Amazing Race and Big Brother alum Rachel Reilly was one of the 10 reality star competitors on Peacock’s The Traitors, 2023’s best new reality competition.
Earlier today, I talked with Rachel about her experience on the show, from casting to finale. I appreciated all of the insight she offered, from behind-the-scenes details to discussions of her strategy and perceptions during the game, Harry Potter’s train to host Alan Cumming’s character.
The interview below has been condensed and edited to clean up human speech, and discusses events from all 10 episodes of The Traitors US season one, including its outcome.
The Traitors’ all-at-once binge-watch drop
Andy Dehnart: How’s the post-Traitors experience been for you? This is the first show you’ve been on that just dumped all the episodes on one day, right? So everyone’s on a different page.
Rachel Reilly: That’s the hardest part. My husband, Brendan, finished the show before I did! He was asking me questions; I was like, I don’t know! I lived it, but I didn’t know what happened in the episodes. Everyone’s on a different page.
Brendan [and I] were talking about that this morning. It’s a bummer because he couldn’t talk to his friends; he’s in a group chat with a bunch of these reality guys he’s kept up with for the years. He’s like, I can’t talk to them about it because they’re all on different episodes. The same thing with all my girlfriends, especially my girlfriends that are not involved in television. They are just like, Okay, we’re on episode three. Episode three?! They’re like, Rachel, it just came out.
Casting and preparation
When you got approached to be on The Traitors, what did you know of it? What did they pitch it as, since it’s something that none of us had seen before?
I got approached by NBCUniversal. We filmed Snake in the Grass in December, and they pitched it as a murder mysteries set in a Scottish castle in the Highlands. I’ve never been to Scotland—that sounds amazing. It’s a competition series, and it just sounded right up my alley. I love competition series; the challenges are what I love.
So there is [the original] version De Verraders—I’m pronouncing that so badly—but it’s the Dutch version, and I did watch a few episodes. I was able to get a vibe for the show; of course, it was in another language. I could see that they do a mission, they go to the Roundtable.
I prepare for these competition shows, because I want to win. (laughs) So I did my research. I did everything I possibly could. I was preparing for the missions physically and mentally, doing puzzles, whatever I thought was going to be in these competitions.
When you got there, were you aware there was going to be this half-reality, half-new person cast? I’m curious how that changes the dynamic for you—seeing some people you know; some people you’ve played with; some people you know by reputation, maybe like Brandi or Kate.
We had no idea. I didn’t know who was going to be on the cast. I tried to get as much information as I could. But they’re very tight-lipped; they don’t want to tell us anything.
I thought I’m not going to be the only reality person; I just assumed that. But I had no idea Stephenie or Cirie would be there. When I saw them, it was the best day; I was so excited, because I had made such a good friendship with them during Snake in the Grass. I felt like these ladies will have my back. It’s nice to see a friend there.
When I saw Cody, I didn’t know what to think, because Cody and I have had such an up-and-down relationship. I beat him in Fear Factor, and I didn’t know if Cody was going to want to work with me. I’m never sure of Cody’s intentions. But now I am after the show. Now if I ever see him again on a show, I’m not trusting him!
Of course, I knew the reputations of Brandi and Kate; I was really excited because I’m obviously a fan of Bravo—like, a huge fan.
I thought it would be cool if there were non-reality people there, because in my head, I thought if they’re fans of Big Brother or Survivor, we can use that to our advantage. And I played a Big Brother game with newbies versus the duos—I’d already been in a situation like that, so I I felt like I would do really well. But the game was so different; you can’t really prepare for it, and there’s not really like alliances like on the other shows.
Do you think your reputation—having them know who you were—did that ultimately help, or did that ultimately hurt your game?
I think it helped in the beginning. In episode eight, everyone was like, You’re cutthroat, and you are a gamer, and you look at it like it’s a game, and you’re able to separate that. I think that was my main downfall, not being able to talk my way out of that.
It is a game. We’re all here to win the money. I think they viewed it like it was more personal, whereas like for me, I was just like, Okay, it’s a game. We’re here to win.
I had one person that I knew I could trust, Stephenie, and I really still thought I could trust Cirie, too. But I was totally blindsided by my banishment. When I went into that Roundtable, I had no clue that was going to happen.
Strategizing and Roundtables
It felt to me like something happened before the Roundtables—I don’t know if the group decided, but it felt like there was just momentum toward a person, and there was nothing that person could do to talk themselves out of it once they got at the Roundtable.
Was that how it felt to you? Like, they decided they were going to blindside you, and once you realize it you couldn’t have done anything to stop them?
Yes and no. I think there were a lot of instances where we had talked before, because obviously we’re walking around the castle, we’re doing the missions together. So there is talk during the missions and there’s talk when we’re in the cars. We do have chances when we’re separated from the other players, and we can talk about what what’s going on at the Roundtable tonight.
