The Traitors: Claudia Winkleman says contestants are more brutal

When producers were casting the first series of The Traitors, a new reality series which would later become a runaway hit, around 3,000 people applied to take part.

By the time work began on the second, that number had shot up to 130,000. The surge is a natural reflection of the success the first series enjoyed. But it also presents a problem.

One reason the series worked so well the first time around was that the contestants didn’t know exactly what they were getting into. The show’s format was new to the UK – hardly anybody understood how it worked or whether it would be popular with viewers.

The contestants in season two, which begins on Wednesday, therefore have a clear advantage. They know which twists might be coming. The new traitors benefit from the knowledge of how best to avoid detection, while the faithful are arguably better equipped to root them out.

“The players are more ruthless, they are less innocent, and they have no qualms about accusing people,” says Claudia Winkleman at the second season’s launch.

“In the first season, Maddy [Smedley, a faithful] would say ‘I think it’s him’… and everyone went ‘shhh, you’re wrong’. And I was just like, ‘listen to her!’ But here [in series two], you see the first round table, it explodes. They want to play the game and they are, impatient is not the right word, but they’re more brutal.”

This article includes some discussion about the second series, but does not contain major spoilers such as who the new traitors are.

Claudia Winkleman in the BBC series The Traitors
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Winkleman said she proposed not doing a second series, fearful it couldn’t repeat the success of the first

The Traitors sees 22 members of the public housed for three weeks in Ardross Castle, near Inverness. A few of them are told privately that they are traitors, and must avoid being detected by their fellow contestants, known as the faithful.

The contestants gradually get to know each other via conversations over breakfast and a series of physical challenges, which also give them the opportunity to add to the initial £120,000 prize pot.

Every night, all players come together for a round table discussion, where they must vote to banish one player they suspect of being a traitor.

Those left standing at the end of the series split the prize money, but if a traitor makes it to the final undetected, they take home the money instead.

“It’s not a matter of goodies and baddies,” notes Winkleman. “Sometimes I really want the traitors to do it, sometimes I really want the faithful to catch one of them, and they both work in equal measure, because I respect gameplay above everything.”

Alan Cumming hosting the US version of The Traitors
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Alan Cumming hosts the US adaptation, which is filmed in the same castle but uses celebrities as the players

The first series, which aired in December 2022, peaked with a consolidated audience of 4.5 million and later won a Bafta TV Award for best reality series.

“Fingernails were gnawed. Nerves were shredded. The Traitors delivered tension, tears and plot twists right to the end,” wrote the Telegraph’s Michael Hogan in his five-star review of the season one finale.

“This wasn’t just the reality show of the year. It was one of the best shows of the year full stop.”

Metro’s Adam Miller described it as “the most thrilling reality series of all time”, adding that the season one finale “concluded with the most unpredictable, exhilarating, and satisfying 60 minutes of television I have ever seen”.

The BBC is capitalising on the success of the first series by launching a spin-off show to accompany the second. Presented by comedian Ed Gamble, The Traitors: Uncloaked will feature unseen footage as well as interviews with the banished contestants after they leave.

Winkleman admits she wrestled with whether the show should return at all, fearful that lightning wouldn’t strike twice.

“The success of the first series winded us, it floored us,” the presenter admits. “I said to [production company] Studio Lambert and the BBC, ‘let’s just leave it’. Like, this magical thing happened, enough.”

And what was the response? “The head of the BBC just leaned forward to take my temperature.”

Claudia Winkleman accepts the Entertainment Performance Award for 'The Traitors' for 'The Traitors' at the 2023 BAFTA Television Awards with P&O Cruises, held at the Royal Festival Hall on May 14, 2023 in London, EnglandIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS / GETTY IMAGES
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The Traitors won best reality series and best entertainment performance for Winkleman at the Bafta TV Awards

Many of the international versions of the show enlist celebrities to be the players. But in the UK, the cast is once again made up of regular members of the public.

This arguably is one of the reasons the UK adaptation works so well, with viewers increasingly tiring of reality casts made up of low-budget celebrities and wannabe influencers.

Winkleman is delighted with this year’s crop of contestants. “What I love about our cast is they want to play the game,” she says.

“They are not really interested in being famous, being on the telly, they want to play the game and win money.”

Format tweaks

Many of the new players arrived in the Highlands with a game plan. “If you watch the first series, you work out that actually how to win is to be loveable and inoffensive, and be close to the traitor,” Winkleman says.

“That is the smart way to enter the castle. ‘I’m just going to glide along here and not bother anyone, and if I see someone I suspect [is a traitor] I’ll just get closer to them’.”

Despite their best efforts, however, Winkleman suggests the new contestants aren’t any more streetwise than those in the previous series. “They’ve watched it, so they think they know how to play,” she says. “Happily, don’t worry, they don’t.”

Claudia Winkleman in the BBC series The Traitors
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This year, players will compete for shields during the physical challenges, known as missions

Producers have wisely kept the format broadly the same for the second series. Everything looks and feels just as it did before, only with 22 new faces.

However, a few minor tweaks have been made. One early twist from the first series is junked for the second because producers know contestants will be expecting it.

There is also no armoury this year, where players could win a shield to protect them from murder. Instead, the shields are baked into the physical challenges, known as missions.

“The missions are really important in terms of a duty of care, because those players need to run around, they need fresh air, and they need to not think about the aim of the game, just for a bit,” says Winkleman.

“Those times where they’re around each other too long, trying to work it out, towards the end of the game is too much. And now instead the shields are hidden in that, which is fun.”

Ed Gamble
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Comedian Ed Gamble will host a new spin-off show called The Traitors: Uncloaked

Winkelman also co-presents Strictly Come Dancing and a Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 2, although she is leaving the latter in March. Despite her reservations, she ultimately decided to return to The Traitors, and hopes audiences aren’t disappointed.

“I wanted to go back because what happened never happens, it was overwhelming for all of us,” she explains. “We just couldn’t believe it, it felt like some sort of magical dust, and I just don’t want people’s expectations to be so high.”

“The game is compelling,” she notes. One reason for which, she suggests, is the “great fear we all have that people are lying to us. ‘Oh you looked nice on Saturday!’ I didn’t.”

She adds: “I think it taps into, I’ve been told all your life ‘trust your gut’. You know, when you meet someone, fall in love, or you get asked to do a job – trust your gut. This blows that out of the water.

“It turns out, you can’t. Your gut tells you absolutely nothing, you have no idea what you’re doing.”

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