It turns out that watching a bunch of people lie to each other and accuse each other of lying with no compelling evidence while living in a literal castle in Scotland is incredible television. Every now and then, you deserve a smooth-brained treat. By which I mean: everyone deserves to consume mindless entertainment, especially during awards season dominated by a film about a man who would rather cut off his own fingers than talk to his best friend and a drama about Stephen Spielberg’s childhood. Peacock’s reality competition series The Traitors is the perfect cleanse for too much drama, too much trauma, too much pain, or too much crying in your recent film and television consumption.
The series puts a plethora of reality television stars from a variety of shows including Survivor, Big Brother, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Bachelor in a castle with regular people who have never been on reality television. There, they meet their host and Lord of the castle Alan Cumming, who gives the performance of his life to this role when he most certainly didn’t have to try. Cumming, who almost always wears on-theme plaids, tweeds, capes and kilts, secretly assigns three players as traitors. Every night, the traitors pick a player to “murder” (a note is slipped under the door of their bedroom). After a group challenge and a day of whispering in lavish castle rooms with thick wool carpets, deep leather chairs, and fireplaces, the entire group votes on who to eliminate from the game after a group discussion. Why are they doing this? Because they’re trying to win money. The catch is that if any traitors remain by the end of the game, they get all they money. If no traitors remain at the end of the game, the good guys, called the “faithfuls” in this show, share the winnings. In their daily challenges, the players earn the money that will be the winnings.
Cumming’s commitment to the show (as committed as I am to Colin Farrell, for context) is contagious: it increases the enthusiasm amongst the contestants and the audience. The entire cast is charming, even Olympian swimmer Ryan Lochte, but two stand out in particular. Cirie Fields, a nurse and iconic Survivor player often referred to as the best to never win, manipulates everyone in a role she’s used to from her previous reality television experience. Fields’ only match is Kate Chastain of Bravo’s yachtie show Below Deck. Chastain’s personality convinces everyone that she is a traitor leading to her becoming so miserable that she spends a majority of her time on the show saying that she wants to go home, but she knows how compelling she is so she serves every time she’s on camera. Some people are born great, and Kate Chastain was born to be on reality television.
The Traitors is what every reality show should be: its biggest strength is that while it is a reality show, it is not intrusive. Contestants are filmed a lot, but they aren’t filmed 24/7. There is downtime at night (you’ll never see where they sleep), and it appears that the cast gets off-screen time together outside the game. Contestants aren’t punished either. They are, at least seemingly, in a balanced, healthy environment that contributes to their high, positive energy and performance. If you need a quick, fun binge that won’t involuntarily send your body into the fetal position, let it be The Traitors on Peacock.