Weaver's Week 2024-02-11

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BBC1 filled its January with the new series of The Traitors. Once again, it captured the public imagination, and squillions of people tuned in to see what would happen.

Inevitably, this review will contain spoilers. If you are still watching on catchup, and don't want to know what happened, go straight to the In Other News section, where we've news of John Travolta's latest dance.

The Traitors


The Traitors

Studio Lambert for BBC1, 3-26 January

Also The Traitors Uncloaked, Listen for BBC Snouds (extracts shown on BBC2), 5-26 January

The first series went out in the closing days of 2022. Half the battle was to establish the format, and the rhythms of the show. This second series came in with an established format – viewers knew the broad contours of the game, players certainly knew what they were letting themselves in for.

The Traitors What are you waring, staggy?

But, when we saw the programme begin in a familiar way, we were worried. Strangers on a train platform? Others on that steam train? The nervous energy of the drive up to the house? Grief, Claudia's even getting them to line up in order of who they think will do best and worst?

"As if we'd do the same thing again! Get in there, all of you!"

This is going to be different from the last series. Similar, but different. Theme, and variation. Studio Lambert knew what had worked in the first year, and didn't diverge too far from it this time. Those of us who remember Big Brother in 2000 and 2001 knew exactly what they're doing.

The Traitors It's time to light the lights.

Episodes continued to revolve around the daily corners of the game. Breakfast is served to everyone – except one person, who was murdered (eliminated) by the Traitors last night. There's a mission, where some Traitorgeld may be added to the pot. There's a round table, where discussion and voting see one player banished from the game. And there's a Traitor conclave, where they try to murder somebody.

The first episode is always a bit confusing: we've 22 new players to meet. Who's getting the airtime? Who do we see talking, and who melds into the background? Perhaps some of the first characters we see are going to be selected as Traitors; perhaps some of the more loquacious players will be voted out quickly. We viewers can perhaps pick up some hints as to who will fit into either category; the players get no such advantage.

The Traitors One contestant cannot wait to tuck into Claudia's scones.

Soon enough, it's blindfolds on as Claudia identifies three people who will meet in Traitors' Turret. But there will be a fourth person! The Traitors get to pick one of the Faithful as their first recruit, and that person must join – no option, you are on the Traitors side. Will they pick the bubbly old woman? The quiet young woman? The vivacious Black guy? The intelligent young man?

The first episode had some well-rehearsed shots – not least the conclusion of Claudia handing us the envelope and saying, "It's you!" like she's a gothic lottery finger. The mission was big and spectacular, racing across the lake to gather pieces of a jigsaw. Are you paying attention, Survivor? This is what you should have gone for! We wanted a massive eye-popping challenge to capture our attention, and you gave us people standing around holding ropes.

The Traitors A group of scarecrows. They do not deter ravens.

The missions are the most eye-catching part of the show. The first week also featured a game involving bird calls – half of the group scooted around the castle grounds to hear and repeat bird calls, the other half looked for the matching bird around the house. Great way to introduce us to some more players. The next night, answer questions about the contestants and their first impressions of each other. Theme-and-variation: these are re-skinned versions of the church bells and wheel of misfortune missions from last series.

Week two for us viewers began with another theme-and-variation. Rather than hear that some players were "on trial", they decided to send them to "the dungeon". It's a real dungeon, in a real damp cellar. It's cold, dark, draughty, and quite miserable.

The Traitors And keeps the warriors away from today's challenge.

And it isolates the players from the rest of the group – which is a real problem, especially if there was heat on you at the last round table. Ash from the Traitors' side had only survived after a drawn vote (the tie-break: statements from the tied candidates, then a re-vote amongst everyone else with no further discussion. If this is still inconclusive, they'll use chance – we haven't seen this). Ash, perhaps not thinking too straight, put herself into the dungeon. Paul, who had been voted Most Popular At Winkleschule, put himself in, expecting to be the one saved by the folk on the outside.

But that required the other Traitors to influence the decision – and the Traitors didn't get a chance, as they were both on the losing side. One of the Faithful was saved, thus condemning the other to an early exit, and risking both Ash and Paul's exposure on the grounds that a Traitor cannot murder themself. Not a rule we approve of: if the Traitors unanimously think it is in their best interest to sacrifice one of their own, this should be a possibility for discussion. But who would approve their own exit from the game?

