SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from the first four episodes of “The Traitors,” now streaming on Peacock.
Ever since both the BBC and Peacock adapted the Dutch series “De Verraders” into “The Traitors,” it’s been a hit. Both produced by Studio Lambert, the U.K. version premiered on the BBC in November 2022, with the U.S. version dropping on the NBCUniversal streamer Peacock less than two months later.
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After the first season mixed non-famous cast members with celebrities, the second season of the U.S. version is now solely familiar faces. The concept remains the same: contestants must work together on missions to fill their prize pot with up to $250,000. Several “Traitors” are selected by host Alan Cumming at the start of the game, and the rest of the contestants are called the “Faithful.” The Faithful must try to identify who among them is a Traitor, banishing one member in each episode after a roundtable discussion. At the same time, the Traitors murder a Faithful each night, while also working to keep their identities secret. In the end, if the Faithful banish all the Traitors, they’ll split the prize among them all, but if a Traitor makes it to the end, the money is all theirs.
The first season took home an Emmy Award for best casting, while the second season’s ratings have already surpassed the first, becoming the most-watched reality premiere on Peacock.
Here, executive producers Mike Cotton and Sam Rees-Jones detail the logistics of filming inside the Scottish castle, explain how the Traitors are chosen, share more about Cumming’s role as host and producer — and tease what to expect from the rest of Season 2.
I want to start with a logistical question about the U.K. and U.S. seasons, because this week, both versions dropped the funeral episodes. How close together were they filmed, and was it planned to roll out the same week?
Mike Cotton: So we use the same location, and they share the missions that the contestants take part in. It’s a really good partnership between BBC and NBC, because you get to combine resources at points. The money spent on the show goes further. We shoot one version first, and then we shoot the other version almost immediately after; this year we shot the BBC version first, and then we shot the NBC version. Season 1, it was the other way around. They get cut at similar times. How they fall and how they air concurrently depends on when the networks want to drop them.
So do the sets from the missions — like the gravesites, for example — just stay up in between the two versions?
Cotton: Yeah, it’s like a “Traitors” theme park. I often think we can open our own Disney World. Because if you get into the castle grounds, there’s hundreds and hundreds of acres of land — it’s got its own river, it’s got its own hills, it’s got its own church — that we take over and build all these various things.
Sam Rees-Jones: We have to be really careful because, for example, we put 150 or 200 scarecrows in a field, but that’s on the castle grounds. So we have to be careful with the logistics of bringing the cast in so they don’t see that, or they don’t see our burial plot, because that gives away what’s coming.
How long does each episode take to film?
Rees-Jones: We mainly like to film an episode a day, which is quite a big undertaking. But the reason we like to do that is because it keeps an immersive bubble, keeps their heads in the game. Schedule-wise, it’s a real pressure, but content-wise, it’s definitely the right thing to do. We start the day with breakfast, have a roundtable, have a mission, have a murder and then start again. We have down days with the cast and Episode 1 and the finale may take a little bit longer.
Cotton: We always say that first and foremost, this is a game rather than a reality show. So the cast start to learn the rhythm of the day. But we don’t produce it like a normal show. So we set up this environment. We set up the rules of the game, and then we just let them play it, which is really good and also terrifying at times because you never know what’s going to happen.
Are the roundtable and the breakfast rooms both inside the castle?
Rees-Jones: Absolutely, yeah. The reason we picked that particular castle was to house the roundtable room. It’s such a vast space.
How big is it?
Cotton: It’s huge. We use a section of it. We give them free rein; we’ve taken a wing of the castle, and that’s their area that they can play the game within. They’ve got all the outside as well. They’re free to roam around. It’s a really old building, and there’s parts of it that are completely unrenovated, that haven’t been touched for many, many years. At one point, it was occupied during the war by the Navy. It’s fascinating, because it’s got so much history to it. I can’t estimate the square feet, but it’s got the potential for 30 bedrooms in reality. A lot of it is unconverted.
Right, you obviously weren’t going to gut an entire castle.
Cotton: Exactly. Plus, we don’t want to have to produce and direct our cast in certain directions. If we covered that huge space, it’d be impossible to cover them all. They can split up and have their own conversations, but it’s small enough that someone could be listening on the door outside, and someone can see when someone disappears and has their own secret chat.
Does the cast sleep in the castle?
Cotton: Oh wow, that’s a tricky one to answer. I can’t answer. The biggest thing is that the show relies entirely on the secrecy of the Traitors, and by that, I mean we have to be really careful that the Faithful don’t know who the Traitors are. It’s a massive military operation each night to get the Faithful to bed in individual rooms and get the Traitors back out to have their meeting. And as soon as we start talking about the details of how they sleep and where they sleep, it would unravel any potential future seasons.
I was very curious about how people were getting out of bed and others weren’t hearing them!
Cotton: It’s a military operation, that’s what we can say!
Did Larsa Pippen and Marcus Jordan get to share a room this season since they’re a couple?
Rees-Jones: No. I think they would have wanted to, but they weren’t allowed to because it would have given them a foot up in the game.
How long is the breakfast portion, as people are brought in?
Cotton: They’re brought in at staggered intervals, but they don’t sit there for a long time and talk, since everything happens in a day. The breakfast lasts, from start to finish, an hour max.
