The Group Chat is where Primetimer staffers and contributors share everything from first impressions to warring opinions on TV's biggest moments. Because everyone needs a group chat.
With Kate Chastain making her much-celebrated return to The Traitors, by special invitation of Alan Cumming, this Thursday, the show is injecting a bit of chaos into the game. Despite making an enemy out of nearly everyone in the cast, the Below Deck alum was the breakout star of Season 1, and her performative misery and conflict with Rachel Reilly helped turn the Peacock competition into a word-of-mouth hit every bit deserving of its Andy Cohen-hosted reunion.
One year later, Kate is back for another round of murder and mayhem. But while the first four episodes have featured competitive gameplay and interesting interpersonal dynamics, does her return serve as a tacit acknowledgment that no one has the spark to make Season 2 come alive the way Season 1 did? Primetimer's senior editor Claire Spellberg Lustig and senior writer Joe Reid debate:
Claire: I think it's important to address this right off the bat: I was nowhere near as excited about Season 2's all-celebrity cast as you were. I'm not a huge competition show person, so I wasn't as familiar with the likes of Dan Gheesling and Parvati Shallow, but even more so, the Bravo and Bravo-adjacent personalities are from shows I don't regularly watch. (Lisa Barlow, now is your time to be a Traitor!)
So, when Peacock announced that Kate Chastain would be returning, I was ecstatic, both as an avid Below Deck watcher and a fan of her work last season on The Traitors. Maybe my Below Deck bias is showing, but I feel like this season has been missing someone who actually says what they're thinking, with no regard for strategy or alliance-making — and that's exactly what Kate did throughout Season 1, much to my (and clearly Peacock executives') delight.
Joe: You're actually not the first person I've talked to who's been a little nonplussed when it comes to what's such a big deal about The Traitors' Season 2 cast. I have been learning to allow for the fact that not everybody knows a priori why it's such a big deal to have Dan and Parvati and Janelle Pierzina and Sandra Diaz-Twine on the same show. The world of social-strategy competition shows is admittedly a narrow one, with our own shorthand and totems. I do think it's funny whenever Dan brings up throwing his own funeral on Big Brother, as if anyone who's not familiar with his show will have any idea what that means or why it broke BB fans' brains when he did it.
For people like me, The Traitors is so much fun in large part because it is such a stripped-down game of social strategy: The only objective is to convince someone else that you're being truthful, whether you are or not. This is why the show makes sense as an all-star venue for the best players from Big Brother, Survivor, and The Challenge. It's such a pure concept. And as much as I loved Kate last season when she was mixing it up at the breakfast table with Rachel, adding her back to the game this season feels entirely unnecessary. I no longer worry that the show is holding her hostage — she clearly wants to be here if she came back — but it's still hard for me to imagine she has any interest in playing the game to win. Even this season's floppiest contestants — hey, Bergie — are playing hard. I don't think I really need Kate's contributions this time.
I'm curious: Through these first four episodes, have any of the Season 2 cast members given you anything approaching the chaos or humor that Kate provided last year?
Claire: To be entirely honest, no.
Joe: Not even Sandra and her adult braces reading Larsa for looking old?
Claire: Ha, not quite. I've enjoyed the gamers-versus-Housewives rift that's developed because at the very least, it's bringing out the one-liners and clear contempt that exists between certain factions of the cast, which is always fun, from a self-aware, meta standpoint. And I do think Tamra Judge has somewhat filled the Kate void by declaring certain people Traitors purely because she finds them annoying, but no matter how many fabulous tartan capes she wears, she's still not serving the same energy as my number one chief stew.
Joe: Tamra has a little Kate energy (sitting out one of the challenges for being sick definitely contributed there). But I'm going to present one Phaedra Parks as an example. It's not the same energy, but Phaedra is upsetting the balance of the game the way Kate did. Phaedra's doing it as a Traitor, too, which is delicious. She's not a strategic player, but the idea of metaphorical murder appeals to her. She gets to make grand proclamations to the camera like, "I actually care a lot about these people but… they must die."
