A fairly surprising end to a disappointingly underwhelming inaugural season of Drag Race Down Under! But first, we had to suffer through an inexplicable episode of Ru & Michelle Practice Therapy Without a License.
Everything about the finale went off exactly as expected, from the exit interviews to the song-and-dance challenge. We keep banging this drum, but it seems to us when the first season of a Drag Race franchise turns out to be boring and predictable, the franchise itself needs some serious shaking up. The queens themselves always know what to expect and prepare for because the Drag Race process is so locked in at this point. We learned a long time ago not to make predictions about the health and future of a popular reality competition (we never would have predicted that Project Runway would still be here, 17 years later, for instance), but we’re genuinely concerned about Drag Race, which has fallen into such a rut that it feels like the contestants themselves are spending most of their time gaming a system they long ago figured out.
It seems to us that a Drag Race season follows a predictable pattern. For the first four episodes or so, the “cannon fodder” queens struggle to figure out what the judges want from them while the anointed queens just wait to make it to the final four. Absent a complete overhaul of the formula (which is unlikely because it still wins Emmys), we can’t think of how to combat this stagnancy. It’s worth noting that Drag Race España continues to be a confusing delight, largely because the influence of Ru and Michelle is nowhere to be found in the show, which feels determined to be its own thing.
Anyway, the formula mostly worked this time, even if it was all a little too familiar to be interesting or exciting. Perfunctory lyrics-writing scenes with the queens having the same debate about how much shit-talking they want to get away with vs. whether or not they should just be nice and triumphant. Perfunctory choreography scenes with the queens all gagging over a cute dancer and struggling through steps THEY NEVER ACTUALLY PERFORM DURING THE NUMBER. Seriously, are we the only ones pointing this out? We’re starting to assume the choreography scenes are totally fake and staged bits. It sure would be nice – and much more interesting – if we could watch these queens truly sweat their way through a day or two of actual rehearsals instead of these stale pseudo-rehearsals.
The only slight twist to the formula was Ru and Michelle leaning hard into the “We’re going to fix your life for you” pep talks that honestly felt hugely presumptuous on their parts. It’s one thing for them to give their thoughts on how to be a better performer, but they’re both getting a little too full of themselves by assuming their job is to tell these queens how to be better people with happier lives. More tips about blending and tucking and reaching inside yourself to find your inner performer, please. Skip the parts about finding love because frankly, it’s none of your business, Ru.
We’re assuming that part of the reason Ru and Michelle went all-in on amateur psychotherapy was because they were trying to fuck with the heads of some supremely confident queens going into what should have been a high-pressure finale, but it seems to us that the Down Under queens are far less likely to indulge in personal drama while trying to win a competition. Even Art’s return to the competition has been largely shrugged off by everyone, with Art happily counting herself as the “plus Art” of the final three. Compare that to the years-long resentment of Shangela for getting more than one chance to prove herself. You can’t map American-style reality TV shit-stirring on a gaggle of Antipodean queens because everything rolls right off their backs.
The final number was a lot of fun and we think the queens all did alright for themselves. It was anyone’s guess how the judging was going to go on this one because there wasn’t, to our eyes, a massive difference in quality among the queens’ efforts. Art had the best look of the lot, but Art almost always has the best looks.
We do think Karen’s insistence on being nice didn’t help her much here. She did a great job of interpreting the choreography through Karen’s character, but the competition really isn’t set up in such a way that a queen can stick to one clearly well-defined character through the whole thing. Being nice and supportive is a lovely way to live your life, but it’s a terrible way to attempt win a Drag Race crown.
Kita surprised us with a strong verse delivered smoothly and professionally. If there was any mild surprise this season, it was the realization over time that Kita’s a lot more of a threat than she originally appeared. A classic case of a queen getting stronger with each challenge instead of the opposite happening. Having said that, we hated her look here. It was borderline generic drag for a queen with some true distinction to her.
We got nervous watching Scarlet during the number. While we think her Stripper Drag is the least interesting genre of drag, there’s no denying that she’s extremely polished in looks and performance. She damn near dominated the stage and if we’re being really honest about it, we think she probably should have won this easily. The only reason she didn’t, as far as we can tell, is because of the Blackface controversy in her past. That’s as it should be, even if it means ignoring the fact that she was the better queen in this finale. But man, we really held our breath, wondering if Ru was really going to give the crown to the Blackface queen.
The final runway looks were great, but again, they may not have had as much weight in the final decision as you might expect.
It’s true what everyone said about Art this episode. She really did prove herself since she came back, even if she didn’t win any challenges. Her looks have always been among the very best in the lot and she always gave every challenge her all. This look was a stunner. We think the combination of getting an unprecedented second chance and the fact that she couldn’t turn out any wins may have prevented her from getting that crown. It would have been a touch choice for Ru to defend (not that anyone ever asks her to defend her choices).
This was a gorgeous look, but it left us feeling that Karen is too limited in her drag because she insists on playing one character. To be fair, she’s done a good job of interpreting Karen in as many ways as possible, but in the end, she’s always a nice, occasionally glamorous, but matronly office worker. She’s good at it, but it’s not worthy of a crown, in our opinion.
We kinda hated this, to be honest. The proportions are very weird and we don’t think Kita’s drag really benefits from a massive boob plate. No matter what style of costume she’s wearing, Kita always goes for comedy drag in her makeup styling, so there’s something of a disconnect between the clowny face and hair and the sexy body-ody-ody she’s serving.
This was pretty and elegant and we’re happy to see her get away from the stripper-wear, but as drag goes, it’s the least interesting look on the runway. Maybe she really was in line for the crown until she stepped out in this, although Ru seemed to really love it, since she has a preference for eleganza over slutty drag.
Like the song challenge and the runway category, we feel like the final lip sync probably didn’t have much bearing on the final decision. Then again, it was so heavily edited that it would have been impossible for any home viewer to really get a sense of who was slaying and who was failing. It also doesn’t help that Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” is a bit too low-energy for a good drag lip sync.
Having said all that, we were genuinely surprised by Kita’s win. It’s absolutely deserved, though; because she was the only queen who kept getting better throughout the competition and didn’t have any sort of problematic history that might have tainted the franchise.
Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
[Photo Credit: WOW via Tom and Lorenzo]