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Semi-finals are often drab and underwhelming – with a bonus penalty shoot-out chucked in for added emotional scarring.
But the penultimate episode of series two of The Traitors (BBC One) proved a breezy affair – at least for arch-manipulator and backstabber-in-chief Harry Clark. The cherubic turncoat sailed effortlessly through to Friday’s decider, thanks to his cast-iron strategy of telling everyone he wasn’t a traitor. Liar, liar, pants in the final.
The Traitors is often described as a high-concept exercise in social dedication or a parlour game with blood in the water. But at its best, it’s actually panto with bonus Claudia Winkleman in a cape.
Throughout the second-to-last instalment, the viewer wanted to shout “he’s behind you” to the remaining Faithful whenever Harry entered the room. Particularly to poor Mollie who, unless she is playing six-dimensional chess and pulling the wool over all our eyes, regards Harry as the second coming of Mother Theresa.
It was great fun and nice that, for once, the big challenge had production values to match the show’s knockout ratings. First we learned that Harry and co-conspirator Andrew had bumped off Zack – on the understandable basis that he was smart and suspicious. He simply had to go. Then, after breakfast, it was off to a random field for a remake of Eyes Wide Shut starring one half of the Strictly Come Dancing presenting team.
There stood Winkleman, flanked by shadowy figures in golden face masks. No, not the BBC Board of Directors. It was Claudia’s cunning cultists – and they had a complicated challenge involving the contestants moving dials and then drawing a sacred (and very tiny) sword from a stone.
There were several swords – but only one true blade. Whoever pulled it forth would bag £7,000. And because the world is cruel and unfair, that lucky individual was inevitably Harry. He had a choice. Keep the money – or put it in the pot for the eventual winner(s). A selfish contestant would run for the hills with the dosh. Harry, deciding that he should look innocent at all costs, handed it over to the party – and they gushed obliviously (apart from Andrew, who gushed sneakily).
Were they all so easily gulled? Yes, apart from Jaz. “I don’t trust Harry at all,” he confided to the camera – to whoops of joy and, on social media, the instant sobriquet of “Jazatha Christie”.
So Jaz revealed his suspicions at the Round Table and had Harry unmasked, right? No, Jaz was playing the long game and happy to join the others in voting off Jasmine. Why didn’t he try to take out Harry there and then? And will his caution come back to bite him. The answer to the second question is obviously “yes”.
So that’s Harry and Andrew through to the final – joined by the faithful trio of Evie, Mollie and Jaz (in a twist, there were no murders or seductions on this last night).
“I am human by the way – I have feelings,” said Harry as he contemplated the carnage he had caused (followed by a “last supper” where the five hopefuls gathered to reminisce). But he only has to keep those feelings in check one more day, and the prize money is his. At the end of a compelling and tension-filled episode, who would bet against him?