A Couple Key Changes Made ‘The Traitors’ Season 2 Into ‘Event Viewing’

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“It did feel like the Avengers assembling,” said executive producer Sam Rees-Jones of casting the first all-celebrity edition of “The Traitors” on Peacock. “We knew in Season 2 we wanted to assemble an all celebrity cast knowing that that would create a buzz as well, and would help build on the success of Season 1,” said executive producer Mike Cotton.

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The pair, based in the United Kingdom, told IndieWire over Zoom that another key change for the second season of the reality competition series where “faithful” contestants try to weed out who among them are traitors before the latter steal all the money they earned from completing missions was changing the way in which the episodes were rolled out.

“Season 1 was released as a batch drop, so they all went out in one go. Whereas, Season 2 there was a weekly drop, which we loved because it sort of built a social chats and a social discussion and an anticipation,” said Rees-Jones. “It felt like event viewing, people looking forward to it and dissecting the show, or dissecting players within what they’d done, or what they are going to do next.”

Cotton said, ”We knew it was a hit when we could see all that social chat. You could see the buzz. We love the fact that you could see the excitement building up to when it drops on a Thursday and then all the social chat after—all the memes, all the articles, all the posts on X and Insta.”

More than most competition shows, “The Traitors,” which won the Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program last season, really depends on the people they bring in to play the game. “We do not produce our cast at all when they’re there on the floor. We created this immersive bubble and they’re let free within it,” said Cotton. “Yes, there are twists that we have, but they’re all things that we meticulously pre-plan, much like if you’re writing your own murder mystery, we pre-plan these things. We know that they’re happening and then they’re let loose.”

THE TRAITORS -- "The Traitors Season 2 Reunion" -- Pictured: (l-r) Kate Chastain, Parvati Shallow, Dan Gheesling, Phaedra Parks -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/PEACOCK)
‘The Traitors’ Season 2 stars Kate Chastain, Parvati Shallow, Dan Gheesling, and Phaedra Parks.Chris Haston/Peacock

Arguably the breakout of the season has been former “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Phaedra Parks, who uttered the “Lord, not Ekin-Su” heard round the world. “​​Our American counterparts say people were saying it in the streets,” said Rees-Jones of the moment the Season 2 contestant learned her fellow traitor, “Survivor” all-star Parvati Shallow, had unexpectedly used a poison chalice on “Love Island” Season 8 winner Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu. “I remember we were watching breakfast at the time, and we’re sometimes watching with our fingernails in our teeth going, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ But the joy of watching that breakfast unfold and Phaedra not realizing that Parvati had murdered Ekin-Su. And Ekin-Su arriving, and Ekin-Su having poison running through her veins, just as a program maker was a joy to watch.”

It served as an example of how the producers can impress major game decisions upon the contestants, but how things play out is a mystery even to them. Aligning with what his fellow producer said, Cotton added “That’s also what’s so exciting, right? We could book the biggest celebrity ever to take part in the show and they could get murdered by the traitors on day one, and that’s just what happens. I love the fact that the network lets us do that as well, they’re quite brave about the fact that this is the game and we just have to go with it.”

However, there are moments where the game does reflect real world issues around exclusion and bias. For instance, the first contestant to be banished in Season 2 was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Peppermint, a Black transgender woman, who had an awkward moment with eventual winner Trishelle Cannatella that snowballed into allegations she was a traitor. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Because this show is partly about judgment,” said Cotton. “In those early episodes, having seen many versions of the show, people will go on the smallest thing to decide whether they want to banish someone or not. And yes, of course there could be unconscious bias within that. I think Peppermint slipped up in the kitchen where she mistakenly said, ‘I’m a traitor.’ And obviously it was just as she got muddled in the way that she used her words, but some of the contestants latched onto that. And people will latch onto a tiny thing and they’ll use that to banish someone.”

THE TRAITORS -- "Welcome to The Dark Side" Episode 202 -- Pictured: (l-r) Ekin-Su Cülcüloglu, Deontay Wilder, Dan Gheesling, Tamra Judge, Marcus Jordan, Chris Tamburello, Shereé Whitfield, Alan Cumming, Carsten Bergersen, Mercedes "MJ" Javid, Johnny Devenanzio, Pahaedra Parks, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Peter Weber, John Bercow, Janelle Pierzina, Larsa Pippen, Maksim Chmerkovskiy -- (Photo by: Euan Cherry/Peacock)

“But then I guess that’s also reflective of society, right,” said Cotton. “In anything. If it was a jury or anything else like that. And I find that quite interesting because it’s an insight into people’s psyche.”

In fact, Rees-Jones says that they treat casting the show exactly like forming a jury. “That’s the heartbeat of our show, the round table,” he said. “You want a cross section of people, you want people to bring different skills and different walks of life to the game… To see a housewife go against a British politician is fascinating to watch because they bring different skills. So that’s integral for our casting.” And though host Alan Cumming makes the initial decision on who are made traitors, any contestant can end up being a traitor as well depending on how the game plays out further into the season.

Speaking of the Emmy-nominated Scottish actor, the producers see Cumming as probably the aspect most unique to the American version of “The Traitors” (based on the Dutch series “De Verraders,” the concept now has over a dozen international editions.) “As soon as you throw Alan Cumming into the mix, it makes a completely different show, a different space, a different world,” said Rees-Jones. “He’s a thespian, he’s an actor and having him as a reality TV host is brilliant because it just throws us more into this world we’ve created. And he’s absolutely involved in the script and his words, and there’s precision with that. He sees it as a performance, which we love. The fact that he’s quoting Plato and Shakespeare, and that’s all weaved into the show, or he’s dressed similar to Queen Victoria while there’s a funeral march happening, just adds and elevates to the tone that we’ve created.”

“Also, the game’s quite dark, isn’t it,” said Cotton. “The game is about murdering and banishing people. I think [Alan] adds a warmth and a camp to it, which makes the show so much more fun. Because you wouldn’t want it to be too dark. I love the fact that there’s this balance of dark themes, but in quite a comedic, camp way.”

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 14: Stephen Lambert, Alan Cumming, Kate Chastain and Sam Rees-Jones attend the 2024 TCA Winter Press Tour - NBCUniversal at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on February 14, 2024 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Stephen Lambert, Alan Cumming, Kate Chastain and Sam Rees-Jones attend the 2024 TCA Winter Press Tour panel for ‘The Traitors.’Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

One could say the contestants add to that as well, especially when something as simple as former “Shahs of Sunset” star Mercedes Javid awkwardly backing out of a room becomes a moment fans latch onto. “We love having preconceptions of people and then either breaking those preconceptions or cementing those preconceptions,” said Rees-Jones of why they are sold on continuing to have an all celebrity cast for the upcoming third season. As far as what types of contestants they have sought out next, “I’d love musicians, I’d love an actor. I would love a sports person. I’d love someone from ‘Vanderpump Rules,’” said Cotton. “And that’s so fun about the show is that you can pull people from anywhere.”

And while there is a chance for someone like “The Challenge” star Johnny Bananas, the first contestant murdered by the traitors in Season 2, to make a Season 3 comeback much like how the show brought back “Below Deck” star and Season 1 breakout Kate Chastain this year, the producers have strict rules about returnees. “One thing that’s important to say is that when someone is murdered or banished within that season, they’re gone. If you’re murdered from the show, you don’t get murdered in episode two and come back in episode six of that season. You’re treated like you’ve been murdered, you’re gone,” said Cotton. “And it’s the same once you are banished from that castle. You’re banished forever.”

“The Traitors” Season 2 is streaming on Peacock.

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