If there was a bit of treachery at work inside your home, would you spot it? Parlour games that involve an element of domestic detection, or even barefaced fibbing, have been popular since well before Cluedo was invented in 1943. But in the wake of television hit The Traitors – now back for a second run – the sleuthing instinct has taken over, elbowing out traditional board games based simply on strategising to accumulate power and wealth, such as Monopoly or Risk.
This weekend, on the heels of the release of a spin-off card game and a board game based on the reality gameshow, the BBC is launching an online version of The Traitors. It is a fitting commercial acknowledgement of a programme that has quickly joined the corporation’s mainstream crown jewels, with healthy viewing figures holding up against the darts final on Wednesday night. The first episode of season two was watched by a peak of 3.1 million viewers, according to Barb ratings. This is almost up there with the 3.3 million who watched the tense final in November 2022, once the phenomenon had attracted a wide fanbase.
“It really is the same show as Big Brother, at least the first series, where Nasty Nick emerged as the villain and everyone went mad about it. People reacted as if it was a major scandal, but he was just playing the game,” said Peter Bazalgette, who made Big Brother a hit for Channel 4 and who is a former chair of ITV. “In American Big Brother the most popular housemate so far is the one who played a hard game and worked to get everyone to vote the others off, like a traitor. But in Britain we don’t seem to like that.”
The BBC’s online predictor game, which went live on Friday night, will let audiences join in with the “round table” deliberations featured in the show, as well as feed a perceived national desire to sort out the truth-tellers, or faithful, from the phonies, all from the safety of an armchair.
BBC digital commissioner Jamie Dodds says it will allow viewers “to see if they can think like a traitor” and “play along with all the betrayals, mind games and manipulations” of the show.
On the real show, filmed at Ardross Castle in the Scottish Highlands, a family element has already been secretly introduced into the ruthless gamesmanship on display. Among the supposed strangers are hidden a pair who share a particularly strong genetic bond. One of them may, or may not, be a redhead. While we do know the identities of the initial traitors, other secrets lurk.
Most of the suspense of the TV show revolves around the pressure for the 22 contestants to work out who is feigning friendship and who is being genuine, as they all vie for a chance to walk away with a £120,000 prize pot. The strangers need to sniff out the liars among them, as they face a string of group challenges filmed in and around the castle grounds.
Fans may already have spent their holidays playing the board or card game. They are all part of a slew of BBC merchandise officially linked to the show, including Traitors cloaks, as well as mugs and T-shirts bearing the show’s logo.
But the arrival of the online game marks an interesting twist. Computer games have been turned into dramas, with popular titles such as The Witcher and The Last of Us netting loyal audiences for Netflix and HBO respectively. The Traitors has travelled in the opposite direction. “An online game is the right way to go with a successful bit of intellectual property. They are bigger than the movie business now, worldwide,” said Bazalgette.
The format always bore a resemblance to online games such as Among Us, as well as to low-tech party games such as Mafia or Werewolf or Wink Murder. Since the ratings triumph of the British version, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, an Australian version and an American version, also filmed at Ardross and presented by actor Alan Cumming, have had a similar impact. The second season of the American version returns this month. Since its launch in the Netherlands on RTL 4 in 2021, the format has proved its international appeal with more than 25 adaptations.
In the online game, licensed to the BBC by format rights holder All3Media International, players need to make their choices about the identity of the murder victims and the banished by the start of the next episode.
Each correct guess means their total of points grows over the course of the series. They can also gain points by predicting which contestants will make it through to the endgame and by answering bonus questions. Players will be ranked on a leader board and able to compete in smaller groups of friends, Fantasy Football-style, across the series.
The new series is accompanied by an analytical spin-off show Uncloaked, presented by comedian Ed Gamble, on BBC Two and iPlayer.
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