Would it be fair to call RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under the problem child of the Drag Race extended universe? Although undeniably fun, the show’s first season brought out the franchise’s absolute worst qualities: It was rife with incoherent plotting choices, attempted to skate by contestants’ past misdeeds, overplayed tepid workroom drama, and — pardon my French — looked like shit. You can chalk some of that up to the fact that it was one of the first Drag Race seasons to be filmed in the depths of quarantine. But generally, it feels like the season was met with a resounding naurrr.
And yet: Isn’t the chaos of watching an undeniably half-baked show part of the joy of Drag Race? To meet a guest star you’ve never heard of in your life and have to listen to them make weird jokes about how they’d totally date any of these contestants? To watch a grown man cry because a woman whose main charitable cause is breast-implant illness awareness told him that an outfit he sewed out of an old kiddie pool isn’t “high fashion” enough? To see an aging drag legend vacantly stare at a contestant as they try to nail a drag Dr. Seuss impression? As I was preparing to recap season two of Drag Race Down Under, I couldn’t help but wonder — is the terminally janky nature of this show almost more faithful to the spirit of the original than some of the bloated, bombastic recent U.S. seasons?
As the premiere of Drag Race Down Under season two confirms: Kind of? Although some issues persist — namely, the show still looks like the kind of Drag Race set that Nathan Fielder would make on The Rehearsal before building the perfect replica — the show definitely feels like it’s being led by a steadier invisible hand this year. The seeds of an interesting old-guard vs. Instagram queen conflict are being sewn, and, thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the older queens in the equation — Spankie Jackzon and Minnie Cooper — are going to get a particularly villainous edit. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself: Let’s meet our queens.
First out of the gate is Hanna Conda, a glamorous, extraordinarily ocker-sounding queen from Sydney. By the sounds of her confessionals, she’s gunning to be the season’s unofficial narrator — she seems to know everyone who enters the workroom, and her asides (“Hopefully, you can polish a turd”) are salty without being cruel.
Faux Fur’s entrance into the workroom is instantly iconic: The youthful Sydney queen’s prop hat is so gigantic that it keeps flopping down in front of her face before she can deliver her pithy entrance line. She describes herself as “loud” but most of all “very insane,” but I think those two descriptors should probably be switched, given how frequently and loudly she screams within seconds of entering.
Third in is Spankie Jackzon, a queen from Palmerston North who beat out DRDU season one contestant Elektra Shock in a New Zealand show called House of Drag. Spankie is undeniably rough around the edges, but that’s kind of what I love about AU/NZ drag: There’s a premium placed on poise and charisma, as opposed to perfection. Spankie is giving Jennifer Coolidge in A Cinderella Story, and I’m here for it.
Brisbane queen Beverly Kills walks in sporting black hair with neon green roots, making her look like Billie Eilish’s terrifying older sister. She makes herself known with an almighty whip crack — admittedly not the type of crack we’re used to seeing on Drag Race, but one that’s just as memorable.
Sydney’s Minnie Cooper is a legend, and it’s immediately obvious why within minutes of her walking into the workroom. She’s hilarious and has a one-liner for every situation: She doesn’t miss a beat when Faux (rudely!) asks how old she is — “I’m 50, darling, how old are you?” — and delivers a pearler (“I started drag during the pandemic as well, but it was in 1920”) when she finds out that Aubrey started drag during COVID. The disrespect that a few of these queens are putting on Minnie’s name is, honestly, kind of insulting, and I’m honestly hoping that we get to see her put some younger queens in their places as the season progresses.
Newcastle’s Molly Poppinz lives up to her name: She looks like a children’s toy and, for some reason, also makes a lot of jokes about ecstasy. Her schtick reminds me of those millennial-focussed Instagram restaurants that serve cereal or wine brands with names like “Mummy’s Yummy Juice” — it’s all strangely infantile, but in a way that I think people will love.
Yuri Guaii’s bloodied entrance look is full Lady Gaga-as-Countess glamour on a DRDU budget. Her confessionals are giving “your hot friend who always describes themselves as ugly,” but her entrance look and the fact that she’s a seamstress tell me that she’s going to be one to watch this season.
Up next is Kamilaroi/Ngāti Ranginui queen Pomara Fifth, who comes in swinging with the proclamation that pavlova, Crowded House, and Russell Crowe — three things that Australians love to claim — are all from New Zealand. I’ll happily concede on items one and three while noting that two out of Crowded House’s three founding members were from Australia, and many of its best-known songs were written in or about Australia. Pomara clearly has bucketloads of charisma and a cute sense of style, even while proving why you don’t often see maroon and neon pink worn together.
