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‘The Traitors’ Is The Best Show On Television

The Traitors cast arrayed around the round table.
Image via Peacock|

That’s the round table.

In 2023, I wrote that Survivor was the best thing I watched for the year. This was a lie. I am sorry that I lied to you. But what had happened was that I had used Survivor, of which there are literally almost 50 seasons, an endless buffet of competition, to fill the giant hole in my heart left by running out of The Traitors seasons to watch. Recency bias convinced me that I loved Survivor more, and I believed that happily until The Traitors returned, at which point, like reuniting with a long-distance lover, I realized just how long and bad our separation had been.

It happened without me even expecting it to. Last summer, my closest friends and I went on vacation together. It was our first time traveling a long distance for a long period of time together, and we rented a house in London and started doing fake accents and became absolutely insufferable. Luckily for us, one of our group is British, and so over the course of our trip, we met many of his friends, one of whom told us that we should do "cultural immersion" while abroad by watching the TV show that he and all of his friends were obsessed with: The Traitors.

Each night, after our sightseeing and big dinners and shenanigans, we settled onto the couch and watched The Traitors UK. All we talked about all day was The Traitors, because the show is made for discussion. If part of the value proposition of reality television gameplay for viewers is discussing what they could have done better, The Traitors is the gold standard for that. One day we even ran into one of the traitors on the streets of London! This was huge for us! Our favorite show!

Since then, I have watched every season of The Traitors I can get my hands on. I watched the Australian version, which had a psychic, and the U.K. version hosted by Claudia Winkleman with her perfect bangs, and the U.S. one, which as an American I loved the most. It has Alan Cumming in all sorts of beautiful couture outfits! It has stars from other reality shows! It has everything!

The Traitors, an international series based on a Dutch show (De Verraders), is pretty simple in concept. Twenty or so contestants are placed in a giant house together; in the U.S. and U.K. series that house is a castle in Scotland. Everyone begins as a "Faithful." But in the season premiere, somewhere between two and four people are chosen to be "Traitors." If you have ever played the party game Mafia, this will all sound familiar.

Most days on The Traitors, two people leave the game. One is murdered by the traitors in the night. The other is voted out at the round table just like in every other reality competition show. Except in this one, the theoretical goal of the round table is to vote out only the traitors. So every faithful banished is a failure. At the end of the game, the remaining faithfuls split a pot of money—but if even one traitor remains among them, she takes the whole pot and they are left with nothing.

Before we continue, I want you to know that this is not just some show that only I watch. The Traitors is a rapidly expanding universe, with more viewers each season. The current U.S. season (Season 2) had the biggest premiere on Peacock of any original reality series, with more than a 75 percent increase in viewership over the last season. But more telling, in my opinion, are the number of series being spun off. The Traitors is planning to air with different casts in 22 countries by the end of next year.

The second American season is currently airing—new episodes debut on Peacock every Thursday night! It's not too late to catch up!—and for anyone who watches a lot of reality television, it feels like a reward for years of invested time. This season has people from every sector of the reality market: Pilot Pete from The Bachelor, Parvati Shallow and Sandra Diaz-Twine from Survivor, Kate Chastain from Below Deck, Bergie Bergerson and Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu from Love Island, Dan Gheesling from Big Brother, Larsa Pippen AND Marcus Jordan, Peppermint from Ru Paul's Drag Race, Phaedra Parks from Married to Medicine, and a whole host of Housewives!

Not every version of the show has other reality TV stars on it, but what they do all have is a masterclass in groupthink. Unlike The Mole, viewers know who the traitors are. You watch them put on their campy cloaks with hoods and choose who to murder, so it is easy to believe that you could do it better. Watching The Traitors is like getting a minor in sociology. You watch how easily people are persuaded by one tiny thing, and how quickly a hive-mind forms, and how certain people can be before they are proven wrong. Every single week is the Salem Witch Trials. Every single week is delicious. It is the only reality show I have ever watched and genuinely wanted to play.

And because the show is new, like early seasons of Survivor or Big Brother or The Greatest Race, it is still figuring out exactly how it should work. The game has "shields" which can protect a player from being murdered overnight by the traitors, but their availability has changed in every season I've watched. And this season, with players who are famously good at competition game play (Parvati and Sandra), there are glimpses of what the show could be in the future.

Because ultimately, way more faithfuls have to be sent home than traitors. Good players know this, but they cannot say it. Admitting that is something a traitor would do. Each season of the show, the faithfuls become smarter, the traitors become smarter, and the gameplay becomes more dramatic. Right now, in Season 2 of the U.S. version, Parvati (a traitor) is in a stand-off with Pilot Pete, who has become a bonafide traitor hunter. Who could have predicted that the Bachelor would be one of the best strategists in the castle? Certainly not me!

What I love most about The Traitors is that it is something to talk about. Part of friendship, or any relationship, really, is having fun together; The Traitors, for me and many of my friends, is appointment television now. We text each other about what happened. We meet up for drinks to discuss the gameplay decisions made. We devise strategies we would use if (in some alternate universe) we were to be cast. Every week, I wait with bated breath for a new episode to be released.

And today's the day. Happy Traitors Day to all who celebrate.

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