Like Kate, when Phaedra makes a strategic mistake, she does so while being incredibly entertaining for the camera. The end of Episode 4, when Phaedra called out Parvati and Dan (mostly Parvati) for throwing suspicion onto the Housewives, it showed a poor grasp of the game. Never tell an enemy you're their enemy for one thing. For another, with her comment, Parvati actually made it less likely that anyone would think she and Phaedra were aligned. But Phaedra wasn't playing with strategy; she was just mad that Parvati said all Housewives were actresses. That, to me, was a Kate move, based on pure personal animus, and if you asked my social media feeds, it was the gaggiest moment of the season.
To me, Phaedra is a better Kate Chastain. I also think Trishelle is bringing a little Kate, just by saying stupid things without regard for the consequences.
I'm probably not getting anywhere throwing examples at you. What's more pertinent is where you think Kate will take this season. Can she salvage it enough to make you care about it?
Claire: I totally agree about Phaedra. Her beef with Parvati was my favorite moment of the season so far, and I'm really excited to see how it affects the dynamic in the Traitors' turret moving forward.
But for me, the biggest thing that separates Kate from players like Phaedra and Trishelle, and what I hope she brings to the rest of the season, is an acknowledgement that the challenges that make up the game are silly and, by and large, irrelevant to the process of sussing out the Traitors. I'm not talking about the roundtable or the group breakfast, but the convoluted "missions" that the group participates in to add money to the prize pot, like the rowboat/detonator situation in the premiere and the scarecrow hunt in Episode 2. Producers seem to have realized that these activities reveal precious little about who's a Traitor and who's a Faithful, because they've added the possibility of finding immunity shields this season, but we've yet to see that twist make a meaningful impact on the game.
Given how little the challenges matter overall, I've found myself resisting the urge to fast-forward — but that wasn't the case last season, when this portion of the show was filled with complaining from Kate and funny comments about how ridiculous these activities actually are. It's almost as if she put herself in my shoes and spoke aloud exactly what I was thinking. But the Season 2 cast is so focused on gameplay that they're taking these challenges way more seriously than they deserve to be taken, which, oddly enough, is less compelling for me as a viewer.
Joe: For me, the challenges belong to the second element of the show that I love, which is its embrace of campiness. Not merely Alan Cumming's wardrobe nor his decadent line deliveries. There's also Ekin-Su getting a coffin lid slammed in her face, or a castle full of reality TV alums running from room to room making bird calls. The Traitors has a real goofy sense of humor, and while I do think the show could use the challenges in order to advance game play more than they do, I'm glad the challenges are at least giving me moments where I have to hit pause because I'm laughing so hard (poor Ekin-Su).
Claire: Ultimately, I think it comes down to the question of what each of us wants out of The Traitors. Do we want to see celebrities hamming it up and feuding in a Scottish castle, or do we want to see veteran social strategists operating at an elite level in hopes of winning the cash prize?
Joe: Claire, I am so, so greedy. I want both! And Season 2 has been giving that to me. I'm perhaps overly optimistic that the oil and water of competition-reality "gamers" and the more drama-for-drama's-sake Bravo-style cast members will mix. But for me, they have so far. Maybe not perfectly, but they're doing so. Hell, Peter "The Bachelor" Weber is playing one of the soundest strategy games so far. That's a win for me. I hope Kate's return can bring something to the table she hasn't before, otherwise, I'm going to wonder why we bothered.
Claire: It's pretty clear that I fall more in the drama-for-drama's-sake camp, but I hear you. As you said earlier, Kate clearly wants to be here this time, and now that she knows what to expect, I do think we'll see a different side of her come out, perhaps one that's more strategically savvy. Plus, now that Kate has a child, she has more to play for — that $250,000 prize is suddenly looking a lot more enticing.
That said, if Kate starts throwing cash away as the other players look on in shock, I'll eat my words. Just maybe not happily.
New episodes of The Traitors drop Thursdays at 9:00 PM ET on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.