How the Casting Director of The Traitors Assembled Reality TV Royalty for Season 2

12 minute read

The Traitors, the wickedly entertaining competition show that takes the mechanics of a murder mystery to the next level, isn't just an excellent option for a streaming binge—it's a veritable smorgasbord of reality TV royalty, tapping cast members from popular shows like Survivor, The Bachelor, Big Brother, and the Real Housewives franchises.

For the uninitiated, The Traitors works as a sort of glorified, high-stakes version of the game Mafia; all of the contestants are identified as "faithfuls," while a select few are secretly marked as "traitors" by the show's hosts. The "faithfuls" and "traitors" both hope to eliminate each other in pursuit of a cash prize, through a series of activities, round-table votes and secret "murders." The show, which is based on the Dutch competition show De Verraders but has iterations in several countries, including Australia and the U.K., premiered its second U.S. season last week. This season debuted a cast made up entirely of reality TV all-stars, a first for both the American series and its international counterparts.

Read more: The Traitors Is the Best Reality Competition in Years—But It’s Doing Itself a Huge Disservice

While other versions of the show have consisted of all civilians or a mix of both reality stars and normals, this season stands out because of its impressive casting of the creme de la creme of reality TV. The assembled cast is a who's who of fan favorites and villains from various competition, dating, and lifestyle shows, reflecting an insider's insight into the pre-existing feuds, connections, tensions and friendships that catapulted them to fame. Survivor fans will be tickled to see the spicy competition between champs Parvati Shallow and Sandra Diaz-Twine bubble to the surface in initial episodes of The Traitors, while the friendship of Real Housewives of Atlanta housewife Shereé Whitfield and her former cast mate and current star of Married to Medicine Phaedra Parks will be put to the test on the show, and wildcard additions like John Bercow, a former member of British Parliament, help to keep the dynamic of the cast fresh.

For casting director Deena Katz, working on the show was a "dream come true." Katz, who's previously cast shows like Dancing With the Stars, The Masked Singer and Celebrity Big Brother, was a fan of the show before she was tapped to cast it, upping her passion for the job.

"You can imagine it was so much fun to put this cast together," she says. "It was so many of my favorite people all converging on one show and I'm loving watching it."

Ahead of this week's episode of The Traitors, TIME caught up with Katz to talk about how to wrangle reality TV all-stars, managing feuds, and why she cast a British politician on an American competition show.

TIME: This show is basically a dream summit of reality TV all-stars. How did you go about assembling reality TV royalty?

Katz: I was a fan of the show, so when I got called to put this together, I was squealing with excitement. It started out with trying to think of the best in game players. I'm a fan of reality television, and the ones that do the best are the ones that know that it is a game to play—you have to be entertained. I also always love shows having a "what the heck," kind of out-of-the-box thing. Parvati [Shallow] was one of the first people that said yes, then Dan [Gheesling], then Sandra [Diaz-Twine], and getting those tentpoles of the people that would play this game was what I thought we needed to do first. Then we needed humor, and that’s where someone like Phaedra [Parks] came in, someone that can play the game wickedly because she's so smart, but she's always going to add some humor to it. I put Maks [Chmerkovskiy] in because I know him, having worked with him for a gazillion years now. He’s brilliant television. Then you have to have people that are likable within the group like Pilot Pete [Weber]. To me, it's the most amazing jigsaw puzzle. It’s like putting together the best dinner party possible with people that you don't expect together.

Do you consider whether someone would be a better Traitor or Faithful when casting?

I do think about it. I will say there's some people that come on and absolutely want to be a traitor and some that don’t. Production talks to them and interviews them. Everyone want to know, "How do you pick the traitors?" Some people are just absolutely better traitors than others, some people want to play the game but don't necessarily want to be a traitor. On this season, when the traitors got to pick someone, that's less a production thing, it’s actually who they picked.

Like Parvati. 

Who I love and am obsessed with. Getting her on was great because she’s such a great game player, but also because it's nice to have stories within stories. When I put Larsa [Pippen] and Marcus [Jordan] on, here’s a couple together, but they might be playing against each other or they have separate rooms, because it's all a game of strategy. Sometimes when you know each other, there’s this competition within.

How did you approach casting people with pre-existing relationships or feuds?

The cast doesn't know who else was on the cast, until they all show up there. Because it's a game, you don't want them to be able to research each other or talk to each other or form alliances before—Marcus and Larsa did, but that was the exception. You don't want to upset people and you don't want to blindside people, but with something like the competition of Parvati and Sandra, I think they welcome it. It's more of a reason, because they're competitive, to be playing against each other. Before they all showed up at the castle, they were in a hotel and were locked down, so they were as surprised as everybody else was. It’s all in the good fun of competition.

