On 26 January, the nation tuned in to watch the finale of the second season of the BBC’s reality show The Traitors, drawing in its highest ever audience.
A reported peak of 6.9 million viewers watched the episode to discover the winner, rising to total 8.03 million after seven days of streaming and catch-up viewing was accounted for. This total was an increase of more than three million on the first season’s finale in 2022, showing it managed to avoid the difficult second season syndrome.. If anything, the latest season has seen even greater success and attention than the first – its new companion show on BBC Two, The Traitors: Uncloaked, achieved live viewership of 3.1 million on finale night.
The BBC hit’s popularity has been fuelled by several meme-worthy moments such as Diane Carson’s confession about fellow contestant Ross Carson being her son, Paul Gorton’s banishment (and bow) and Ross’ wink directly to the camera. It is these sorts of dramatic and tongue-in-cheek moments that the likes of ITV’s Love Island – which aired in the same weeknight 9pm slot – cannot compete with.
But what is the key to its success? As one of the BBC’s biggest hits in recent years, The Traitors demonstrates a hunger from viewers for “normal” and relatable people – coupled with a gripping narrative of strategy and betrayal – and has overtaken many popular shows, in particular Love Island, which has conversely been criticised for promoting unrealistic beauty standards. The Traitors also produced must-watch TV that encouraged people to tune in at 9pm on the dot each night to see how the story unfolded and avoid spoilers on social media – a feeling of community camaraderie that has been somewhat lost in the modern age of streaming and on-demand television.
The Traitors thrives where Love Island falls short
Following the slump in Love Island viewership, ITV launched Love Island: All Stars as a replacement for its winter edition of the franchise, which typically struggled to attract viewers and recorded its lowest viewing figures in seven years for its most recent season. The debut of All Stars on ITV1 and ITV2 pulled in approximately 1.9 million viewers, not even in the same ballpark as its BBC competitor.
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Some have attributed Love Island’s predictability as its downfall. The show hits our screens every year with the same challenges and calculated contestants who are driven by the desire to get more airtime. All Stars has been subject to huge and passionate criticism from creators about its lack of diversity, which was stoked even further by fan favourite Kaz Kamwi being left single and subsequently dumped from the villa directly after the arrival of “three bottle blondes”.
With The Traitors’ huge success comes greater press and social media attention and not all of it positive. Winner Harry Clark received some backlash for taking home the winnings (£95,000). Fans suggested he didn’t need the money after noticing Instagram posts of Clark on a private jet prior to the series. The star was quick to respond, saying he was on the jet thanks to his girlfriend Anna Maynard, CBBC presenter and the sister of pop star Conor Maynard and YouTuber Jack Maynard. However, it’s undeniable that Clark’s game-playing tactics, and relationship with co-star Mollie Pearce – which sparked headlines of its own – fuelled the dramatic narrative and created highly engaging television.
While many believe Love Island has run its course, The Traitors is just getting started and is already on the hunt for season three applicants.
By Abby Oldroyd, CORQ news and features writer. Picture credit: BBC via Instagram