No version of The Traitors I’ve seen is better than Peacock’s U.S. version at production design and atmosphere. So much of that, of course, is Alan Cumming embodying the role, and The Traitors season two opens spectacularly.
Hooded drummers pounded their instruments as Fergus opened the gates and vehicles with their players drove past torches and flags.
“Welcome to my castle, where treachery abounds,” Alan Cumming says, making every word into a Las Vegas buffet.
He introduced the players—this time, all celebrities, no civilians—as “strategic reality legends” and “clever game players,” which is phrasing that deserves its own Emmy.
How he didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy is a crime against television.
To their faces, he called them a “sea of schemers,” which is even better. Dan Gheesling said, “the caliber and diversity of this cast is exactly why I wanted to come play this game,” and though that is not universally true, the producers have assembled quite a group.
Sandra Diaz-Twine is back, now with braces and thus a different, meeker voice. I expect the Internet to be filled with “The shocking reason why Sandra has braces on The Traitors” stories sometime today. (She got them in 2022.)
CT had a slightly less enthusiastic response when he saw one of his fellow Challenge regulars: “of course banana-head is here.”
The pre-existing knowledge of other players is one of the strengths and weaknesses of an all-star format. Trishelle doesn’t trust CT; Parvati and Sandra awkwardly meet because Parv says there is “a little contention between us” over “who is the true queen of Survivor.” (Sandra, end of story. Won twice, same strategy, A+, no notes.)
But then there are also great contrasts. Phaedra referred to the strategic competition players as people who “eat rattlesnakes and live in the jungle and hike naked.” She told us, “I glamp—and I barely glamp, honey.”
My favorite moment was between Janelle and Kevin from Bling Empire. “You know who that is? That’s Bananas,” Janelle told Kevin, who had no idea who Bananas was (fair) but also had no idea what The Challenge was. “Oh, it’s called The Challenge?” To be fair, we all know his strengths lie elsewhere.
The producers have cast a couple, Larsa and Marcus, and while this should make them an instant target, Larsa says, “I wanna win, and he wants to win; it’s not like we’re a team,” and Marcus confirms, “we’ll definitely murder each other.”
Before the selection roundtable, Alan Cumming chatted with each player, and Bananas said to him, “How does it feel to be the second-best dressed guy on this show?” Alan demonstrated who the king and queen of the castle are: “Back off, bitch.”
The first traitors are:
- Dan Gheesling, Big Brother winner
- Phaedra Parks, Bravo winner from The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Married To Medicine
Just as I was reveling in the idea that there were just two traitors—the expectation from players will be three or more, I imagine—Alan Cumming revealed a twist to all the players.
“The Traitors are not yet complete,” he said, saying they will invite one more person to join them. That’s fantastic: Recruiting early puts all three on a bit more of a level playing field, though also gives the traitors a real test with their selection.
Janelle told us, “I am 100 percent pissed off I am not a traitor,” and then immediately accused John of being one because of his breathing. Meanwhile, Larsa accused Parvati based on her alleged excellent hearing, and then adds to the evidence because Parvati “was automatically so defensive.” What do you expect?
These early accusations are so dumb, and also produced some great comedy. Bergie, a Peacock reality star who’s woefully miscast, turned bright red, spilled his drink, and instantly identified himself as a faithful and then insisted he also was not a traitor.
I don’t think Bergie was cut out for this life,” Bananas said. I think he meant Traitors life but perhaps also in general.
Immediately, we had some insight into the traitors’ game: Dan suggested Larsa could be a good “early recruit that we set up to frame early in the game,” while Phaedra said her strategy was to “agree, but not actually participate in those conversations.”
The first mission took place at the loch, where the players worked together as one giant team to gather giant floating puzzle pieces and assemble them in 40 minutes. Oh, and a cheat sheet was hidden somewhere on the shore, and all players started tied to posts.
Tamra did not participate in the first mission. “Tamra is not well,” Alan explained. Whatever was wrong with her—and she was back later—I really hope the production did a better job of testing for COVID than they did in season one!
The challenge introduced a new twist: three shields available to any player, one on land and two floating in the water. “What’s your priority today? Money for the group or the preservation of your own life?” Alan asked.
Janelle chose the latter, saying, “I do not care about any of these people,” and untied herself and ran to the land shield immediately. CT and Deontay jumped out of their boats to swim for the other shields.
Mid-challenge, the editing revealed that Bergie was still tied up. “I feel so useless,” he said, and he could have stopped there, though he added: “being the last one untied.”
Once the pieces were gathered, there was chaos. “I don’t know how we’re going to be winning missions with these people,” Trishelle said as we saw her floating by herself in a boat. Helpful!
Eventually, they got the pieces together, and started swimming for shore with 12 seconds remaining.
Once again, I do not believe the on-screen clock. Just as what The Great British Bake-Off shows us as the seconds tick down is not what the bakers are actually doing, I think they had more time. “We finished it in the final minute,” Bananas said later. I believe that.
It also seemed like the assembled shield puzzle was ignited later, for television purposes, as their finished version had pieces floating so far apart that they wouldn’t have ignited each other.
Back at the castle, Dan kicked around ideas, starting with Janelle, who he knows from Big Brother and “knows how to get stuff done”; “she’s not going to blink twice,” he said. He also considered Parvati, and chatted with Sandra, who he repeatedly said was a “stone-cold killer.”
Sandra told him, “I’m reminding them: that was a very long time ago. Don’t hold that against me.” Sandra!
The producers and Peacock once again decided to pretend the cast is sleeping in the castle, rather than a hotel. (They do have their own rooms.) I wonder how long it took to film the B-roll of them pretending to be asleep and waking up. I also wonder if that’s just for our amusement, since some of their acting was comically bad.
Phaedra and Dan met and learned who they were playing with. They talked through options—Dan’s, mostly—and before we learned who it was, Dan said, “I’m not sure at the end of the day I can trust this person.” And with that cliffhanger, The Traitors US season two kicked us into episode two.