Claudia Winkleman says contestants are more brutal

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By Steven McIntoshEntertainment journalist

BBC Claudia Winkleman with this year's contestants on The TraitorsBBC
Winkleman will be joined by 22 new competitors at Ardross Castle in Scotland

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

By the time work began on the second, this number had risen to 130,000. This growth is a natural reflection of the success of the first series. But this also poses a problem.

One of the reasons the show worked so well the first time around was because the contestants didn't know exactly what they were getting into. The show's format was new in the UK: almost no one understood how it worked or whether it would be popular with viewers.

The competitors in the second season, which begins on Wednesday, therefore have a clear advantage. They know what twists and turns might arise. The new traitors benefit from knowing 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 don't hesitate to accuse people,” Claudia Winkleman said at the launch of the second season.

“In the first season, Maddy (Smedley, a stalwart) was like, 'I think it's him'… and everyone was like, 'Shh, you're wrong'. And I was like, 'Listen to her!' But here (in the second series) you see the first panel, it explodes. They want to play the game and they are, impatient is not the right word, but they are more brutal.

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

Claudia Winkleman in BBC series The Traitors
Winkleman said she had proposed not making a second series, fearing it would not be able to repeat the success of the first.

The Traitors sees 22 members of the public housed for three weeks at Ardross Castle, near Inverness. A few of them are told privately that they are traitors and must avoid detection by their comrades, known as the Faithful.

Participants gradually get to know each other through breakfast conversations and a series of physical challenges, which also give them the opportunity to increase the initial £120,000 prize pool.

Every evening, all players gather for a round table, during which they must vote to ban a player they suspect of being a traitor.

Those left standing at the end of the series share the prize money, but if a traitor makes it to the finale undetected, they walk away with the money instead.

“It’s not a question of good guys and bad guys,” notes Winkleman. “Sometimes I really want the traitors to do it, sometimes I really want the loyalists to catch one, and they both work in equal measure, because I respect the gameplay above all else.”

Alan Cumming hosts the American version of The Traitors
Alan Cumming presents the American adaptation, which is filmed in the same castle but uses celebrities as actors

The first series, broadcast in December 2022, reached a consolidated audience of 4.5 million people and went on to win the Bafta TV Award for Best Reality TV Series.

“The nails were bitten. The nerves were shredded. The traitors delivered tension, tears and twists until the end.” wrote Michael Hogan of the Telegraph in his five-star review of the first season finale.

“It wasn't just the reality show of the year. It was one of the best shows of the year, period.”

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

The BBC is capitalizing on the success of the first series by launching a spin-off show to accompany the second. Hosted by comedian Ed Gamble, The Traitors: Uncloaked will feature never-before-seen footage as well as interviews with the banned contestants after their departure.

Winkleman admits she debated whether the series should return, fearing lightning wouldn't strike twice.

“The success of the first series left us breathless, it floored us,” admits the presenter. “I said to (production company) Studio Lambert and the BBC: 'let's leave it.' Like if this magical thing happened, that's enough.”

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

Reuters/Getty Images Claudia Winkleman accepts the Entertainment Performance Award for Reuters/Getty Images
The Traitors won Best Reality Series and Best Entertainment Performance for Winkleman at the Bafta TV Awards

Many international versions of the show cast celebrities as actors. But in the UK the cast is once again made up of regular members of the public.

This is arguably one of the reasons the British adaptation is working so well, with viewers growing increasingly tired of reality TV casts made up of low-budget celebrities and wannabe influencers.

Winkleman is excited about this year’s crop of candidates. “What I love about our actors is that they want to play the game,” she says.

“They're not really interested in being famous, being on TV, they want to play the game and make money.”

Format adjustments

Many new players have arrived in the Highlands with a game plan. “If you watch the first series, you understand that to win you have to be kind and harmless, and close to the traitor,” says Winkleman.

“That's the smart way to enter the castle. 'I'll just slip in here and not bother anyone, and if I see anyone I suspect (he's a traitor), I'll move closer to them '.”

Despite their best efforts, Winkleman suggests that the new contestants are no more savvy than those from the previous series. “They watched it, so they think they know how to play,” she says. “Luckily, don’t worry, that’s not the case.”

Claudia Winkleman in BBC series The Traitors
This year, players will compete for shields in physical challenges, called missions.

The producers wisely kept the format largely the same for the second series. Everything looks and feels like before, only with 22 new faces.

However, some minor changes have been made. An early twist from the first series is abandoned for the second because the producers know the contestants will expect it.

There is also no armory this year where players could earn a shield to protect them from murder. Instead, shields are integrated into physical challenges, called missions.

“The missions are really important in terms of duty of care, because these players need to run, they need fresh air and they don't need to think about the goal of the game, just for a moment,” Winkleman says.

“Those moments where they stay together too long, trying to get by, towards the end of the game, it's too much. And now instead the shields are hidden in there, which is fun.”

Ed Gamble
Comedian Ed Gamble to host new spinoff 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 won't be disappointed.

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

“The acting is convincing,” she notes. One reason why, she suggests, is “the great fear we all have that people will lie to us. 'Oh, you looked pretty on Saturday!' I did not do it.”

She adds, “I think it echoes the fact that I've been told my whole life to 'trust your instincts.' You know, when you meet someone or fall in love or someone asks to do a job, trust your instincts. blows that out of the water.

“Turns out you can't. Your instincts tell you absolutely nothing, you have no idea what you're doing.”

The Traitors begins on BBC One on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. GMT, with the first three episodes then available on iPlayer.



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