As The Traitors finale hits our screens, Peter Ladd explores why it is gripping our nation and what Christians can learn from it


Source: BBC

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

It’s the TV show that has gripped the nation. The Traitors is now averaging over 6 million viewers per episode. In the CARE office, half of us are talking about it each morning. The other half are probably fed up with hearing about it.  

At its core, The Traitors is a simple game, similar to ‘Mafia’ which is famously played by Christian unions and youth groups across the country. There are 22 contestants; four of them secretly assigned to be ‘Traitors’. Everyone else is a ‘Faithful’. Every night, the Traitors meet in secret to choose someone to be ‘murdered’ (or eliminated) from the game. The following day, everyones convenes, this time to decide who might be a traitor, and should be ‘banished’ from the game. Will the Faithful catch the Traitors before the Traitors murder the Faithful?

So why has it captured the nation’s imagination? Here are some lessons I think we can learn from the latest cultural phenomenon to hit our TV screens.

We enjoy using our minds

The Traitors may be a straightforward concept. But each episode is full of enough intrigue to give Agatha Christie a headache. 

Subplots and strategies abound; if you’ve worked out who the Traitor is, you might want to vote them out - but what if you can’t convince enough others to do the same? You might have to bide your time until you can persuade them, while avoiding being murdered while you’re waiting. Confused yet? It’s a game of moves and countermoves. And it’s not just the contestants who exercise their “little grey cells” (as Poirot would say!). Viewers are avidly trying to guess what is going to happen next, too. 

We have an innate desire to see the proud brought low, because that is what God desires too

There is a reason why we love crosswords, murder mysteries and strategy games so much. God gave us minds to be used. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, my emphasis). 

We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), that is, the image of the one who is ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’, as the great hymn declares. We enjoy thinking because we are made in the image of the great thinker.

Sometimes we actually admire the Traitors. For much of the current series, I’ve rooted for Harry to go undetected, because he’s been playing a blinder! Cunning and strategy are not inherently bad things; it depends on how we use them. Jesus actually tells his disciples to be “as shrewd as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). 

We enjoy seeing the proud humbled

We all love a good downfall. Many of the episodes this season have centred around the Traitor Paul, who took on the role of pantomime villain. By episode three he had stabbed one of his fellow Traitors in the back. In episode four he cried crocodile tears about how he thought he was about to be murdered. In episode seven, he boasted about his strategy (betraying another traitor) to camera. To get himself into character, he spent his evenings reading American Psycho

When he was finally unmasked, the Faithfuls went wild. Chairs flew around the room amid general pandemonium. Claudia Winkleman looked on with the air of a Bond villain surveying her handiwork. The room utterly erupted, and so did social media. As humans, we have an innate desire to see the proud brought low, because that is what God desires too. As Mary declares in her song: “[God] has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52). 

We enjoy it because it’s not real

Some Christians will find a game show which features deception, treachery and backstabbing to be unpalatable. After all, in Philippians 4, Paul instructs us: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

I don’t personally find my conscience pricked by The Traitors; it is a game akin to a murder mystery evening, not real life. Ultimately, the reason we enjoy the game is precisely because it is just that. We know that in real life, deception and lies destroy lives. 

There is a reason why we love crosswords, murder mysteries and strategy games so much

We care about truth, whether it be in our workplace, the Church or in family life. Humans, who are made in the image of a God who declares that he is the Truth, cannot stand lies.

Occasionally, one of the Traitors has a moment where they think beyond the game and crumble, because they know that, in real life, what they are doing would be wrong. When Harry voted out fellow army veteran Jonny, he left the room in tears. When Andrew pretended that he hadn’t called Harry ‘elusive’, he said afterwards: “It’s hard lying, to be honest - bare-faced, blatant lying - especially when you know the other person is telling the truth…but I’m playing the game.” 

The reason we can watch The Traitors is because really, we know that it is a game, and a gloriously hammy one at that. Enjoy the final. And may the best player win. (Jaz, I’m rooting for you…)