In the event, Ash was the sacrificial Traitor, Paul remained in the game, and the pattern for the rest of the series was cast. They'd eliminated gentleman Aubrey at the first opportunity, then the next five murder victims were all women. Are we watching The Traitors, or Jack the Ripper? Later in the series, the Traitors got the opportunity to ask other players to join their ranks: every person asked was a man.

The Traitors Skill? Luck? Like a stopped clock?

Claudia is on the side of the contestants. She'll praise them where she can, and gently chide them when they must. "A man? Again?" says so much about the casual sexism running through this series.

Challenges in week two featured the Broken Bridge from Raven – oh, you may call it some wooden pallets floating in the water, but we know the ancient magic at work in the Scottish highlands. An onager to assemble and fire at a target (an onager is a type of catapult, invented by the Romans for flinging rocks at Gauls from a safe distance). And that very middle-management team building game: dodge the spotlight.

The Traitors This one's for Bristol.

This last game was, of course, played at night. We strongly suspect that it was the only event on what had otherwise been a day off filming for players and crew, and a break for the crew would be entirely understandable. Based on strong winds in episode 2, and heavy rain in episode 12, we suspect filming took place around 25 September to 7 October last year.

But we won't remember episode six for that, or for Faithful player Jaz's astute observations – even after giving his word to Paul the Traitor, Jaz knows what he knows – "he'll be trouble", we thought.

The Traitors Oh, U3.

No, we'll remember the episode for Hunt the Poisoned Chalice! Given directions to a set of books in the Library, we find that the Traitors … don't know what they're looking for! It's three volumes of Shakespeare. You know, wrote plays about killing people, daggers and princes and roses and poisoned chalices. One of the great comedy sequences of the year will be all three Traitors, scrabbling around in the Library, looking for something they've not seen before.

The Poisoned Chalice is a device to help them murder in plain sight (another theme-and-variation). They target Diane of the Faithfuls, but when the bongs go to mark midnight, nobody's lips have touched the chalice. Unbelievable, Jeff, that's such a bad miss! They had the goal at their mercy, but put it over the bar.

The Traitors At at the gong, nobody has drunk from the goblet.

But will VAR overturn this decision? Ed Gamble thought so. He hosted The Traitors Uncloaked, a spin-off programme, the Big Brother's Little Brother for this decade's hit show.

Ed's programme was very unusual. As we've noticed, the original series was recorded some months ago. Uncloaked was recorded in the days before transmission, so it could reflect what people were saying on the interwebs. It was topical, but wasn't live, which helped it remain somewhat timeless – if you're watching The Traitors on catchup in six months' time, Uncloaked will still make as much sense.

The Traitors An episode of Uncloaked, featuring Ed Gamble, and Amanda from the first series.

If we understand correctly, Uncloaked was commissioned for the audio service BBC Snouds, and would live in their section of online-only programmes misleadingly called "podcasts". Quite late in the day, someone thought "ah, we can stick some cameras in the studio, and dress it up with detritus from the show" and get a very cheap half-hour for BBC2. Very cheap, and very effective – something like a third of the viewers clicked over. We enjoyed Uncloaked, it struck the right balance between serious game analysis and the complete absurdity of the show.

The Traitors "Murdered" Meg is shocked by who the Traitors are.

Uncloaked had its little format points. Two or three special guests – comedians, telly people, contestants from last year. A filmed insert where the murdered player and/or banished player learn who the Traitors were. And, almost always, these players come into the studio and plonk themselves down on a chair, for a chinwag with the host and guests. If anyone had any doubt that "murdered" players were not literally murdered, this is further proof.

The Traitors Dearly beloved...

Claudia was going to do her best to confuse the confusable. Apparently, the murder plot had been in time, even though the night had ended. But the poison was slow-acting, allowing the players to go on a funeral march, in suits and dark dresses. One would not return, the player who had been poisoned.

