The Traitors Canada finale sees yet another country’s reality television stars fall to lies and misinformation

The Traitors Canada finale sees yet another country’s reality television stars fall to lies and misinformation

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Host Karine Vanasse congratulates Mike D’Urzo, a magician/mentalist from Toronto, who won the inaugural season of The Traitors Canada.Courtesy of CTV

Sorry! It seems Canada is the latest Western democracy to fall for a traitor peddling lies with a poker face.

No, not at the ballot box – or at least not yet. We’re talking on TV, for now.

The Traitors Canada, CTV’s take on an internationally popular format that puffs up the old find-the-killer parlour game Mafia into a 10-episode reality competition, came to its conclusion Monday night with Toronto magician and mentalist Mike chosen the winner.

Mike – D’Urzo’s his last name, but everyone goes by their first name alone in reality-land – was a “Traitor” for the entire series, “murdering” contestants in a castle somewhere in Quebec at night, then successfully using his well-honed skills in misdirection to cast suspicion on “Faithfuls” at a B-and-B style breakfast table the next morning in order to get them to banish each other at regular first-past-the-post votes.

For his final trick, the Canadian conjuror somehow convinced Gurleen, a berry farmer who previously did not reap love on a show called Farming for Love, to accuse her best mate on the show, Leroy, a firefighter who’d previously made his way to Hudson Bay on a reality survival show called The Brigade, of being a traitor.

Host Karine Vanasse, the bilingual Cardinal actress whose quétaine costumes were a highlight of the show and will hopefully get reused when she hosts the French Canadian Les Traîtres next year, could only look on mournfully as Gurleen said that she’d decided to go with her head over her heart.

Instead, Gurleen left heartbroken and with her head in her hands – and with no money in them, as the show rules are that there has to be only Faithfuls at the end for the good guys to divide the pot.

This was perhaps the most downbeat and depressing conclusion of a reality-television competition I’ve ever seen. Even Mike didn’t look all that pleased with himself as he headed off with a cash prize of $94,700.

But then again that’s not enough for a down payment on a semi-detached let alone a castle in his own town, reality-TV cash having not kept pace with that element of reality called inflation.

Despite the lack of a life-changing cheque at its pretty bleak ending, The Traitors Canada was the No. 1 new Canadian show this fall, followed weekly by 1.2 million viewers live or on streaming according to Numeris. In this it was not an outlier: BBC has already greenlit two more seasons of the British version, after the first one had the biggest bow of any new show for the broadcaster in two years, and NBC streamer Peacock likewise quickly ordered up a new season of the American version set in the same Scottish castle after the first was a hit.

Is there something to glean from the current worldwide obsession with The Traitors, which began, as so many reality formats do, in the Netherlands, in 2021?

While it’s not ever a good idea to take reality TV too seriously, The Apprentice’s assist in elevating Donald Trump to the Oval Office – and its overall creation of a boomtime for narcissistic blowhards – suggests that we should not completely ignore the waves the genre can make in the real world, either.

Could we perhaps measure a country’s ability to combat misinformation based on the results of each’s version of The Traitors? Let’s hope there’s no connection – because, if the West’s ability to keep creeping authoritarianism at bay is feeling increasingly tenuous, the Faithfuls’ record at unmasking Traitors is even worse.

It won’t be a surprise to learn that a Traitor won the U.S. version to anyone who follows goings-on south of the border. But Scandinavian contestants haven’t had any more luck figuring out who is lying to them, with a Traitor winning the first seasons of the reality-TV show versions in Sweden, Denmark and Finland – and two out of three seasons in Norway, where apparently they scarf down this show like dried cod.

In as culturally distinct democracies as Australia and France, Traitors have had total success for two seasons.

But before you get too concerned that no one can sniff out a phony anymore, some hope comes from New Zealand, bless their souls, where a pair of Faithfuls figured it all out.

So, too, did a trio of British Faithfuls on the BBC – though they got an assist by one Traitor throwing another under the bus on the way out in the manner of that country’s Conservative prime ministers of late.

Still, the Dutch Faithful have done well – and that hasn’t stopped the Netherlands from becoming the latest country to elect a far-right figure with shiny hair.

Insofar as The Traitors Canada was a parable for our times, I think it mostly was useful in illustrating who really benefits when everyone is quick to turn on each other over the slightest disagreement.

The Canadian version followed the American one in mixing together veteran reality-TV contestants with regular folks not yet televisually exploited.

When folks such as Fierce from Canada’s Drag Race, Kevin (Martin) from Big Brother Canada 3 and Rick (The Temp) Campanelli, best known from his MuchMusic VJ days, were going at each other, it made for entertaining television – but it was useless at rooting out Traitors.

The Normies had better instincts: Gurpyar, a pediatric registered nurse from Calgary, was the first to catch on to Mike – but the loud fighting of the pseudo-celebs meant no one seemed to notice that this essential worker then quickly got murdered.

Likewise, Donna, a psychic medium from Calgary, and Travon, a PR man from Toronto, were never that good at projecting cool personalities on camera – but they did, at some point, vote for Mike. It was the reality-TV stars who failed to see – perhaps because they were there to be seen.

If there’s a lesson there, there might be one, too, about underestimating those who know the powers of the stage over the screen, such as Mike. As W.H. Auden put it in his poem to Johnny, “So I wish you first a sense of theatre; only those who love illusion and know it will go far: Otherwise we spend our lives in a confusion of what we say and do with who we really are.”

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