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‘The Traitors’ Was a UK Hit. Will the US Version Catch On?


For television fans, a favourite reality show can spawn viewing parties, themed WhatsApp groups and memorable moments quoted without context.

But James Symonds, 25, a British graphic designer, recently became so obsessive about the BBC reality game show “The Traitors,” that he hosted a celebration at which he and his friends re-enacted its first season.

“Never has a TV show ever had me like this,” Symonds said in a video interview. After watching episodes broadcast live along with his partner, he said they “had a lot kind of adrenaline we couldn’t sleep.”

“The Traitors,” which premiered in Britain in November and has an American version arriving Thursday on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, is an adaptation of the Dutch television game show “De Verraders.” The British version was unusual in that it was not the standard form of show broadcast on the BBC, however it was probably the most talked-about shows of 2022 in Britain.

A mix of “Survivor” and the party game Mafia, “The Traitors” is about in and around a castle in Scotland. Contestants work together through a series of grueling challenges to win money that’s added to a final prize fund. Participants are divided into “Traitors,” whose identities remain secret and who select a player every day to “murder,” and “Faithfuls,” who attempt to uncover the Traitors’ identities throughout the show.

The entire group also votes for many who it thinks are Traitors, eliminating the person or people from the show. The result’s a thoroughly unpredictable competition series.

For Symonds’s party, he secretly assigned Traitors and Faithfuls, repeated monologues from the show’s host, Claudia Winkleman, and warned guests, “‘You’ll be able to not take one another at face value,’” he said.

Like within the show itself, the party became immersive. “My friend had brought his relatively recent girlfriend along,” Symonds said. Soon, her boyfriend had been “murdered,” and “everyone just activates her,” the host said, accusing her of targeting her boyfriend.

This tendency for viewers to take the show’s gameplay almost as seriously because the contestants helped “The Traitors” change into a word-of-mouth hit in Britain.

“It’s a format that creates an infinite amount of drama,” said Stephen Lambert, whose production company, Studio Lambert, made the American and British versions of “The Traitors,” “and it’s ultimately concerning the way wherein people make judgments about one another.” In Britain, the show was broadcast during prime time, thrice per week on the BBC, however it found a much bigger audience during its run on the BBC’s streaming service, iPlayer (a median of three.7 million viewers watched the primary episode throughout the first seven days of its broadcast, with greater than 1.5 million viewers watching the episode in the following weeks, in accordance with figures from the BBC).

All 10 episodes of the American version of the show, which were filmed at the identical Scottish location before the British show was shot, will arrive on Thursday on Peacock.

The U.S. show’s format is comparable, but with a few adjustments: The Scottish actor Alan Cumming hosts, and half of the show’s 20 contestants are reality TV stars from shows including “The Bachelor,” “Big Brother” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

The oldest contestant on the British version was in her 70s, and for a lot of fans, it was refreshing to see a diversity of ages and backgrounds in a reality show.

“We’ve all kind of been exhausted by the format of ‘Love Island’ and dating competitions where individuals are bronzed up and dressed to the nines,” Hamza Jahanzeb, a fan who ran a Twitter Space dedicated to “The Traitors,” said in a video interview. At 29, Jahanzeb is one in every of the show’s many viewers ages 16 to 34, and he said he felt the forged “was a mirrored image of our reality.”

Mike Cotton, who’s the chief producer of the British and American versions of the show, said in a video interview that this was intentional: “We at all times knew that we desired to have a forged — have an eclectic forged — that represented a broad age range of individuals, very like you’d get in a conventional murder mystery.”

When it got here to creating the American version, producers at NBC decided to incorporate reality TV regulars “to see if preconceived notions of known personalities would affect the sport,” a representative from NBC said over email. Lambert noted that in the USA, a recent show faced “much more competition than there’s in Britain,” and that having recognizable faces among the many first season’s contestants might be “helpful, by way of getting attention and drawing an audience.”

This mixture of contestants also meant that “there was an added frisson,” Cumming said. The truth TV stars “were accused of with the ability to be more manipulative because they’ve done things like this before — in ‘Big Brother,’ in those shows where you have got to sort of form alliances,” he said.

While on the British show, it was “fascinating,” Cotton said, to see “how some people will change into very convinced, one hundred pc certain, someone is a traitor based on almost no evidence in anyway,” within the U.S. version, a matter that emerged for all contestants, including celebrities, was, “Are you able to kind of eliminate your preconceived notions about someone?”

In each shows, if only Faithfuls remain at the top of the competition, the general prize fund is split evenly between them. If a Traitor makes it to the top undiscovered, nevertheless, she or he takes the entire money.

At a time when viewers often accuse reality shows of being overly produced and storyboarded, the producers on each versions of “The Traitors” had a deliberately hands-off approach to try to maintain the gameplay feeling authentic and immersive.

“We didn’t have the sort of reality show producers pulling people in for chats, chatting with people whilst they were taking a break or anything like that,” Cotton said.

This lack of intrusion also added to the pressure cooker environment. On the British show, contestants “began talking about people as in the event that they had actually died,” Cotton said. “And we just needed to remind them that they hadn’t died, but were faraway from the sport.” The production team said that the show had a strong contestant welfare system, and an on-site psychologist.

Cumming, who’s touring his cabaret show in Australia, had never hosted a reality show before. He discussed with producers playing the host as a “James Bond villain,” he said, wearing tartan and a beret.

It ended up being a “heightened kind of weird, dandy, Scottish, layered version of me,” he said. “It’s sort of hilarious that the American version of the show is way camper than the British one.”

“But I suppose that’s me,” he added. “That’s my fault.”

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