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How to win The Traitors, according to psychologists

The Traitors, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, has been watched by millions over the last four weeks. (BBC)
The Traitors, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, has been watched by millions over the last four weeks. (BBC)

For the past four weeks, the nation’s attention has been captured every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as The Traitors returned for a second series.

The BBC programme, which brings together 22 strangers from around the UK to a mansion in Scotland, has been watched by millions each week as viewers are desperate to find out who will win.

The premise of the game appears simple. Players are competing for a chance to win £120,000 and have to participate in “missions” to add money to the prize fund.

Most of these players are known as “Faithful”. But hidden among them are “Traitors” - a select group of players whose job it is to “murder” Faithfuls and throw them off their own scent. If, by the end of the game, any Traitors are left, they will take all the prize money.

As evidenced by the number of fans tuning in each week - with several episodes reaching more than six million people - The Traitors has been extremely captivating TV. Watching the players designated as Traitors lie and manipulate Faithfuls so they turn against each other, as well as seeing how factors like popularity and likeability have such a big influence on the decisions players make.

Paul, Ash, and Harry were the original Traitors in the latest series, but only one of them remains in the final. (BBC)
Paul, Ash, and Harry were the original Traitors in the latest series, but only one of them remains in the final. (BBC)

Delving into the mind games at play in The Traitors are Dr Clea Wright, Professor Lisa Oakley and Dr Kevin Hochard, from the psychology team at the University of Chester. The trio launched a podcast called Psychology of… The Traitors, with each 30-minute episode unpicking the thoughts and actions of the players every week.

They sat down with Yahoo UK to talk about which players have strategic expertise, the fine line between confidence and overconfidence, and what kind of mindset you need if you are chosen to participate in the third series of The Traitors.

First impressions are key

It’s always been said that first impressions are important, but if you’re playing The Traitors, then being sure of what kind of impression you want to give of yourself to other players can help set you up for the rest of the game.

Dr Oakley says: “That impression is going to be the first impression you want to give, whether you end up as a Traitor or Faithful, because certainly at the beginning of the game, you want people to like you and trust you, and think you’re a team player. First impressions really matter.”

She points to Harry Clark - who was designated a Traitor in the first episode and is the only original Traitor to have made it to the final - as someone who has done this well.

Watch: The Traitors star Diane says husband found out she was on show by accident

“In the first episode, there’s a really interesting bit where Harry says he’s decided he’s going to portray himself in the game as a bit of a cheeky chappy, so that essentially there isn’t going to be suspicion on him.”

After you find out whether you are a Faithful or a Traitor, players still need to keep up with that first impression they’ve given so as not to get banished.

“You don’t want to stand out in a way that might make yourself get banished, which is exactly what we saw with Aubrey Emerson, who kept saying, ‘I’m great at observing everybody’,” Dr Wright adds. Aubrey was the first Faithful to be “murdered” by the Traitors.

Don’t make snap judgements

One of the most interesting revelations from The Traitors has been about the snap judgements we make about others.

Dr Wright explains: “A lot of players make this mistake. They think they’re really, really good at reading people. It’s tricky, because they might be reading people well, but the Traitors don’t choose themselves.

“So the players could be making really accurate judgements about someone’s character, and that person might be a Traitor, but not because they chose to be a Traitor - they're playing a part. It doesn’t mean that they are naturally less trustworthy or less honest people."

The Traitors II,03-01-2024,1,Andrew, Jasmine, Ross,Studio Lambert,Studio Lambert
The Traitors: Andrew, Jasmine, Ross.

People also tend to make snap judgements based on how consistent they think others are being. The more inconsistent you are, the more likely you are to cast suspicion upon yourself - like Anthony Mathurin, the eighth Faithful to be banished.

Players claimed his “energy” changed from the time they first met him.

Dr Hochard chimes in: “There’s so much in terms of how people communicate that we can’t or don’t consciously pick up on it. But subconsciously we do, and that is all part of forming that impression or vibe that we might get from people.

“When players said Ant wasn’t consistent, I think people put too much emphasis on the person and not enough on the context. Because the context had completely changed from when they all first met to the first roundtable.

“Ant was playing the game, he was actually being very logical and was one of the few players applying very good critical thinking - the other player being Jaz [Singh, Faithful].”

Balance between confidence and overconfidence

For many viewers, Paul Gorton was the favourite villain of this series. The confident, treacherous red-headed business manager came across as highly likeable and was voted Most Popular Player at one point - however, it was at this point that he veered into the wrong territory.

“Everyone - apart from Jaz and Zack [Davies, Faithful] - seemed to find Paul’s confidence reassuring,” Dr Wright says. “But Paul’s downfall came about because he overestimated his own position and his own influence. And he underestimated Harry [who was key in getting Paul banished].”

Following the third week, viewers started worrying that Harry was about to veer in the same direction of overconfidence.

The Traitors II,05-01-2024,3,Harry,Studio Lambert,Studio Lambert
The Traitors: Harry

Dr Oakley agrees and says: “He kind of assumes he’s the one in charge now and that Andrew will do whatever he wants him to. But I think it’s dangerous to underestimate the other players.”

How do you win The Traitors?

If you happen to be chosen to join The Traitors for its third series, there are several things you will need to do in order to strategise before starting the game, Dr Hochard says.

Firstly, you must not declare that you are good at the game at the very start of it.

Secondly, think carefully about what kind of impression you want to make of yourself - and make sure you can stick to it.

“There is clearly something you need to project, and you need to be very careful about what you’re projecting from the get-go, because whatever happens, you need to think long-term and it has to be sustainable.

“So if you are not naturally inclined to be smiley and chirpy, don’t project yourself as the cheerleader of the group. It’s not sustainable and it won’t work.”

The Traitors II,03-01-2024,1,Claudia Winkleman with the contestants.,Studio Lambert,Studio Lambert
The Traitors: Claudia Winkleman with the contestants.

You should also have a good understanding of what you can bring to group discussions. Ask yourself what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you can use them to your advantage.

“That’s going to reduce the amount of cognitive effort you’re going to have to use as the game progresses,” Dr Hochard says. “It makes it easier to sustain the persona you want to project.”

Finally, everything depends on whether you are chosen as a Traitor or a Faithful. If you’re a Traitor, you must be strategic and plan ahead.

“You have to be subtle and be OK with not taking all the limelight and letting it be seen that other people are making the decision,” he adds, pointing to Harry’s gameplay as a good example of how to play as a Traitor.

As a Faithful, it pays to really listen to what people are saying, and how they are saying it. Dr Wright advises to pay attention after asking someone a question.

“If you ask somebody a question, you expect them to be able to answer. If they can’t answer immediately because they pause or they hesitate, or they say, ‘What? I didn’t hear you’, or they answer a question with a question, that’s not an immediate natural response. And you should think, why is that?”

“The Faithfuls also need to listen to everybody’s voice. We tend to be selective about who we listen to, but when you listen to all the different voices, you can start to put together information and see where things don’t add up.”

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