Representing Melbourne’s powerful mullet twink lobby is Aubrey Haive, the aforementioned pandemic queen. Her entrance look is cute — it’s chic and composed, camp and deeply referential without feeling as stale as so many sixties-inspired looks can. Even if it hadn’t been up to scratch, though, I think I would have been on-side thanks to the Austin Powers reference in her name. Groovy, baybee!
For my money, Kween Kong has the best entrance look of the bunch, nodding to her drag name by entering in the clutches of a gigantic gorilla hand that unfolds to become a cape. Taking the phrase “gorilla grip” to another level, she looks insane, in the best way possible — the kind of thing you can only pull off if you’re a legend and you absolutely know it.
Ru enters the workroom and lets the queens know that, this year, the grand prize has been bumped up to $50,000 of local currency. Given the whole inflation thang that’s going on right now — and the fact that a head of iceberg lettuce currently costs twelve dollars in Australia — I have to wonder whether this is particularly meaningful, especially considering the deep pockets of “our mates” Samsung, but it’s a nice thought.
After a fairly perfunctory photoshoot mini-challenge — this one is sausage sizzle-themed, and a member of the Pit Crew is taking the photos, which gives you some indication as to how things work around here on DRDU — the queens get a special message from Robert and Bindi Irwin, who explain that protecting Australian wildlife is “always in fashion.” This, of course, is the show’s ham-fisted way of telling contestants that their first challenge is to create runway looks out of “locally sourced natural materials,” which, somehow, still includes bike tires and pieces of plastic tubing. Is this a piece of ironic eco-fascist commentary from the producers of Drag Race? It’s hard to say.
There’s a nastiness to the workroom dynamic straight off the bat. The show quite noticeably highlights how younger queens like Aubrey, Beverly, and Yuri are fixated on age, even going so far as to make digs at Minnie over the fact that she’s the oldest queen in the room. Spankie rightfully points out that people have been doing drag in Australia for far longer than Drag Race has been around and that the younger queens in the room don’t seem to be able to see that whatsoever. She doesn’t put a fine point on it, and for a good reason: “The legend is the person who’s working in their town that made it okay for them to put on a dress, walk out the fucking door, and not get the bash. That’s the legend.” Drag Race isn’t the best at dealing with ageism on the show. I hope that this season gets a chance to address it — one of the best things about this version of the franchise so far has been the fact that many of the queens don’t feel so purpose-built for the format of the show, which, in a way, makes them best placed to highlight its in-built biases.
As with last season’s design challenges, the runway looks are a mixed bag. Many of the queens, namely Beverly and Yuri, have completely bypassed the natural materials in favor of using the plastic bags in which everything arrived. Yuri is a clear standout — she managed to make a full cocktail dress with cutouts while most other queens could only muster gluing some leaves to a corset. She trips on the runway, but honestly, I’m not too phased, given how much more interesting her look is than everyone else’s. Molly is the only queen who really manages to turn the natural materials into what looks like a real dress, as opposed to a bunch of leaves glued onto an existing undergarment.
A lot of the outfits here look good while also being extremely shoddy, a quality that strikes me as deeply Australasian: Minnie’s space-age look, complete with a giant unaltered computer monitor, confirms that she’s completely batty; Hanna is giving slutty bush-Tinkerbell fantasy, a nice counterbalance to Kween’s slutty Moana fantasy; and Pomara’s outfit, while simple, still has a kind of vaudevillian charm. It’s only Faux and Spankie who really struggle, the former with a dress that looks totally unfinished and the latter with an outfit that, in my estimation, manages to rival Lala Ri’s bag dress in the terrible design challenge outfit hall of fame.
The week’s tops are Hanna, Molly, and Yuri, with Kween, Spankie and Faux at the bottom. Something about this judgment feels superficial to me — although Kween’s outfit was a little less polished than, say, Hanna’s, it felt like there was more thought given to the actual concept. As much as I love Minnie, it was probably a better look than Minnie’s overall, even though you could see Kween’s undergarments.
In the end, it’s Faux and Spankie who have to lip-sync — to Kylie Minogue’s “Get Outta My Way,” one of many great late-period Kylie choices Drag Race has made recently — and Faux’s endless enthusiasm just isn’t a match for Spankie’s sheer gravitas: She makes a bunch of plastic tubes glued to a corset look like a million (New Zealand) bucks. She might not be the most polished of the bunch, but I think this lip sync portends good things for Spankie: Of everyone, it feels like she’s got the most fighting spirit. Get outta her way, bitch!