If you happened to be outside my house during the Christmas holidays and peered through the window into my front room, you probably would have seen me on my feet, surrounded by my family, shouting at the TV. The second series of The Traitors had begun airing on BBC One, following the huge success of its first season, and, thanks in part to the devilish theatrics of a certain contestant (guess who), it had been even more successful than the first, raking in eight million views on its final episode and undoubtedly being the most-talked about show the BBC has had in years. Four months after having shouted at him in my living room, I sat down with Paul Gorton, the breakout star of this season’s Traitors, to talk about his experience on the show, his reaction to the online hate he received and what he thinks the future holds for reality TV.

“I was reading American Psycho, I was trying to be like Patrick Bateman”

Sitting opposite him at a table in Selwyn that was feeling suspiciously like being at the round table, Paul oozes confidence. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which he wouldn’t be comfortable. There were moments as we walked through the college that it felt like he was the one leading me around for an interview, not the other way around. Once we’ve sat down and my authority has been somewhat reestablished, we start talking about his motivations for going on the show. “I’ve always wanted to act […] but I’m massively into comedy, so I like to create comedic characters. When I was given the opportunity [to go on the show] I thought I could really do some damage here. I was reading American Psycho, I was trying to be like Patrick Bateman.” This takes me aback and stops me fiddling around with my notebook. “You read American Psycho?”, Paul nods: “I was reading maybe three or four pages of American Psycho every single night, for maybe twenty or thirty minutes. And then I would write conversational scripts of what’s going to happen the next day.”

"It felt like he was the one leading me around for an interview, not the other way around"Chris Lorde for Varsity

Unlike the other traitors, Paul tells me he created a sociopathic character who would be willing to do anything to succeed, and that was, in his words, the joy and opportunity of going on the show: “it was just as fun as what I thought it would be, if not a little bit more. Because all the rules that you have to live by in normal society are out the window. You have to swear to Claudia Winkelman’s fringe that you will lie and manipulate, and you will do everything that you need to do in order to win a game. So as soon as you get that, I thought, well, I’m going to take that to the next level.”

And he did – soon dividing the internet over whether they loved or hated this (unbeknownst to us) “character” he created. What struck me most as I watched it with my family was the lack of guilt he seemed to feel, while other traitors seemed to be feeling at least something when breaking the trust of their friends. Now as I hear his strategy of playing a psychopath, it makes more sense, and I begin to feel bad about the shouting at the telly incident (s). Ι ask him if the act ever got hard to keep up, and he tells me that it did, but not in the way you would expect: “I wasn’t having feelings for the people I was doing bad things to. I never felt bad for anything that I did to anyone in there, but I did start missing the family, and that was the only thing. My brain was telling me, listen, this is just a game and I’m not actually murdering people (because then I would probably feel bad). So when I was saying Aubrey tasted like chocolate or Miles needed to go […] I felt nothing.”

“Well, that character was a sociopath. He didn’t care about things”

So what did make him break, and result in those so-called ‘crocodile tears’ the internet accused him of shedding in Episode Four that would lead to his banishment as a traitor? “My Achilles heel was my family, my little boy and my partner. So if they didn’t exist, I reckon I would have gone through on the show. They were the hardest bit to try and blank away. My entire life, my entire home, I just compartmentalised. But every now and again, they would come out.”

Before he began to find the act too hard to keep up, however, accusations of bias against female contestants in the show began to be levied at Paul and his fellow traitors. Out of six traitors in the series, only one was a woman, and all of the faithfuls ‘recruited’ by the traitors, not picked at the beginning of the show, were men. It got so apparent that Claudia herself referred to their recruitment of yet another man as “the olden days” in Episode Nine, after Paul’s banishment, and later commented to The Guardian that she suspected they had only recruited men out of fear of intelligent women. I am about to bring this up to Paul when he ironically addresses the issue before I can: “There was a big misogyny claim about “oh, the traitors is a boys club” [….] but that, to me, is such a backwards view of misogyny, because whoever we were going to recruit was going to be betrayed. So we needed to recruit one of the thickest people that don’t have any trust from anyone that [we] can manipulate. So we chose a guy.” I ask him if he disagrees with Claudia’s statement, and he shakes his head. “We were afraid of strong women […] we didn’t pick a female because there wasn’t a female there that we were able to manipulate quickly enough”.

"When we bump into them on our way to the interview Paul is stopped for five minutes to take photos"Chris Lorde for Varsity

It is an interesting argument. I wonder what it must’ve been like to have access to live reactions like these as the episodes were airing. Paul, it seems, is a production studio’s dream: “I’m fine with everything that comes out. I didn’t get a load of hate. It was kind of like hate within the game. So people were like, “Oh, my God, I hate this guy. He’s a psychopath. He’s a sociopath” […] Well, that character was a sociopath. He didn’t care about things. He was killing people and saying they tasted like chocolate.”


Mountain View

‘Cambridge makes me feel exactly how I felt as a student’: author and journalist Sathnam Sanghera

Yes, he actually said that – please go to minute 12:40 of Episode Two for that gem. If saying things like this on prime time television might’ve put off some employers, it certainly hasn’t for Paul’s: “I’ve never been more successful than since I’ve been a liar publicly.” It’s not just in the corporate world either; he’s heading to a talk at Selwyn after our meeting on the future of reality TV, sitting on a panel alongside the head of BBC iPlayer. There was a poster advertising it as I had walked past the plodge an hour before, with Paul’s name being goggled at by a group of visiting sixth formers. I asked them if they have any questions they’d want me to ask him and it’s as if I have just told them that Taylor Swift had invited them backstage to the Eras Tour. When we bump into them on our way to the interview, Paul is stopped for five minutes to take photos first with their teacher, then the students themselves, and I see his familiarity with all the selfies. I get the sense that Paul knows the fleeting nature of reality TV, and has got his sights set higher, on perhaps presenting or comedy.

Evidently, he’s an ambitious guy, and if the parting note he leaves me on is anything to go by, I think his career will be flourishing. “I just think human behaviour, you will do whatever you need to do in order to win. That’s just a rule in life.”

What a note to end on.