The Traitors is Harry’s world and everyone else just lives in it (Picture: BBC/Studio Lambert)
Fizzy rosé. Two words that will never be uttered in the same way again thanks to season two of The Traitors, when a corker of a twist saw fan favourite (and bona fide gay icon) Diane meet her scream-at-the-TV demise after sipping the sparkly stuff from a poisoned chalice handed to her by smiling assassin Miles.
‘Can you believe that? We could never have known how wonderfully that would play out,’ says Mike Cotton, the show’s exec producer. ‘The scary thing about this show is that we set up the game and its rules, but we do stand back… we have a brilliant cast, and there’s also a lot of luck.’
Adapted from Dutch original De Verraders, the cloak-and-dagger competition tasks a group of contestants to work together to fill a prize pot with up to £120,000.
Miles gives Diane the fateful fizzy rose (Picture: BBC / Studio Lambert)
Claudia Winkleman anoints the Faithful and decides the Traitors (Picture: BBC/Studio Lambert/Llara Plaza)
Before tonight’s feverishly anticipated finale, The Traitors’ executive producer Mike Cotton peels
back the hood on the show’s secrets
Multiple ‘Traitors’ are selected by Claudia at the start of the game, and the rest are anointed the ‘Faithful’, who must try to sniff out the turncoats among them, banishing one member per episode after a mega-awks round-table discussion.
The Traitors ‘murder’ a Faithful each night. If the Faithful banish the Traitors, they’ll split the money; if a Traitor survives to the end, the cash is all theirs – mwah-ha-ha!
Set inside the 19th-century walls of Ardross Castle in the Scottish Highlands, the UK version premiered on the Beeb in November 2022 and fast became TV’s most talked-about show.
The second series has provided even more watercooler moments – or, for those of us working from home, things to discuss with a not-so-curious cat. ‘I’m overwhelmed. We made season one and were blown away by that. We were slightly terrified with season two and it’s the same again,’ says Mike, who is also deputy creative director of Studio Lambert, which produces the series.
The Castle (Picture: BBC/Studio Lambert/Llara Plaza)
Anyone can apply to join The Traitor (Credits: BBC/Studio Lambert/Mark Mainz)
The Aussie iteration was recently axed, but British audiences have lapped up the Cluedo-meets-Guess Who? contest, with millions tuning in for their weekly fix of backstabbing and betrayal.
‘Why has it struck a chord? It feels different from other reality shows,’ says Mike.‘There had been a glut of talent contests, or dating shows, or games that people could win only if they were the strongest, or the most intelligent, or the most beautiful.
‘What’s fascinating about The Traitors is that anyone can play it. You can be from any walk of life. You can be any age – our cast goes from 21 up to 70.’
The roundtable (Picture: BBC)
What makes The Traitors so extraordinary is that it draws telly magic from the ordinary.
‘When we’re looking for people to apply – because we’re looking now for season three – we don’t want people to come on the show because they think it’s going to make them famous,’ says Mike.
‘We’re actively looking for people who have got a passion for playing the game who can bring something from their own lives to it, whether that’s a skillset from a past job or a hobby, or some sort of life experience they’ve had.’
Which moves us nicely on to one of this year’s breakout stars: treacherous Paul, a 36-year-old business manager and former Deal Or No Deal contestant from Manchester, who delivered charm and smarm in equal measure before being gloriously booted from the castle.
‘We loved Paul from the moment we met him,’ says Mike. ‘He came into the show from day one saying he wanted to be a Traitor. We definitely knew he had the charisma to do that.
‘It’s important to know that we don’t decide months in advance who our Traitors are going to be. Just before we’re about to go into that room and Claudia taps them on the shoulder, that’s the point when we decide.’
Paul wanted to be a Traitor (Picture: Studio Lambert / Mark Mainz)
Charm and smarm in equal measure (Picture: Studio Lambert / Mark Mainz)
Mike peels back the hood on some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, too, notably during the round-table sequences. ‘We play the same piece of music every time they walk into that room, which is a song from The Hunger Games called The Hanging Tree. It’s a brilliant piece of orchestral music and it really sets the tone.’
He adds that ‘no cameras are visible at all’, and the brr-acing temperature ramps up the tension. ‘It’s definitely very cold in that room. It’s got an eerie feel [although] we’ve never witnessed any ghostly activity!’
Mike and the team take a ‘hands-off’ approach as well. ‘We’re never telling people to go and have conversations with one another. We’re never directing anything like that, because we wouldn’t want to ever interfere with the game.
‘At the end of every night, the clock goes “Bong!” and they get taken in individual cars back to individual lodgings where they’re kept on lockdown. They don’t have access to telephones or the internet. They’re not able to communicate with one another. You want to keep their heads within the game.’
As for the competition’s missions – which some viewers confess to use as an opportunity to pop the kettle on – Mike touched on why he’d be reluctant to tweak their format. ‘The group as a whole, Traitor and Faithful alike, they’re all working hard to build that prize pot. The Traitors want that prize pot to be just as high as the Faithfuls do.
‘I think we’ll always stay true to that. We wouldn’t want to mess with the psychology of that… having that shared [bonding] experience then makes the betrayal afterwards all the greater.’
Claudia Winkelman serves as puppet master (Credits: BBC/Studio Lambert/Llara Plaza)
It’s nice people playing a brutal game (Picture: BBC/Studio Lambert/Llara Plaza)
Of course, the show’s not-so-secret weapon is the witty and knitty Claudia. Those jumpers are to die for, not to mention the fingerless gloves (love).
‘She treads this really fun line. She can be quite brutal at times, but she’s also quite mothering,’ says Mike. ‘I always like to think of the show as a group of really nice people playing a brutal game, and Claudia encapsulates that. She’s a very nice person but a puppet master of this brutal game.’
With a third season in the works, Mike – who oversees the show’s celebrity-studded US counterpart, hosted by Alan Cumming – believes The Traitors will deceive for years. ‘It’s got potential to go for a while. It’s about making sure we keep the show feeling authentic and that we get the right cast to play it.’
However, Mike kept a poker face when quizzed about reports that a UK celeb spin-off has been greenlit. ‘That’s quite a lot of speculation at the moment. I was fascinated reading those articles,’ he says, laughing.
‘I know that Claudia in the past said she would love Adam Woodyatt from EastEnders to be in it. What I’m most excited about is that it’s a show where we could build a celebrity cast that would be wide-ranging. We could get some very clever people. We could get some people in who can add a bit of comedy and fun. It’s fascinating to see everyone’s suggestions.’
Either way, the future of The Traitors looks very rosy – or rather, rosé – indeed.
The Traitors concludes tonight at 9pm on BBC1
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