‘Traitors’ in Our Midst

On Peacock, Alan Cumming hosts a delightful-cheesy social-deduction game show in his ‘Scottish castle’

From the outset, Peacock’s The Traitors is utterly ridiculous, and as far as reality competitions go, that isn’t a bad thing. It’s based on a relatively new Dutch series, but more broadly, the social deduction game Mafia, and it’s an unexpectedly silly, utterly engrossing, wild ride of a show.

Alan Cumming welcomes a group of twenty guests to “his” Scottish castle. For some reason, half are reality show commodities, while the other half are unknowns. During a super-secret blindfolded ceremony, players gather around a Round Table where Alan selects three to become The Traitors. The rest form a collective known as The Faithful. Any Faithful still standing at the end will share the prize pot, but if any Traitors remain, the money goes to them.

Every night, The Traitors don dramatic vaguely medieval robes and clandestinely meet to choose one Faithful to “murder” in the night. Then, in the morning, everyone convenes to learn who’s been eliminated, and what the day’s cash earning challenge will be. During this time, The Faithful have to pay close attention to figure out who is sincere and who might be hiding a secret. Anyone who seems too suspicious ends up on the block for elimination, and once cut from the game, must reveal their true allegiance.

Hands down, Alan Cumming is the finest ringleader The Traitors could ever have found. Cumming is Scottish, but it feels like he watched hours of Mike Myers doing Fat Bastard to perfect his inflections for American audiences. Every episode, he jaunts onscreen in a dazzling array of capes, gloves, and brooches, and he might singlehandedly be gayer than every season of Rupaul’s Drag Race combined in the best possible way. More than anything, he seems to understand The Traitors is ridiculous, and is unabashedly there for it.

To build the prize pot, contestants engage in an onslaught of challenges a capable middle-schooler could complete that are also left-of-center enough to be interesting to watch in a Fear Factory kind of way.  Basically, this is the perfect show for anyone who ever hoped to see a former Bachelor buried alive, or a Big Brother favorite covered in rats.

And for certain, The Traitors is full of rats, whether it be one of The Traitors steering a hapless Faithful astray for their own gain, or a Faithful who develops bad blood with a fellow competitor and will stop at nothing to remove their rival from play. And, the game itself never hesitates to throw twists and tricks at the hapless competitors in such a way that no one can truly claim solid footing. It’s a hoot.

As the days progress, tensions mount and elimination meetings at the Round Table become increasingly personal and overly dramatic. Harsh words are shared; yelling happens, tears flow. As a concept, The Traitors truly showcases how readily people take their perceptions as fact, and how easy it is to create a groupthink narrative based on nothing more than one misread social cue.

Perhaps, as a society, we could learn something here, but we won’t, because it’s more fun to speculate how big the jackpot will be, and who will claim it in the end. And what an ending it is! While the grand finale of The Traitors is as deceptively simple and cheesy as the rest of the production, it’s somehow also absolutely riveting TV, and frankly, it would be traitorous to suggest otherwise.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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