Courtesy of NBCUniversal
As soon as it debuted, last week’s episode of The Traitors was called “one of the best reality TV moments of 2024," thanks to a dramatic showdown between human time bomb Dan Gheesling [Big Brother], and the ever-quotable Phaedra Parks [The Real Housewives of Atlanta].
With the firing squad lining up against him for elimination, Dan played a desperate card, and threatened to expose Phaedra as a fellow traitor. When she deftly turned the tables with a few masterfully crafted one-liners, the moment was quickly declared the stuff of reality TV legend.
If you’re not yet watching (and you should, there’s a reason it’s the number one unscripted series in the U.S. across all streaming platforms, according to Nielsen), the set-up goes like this: twenty-two players arrive at a Scottish castle to play a souped-up murder mystery dinner party game, hoping to nab a prize pot of $250,000. Concealed amongst them are the traitors, who must secretly “murder” the others without getting caught. If they make it to the end, they take all the dough.
The stellar cast makes it shine, stacked with larger-than-life characters from many of the most-watched reality shows of the last two decades. But it’s Phaedra and the show's other remaining eponymous turncoat, Parvati Shallow, who have emerged as the show’s true stars.
Parvati first played Survivor on the show’s 13th season in Cook Islands, as a flirtatious free spirit with a devious streak. But it was Survivor: Micronesia in 2008 that turned her into a legend, after she maximized her joint slay by forming an all-women alliance that became known as the “Black Widow Brigade,” for the way it used sly charm and slippery promises to systematically eliminate every male contestant. She won that season, and the million dollars that came with it, and returned to the show for two more tries—making it to the finale and losing to two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine in one, sparking a lot of debate about who was the true queen of Survivor.
Viewers first met Phaedra on The Housewives of Atlanta: Season 3 as an ambitious lawyer and Southern Belle, and her quick wit quickly established her place in the RHOA hall of fame. During her seven-year stretch on the show between 2010-2017, she represented fellow housewife Shereé Whitfield in court, foreshadowed her role in Traitors by pursuing funeral direction, feuded over fitness videos, and delivered unforgettable soundbites.
On The Traitors, the two have been at odds at times (like when Parvati called out the Housewives at the round table, but we’ll get to that) but lately linked up to eliminate “Dirty Dan” and attempt to recruit their chief rival, Bachelor’s Peter Weber, into the traitors’ tower. Here, they spoke to GQ about the things you don’t see on television, leaning into the show’s campy vibe with their fashion choices, the old feuds that this season has ended — and the new ones it launched.
GQ: How’d you get the call to go on Traitors?
Parvati Shallow: They called me to do it during the first season, but I couldn't at the time. My personal life was too hectic. My daughter had just started kindergarten, I was writing a memoir. I didn't know if I could pull out of this very vulnerable place and go back into game mode. Lying, deceiving, high-pressure, adrenaline. But they sold me on it. I watch the show and it's so camp and gorgeous and funny and insane. It's so different from Survivor. I thought, This will be a good coming-out for me.
Phaedra Parks: Peacock called and said, “Think castle, Dominique Deveraux, spiral staircases, Scotland, fashion.” I love to travel, but I love glamorous things. She didn't mention the physical aspect.
She didn't mention that you’d had to carry a catapult up a hill?
Phaedra: That definitely would have changed my mind. But this is one of my parents’ favorite shows. They called me three days before I had to leave and my mom said “That's our show! We'll be there tomorrow to take care of the kids.”
Did you watch the first season?
Phaedra: I didn't have time.
So you went in cold turkey?
Phaedra: Brandi Glenville [The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills] and I are very close, so I knew she had been on the show. She had a great time. But as far as what to expect, I sort of just dived in. Experience of a lifetime. I told most of my friends that 2023 was my year of yes so I'm going to say pretty much yes to everything.