The Traitors - Season 2
(L-R) Larsa Pippen, Phaedra Parks, and Tamra Judge Euan Cherry—Peacock

Something that made me laugh in the premiere was Phaedra wondering how she would compete with people who came from really physically taxing competition shows like Survivor. How do you cast people from shows like the Bravo franchises where you’re not necessarily seeing them compete?

I always love humor. It doesn't have to be a comedian, it has to be someone that has a great personality. You have to remember this is entertainment. You don't have to be Parvati to be able to compete, and some of the Bravo shows have a competition that's set in there. You just have to be able to understand the game. You wouldn't want 21 players that are all from competition reality series because it wouldn’t be that much fun for an audience member that doesn't watch competition reality and you really want different kinds of personalities. Just because you haven't played in one of these games doesn't mean you can't figure out how to play and sometimes those are the best ones.

Who has surprised you the most with their performance so far?

I do think there's something about Pete. And I knew Dan was gonna be good. Sometimes the person that doesn't seem as competitive is the one that kind of slides in, but they're playing a brilliant game because you're not calling them out, everyone can be their friend. Someone like John Bercow, some of his cast probably didn't even know [of him] because he's from the UK. Those are the ones that I like watching as an audience member.

Actually, can we talk about John Bercow because I’m so intrigued by the fact that he's a former member of British Parliament. It’s wild to me that he was the Speaker of the House of Commons and now he’s beefing with Tamra Judge. How does a casting like his come about?

The production company’s in the UK, and we were trying to think of some people that cross over so more of an international audience can watch. There might be people who are more famous from the UK, but I always loved throwing in a politician, something that is so ridiculously fish-out-of-water. Right now, it's a little more difficult with politics in America, maybe something you don't want to step into, but this is a way of doing it. I do think it's interesting that some people are bullying him and maybe they hadn’t read his resume or knew exactly who this man was when they walked into the house, but I think he’s a trooper for just taking it. You would never, ever expect someone like that on the show—this is what makes these casts shine.

Would you ever cast an American politician on another season, given the past controversy other politicians have faced?

It depends. It's a little difficult right this second because it's an election year. Everything seems a little bit divided right now. If there was like a John in America, kind of a nice guy who could cross over, I have done that on other shows. Sometimes it works and sometimes it causes a lot of the headlines.

It was announced this week that Kate Chastain would be returning. How did you decide who to bring back to the show?

It was the network and the producers; Kate was so fantastic and everybody just thought how fun it would be to bring her back. You can't bring someone from the beginning [of the game] back because that's just not fair, but people love Kate and she might not have gotten the full run that she could have. It's always fun on any show to bring back people that the audience loves. It’s an interesting dynamic to bring somebody back now after people [on the show] have formed relationships, especially if you bring someone back in the middle of the game that knows how to play the game.

In the first season, Kate had kind of a tough go—did she have to be convinced to return?

Actually because she had a tough go, I think she wanted to play again. She was really excited to come back and do it again. I think you could probably talk to anybody for that season before, they'd all want to come back and play it again. Is it redemption to want to do it again? For her, because of the experience she had, I think there was never a hesitation for her to come back.

In retrospect, do you think that it's hard to cast someone like Johnny Bananas whose reputation precedes him? It’s hard not to wonder if that’s why he was killed off right away.

You hate that anyone has to go home first. It’s hard, but if that's part of the game, I'm sure Johnny has had it [happen]. You know, Johnny would have voted somebody else out as well that played the game against them. It's unfortunate because I would have loved to see Johnny play the game and he really wanted to play, but somebody gets killed every single week. I was really excited when he signed on so I was personally disappointed, but I don't know who I would have picked if I had to kill them.

The Traitors - Season 2
Parvati ShallowEuan Cherry—Peacock

You have contestants that run the reality TV gamut from Survivor and Big Brother to Real Housewives and Drag Race. Were there any reality universes that you wanted to pull from that you weren't able to for this season?

No, but I don't think I have enough cast slots. That was my problem. There's so many that you want to pull from— we got a bachelor in, we got the housewives, we got Bling Empire. But there's only so many slots and there's always more reality shows. I think we did a really good job. Come next season, though, I will try and hit some that we didn't get—like Selling Sunset.

This season of The Traitors on Peacock is almost all reality TV stars and no “regular” contestants, like there have been on past seasons or other countries’ franchises. What was the reasoning behind that?

The network is the one that had to sign it and that was before me—the season before had a few “regular people” (even though I hate saying those words). But everyone decided it'd be really fun to watch all of these people play the game, it was the decision of the network. It's up to game-playing, honestly, it just makes it more fun that you're getting the top of the heap of these guys that play these kinds of games. And I think it makes it more fun.

There are so many competition shows out there. What do you think it is about The Traitors that has resonated with viewers and contestants to make it such a fan favorite?

It’s such a fantastic format, it’s brilliant—it keeps the cast and the audience on their toes. You can't look three steps ahead because you just don't know.

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