So, there were times when I think it was definitely decided [beforehand]. Michael’s ultimate fate was decided; everyone was on the same page. I guess my my banishment was decided, but Stephenie had no idea.
There were definitely times when people talked about it, but I also think you could have talked your way out.
At Shelbe’s banishment, I literally was like, Hey, tell us why you’re not a Traitor, because I didn’t want to vote Shelbe out, and Shelbe was the name that was obviously being thrown around. But it felt like Shelbe just didn’t explain anything. If nobody puts the blame on anyone else, those Roundtables are really important.
I’m curious like what the experience of the Roundtable was like. It differs from other shows you’ve been on—and other competition reality TV—in that not only are your votes public and immediate, but you also explain your rationale to people.
It’s all very public, whereas Big Brother or Survivor, it’s whispers, quiet, private. How was that for you, the public nature of this game?
Yeah, that was really hard, because you have to be really vocal. You can go on Big Brother, Survivor. You can go behind the scenes and talk, or go to the confessional and be like, Oh, I’m totally going to vote out Kate tonight because Kate’s doing this, this, and this, and you can talk your strategy through.
Here, you almost have to lay it on the table. I think especially with my banishment, there were just times when I needed to be more vocal. If I could have pointed the finger toward Christian, maybe we could have gotten it on Christian.
For future seasons, anyone going into the game, they’re going to have to be very aware: at the banishment, that’s when you talk about it. That’s when everything should come out, because this is your big time to be able to convince everyone what’s going on. If you saw anything, or you suspect someone is a Traitor, this is the time when you want to say that.
I’m curious what the average day was like for you. Obviously, we see breakfast, mission, banishment, murder. But when did you sit down for interviews?
Basically, everything we saw in the show was very much like how it played out.
They would come grab us for breakfast, we would have breakfast, Alan would let us know a little hint, and we would like think about that for an hour—what is he talking about? What is the mission today? Then we would get ready for a mission. We had time when we could talk in the castle, and we would go into separate rooms.
After someone didn’t show up to breakfast, we would go in a different room and strategize. Why didn’t they show up to breakfast? Did they say something to someone else?
We would get pulled into the confessionals all throughout the day.
So it’s like it’s like Big Brother: Come to the Diary Room.
Any time we’d go to missions, we would have time in the car where we were separated, and those were nice. The cars were really great times to chat with people, because you’re separated and nobody can hear what you’re saying. In the castle, you have to whisper.
[Andy’s note: The UK version of The Traitors shows the players leaving the castle for their accommodations each night, but the Peacock version skips that, instead letting us think the players stayed overnight. The players did, however, have their own space in the castle.]
We had dinner and then banishment, and then drinks. We did go to the rooms in the morning; we were in our own private rooms. It wasn’t like we just go [to breakfast] from nowhere.
After your banishment, were you sequestered? I was surprised people didn’t come back, and some other contestants said they didn’t even know Cirie won until they saw the show.
I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about that! But once we were done with the game, you’re done with the game. You do your final interviews, and you’re done.
To touch back on something, like talking in the cars. When do you think the decisions were really made about who to banish that night? Was it the after-breakfast conversations? Or was it later, closer to the Roundtable?
We would banish someone, and then the conversation started in the evening while we were like all hanging out and drinking, and then going into separate rooms, talking. Then when we would go to breakfast and find out who was murdered, the conversations really kicked off.
A lot of private conversations for me happened at the missions, like on the way to the missions, because that was a really good time for us to be able to get away from the other players that we weren’t really talking to.
But then, if you’re in a car with someone that you don’t really trust, you don’t really talk about the game. So we tried to get into cars with people we wanted to talk to.
Kate and Cirie
Speaking of people you might not want to talk to you, I have to ask you about Kate. It made for some fun TV, and also got uncomfortable sometimes.
(laughs) Yeah, definitely. I saw Kate in New York when we were out there for press, and she’s lovely in person.
In the very beginning, Kate and Brandi, I think they wanted to talk to myself and maybe Stephenie, and pull us in with their side. They showed a little bit on the episode where I was they were talking about Michael being a Traitor and I was like, I don’t think we should just point on like point fingers at him I think I don’t think he’s a traitor.
I think that was a turning point for where we became at odds. Then Brandi left, and I think Kate maybe just didn’t want to be there, and everyone saw what happened next.
The fact that she was acting so obvious, and she was so vocal—we saw you accuse her of being a Traitor, but did [her behavior] really stand out like A Traitor would do that! or was it Who knows what a Traitor would do? We’ve never played this game before.
Right! So that’s what I said: Who knows a Traitor would do? Because we’ve never played it. But in my head, I thought a lot of the things that [Kate] and Brandi did were so vocal.