They amped up the camp in season 2, playing into the Clue vibes. And Alan [Cumming, the show’s host] is bringing the drama and theatrics. Did that make it easy to get into?
Phaedra: He is so beautiful. He had a tailor there that was exquisite, the best in the business. I've never seen such good work. Beautiful people make you feel better. Pretty is as pretty does. Everyone came down in the morning refreshed. So you're like, OK, what is everyone wearing today? The breakfast is really about the style. It's definitely a fashion show—how are you going to present yourself?
How do you dress for a day as a traitor?
Phaedra: My whole focus and muse was Dynasty. Every day I was thinking Dynasty. Joan Collins. Dominique Deveraux. Old Hollywood. Lots of fluffiness, yet stylish and elegant. It's also the castle—it's so regal, so beautiful. It looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Parvati: I had two people in mind. Both iconic, so campy in their own way: Moira Rose and Blair Waldorf. I was like, If I show up to this castle with a suitcase full of wigs, people are going to think I'm completely insane. So I went in the direction of Blair Waldorf. She's bitchy, her style is gorgeous. She's kind of a bad guy, but kind of vulnerable and has these tender moments. But she's also so mean-girl and elitist, and that's what I want to play into—because it is such a theatrical experience. I wanted to be a larger than life character of myself.
Blair Waldorf in the billiard room with the poison chalice.
Parvati: Exactly. But this is a show first and a game second. That's the real differentiating factor between Traitors and Survivor. Survivor is a game first and foremost, and the show element is background. For Traitors it's like, we're making a show, and also there's this game. That’s new for me.
Did the switch between the two surprise you?
Parvati: It was so much harder for me to play in a contained environment. It felt like a pressure cooker where I couldn't move my body to release. So it just kept building and building and building and I was about to burst. I had no outlet for all of the intense emotion and adrenaline coursing through my body.
Was it a mindset shift going from Housewives to Traitors?
Phaedra: Not really. I'd never been in the gaming world. So I was really being my authentic self. If you look good, you feel good. And you have to stay warm because it's a little chilly over there. It's very windy and wet and damp and rainy. So my key point was: can I stay warm?
And in the challenges you're going into lakes, up hills, into graves.
Phaedra: Don't remind me. All of those challenging physical tasks. My mom told me to listen more than I speak. Not to come in too hot. Not to make myself a target because I'm the loudest mouth in the room. I came in and tried to read the room appropriately every day and tried to make friends with everyone.
I love that your parents love the show. Did they know you had this in you?
Phaedra: They're like, “You're doing great. Get Dan.”
What was going through your head when Dan called you out?
Phaedra: Unbelievable. Under the bus, honey. I was disappointed. I couldn't believe it, because I really saved him a few times. I always defended him. Because in my mind, I'm playing the game very fair. We're in the secret society and we took an oath in front of Alan saying we would not reveal each other and we would protect each other unless you were already under suspicion. Everybody knows I was never under suspicion. So for him to do that, I was furious.
Parvati: Dan told me he was going to do that, 5 minutes before. And I wondered why he wasn't coming after me. He should have, because it would have saved him, at least another day. He was going to go next anyway, they were so onto him. When he went after Phaedra, he had already given me the heads up, but you never know in these games because people are lying all over the place. So when he actually did it, I was like, "Phew, I can sit back and relax and watch this show go down." The round table is such a battle, but there's no movement. That's what makes it such an intense experience. You're frozen to your chair but you're doing battle. I was happy to sit back and watch the bullets fly.
He said in a recent interview that it was a sign of respect for Phaedra, that he had to go after her because he realized that her game was so good that she wouldn't be banished.
Phaedra: That's just being a sore loser. That's a character flaw.
Do you guys talk?
Phaedra: I do not talk to Dirty Dan. I have no interest in speaking with him. But you know, I've talked to everybody else. We had a wonderful cast. I've made friends, kept in touch with them. I'll probably be friends with them forever.
