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Why The Traitors is such an effective reality TV format

Why The Traitors is such an effective reality TV format

The Traitors on BBC1 is a game similar to the party game ‘Mafia’ or ‘Werewolf’, however you may know it, and is based on a Dutch TV series.  

At its core, reality TV appeals to humanity’s voyeuristic, herd mentality instincts. Almost harking back to the days of hanging for entertainment if you wanted an extreme comparison. It’s a simple, classic game. I am so surprised that it has never been done on such a large scale before. Now in its second series in the UK, (it has not been expanded outside of the UK yet), The Traitors on the BBC is more popular than ever.

Why is it so popular though, out of all reality TV? I think it’s because it’s the ultimate game of strategy and social deduction. Suspect everyone, trust no one, and try not to get caught. There’s danger, conflict, intrigue, but most of all, strategy. Out of twenty-two people, a few are chosen to be ‘traitors’ and must ‘murder’ the ‘faithful’ contestants. But what’s so compelling is that the group must also work together to complete challenges, and all contestants get a chance to vote out or ‘banish’ a suspect.

This means that the dynamics are always shifting. It’s essentially a study of human behaviour, almost a psychological experiment to see how people treat each other in such uncertain conditions. This leads the viewer to contend with their own biases and what they would do in the same situation. Ultimately, you don’t know how you would play the game when under such extreme pressure, and the chance of winning a real-life cash prize at the end of it. It’s quite interesting to see how people treat each other in these circumstances. It explores the idea of conformism, with shades of The Milgram Experiment.

It's so compelling because you can play along but also, you’re always one step ahead of the contestants because you know who the traitor is. So, it’s agonising or satisfying depending on whether they see what you can see eventually. Not knowing which one it is going to be creates an odd dichotomy, a swinging pendulum. You’re screaming at the TV, but it’s the unknown quantity that really draws you in. The twists are just regular enough that you’re not expecting them, and you are always kept on your toes.


Edited by Josh Reidbach

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