'Move over Strictly, The Traitors is Claudia Winkleman's best reality show now'

The BBC's reality show has returned with a bang

The Traitors wouldn't be the same without Claudia Winkleman at the helm. (BBC)
The Traitors wouldn't be the same without Claudia Winkleman at the helm. (BBC)

Claudia Winkleman admitted this week that the unexpected success of the first series of The Traitors made her seriously think about quitting Strictly Come Dancing.

Having watched the first three episodes of the second series, I’d like to offer Claudia — who recently gave up her BBC Radio 2 job to free up more time for her family — a piece of career advice: If diary pressures do ever force you into a situation where you can’t have the murder and the dancefloor... go for the murder.

The official status of The Traitors has just moved from cult to legendary. No spoilers here, but the third episode features such a spectacular twist and ends on such a gobstopping cliffhanger that I’m fully expecting it to be up for Best Drama at the next Baftas.

Don’t worry about leaving Strictly in the lurch, Claud. It’s such a well-oiled machine, that almost anyone who isn’t terrified of live television could co-present it (no offence, Tess).

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly - Strictly Come Dancing 2023. (BBC)
Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly have co-hosted Strictly Come Dancing together since 2011. (BBC)

However, if it wasn’t already clear after the first series that The Traitors would not be the same without Claudia, it surely is now.

This second run has been reassuringly magnificent so far, and the way Claudia has taken an even firmer grip on the reins has given me strong “Davina McCall in the Big Brother heyday” vibes.

The really good news is that as long as the BBC can keep casting the show as brilliantly as this — whilst also managing to avoid falling into the celebrity version trap — I see no reason why it cannot establish itself as one of the biggest hits on television for many years to come. And I’m as surprised by that as the next reality show aficionado.

Let’s be honest, on paper it’s just a glorified murder mystery weekend with lots of bits from other reality shows and gameshows chucked in to fill the time. A newcomer to the show might also quite reasonably point out, “Hang on, they actually tell you who the murderers are from the start? Where’s the fun in that?”

Claudia Winkleman is the rock at the heart of Traitors. (BBC)
Claudia Winkleman is the rock at the heart of Traitors. (BBC)

Well, you can forgive the filler, because The Traitors has two of the greatest set pieces I’ve ever seen in a reality show — and they are well worth waiting for: The utterly gripping roundtable banishment deliberations and the wax-sealed letter on the chair informing a contestant they’ve just been whacked.

These never fail to provide a highlight, although my unexpected favourite so far was the contestant (again, no spoilers here) who, upon spying their letter, casually sighed “Ah, I’ve been murdered” — like Sean Bean reaching the end of a new script he’d just been sent.

I’m also a huge fan of the daily breakfast scene, where the contestants excitedly watch the door waiting to see who’s made it down for the buffet — like nervous guests the morning after a particularly boozy country house wedding.

As for the knowing who the Traitors are bit, that minor annoyance is more than soothed by the sheer joy of watching all the Faithfuls trying to work out who they are. Which brings me to the big worry many of us were harbouring as we approached this second series. Would this latest batch of contestants be too aware of the game and, therefore, spoil our fun?

The BBC has excelled itself with the latest cast for The Traitors. (BBC)
The BBC has excelled itself with the latest cast for The Traitors. (BBC)

Not a bit of it. Turns out there’s nothing more satisfying than watching a bunch of cocksure contestants who walked in thinking they know the game being summarily handed their backsides on a silver platter.

When they place their own backsides on the platter by being so spectacularly wrong about everything and everyone it just adds to the fun. Your clever game plans are for later, guys. In the early stages of this show I’m afraid your survival is more reliant on dear old lady luck or not falling victim to the random cruelty of herd mentality.

Of course, I’d be exactly the same if I ever appeared as a contestant. We all would. Which is why we’re much better off luxuriating in our smugness from the comfort of our own homes. I wouldn’t mind a ride on that steam train and a night in that castle though.

P.S. A couple of things I’ve been wondering about the contestants.

1. Did “Parliamentary Affairs Advisor” Zack ever advise Matt Hancock on his?

2. Does ”Sonographer And Clairvoyant” Tracey ever say “It’s a boy/it’s a girl” before she’s even switched her scanner on?

The Traitors airs on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and streams on BBC iPlayer.

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