So much (too much?) of this week’s episode of The Traitors was dedicated to the 20-year-long friendship between Trishelle Cannatella and CT Tamburello, the stars of The Real World and The Challenge. Trishelle, a faithful, was devastated when fellow faithful CT didn’t save her from banishment during a special ceremony in the woods. She was so sure that their friendship would be her ticket to immunity, that she said, “CT and I have two decades of knowing each other, so there is no doubt in my mind that he is going to save me.” But CT chose to save John Bercow instead, saying, “I’m playing the game, it’s not about friends.” This was enough for Trishelle to spend the rest of the episode crying in disbelief at the betrayal at the hand of her closest friend here, and it was A LOT. You could tell that Trishelle’s tears were real, and CT’s decision to put strategy above friendship was heartbreaking to her. (Never mind the fact that she’s become one of Peter’s inner circle confidantes and has done nothing to help CT thus far, but that’s a tale for another day.)
But while Trishelle cried a whole Scottish loch’s worth of tears, it was Phaedra Parks‘ momentary bout of emotion that I’m stuck on this week.
This was a unique episode, in that the contestants didn’t vote to banish one player, instead, they were allowed to choose, one at a time as if picking a team for dodgeball, who they got to save, dramatically lighting a torch at an individual’s feet one by one. So the winners of the episode’s challenge, Sandra and Kevin, got first pick, saving Sheree Whitfield, and then Sheree got to pick who to save, and she decided on her old friend from the Real Housewives of Atlanta (also a friend of 20 years), Phaedra. And for the first time on this show, Phaedra wept. It was a true stroke of genius; as one of the shows remaining two traitors, she became so overcome, so relieved that she was saved this week, that it’s impossible not to believe she was a faithful. But… was it bullshit? Were Phaedra’s tears real?
I have three reasons to believe Phaedra’s tears were genuine:
- She and Sheree have a true friendship. Phaedra said herself in a confessional interview (where she teared up again just talking about it), “I’ve known Sheree for well over 20 years, we’ve got a history that none of these people will understand. So my emotion is about life, coming around full circle, and bringing us here at this moment.” This is a beautiful sentiment about friendship, but are we really to believe a torch-lighting ceremony is your full circle moment? I don’t know if I buy it.
- She knows she’s lying to her friend about being a traitor and she was crying about that deception. As Sheree lit Phaedra’s torch, she said, “I picked Phaedra because I don’t feel like people should be targeting people because of the show that we’re on. I believe she’s faithful,” and Phaedra cried knowing she was lying to her friend’s face.
- Phaedra doesn’t do fake. She has stated this already on the show, and she makes it easy to believe that what you see is what you get. I do think she’s someone who wears her heart on her sleeve and that most of her reactions are natural, so it’s easy to believe she’d be overwhelmed in the moment.
But I also have one huge reason to believe that Phaedra’s tears were fake, and that’s simply that she is THAT good at using her natural emotion, be it her warmth, humor, vulnerability, whatever, to deceive the faithfuls. (Even Parvati, a strategy queen, watched Phaedra cry and exclaimed, “Oh my God, this is intense,” probably because she knew she could never cry like that, even if her game depended on it.) Phaedra’s tears were fake because they were exactly what was called for in that moment, and she got them flowing on cue. And no one thought anything of it, because it was the most natural, believable thing she could do.
I think it will take a miracle for the faithfuls to identify Phaedra as a traitor because she’s so good at this game. Hell, Dan literally told them all she was a traitor just like he was, and they didn’t believe him. These crocodile tears are Phaedra’s latest touch of genius, but crocodiles are predators. Phaedra’s brilliance is convincing her prey she’s one of them, and they have no idea their killer is hiding in plain sight.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.