Early on in this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, our season’s unofficial narrator, Hanna Conda, offers up a pearl of wisdom: “Nothing says you’re at RuPaul’s Drag Race like watching someone go home.”
It’s true. And, if you didn’t believe her, the next 50-odd minutes of television will change your mind. That’s because this week, we get one of the show’s most deliciously conceived elimination narratives in recent memory — a tale of Aubrey Haive’s unbelievable, totally unchecked hubris that results in her swift elimination from the competition. Reader, I would love to tell you that I took no pleasure in seeing a fresh-faced queen like Aubrey booted from the competition so early, but that would be a lie, considering that I took great pleasure in seeing it.
For this week’s mini-challenge, last week’s challenge winner, Molly Poppinz, has to dole out superlatives to the other queens. Some of these are freebies: The “You Beauty” award obviously goes to Kween Kong, who looks like an action figure out of drag, and “Daggiest Drag” goes to Spankie, who, as much as I love — she naturally assumed “GC” stood for “good cunt,” not “greatest competition,” a woman after my own heart — was spotted on the runway last week wearing the kind of plastic-and-spray-paint construction that a villain might have worn on Doctor Who in the ’70s. When it comes time for Molly to nominate who she sees as most likely to leave the competition this week, she fails to drum up the courage to nominate Minnie and instead gives the sash to Beverly. Molly sees your “It do take nerve” and raises you one “It do take confrontation avoidance!”
This week, the queens are subjected to an acting challenge — not necessarily my favorite Drag Race convention, because I’m not sure you can ever really describe what the queens turn out as “acting” — and, unlike during last week’s design challenge, it feels like all our contestants are on more equal footing here. Australian and New Zealand drag is known for being extremely camp and weird, meaning that these queens are predisposed to a challenge like this, where a grown man has to memorize a script that sounds like an 11-year-old might have written it after taking PCP for the first time. RuPaul tells the queens that “Down Under’s next drag superstar […] should be able to complete a full sentence,” implying that we should just pack this season up right here and now, but alas, the competition continues. The queens are split into two groups — those who were given sashes by Molly and those who weren’t — and are tasked with bringing this week’s cinematic vision (some kind of unintelligible prison narrative, as always?) to life.
Molly, Yuri, Spankie, Beverly, and Kween
Molly’s team is, undeniably, the stronger group — which doesn’t preclude them from having some of the worst acting chops I’ve ever seen. Spankie’s Russian cosmetologist character, although totally insane, is what passes for a strong performance here. She is the Austin Butler in Elvis to Yuri’s Tom Hanks in Elvis. She is the Cate Blanchett of prison-themed drag comedy sketches. I think she deserves the Cecil B. DeMille award simply for elevating this performance from ‘truly unwatchable’ to just ‘generally bizarre.’ It still amazes me that, to this day, Michelle will give these queens acting directions like she’s Kubrick on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. She’ll look right in the eyes of a drag queen and tell them that their delivery of the line “Get those nuts away from my face” wasn’t believable enough. The way she mutters “Not even close” after Pomara butchers one of her final lines makes me think that this episode of Drag Race may have been her Joker moment. (Fair enough: I think watching this acting challenge was my Joker moment.)
Minnie, Pomara, Aubrey, and Hanna
Early in the challenge, Aubrey utters those three words that always spell disaster for any contestant on a Drag Race acting challenge: “I studied acting.” Naturally, she stumbles almost immediately upon the start of filming with Michelle and Rhys, her camp, high-femme popstar performance getting totally lost between the bigger personalities on display. While many of the other queens straight-up can’t remember their lines and basically end up resorting to improv, they still manage to impress based on sheer charisma. Minnie, in particular, approaches this acting challenge with the kind of confusion and goldfish memory you’d expect from any 50-year-old dyslexic drag queen whose frontal cortex is too poppers-fried to function properly and still manages to make her performance enjoyable.
It’s almost impossible to say which team fared better overall — both were so, so horrible — but in general, it feels like Minnie, Pomara, Aubrey, and Hanna slightly edged out the others. As the queens prepare for the runway, we’re treated to one of the most uncomfortably cringe moments of the season so far, when Minnie and Pomara get into a scrap after the former mistakenly thinks that the latter has tried to deny that dyslexia is a disability. It’s all supremely awkward, namely because it all feels totally avoidable, but it’s fair enough that Minnie is on-edge — as Kween mentioned earlier in the episode, it does feel like the younger queens are isolating her a little bit.
This week’s bug-themed runway is surprisingly strong: Apart from Molly Poppinz describing herself as a “slaying mantis,” there’s actually very little to be upset about. Aubrey, in particular, looks great in a Mugler-inspired cockroach number complete with a larvae-filled clutch, and Minnie turns out a nice high-camp butterfly-inspired housewife look. Hanna Conda is the real standout here — she turns out a flapper-inspired moth fantasy that’s totally different from anyone else on the runway. It’s ultra-glamorous and immediately positions Hanna as one to watch. Only Pomara disappoints; her cicada-inspired fit doesn’t quite translate beyond a general raver outfit vibe.
Watching Caged Queens, the final version of the acting challenge, I still have no idea which team performed better. I can’t even follow the plot. I barely even realized that this challenge is supposed to reference Prisoner, the iconic Australian prison soap opera. All that I’m sure of is that Ru and Michelle seem to have some criteria in their head as to what makes this challenge work or fail, and trying to understand those criteria — trying to, as Ru says, “find the clues in the [script]” — will likely send me spiraling into madness.
During critiques, Aubrey is read for her underwhelming acting performance and her slightly faulty costume — which, to be honest, I didn’t really notice — and Kween is told that she wasn’t following Michelle’s directions enough. Minnie and Spankie, on the other hand, get raves, a reversal of fortunes that, hopefully, will make some of the queens who weren’t considering them competition take notice.
The nice moment of seeing Minnie and Spankie praised sours almost immediately when Minnie returns to the workroom and proceeds to drag out her beef with Pomara, which has been going on for eight years. They get over their beef in classic gay fashion, by which I mean they don’t really get over their beef, instead begrudgingly lying about it through gritted teeth for the sake of the group. Drag Race history tells us that this won’t be the last time this years-old beef is dredged up.
In the end, Spankie wins the challenge — a truly wild inversion of last week’s outcome — and Aubrey and Kween have to lip sync to Divinyls’ iconic “I Touch Myself.” As with last week’s Spankie vs. Faux lip sync, Aubrey’s light can’t help but dim slightly when forced to perform next to someone like Kween. She flips and rolls across that runway like she owns the place, and it’s clear early on that she has it in the bag. She exits with an all-timer message on the mirror: Stag fagadelic! It’s the kind of inspirational message that only Drag Race can provide.