What is it with the current mania for TV shows about deception? From Would I Lie to You? and This is MY House to You Wouldn’t Believe It and I Can See Your Voice (not to mention any number of true-crime documentaries about fraudsters), mendacity seems everywhere in our fake news, post-truth, post-Boris era.
It was all cranked up to the next level in BBC One’s The Traitors, in which 22 strangers were greeted at a Scottish castle by a windswept Claudia Winkleman. She had to select three of the arrivals to become the Traitors while the rest remained Faithful. The Traitors’ task is to kill off the Faithful without being rumbled.
And to demonstrate she wasn’t messing, Winkleman dismissed two contestants before they had even set foot in the castle. Kieran and Amos were evicted after nominating themselves as the least likely to win and being taken at their self-effacing word. “Every decision you make has a consequence,” said Winkleman, sounding more like Anne Robinson than her usual comradely Strictly self. “I’m afraid it’s goodbye.”
The prize money for those Faithful who remain unmurdered, or Traitors who remain undetected, is “up to £120,000”, the final amount dependent on the success of various “missions”. This was the most boring part, as teams attempted to set alight a Wicker Man-type structure after rowing across a loch. Or something like that; I zoned out.
These “missions” are an obvious steal from I’m a Celebrity, and the rest was fairly derivative from the reality TV canon. You could play “spot the influences”, from the Apprentice-style introductory bragging (about their ability to lie, loved ones take note) to the Big Brother-style alliance-building.
One potential omission is the absence of Love Island-style couplings, especially given the necessity of separate bedrooms (the “murders” take place at night). Hence, presumably, the insertion of a secret couple.
Alex deflected the presence of her real boyfriend, Tom, by flirting with Matt (who twice told her that she had good teeth, as if he was buying a horse). Equally secretive was Maddy, who introduced herself as a care-home receptionist, which was true, although she didn’t reveal that she was also an actor.
Later everyone gathered blindfolded around a table, while Winkleman circled like a cat, touching three contestants to signal their nomination as a Traitor. And for all the theatrical build-up, what followed was the meat of the show as the Traitors began dissembling. Or, in the case of Alyssa (“people see me as this 5ft little Asian girl… their mistake”) actively plotting.
It remains to be seen whether viewers will be able to invest enough in these characters to care about their fates – and after the latest I’m a Celebrity marathon (not to mention the World Cup), will we have the spare capacity to commit to this 12-part murder-mystery weekend on steroids?
Gen X and millennials were the favoured demographic (BBC Three is showing the repeats), with the pensioner Andrea as a token oldie. Mind you, Andrea had the best reply when asked whether she would be good at lying: “I have worked for the British government, so I should be”.
It does get better (or at least more brain-scrambling for the contestants) once the Faithful begin guessing the identities of the Traitors and publicly voting to expel one another. That starts in episode two. My advice would be to take a break during the “missions” and enjoy the rest of the show while trying not to be too depressed by humanity’s innate capacity for bare-faced deceit.