When Dan brought up killing Bergie [Carsten “Bergie” Bergersen from Love Island: USA], Parvati sniffed that out as a trap. Did you know Dan was walking into that, and did you let him?
Parvati: Honestly, I knew that it was a trap and that we were being lied to. I said it. Dan was so adamant. I had killed Ekin-Su and Phaedra had killed Tamra [Judge, The Real Housewives of Orange County], so it really was Dan's turn. I wanted to stay close to Dan because he had my back, he'd demonstrated that time and again. If he really wants this, how much do I want to push back? Also, we were freaking exhausted, it was like 4 a.m. by the time we were in the tower. So I was like, fine, kill Bergie. But I don't think I realized how much it would expose. And how much storytelling I would have to do after that. I didn't really come up with a good lie afterwards. What do I even say? I'm not good at coming up with stories. I'm good at diversions and executing missions and I can poison people at the drop of a dime but when people ask, “Why should I think you aren't a traitor?” I'm like, welp. Because!? I don't know what to say.
Phaedra: I told him I did not think it was a good idea. I told both of them. You've got to be smart. Why would they tell the two of you? When they told everyone in plain sight that they were going to keep the secret to themselves. It made no sense. I knew it was a trap. But they were dead set on killing Bergie. And Bergie was my sweetheart. I adored him. So I didn't want them to kill my Bergalicious.
Do you guys still hang out?
Phaedra: He lives in Minnesota, I live in Georgia. But we talk, and he's an amazing young man.
You banded together with other Housewives earlier in the season. Do you think Housewives have advantages or disadvantages coming into this game?
Phaedra: When Parvati called us out as a miniature gang, that was not a good idea because it made us look like this collective group. However, in my mind it was always us against them. Because they've come to our network to play—we didn't go to CBS. They came to Peacock, NBC Universal. So I thought we deserved to win. If not me, then one of my sisters in the Bravo universe.
It genuinely feels like it would be so stressful to play as a traitor. Would you play again as a faithful? Do you think it'd be easier?
Phaedra: My mom said that the traitor was the best position. I could do either. I could be a good traitor and I could be a good faithful, because the game is about how people feel about you. And people never remember anything but how you left them, the emotions they had, the connection. That's what some people miss when they play this game. Coming in too hot is not good but being weird like Dan is bad as well. You have to balance it, be friendly enough but not overly friendly. Not too weird. And you have to make alliances.
Parvati: The show is called Traitors. You want to be a traitor, even if you don't want to be a traitor.
You don't cast Parvati unless there's a chance she's going to get to do some scheming.
Parvati: The producers all asked me, Alan asked me, “Do you want to be a traitor or a faithful? And I kept saying, I want to be a faithful, and later on get recruited as a traitor. That was my whole idea, and I did get recruited, but a little too early for me to really land in the role. Playing as a traitor is more fun because you have the inside scoop. You get to go to the turret. All the secret sauce, you get to experience. I would feel like I missed out on that if I was a faithful for the whole game. But the double edged sword of being a traitor is that you have to hold this lie inside this container for so long while people are constantly assaulting and attacking your character and saying, It's you! That's really intense.
Larsa [Pippen, The Real Housewives of Miami] immediately turned to you after traitor selection and called you out, when you weren't yet a traitor. What was going through your head?
Parvati: I was furious. Larsa was already giving me the stink eye even before that. And then they sat us next to each other at the round table, and I was like come on. Then the first thing she does is call me out at the table in front of everyone. She's painted this big bullseye on me. I was so pissed. So I had a large reaction, larger than what was shown on TV. It was extreme. Any little thing is a reason for people to banish the first people in the game.
I wanted to ask you about the edit. Are there moments that you wish they had shown?
Phaedra: They didn't show me defending Dan because they had come after Dan before and I had defended him at the round table. But other than that, I think the edits have been really true to the story.