When Brandi left, I thought Kate was manipulating Brandi, and pulling the strings, telling her, I think it’s Michael, I think it’s this person. I thought that would be a good cover-up, because if I was a Traitor, I would do that; I would get someone else to do my dirty work.
There was the whole note debacle. That’s super-shady, and in the game like this, we don’t have anything to go off of, so of course that’s going to be a big red flag in my head.
Then Kate would just act like she didn’t want to be there, but it was almost to the point where I kept thinking of a Dr. Will game: Dr. Will’s like, Get rid of me, I hate you all, that kind of thing.
She’s obviously trying to play this overly doesn’t-want-to-be-here game, because she knows she’s not gonna get murdered, and then she knows people won’t banish her if she’s being super out in the open about stuff. I kept thinking that was just her strategy.
As much as I love Kate as a TV character, I was mad at her during that challenge, so I can’t imagine what it was like to be there and watch her throw money literally away into the grass.
I know. We were all so frustrated.
I think it was more—year, her throwing the money away, but also [Kate] going above and beyond to just screw over the team. I think we everyone was just like, What’s the point? If you don’t want to be here, go home, but don’t try to screw up the game and screw up everything else that’s going on, because this is a big deal for us.
Talk to me about Cirie. Obviously, your blindside was the most emotional vote for you, and really seemed to cut deep. Have those wounds healed? How long did it take to get over that moment?
I know it’s a game, and Cirie played such a flawless game. She is Queen Cirie, right?
I should have known this, because I’ve watched her on Survivor, and when I played Snake in the Grass with her, that’s just how Cirie is: she’s just so good at these games.
I’m a gamer myself, so I would never be upset with her. I knew when Cirie ultimately voted me out, I said, in my head, she’s obviously a Traitor. That was the point when I realized like, it’s definitely Cirie, because Cirie is very loyal to her people, her friends.
I think if she was a Faithful, she would have voted with Stephenie to keep me, but because she was a Traitor, she voted with everyone else. So that for me was a big tell. I was thinking, definitely Cirie’s a Traitor, but I’m not going to blow up her game. She’s still my friend, I’m out, I’m not going to try to ruin her game—and she played such a masterful game. She did such a great job, she had everyone fooled. I had no clue. No clue.
There was something interesting that you said at that Roundtable: “I try to separate the emotions and the business because if I don’t, I’ll go crazy.” That seemed to foreshadow what happens to Andie at the end, where their relationship with Cirie seems to be overwhelming their reaction in that moment.
Talk to me about that, about playing these games so often, and really having real human relationships [as part of them].
100 percent, and that’s the problem. You’re playing these games, and you do have these real human emotions underneath. You get to know people, and you are enjoying their company.
There were so many times when we would be sitting in a car, talking about our kids. At the time, Andie was going to have a baby, and so we would talk about that, and I just became so close to them. I just remember thinking in my head, Oh my gosh, I really love this person. I love being with them, their company.
Same thing with Cirie, Stephenie. I’d just done Snake in the Grass with them, I would hang out with them. When we were stressed out about the game, we’d go in the other room and eat a cookie together, and say, It’s just a game! together.
You have these moments where it is so personal, and such a human connection that you’re making. Then you have to remember: Okay, it is a game we are playing. This is money—real money. We’re here to win for our families at home. So you do have to separate it. It’s such a fine line.
Cirie is very good at that, and that’s why she was so good at this game—so good at forming personal relationships and never crossing the line. Whereas, I’m a lot more emotional, and I think my line gets [crossed] a bunch of times. The same thing with Andie: We saw that Andie obviously had this very personal connection with Cirie, so it really affected them.
At the end of the time, what happens in the castle stays in the castle.
Cody and Christian
[Before your blindside,] Arie complements you and says, Rachel is one step ahead of the game, like she has been the entire time.” You were especially on to Cody, it seems like, before everyone else, and then also Christian.
I’d love for you to talk a little bit about each of them, and what you noticed. I’m especially curious about Christian because, to me, he seemed to like just be walking around with a sign that was like, ‘I’m a Traitor!’ I just didn’t understand how anyone didn’t pick up on that.
Before the Traitors were picked, we were on the train, we were like hanging out, we were talking, we were laughing about our families. Then he’s picked as a Traitor, and he just changed his demeanor completely. He just became a different Cody. I think it became really real to him.
So it was very obvious to me; I could tell there was a difference in the way he acted toward me, the way he was a bit standoffish and didn’t want to work with me. I would come to him and say things like, let’s try to figure this out, and he just wouldn’t talk to me. And I was like, that’s so odd, because Cody doesn’t normally act like that.