Let’s talk about Alan Cumming. I know he’s also a producer and host. Is he watching monitors and writing copy? How much is he involved in the day-to-day on the producing side?
Rees-Jones: I’m overseeing Alan, and worked closely with him. He’s completely in it. He has monitors in his room. He gets giddy watching what’s happening. He’s constantly messaging me going, “Oh, my God, can you believe they’re talking about this?” or “This is happening!” What I love about him is that he’s an actor and an amazing writer. So he works with me and the scriptwriters to make it all sound within his voice. He takes it on as a performance, so when he walks into the roundtable, it’s a performance for him. He won’t go to bed until he knows who’s been murdered. He’s completely in it, and he gets giddy going into any space and talking to the cast.
How do you decide who becomes a Traitor?
Cotton: It’s an interesting process. It’s a big group thing. All of the contestants that take part in our show, we’ve done personality tests on them. We see attributes that might make someone a good liar or particularly deceptive. We actually don’t know who the Traitors are until that pick, where Alan walks around and taps them on the shoulder. We watch how they interact when they arrive at the castle. Alan does these chats with them, sitting down and asking them if they’d like to be a Traitor and why. That has a really big bearing on it, as does Alan’s opinion. It’s almost like a job interview to be a Traitor, and we take all of that into account and decide just before the pick who that should be. We want to make sure we’ve got an interesting mix of characters that will bring their own unique skill set to it.
How did you decide to create the Season 2 cast — from Bravo talent and athletes to a politician?
Cotton: Well, we loved having Marcus and Larsa in the mix. It’s a shame that they got murdered when they did, because I’d have loved one of them to have been recruited as a Traitor! Would Larsa have killed Marcus? What would have happened? So I think we’re always thinking about that mix.
What we’re really proud of is that the cast has a broad age range. On so many competition reality shows these days, all contestants are young, in the 18-25 bracket. This game doesn’t rely just on your physical prowess, so the age range is really wide. We sort of treated like putting together a jury. It’s a real cross-section of people. Yes, they’re celebrities, but they all come from slightly different backgrounds.
Episode 4 was one of the best episodes of reality TV I’ve seen in a long time, and I have a specific question. Was Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu actually in the casket when you lowered it into the ground?
Cotton: She didn’t actually get covered in dirt.
Rees-Jones: As far as the cast is concerned, she was!
Cotton: We loved that episode. Even for us, how the whole chalice story played out and Parvati Shallow, who is an amazing player, trying to get rid of that chalice and then the person getting murdered and then turning up at breakfast. We set up the task, and we knew the premise of it, but we didn’t have any idea how it might play out, and how the cast would do in it. It was amazing how they treated it like a real funeral and the mourning at the gravesite at the end. That’s how immersed they were in it.
Were they all told to bring funeral apparel?
Rees-Jones: We never mentioned a funeral because we didn’t want to give that away. But I think we said something like, bring clothes that might be appropriate for a black tie event, and then we have a stylist on location who can sort of accessorize and add things. We loved how they looked. It was quite a dramatic look.
This cast has a reality background, but do you think that those who have played strategic games like “Survivor” or “Big Brother” have an upper leg over those who, for example, competed on “Dancing With the Stars”?
Rees-Jones: People will think they’ll know how to play the game, and they don’t. It doesn’t really matter where they where they come from.
Cotton: I remember talking to Parvati once, and she said to me, “This game is so interesting, because in games like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Survivor,’ you can formulate your strategy. You set your strategy at the start and play it out until the end.” In this game, that’s totally impossible because you might have a strategy, but then that person that you formed that strategy with is suddenly banished the next day, or they get murdered the next morning. It’s a game of instincts and trust.
Rees-Jones: You’re going to love the episodes to come. There are moments when you can see the game twists, and you can see the cogs turning, someone thinking, “I’ve got to 180 my game and strategy.” It’s not just the the twists and turns the show has, it’s sort of the twists and turns that happen because someone does a certain thing.
Why did you decide to make this cast full of reality stars/celebrities, versus bringing in unknown people like you did in Season 1?
Rees-Jones: Season 1, we were quite interested in how would people approach the game if, for some people, you knew something about and you might have a preconceived idea about, and some people you didn’t know anything about at all. I think that was the concept initially behind the mix. I think it was really interesting, and paid off really well. For Season 2, we wanted to flip it and see how this would play out. The original Dutch format was always all celebrities, and it felt natural to go back to that. I think part of the reason also is that the game is a game of two sides — the Traitors vs. the Faithfuls. We also didn’t want it to be two sides in terms of celebrity and non-celebrity. So it just felt cleaner.
Lastly, why did you decide to bring Kate Chastain back?
Cotton: I think that was something that we discussed quite a lot with NBC. I think everyone felt like Kate had some unfinished business in the show. She was a standout character on Season 1.
Rees-Jones: It wouldn’t be like bringing Cirie [Fields] back, where she played an amazing game. Kate played a messy game, she’d tell you herself — a brilliant, captivating game. She’s so watchable, she brings a different dynamic. It is exciting to see her.
Cotton: And she’s a mom now, so she’s more motivated to try and win that money.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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