The setup of The Traitors is deceptively simple. Throw a huge cast into a castle on the Scottish highlands. Pick a few of them as turncoats, secretly playing against their fellow contestants, with the power to eliminate threats at will. If they can avoid detection and dodge the voting power of their peers in every episode’s democratic elimination, they’ll steal the entirety of the potential $250,000 prize pot in the end.
It’s a fun game to watch, with a strong premise (even though its creator pitched it for five years before it got picked up). Since its debut in the Netherlands in 2021, it’s become an international phenomenon, with versions of the show popping up in more than 20 countries, from Canada to the UK to Australia.
But the hype for season two of the show’s American edition has reached a fever pitch, and its become the number one unscripted series in the U.S. across all streaming platforms, according to Nielsen. If you ask any of the show’s fans, that’s because of its unpredictable, dynamic cast, that pulls some of the biggest names from shows like Survivor, Big Brother, The Challenge, and Bravo’s Housewives franchise. It’s packed with some of reality TV’s biggest personalities, game-changers, loudmouths, and meme machines.
Those legends were assembled by Deena Katz, the show’s co-executive producer, who ran the casting process. She talked to GQ about what makes a great traitor, the reality stars sliding into her DMs to get on season 3, and the player she’s got her money on.
GQ: Every Traitors fan has been wondering: how did you get so many big names on season two?
Deena Katz: I started as a fan girl of the show, and I reached out to people that way: have you seen it? And if you haven’t, you have to watch it. It’s the best game playing show on television. I started with the best gamers. You can hook those guys in because this is such a great game. People jumped right in because it looked like so much fun to play.
There’s such a high caliber of talent from many different worlds of reality TV on the cast. Did any of them need convincing?
A lot of it was actually trying to figure out schedules. Trying to get this whole group of people to go to Scotland to shoot at the same time was difficult. But the people I went out to, this is what they thrive in. They were excited to be called to play this game. It’s not like working on a show where they’re going to be living in a house together and that’s the drama. These people get to play a game that they think they can all win. So it wasn’t so much convincing anyone to do it, it was more: are you available?
Besides being a great game player, are there any other essential characteristics that someone needs to come on The Traitors?
There’s some survival skills, but not like Survivor. Not “Can you make fire?” Can you survive in this atmosphere where you’re not sure who you can trust and you don’t know who’s backstabbing you? Can you double cross and can you be double crossed? Mentally, can you survive this? Also, comedy works on any show. People like Phaedra [Parks, from The Real Housewives of Atlanta] that you didn’t know were that funny. I watch for the ones you root for, the underdogs, the funny ones, people that don’t take it too seriously.
Is there a balance that you’re striking, between the more serious and less serious players?
I reference Pilot Pete a lot. As a Bachelor, he seemed like a really nice honest guy. You didn’t think that Pete had it in him to play this kind of game. You knew what Parvati [Shallow, Survivor] was going to do, and you couldn’t wait to watch it. But I love watching the people who surprise you.
What inspired the switch to full reality stars? Last season, there was an even split between “regular people” and TV personalities.
It was a network & production company thing, but I’m thrilled that they did it. It’s more fun to watch people that you know play the game, and certainly it helped publicity-wise when announcing it. You put people from different shows on, and you’re going to attract different audiences to watch them, and it’s a great marketing tool. It also makes it more fun to play as a cast member. These guys are seasoned.
We’ve seen so far on this season players forming cliques based on their reality show affiliation — the Housewives banding together, for example. Is that something you think about in casting?
It was an interesting dynamic to put Larsa [Pippen] and Marcus [Jordan] on because they’re a couple. How are you going to play against each other but be with each other? C.T. [Tamburello, The Challenge] and Johnny Bananas [The Challenge] had a past together, too. But I had no idea that the Bravo women were going to click that way. I didn’t know if they would be with each other or trying to take each other down.
I tried really hard to touch a lot of different categories and people and personalities. You might not know who M.J. [Mercedes Javid, Shahs of Sunset] is but you might know who Bergie [Bergersen, Love Island] is. I’m very cognizant of who people want to see.
Who’s a dream Traitors cast member in a future season?
I would love another Survivor. You look at Sandra [Diaz-Twine, Survivor] for example. They play this game so well. I would love to see, like, someone from Selling Sunset. One of those women would be fantastic in this mix. Those ladies are so smart and I’m not sure everybody knows how smart they are at game playing. Watch Chrishell on this thing.
Already, there are, without saying names, a lot of folks that I get texts from—all the time—saying I am watching this, I need to be on the show. If you could see my phone…
My friends are waiting for Boston Rob and Russell Hantz.
Well, send them on over. To me, we need more of the icons of Survivor. And obviously, Boston Rob is on the top of my list as well because he’s such a great player. I’m hoping for many seasons to come because there are so many fantastic players. And look at Pilot Pete; it doesn’t have to be someone that you’d expect.
The internet reaction has been insane. Do you pay attention to it, does it give you ideas?
I don’t think people realize that I do read those things. And sometimes I think—that’s a really good idea. I laugh at things, when, like, people were asking why Jennifer Aniston wasn’t on there and obviously Jennifer Aniston is probably not going to be on Traitors. But mostly the fans have fantastic ideas. We make these shows for the audience, so why would I not consider those?
Will “normal people” ever be invited back on the show?
I don’t think it’d be just reality stars. I’d like to see more athletes. I love to see people out of the box. I love people like Jon Bercow [former speaker of the UK House of Commons] because you’d never expect him, so I’d like to broaden it to more quote unquote celebrity types. I’m not sure if non-celebrity types will come back because we’re having so much fun this way, but never say never.
Is there anyone that you’ve been personally sad to see voted out or murdered early?
[Spoiler alert!] I was disappointed to see Johnny Bananas going so early, because he can play a game, and he never even got a shot. I know Maksim Chmerkovskiy [Dancing With the Stars] so well, and I think he could have shook things up a bit longer.
Does a big game player like Bananas have a target on his back from the get-go, though?
That’s the hard part of doing the casting here. On Survivor, the players don’t know who everybody is unless they’re doing a special season or bringing someone back. Here, they all know each other so well, and they know the great players. Do you take out a great player or do you want to play against them and beat them?
During casting, was there anyone who stood out and made you think: my money is on this person?
Yes and no. The Parvatis of the world, you knew were going to do well. You knew C.T. was going to do well. You know Dan [Gheesling, Big Brother] is going to do well. So those don’t surprise me. The Phaedras and the Petes, those are pleasant surprises for me. The ones that aren’t straight down the competition reality line, those are the ones I’m having fun watching. And you should never discount someone like Bergie. Sometimes fans think that person is just sliding by, but they really have a plan. Pilot Pete, to me, is playing such a good game right now.
Do people try to play into you during casting to become traitors?
There are some people that want to be traitors and some people who don’t want to be traitors, believe it or not. The producers pick the traitors, and they’ll never put someone on the traitors who doesn’t want to be a traitor. The traitors have the choice.
What advice do you have for reality stars who want to get on Traitors in the future?
Tweet about it! Every day online I’m looking at famous people and seeing what they’re saying about the show. I use social media every single day. And if you want to be on it, you’re going to be a better contestant. It shows on television.
Would you rather play as a faithful or a traitor?
If you can lie well, I think it’s easier to play as a traitor. But the pressure has to be on you so much. If I was playing, I’d have to be a faithful, because I don’t know how to lie that way. I talk really fast and you can tell right away. You have to be such a brilliant actor to be a traitor. I think I would survive better as a faithful.
Originally Appeared on GQ