With Christian, from the beginning, he was this crazy van life guy that just like laughing about everything. He was so wacky. It was fun, and I genuinely enjoyed Christian’s personality because he was so different. I thought he was just a free spirit.
I never picked up on those as Traitor clues; I thought it was his personality. The day that I go home, he stands up and says he got recruited by the Traitors. That was the big tell for myself and Stephenie; we were both like, okay, he’s obviously a Traitor, now do we go after Christian tonight? Or should we focus our energies on Kate?
At the time, Stephenie and I still thought Kate was a Traitor. I think the problem was we didn’t know what everyone else was talking about, and that was our misstep. We also didn’t know Arie [had been] recruited. I remember talking to Stephenie: Okay, Steph, we have me and you and Cirie and Andie and Arie. We thought we had the five, but then of course didn’t have Andie or Arie, and of course not Cirie.
I’m curious, in terms of structure, what production told you. You knew there were three Traitors at the beginning, but did you know that there could be replacement of them, or that there could be more at some point? Or was that just total mystery?
The whole thing was mystery. They never told us there were three Traitors. We didn’t know that. We thought there could be up to five; we just didn’t know.
They never told us a number of how many Traitors there were, which was smart. Once we got out Cody, we knew we were a Traitor down, and we didn’t realize there will be a Traitor recruited until Alan told us—or Christian told us, and then Alan told us. Then we knew a Traitor had been recruited. Stephenie and I thought that meant there were three, but I think some of the others [did not].
Alan Cumming and the Harry Potter train
Is there anything about the show that we didn’t get to see, or anything about the experience that you want to share?
I just thought it was such a fun, amazing experience. The production company was so professional. They were so amazing, everyone there was just—I could not rave enough about how amazing of an experience it was. And I really I can’t wait for season two.
They only showed a little bit of the beginning, but it was such a fun experience, too, because it was the Harry Potter train, and I’m a huge fan. So that was really cool for me.
Alan just made that show. He was so amazing. The show was so fun and campy, and just like it was this you know, amazing, fun experience. I don’t know what else to say except amazing!
Between the music and editing, there’s a lot of atmosphere that comes in post production. But Alan [Cumming] is right there giving you the tone of the show.
I think he genuinely enjoyed it. A lot of people asked me like, how is he different from the other hosts? I feel like he genuinely enjoyed his time, and felt like he really liked us. He was just having a blast; he would pick up on things about our personalities and I thought that was so interesting. He’s just good at it. You know what I mean?
Yeah, watching Julie Chen Moonves [on Big Brother] feels like she’s a hostage and can’t leave. And [Alan Cumming] is relishing just coming down the stairs every morning.
He’s living up every moment of it, with his amazing Scottish regalia. Everything about it was just epic. He made the whole experience, and he was a murder mystery host. I hope he wins awards for it. I really would love to see that.
Absolutely. Like you said, I can’t wait for season two, and I hope this show has two seasons a year like Survivor; I just want to more and more of it.
I would love to see two seasons a year. Wouldn’t it be cool if they did a season of reality stars, a season of all normal people? I know that mix is fun, too, but I think it’d be interesting to see like 20 reality stars, 20 normal people, if they are doing two a year. It’s such a good show!
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
I liked Rachel's comment "normal" people. Sigh. We need more normal people in these games. You won't discover the next Cirie or Christian; and if the normal people take each game as a possible casting opportunity (like the Bachelor franchise) then you will get crazy game play.
Who can keep up with all these betrayal versions. I had not even heard of Snake in the Grass until it was mentioned here.
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
I also like her pitch for alternating all-reality and all-normal people, assuming we get two seasons a year, which is my dream! If they're going to do reality stars, they should all be on one season together, so that the newbies aren't star-struck or left out of the clique.
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
Thank you for posting this. Rachel was really fun to watch in this show. I don't know if she's changed or if the format of the show allowed her to be a different person. (I never saw her on Snake.) The way this game played, I was actually sad to see her go. She really was a team player.
Tuesday 31st of January 2023
@Chuck S, agree - when the casting was first announced it was Rachel that put me off the use of reality TV alumni, but she was much more watchable here and embraced the game she was in.
Also props to producers for not casting her as a traitor - that would have been far too obvious. I fully expected her to be recruited later in the season.
I do wonder too if the Kate v Rachel dynamic may be a strategy for future traitors.
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
What I found most interesting about this interview is that Cirie, Stephanie, and Rachel had just finished filming Snake in the Grass when they were cast for the Traitors. Also, I get the sense that casting reality show stars with some pre-existing relationships ruined the gameplay a bit.
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
@Eric, I'm with you on casting people that have played together previously. Not fair to others. This shows production doesn't have confidence in the game concept. Stop casting reality "stars" in these shows.
Monday 23rd of January 2023
Really great interview thank you for posting this!!