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100% faithful

About a year ago, I wrote about liking the first series of The Traitors: an uncontroversial opinion, if ever there was one.

In the latest edition of FT Weekend, Henry Mance rips into the series, says:

The BBC could just as well broadcast monkeys throwing darts at a board. (With budget cuts, it probably will.)

It’s a fun article which is worth reading. Unfortunately, it reveals that Mance has misunderstood the programme.

His fundamental error, from which all the rest flows, is this:

In the game, adapted from a Dutch TV show, there are 22 contestants. Three or four are “traitors”; the rest are “faithful”. The faithful ones have to identify the traitors, and vote them off one by one.

Mance is confusing the stated goal with the actual goal for players. This is like criticising The Day Today for failing to provide a comprehensive news roundup.

For most of the series, the faithful have no incentive to eliminate traitors. Traitors are allowed to replace members who are voted off, and the end-game means that it is plausible to eradicate all of the traitors in the final moments. Attempting to sway people to vote off a traitor early on is a surefire way to leave the programme, as the traitors are likely to try to convince others to banish opponents to save their own skins. The better strategy is for the faithful to eliminate their competitors, people outside their personal alliances who they suspect may eventually vote them off, regardless of their faithful or traitor status.

Mance complains that players are reduced to making banishment decisions based on feelings, with no corroborating evidence: this is true in the early game, but as we’ve discovered, this doesn’t matter. It is not true of the later game, by which point the evidence from the murders and banishments gradually stacks up.

The psychological drama in the programme comes from watching people pursue other goals under the guise of trying to ‘vote out traitors’.

Mance says:

the show is crying out for a contestant to point out the emperor’s lack of clothes: “Hey everyone, we’re no good at spotting liars. So instead of accusing each other of treachery, why don’t we stay friends and just draw lots?”

He doesn’t realise that this is a surefire way for the ‘faithful’ to lose the game… and that, perhaps, ought to have been his biggest clue that he’d misunderstood the format.

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