On a holiday weekend in January, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, rather quietly dropped a 10-episode reality competition murder mystery show called “The Traitors.” Hosted by Alan Cumming and featuring 20 contestants — 10 of whom have previously appeared on reality programs like “Survivor,” “Below Deck,” “Big Brother” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — competing for $250,000, the show quickly generated an excited buzz among viewers and critics alike.
Writing for NPR, Linda Holmes praised Cumming’s outsized performance. “Parading around in a series of plaids, capes, hats, bright colors and whatever else is festive, he is invested. Like, invested. You could feed a lion a gazelle, a large pepperoni pizza, and an ice-cream sandwich, and you would not see that lion make a meal out of it the way Alan Cumming makes a meal out of hosting this show.”
Planning and packing for “The Traitors” was, Cumming says, loads of fun, “What was hilarious was that I was sort of playing a character in a competition reality show, which is kind of unusual. So the clothes were very important and the guy who styled me, Sam Spector, took a lot of my clothes from my closet upstairs but then, you know, added sashes and berries and pins and all these things to make them much more theatrical.”
We asked Cumming about packing for “The Traitors,” what he can’t live without while he’s away from home and what essentials he brings along to help him survive what he calls “the indignity of travel.”
When asked, “What is something you always travel with that other people might find odd?” Cumming replies without hesitation, “A little hard ball. One of those little hard, sort of, little balls that you roll on your back.”
In addition to his massage ball, Cumming tells Underscored, “I always have a facial mist. I love facial mist. I steal them all from airplanes and things, so I have a whole range, but I don’t have special brands. There’s a Kiehl’s toner that I like, and then La Mer does one. Obviously it costs $75,000 and I made it last for years.”
Of his mists and toners, Cumming says, “I keep them in the fridge and then bring them out in the evening, but I always carry one when I travel.”
Cumming says he never leaves for a trip without packing swim trunks, goggles and flip flops, “Because,” he admonishes, “ye always want flip flops.”
Cumming is also a devotee of wooly socks, which he finds essential for travel. “I always use them as slippers. I just love putting wooly socks on when I get to a hotel room.”
“I have a pair of black silk pajamas that I can wear to dinner — I don’t use them as pajamas. They’re easy to roll up, don’t take up much space and they look like a stylish choice for dinner or parties, but actually they’re pajamas,” he says.
When it comes to luggage, Cumming has a relatable problem. “I’ve actually just been talking to my husband about how we’ve got to rationalize our luggage because it’s just insane how many different kinds we’ve got. And then we put, you know, the wheelie bag inside the large wheelie bag, and it’s just, like, killing me.” One piece he won’t part with, when the luggage purge commences, is his scooter suitcase. “My favorite one I’ve got is a little trolly bag — it’s a scooter, it folds down into a scooter and it’s just the best thing ever.”
Another airplane essential that Cumming doesn’t leave home without is his Beats headphones. “Over-the-ear headphones that cut out the noise, and also just not listen to all the announcements. Seems to me there’s more announcements now in planes than there ever was before.”
Of course, no trip would be complete without a good book to take along. Cumming, who says he’s “been doing loads of reading,” shared some of his current favorites, including Peter McGough’s memoir about his life with the artist David McDermott.
When asked about the best book he’s recently read on an airplane, Cumming says, “I read ‘Young Mungo’ by Douglas Stuart, who won the Booker Prize a few years ago. It’s about this rough working class area in Glasgow and all these sort of young boys and fights and everything going on, and yet this tender love story at the center of it. I remember I read this really disturbing violent bit, and then the guy said, ‘Oh, we’re landing.’ And I was landing in Glasgow. It was really the worst thing to read just as you set foot onto Glasgow soil.”
Cumming admits he overpacked for “The Traitors” — “I was like a donkey going to Scotland” — a problem that was compounded by the largesse of the show’s wardrobers. “They gave me a few things that weren’t mine. The capes! I’ve got two capes now. I never thought I would own a cape. Layering is one of my biggest things, and a cape is the sort of epitome of layering.”
The wardrobe team’s largesse didn’t end with the capes; Cumming also returned home with “slippers and all these weird things” given to him by his costumers. Among the slippers were a pair with a suitably “Traitors”-like message, “One says THE and one says END.”