Diane knew her time was up, and was able to recall her final evening's movements. Especially the goblet Myles had insisted she drink from. The Traitors had managed to eliminate another smart cookie (and yet another woman), but it would cost Myles his place in the game.

The Traitors Ross gives a sly wink to the camera after talking about Diane.

Last year, we had a couple who knew each other. This year, we had a couple who knew each other: Diane and her son Ross. Neither let on that they were related, not until Ross was voted out and shocked everybody with the news. That this task required Ross to lay a flower in his mother's grave: ouch.

Claudia was absolutely in her element on this mission. The solemnity, the costumes, the sense of drama was absolutely beautiful to watch. She was on form in the next episode, when she headed an unexpected revival of The Golden Shot, firing quarrels from a crossbow to shatter glass plates. The plates contained names, and whichever name was left at the end would win a shield to protect them from murder.

The Traitors Claudie, the bolt.

Shields had been introduced half-way through the last series, to protect the holder against murder. Because the Traitors played conservatively, the shield had the unfortunate effect of saving everyone who might have picked one up. This year, shields were built into the missions: if you wanted to claim a shield in plain sight, you could do. It would take time away from the task, might cost some prize money, but you don't have to admit it to the group.

With Paul evicted from the Traitors team, there was another chance to recruit. Across the series, six people served as Traitors, which feels like it's one too many. Yes, we understand why there absolutely had to be at least one and preferably two Traitors into the final day, but the producers need to ensure that contestants cannot assume this. At some point, in some anglophone series, The Traitors will need to go into the final day with no Traitors at all. That will lead to a different finale: how paranoid are all these Faithful? Will they dare split the pot four, even five ways?

Another escape room mission, though this made for rotten telly. Too much screeching, too many cuts from light to dark. Nobody had a clue what was happening – including the television director. One thing we did see, though, was Harry from the Traitors grabbing the shield, protecting himself from a possible murder. But he didn't tell everyone, only a few people. And surely he'll be the first to be picked off on the next night, right?

The Traitors Tell us you've seen CBBC classics without telling us you've seen CBBC classics.

As we moved into the final week, there were even more homages to other game shows. The lobster traps from Survivor put in an appearance! Contestants were swept off their feet and caught up in nets! And Nevar itself put in an appearance, complete with an army of Thrall Demons, and a Giant Pillar of Riddledom (topped by the Eye of Horus from Only Connect). The whole thing was topped off by a round of Draw Straws from Trapped.

The Traitors Poor, unfortunate Mollie, it's not you.

Back at the game, the job of hunting Traitors went on. We viewers knew that the contestants had spotted that something didn’t add up about Harry’s shield story. He told too many folk, and how come he avoided the next murder? But we only get to see carefully edited scenes: there's so much more that we don't find out about. Remember, The Traitors is one hour of telly, 24 hours of real time action, and something like five days of footage. We viewers are told a story by the editors, it's a captivating story full of twists and turns and intrigue, but it is a story.

And in the end, what was clear to us was not clear to the contestants. Jaz, able to work out who was telling porkies and who had the honest truth. Mollie, young and besotted with Harry. And Harry, young and handsome and – ultimately – the show's solo winner.

The Traitors Harry with a host and a massive pile of Traitorgeld.

From an objective point of view, it’s the result that the show needed. We absolutely had to see a Traitor get right to the end, and either win outright or split the pot two ways. But as a viewer – oof. Oof. Gotta feel for Mollie, who has learned never to trust a handsome guy, and learned it in public. Sadly, there's no way two best friends get to the final two without one of them being a Traitor.

Moving out to more general points. Once again, the group seemed to take out "others" quite early. Anyone who showed they had a brain was going to be murdered or banished; this seems an integral part of the format, and leaves us with Traitors versus young / naïve / dunderheads late in the show. The two oldest contestants were the first two out. Most of the Black contenders left early. Many of the reasons given felt like they were based on stereotypes, about how people "should" behave based on their skin colour and gender presentation. This left us uneasy.

The Traitors "Charlot", written the right way up. Must do better.

So did comments like "Charlotte. Putting her in her place." So did Claudia's speech near the end of the series, "look the other players in the eye and tell them you're a faithful." Claudia, just tell us you're allistic and have no idea how difficult that is for neurodiverse people.

