The Fortune Hotel review: Stephen Mangan’s reality show tries and fails to match The Traitors’ success

Reality TV concepts seem to come in waves, as success breeds similarity. Twenty years or so ago, broadcasters were scrambling around to find a similar-but-different challenger to Big Brother, then everyone wanted a bombastic X Factor-style singing contest, then Love Island was the one to turn heads. Now, The Traitors is the stratospheric ratings hit that commissioners surely want to emulate.

You can imagine all the panicked faces in identikit meeting rooms around London, rushing to come up with ideas as their boss enters, clutching a ripped-out five-star review adorned with a picture of Claudia Winkleman in a cloak and asking: “What’s our take on this, then?” ITV, it seems, is hoping that its new competition The Fortune Hotel will scoop up viewers who are seeking a Traitors-esque dose of backstabbing, convoluted mind games and superfluous outdoor pursuits dressed up as “tasks”.

The show’s premise is, well, not actually that simple. Ten pairs of contestants have been flown out to a lovely hotel in the Caribbean to take part in a “devious game” (“It’s not like when we go to Majorca, is it?” mum Jo-Anne asks her 20-year-old son Will on arrival). Once they have checked in, each duo will find a metal suitcase in their suite. All but two of them contain wads of blank notes; one is filled with £250,000 in cash and the final case holds an “early checkout” card, which has the power to send its owners (who are branded “the unfortunates”) home at the end of each episode.

There are various chances for the players to swap cases with one another, either to try to get their hands on the money or to offload the cursed card. The contestants must scrutinise their fellow players and formulate a game plan: essentially, they need to work out who is acting shifty when the money is mentioned, who might be panicking about heading home and who might just be very good at double bluffing. At the end of each day, the gang congregates in the hotel bar to decide whether to trade with another pair or to stick with what they’ve got. And for some reason, presiding over all of this is actor Stephen Mangan, decked out with a new holiday wardrobe of beige suits and jazzy Hawaiian shirts. He makes for an amiable host, though his cheery charm sometimes feels at odds with the tense atmosphere that the producers are trying to drum up (the soundtrack features plenty of slowed-down, vaguely menacing cover versions, as is now obligatory for reality TV).

Players must work out which couple currently has the case filled with cash (ITV)
Players must work out which couple currently has the case filled with cash (ITV)

The contestants are a likeable bunch, but it’s amusing to see how quickly factions form when there’s a quarter of a million in cash lurking somewhere in the hotel. When Daniel arrives, alongside his wife Claire, and tells the group that he’s a barrister, you can see the others mentally write him off as dodgy on the basis that he’s probably good at arguing. No wonder fellow contestant Susan tells everyone she’s an HR administrator rather than a criminal investigator.

She and her best friend Jen have a dry wit when they’re talking directly to camera (“I hope she doesn’t try to persuade me to get Botox,” Jen says after meeting chatty aesthetics practitioner Chloe), but beyond these moments, there isn’t much chance for the contestants to show personality. That’s because much of the runtime is devoted to tasks that’ll cause all but the most dedicated viewer to temporarily zone out.

Episode one sees the hopefuls being driven around the island solving pretty straightforward riddles – those who do well will be able to make the final decision at the case swap, and therefore won’t have their game plan undermined by someone else’s actions, but the stakes still feel low. And that’s not helped by the fact that the contestants don’t seem to have quite got the hang of how to play the game (at least in the first few episodes). Maybe, like a holiday suntan, the show will improve as the weeks go on, but for now, it’s patchy and a bit underwhelming.

‘The Fortune Hotel’ is on ITV and ITVX