. But why are we so obsessed with this show?!

The success of The Traitors revolves around the discourse it creates. Everyone likes to fancy themselves as an armchair detective, and the show promotes that delusion. Much like when your Dad suddenly becomes an expert on archery after watching two qualifying rounds at the Olympics, we all back ourselves to do better and know better than the people on screen. Who should they murder next? Who should the faithful vote out? Who is making it too obvious? Who is implementing a hopeless game plan? The Traitors allows us to see the entire picture on both sides of the coin, turning us into a third character in the reality show – the omniscient viewer.

Event television is often not something you can anticipate or purposefully generate. Shows that draw in a wide range of ages and people from all walks of life to sit down in front of the TV at the exact same time on the exact same night. Line of Duty, Succession, Game of Thrones – worldwide phenomena driven by popularity, memes, and discussion. The Traitors has evolved into the perfect melting pot for all these criteria.

While the highlight of the show has to be the tension and excitement that comes from the round table vote-offs and late-night murders, the worst part of The Traitors may actually be the best – the challenges. While watching a gaggle of headless chickens run around a field completing a glorified team-building exercise organised by a stationery supply company is far from exciting, it cleverly offers the audience space to breathe. With little focus on what is actually happening on-screen, you are treated to the perfect period to pause and talk tactics with your fellow sofa spies. That is what The Traitors is all about, at the end of the day, a shared experience that almost feels interactive at times.

Even the round table is designed to give the viewer time to react and reflect. The voting is recorded at such a pace that you have time to gasp and gab when each chalkboard death note is revealed. The round table is like a cross between The Weakest Link – only without the tirade of outdated abuse from Anne Robinson – and a drunken family arguing around the dinner table on Christmas day. Add in the odd background glimpse of Claudia's fringe ominously stalking her prey like the ghost of a gothic duchess and what you are left with is iconic television at its absolute finest.

The pitfall that many modern reality TV shows fall into is losing touch with reality, but that is something The Traitors managed to ground itself on. In fact, one of the most interesting elements of the entire program is seeing how different personalities from different walks of life approach a similar challenge. Some search for safety by fading into the background, while others look to lead from the front, protecting themselves with noise and popularity. As we have seen over and over again, there is no one way to play the game, and no shortcut to win. The expertly-edited cliffhangers certainly pull their fair share of the weight when it comes to audience retention too.

In Series 1 of the UK Traitors, a peak viewership of 4.73 million tuned in to enjoy the finale, but that has already been eclipsed by the 5.94 million who watched the first episode of Series 2. And that is the essence of ‘event television' – it becomes an event that no one wants to miss out on. Whatever way you look at it, The Traitors is here to stay, and we are loving every single minute of it.