Parvati: Well, I definitely swore when Larsa called me out. But I guess that's not my brand so they didn't put that in. The round table lasts like two hours, so there's a ton that's left that you don't get to see. I am loving this edit for many reasons, for me anyways. It looks like I know what I'm doing even though I don't know what's going on. Half the time I was in such chaos. I like how they're editing these long pauses and long moments of silence. When I was poisoning Ekin-Su, it looks like the whole room was quiet and silently staring at each other, but it was a party in there. People were chatting, there was banter, people were laughing.
Or how every challenge somehow comes down to the final seconds.
Parvati: I know. It's not Survivor.
What was your relationship with Sandra like before coming into the show, and what is it like now?
Parvati: Sandra and I had a non-existent relationship. I wouldn't even say it was contentious. You know when you hear someone's name and you recoil? You're like ooooh a snake, a spider. But this has been a healing experience for the two of us. I'm happy to see her. I find her very entertaining. She's just who she is, and I accept that. She's never going to admit the truth that she started the beef, this queen war. I'm not going to engage in a queen war, but Sandra started that and she was perpetuating it. So I was like, she doesn't like me. I'm not going to try to get her to like me. But when we have to play a reality show competition together, I do need you in my life, and I need to be your friend. So let's figure it out. I'm so glad that Peppermint brought us together on the first day. It was wildly awkward. I think my face is frozen in a creepy smile and so was Sandra's. But it really worked for us. I feel like we've healed the wound.
They just announced season 3 is coming. Who would you like to see on it?
Parvati: I want to see some Survivor players out there. Maybe some people who have kind of flown under the radar, gone unnoticed. Natalie Bolton, let's get her on Traitors. I don't think that people would feel threatened by her. She could pull off the lie. I know Angelina from Mike White's season gave her information to casting, too. Something's brewin'.
Phaedra: Flava Flav is a very good friend of mine and I was telling him how much fun I had. He was like “Please recommend me, because I think it'd be a great experience.” He's so brilliant. We know him from MTV shows and the clocks and he's very theatrical but he's so smart and strategic in real life, I think he would make an amazing addition. Just the clocks everyday. What time is it in the castle? Look at Flava Flav.
Do you have a favorite Phaedra line?
Phaedra: Of course I love: “I do too much because you do too little.” I was really telling the truth.
Does that come from your background as a lawyer?
Phaedra: Actually I was a litigator so I'm good on my feet. I'm good when I'm put in a very hot-seat position. I will never let them see me sweat. That's my training. Lawyers are performers because we have to convince people. We go to court and plead a case and we have to be able to analyze things in a succinct way but convey it where people will be persuaded to move in our direction. And be calm at the same time.
Do you pay attention to the online reaction to the show? Every episode is a meme machine.
Parvati: It's really fun. I repost everyone on Instagram. Anyone who wears a headband. All the guys that are wearing headbands now are my favorite.
Phaedra: The memes are everywhere. I'm appreciative of the love because who would have known? It has definitely been something that I never imagined would be this popular.
If they were to reboot Real Housewives of Atlanta, who would you want on it? Would you go?
Phaedra: That's the discussion that's on the table right now. Obviously what has to happen is something to rejuvenate the cast. We saw with New York, people are loving that. And we've seen it with Miami going on haitus and coming back. I think Atlanta has the chance to rebuild the stellar reputation it had when I was a part of it. Because it was the Titanic and it sunk. Pull them back up. Never say never. There's been some discussions about me returning. We'll see.
Did you ever get your boiled eggs?
Phaedra: [laughs] Yes. And we actually eat at that breakfast. That's truly our breakfast.
[At this point, Trishell Cannatella from The Real World: Las Vegas interrupts the interview to say hello to Phaedra.]
Phaedra: Don't you look adorable?
Trishell: Thank you! I just used your line. "I do too much because you do too little." My husband tried to use it on me the other day and I was like, “How are you using Phaedra's lines against me?” So rude.
Originally Appeared on GQ