But our final takeaway is the ending scene. A Traitor who wins by throwing everyone out of the balloon. One person sipping a glass of fizzy rosé. It is a victory march, but it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah.

The Traitors "I'm the best Traitor in the world! Hope Mollie didn't hear that."

Any danger of a celebrity series? We're warming to the idea, perhaps a fundraiser for Children in Need. Five episodes, ten players, with the winning player(s) getting some geegaw almost as valuable as the Only Connect trophy. An all-stars series has also been demanded by fans; we'd leave that for a few years. Borrowing an idea from House of Games, we might consider a Redemption series of people who left before breakfast on the fifth show.

Would it be possible to cut a series of The Traitors without revealing who the Traitors were? No: the unique point is how you the viewer is the most privileged position imaginable, you have a godlike ability to be everywhere, see and hear everything. We'd lose so much if we didn't know who was who until they left the show. However, could we not find out who the Traitors were until the first conclave? Too right we could.

Some people wanted to see the entire Round Table discussions, in full and unedited. Be careful what you wish for: we remember Diary Room Uncut on the Big Brother series, and that was about as entertaining as watching paint dry. There may be a case for a longer cut, but we don't ever feel that we've missed anything important in the edit.

The Traitors You're trapped!

The success of Uncloaked proves that viewers aren't always bothered about how a programme looks: if it's got something to say, we don't need a luscious bells-and-whistles studio. There might be a lesson for Strictly It Takes Two, or for Gladiators Gladulator.

No surprise that the BBC are casting for a third civilian series. Slightly more of a surprise that NBC Peacock has ordered a third series, hosted by Alan Cumming and re-using many of the elements we see. The second series will come to BBC3 at some point during the year, it's still not finished on Peacock.

BBC3 has also showed The Traitors Down Under, which started just minutes after our own series finished. Too soon, guys, we can't commit to more molling so soon! Come back next January, we might have caught our breath from this series by then.

In other news

Our Texas Correspondent, 1976–2024.

We're sorry to report the death of Nicole Glass, an occasional contributor to this column. As "Our Texas Correspondent", she kept us abreast of all the important developments in North American games. She tried to explain the phenomenon of Julie Chen on Big Brother and the lasting appeal of Survivor; this column did our best to explain Ant and Dec and Eurovision. On one visit we zapped between shriekfest Hellevator and an edition of Only Connect, concluding that Victoria was way more scary than the Soska sisters. Nicole was 47; her beloved husband Jesse pre-deceased her by a few weeks. We had a time; we will miss her tremendously.

The annual San Remo festival took place this week. It's the biggest event in Italy's cultural sphere, all the great and the good perform their new song, and the winner gets to perform at Eurovision. For some reason, John Travolta was there, and the Grease star mucked in with all the bits and nonsense, including doing the birdie dance just outside the theatre.

John Travolta (middle) does a silly dance.

Rise and Fall lives on. Although the show wasn't a success here, it's been sold to Polish television, under the title Na Szczyt ("To the Top"). We're less confident that Survivor will be back, after the BBC closed applications two weeks earlier than expected.

Quizzy Monday

Mastermind was won by Rashid Mumtaz, scored 11 on The Godfather films, and another 11 on general knowledge. University Challenge went to UCL, beating Christ Church Oxford by 200-130. The break occurred in the middle of the game – three incorrect interruptions in a row and the lead's gone from 30 to 125 in the blink of an eye. UCL's Ali Izzatdust remained a strong buzzer; the (first?) match against Trinity in three weeks could be one for the ages.

We won't publish next week, and plan to look at CBBC's Style It Out when we return on the 25th. Until then, Bill Bailey tries to Bring the Drama on BBC2 (Wed) in an acting contest, darlings. Great news for all viewers! It's the last week of Love Island Is This Still On (VM2 and ITV2, ends next Sunday). A new run of Breaking the News (Radio Scotland, Fri), and a new build on Lego Masters Aotearoa (E4, Sun). The 1% Club, back for a new run on ITV (Sat).

Pictures: Studio Lambert, Listen, Weaver, RAI.

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