The occult element involves the three Traitors (picked for the duplicitous roles after one-on-one interviews with host Claudia Winkleman) wearing hooded cloaks and gathering at the toll of a bell each night in the castle turret to choose their next ‘murder’ victim from among the Faithfuls. To clarify, the murders are solely admin-based and involve the victim getting a letter telling them they can’t come to the next day’s buffet breakfast.
The mundanity of the process doesn’t stop the rest of the group responding with the emotional restraint of a group of Year 11s on the last day of school. As each surviving contestant files in for their croissant and tiny glass of orange juice, the others whoop and applaud and cry and hug. Despite having spent less time together than most queues at bus stops, they’re all apparently very much in love, which would be quite sweet if it wasn’t total bollocks, because this game is all about backstabbing.
While the Traitors are trying to evade detection and throw the others off the scent, there’s a daily round table in which everybody points the finger at a suspected baddie. Think that bit in The Apprentice when the losing team fights over who’s going to be brought back into the boardroom combined with that bit in The Weakest Link where they all pretend to be gutted to vote off Sue from Rotherham and so draw hearts all over their voting board. Aspersions are cast, defences are made and one of the estate agents has to go outside for a little calm down when it all gets a bit much.
It is all a bit much, in the way that people who get cast on reality shows are always a bit much. This concentration of so many personal brands (there are 22 contestants at the beginning) spouting so much personal philosophy under one roof gives every group conversation the feel of doors being flung open on an industrial chicken shed. Cluck cluck I can spot fakes a mile off. Cluck cluck people underestimate me. Cluck cluck I’ve got no filter. Cluck cluck I didn’t come here to make friends.
Nobody came to make friends. They came to launch media careers and a chance at the £120,000 prize money. Or more properly, “up to £120,000” because the total depends on how well the group does in a series of tasks. The first of those involves lighting two giant wicker hares on fire using rowboats and a homemade fuse. (“It was using your fingers so you know, it was all really intense.”) The second is a bell-ringing/scavenger hunt combo (“I have never screamed ‘rocking horse’ so loudly in my life!”) And the third involves completing a survey while being spun around on a fairground ride (“My body’s this way up for a reason, otherwise people would just be walking around on their heads.” Well-reasoned.)
The contestants have various plans for their would-be winnings, from buying their mum a house to an amputee who wants to buy herself a bionic hand. One wants to use it to counsel young people, the kind of plan that would once have been funded via a local authority grant rather than a reality TV show prize pot, but then this is the Britain we’re in.