The Traitors review: Claudia Winkleman’s new deception game might not be very Christmassy, but it sure is fun

claudia winkleman, netflix, the traitors review: claudia winkleman’s new deception game might not be very christmassy, but it sure is fun

You know that moment on Christmas Day when your well-intentioned post-dinner game of Monopoly has been derailed by one family member, slightly slurring their words, accusing the rest of you of cheating? The Traitors, BBC One’s new reality competition series hosted by Claudia Winkleman, is the TV version of that. Deception, lying and trickery are key to this new format, a high-budget reinvention of party games like Werewolf or Mafia, mixed with the grand castle setting of Cluedo.

As with any new board game, the show opens with a complicated set of rules. A group of 22 complete strangers from across the UK have been brought together to compete for a cash prize of “up to £120,000” (whatever that means). But among them will lurk the “traitors”, contestants who every night will attempt to “murder” members of the group without being caught. If any traitors remain in the game at the end, they will receive the entire prize pot. If not, it goes to the other contestants – known as “faithfuls” – who are left. Still with me?

It’s not just the rules that need setting up in the first episode. We’ve got 22 contestants to become acquainted with – a broad cohort that includes students, septuagenarians and a pink-haired magician – and watch as they forge early alliances. But all is not as it seems. In talking-head segments, the players admit the parts of their personality they strategically won’t be mentioning: a job as an actor, a first-class psychology degree, even a long-term relationship between two of the contestants.

From the start, it’s clear that this cast have come prepared to win. But on The Traitors, you can never really plan that far ahead. The contestants are whisked away to a grand castle in the Scottish Highlands, and Winkleman appears before them, an evil mastermind decked in tweed. Immediately, she turns the game on its head without batting a darkly lined eye. The contestants gasp, while one whispers “Claudia is a savage.” They might be right. It’s Winkleman who chooses the traitors, then sends them off with a call of “happy murdering”.

From then on, it’s up to the faithfuls to suss out what’s going on and the traitors to go undetected. But, at least in these early episodes, the traitors’ game feels a little easy. It’s unfortunate that this BBC series follows so hot on the heels of The Mole, a tried and tested format with a Netflix sheen that has already ironed out the kinks in the backstabbing game show idea. There, it’s on the saboteur to make sure the other contestants do badly at the challenges, while here they just play along.

The traitors rarely have the motivation to put their heads above the parapet and take a risk, which means that the challenges, while expensive-looking, are the least interesting bit of episode one.

The first task alone features two huge Wicker Man-esque statues that go up in flames, suggesting that much of the budget has gone on health and safety (and hiring the castle), while the portraits of the contestants that hang on the walls look like they’ve been done with a computer “drawing” effect.

The Traitors definitely isn’t a perfect reality show, or even the best in its genre right now, but it is pretty entertaining. Plus, there’s something incredibly satisfying about watching a contestant claim that their fellow player is “a really honest person”, while we sit at home smirking in the knowledge that they’re really a traitor. Deception might not be very Christmassy, but it sure is a lot of fun.

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