RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under
Like a trash-covered, resentment-filled, blue-haired ocker Shangela, Art Simone hath risen once again, and is officially back in the competition. I am not at all exaggerating when I say: Gag! This return comes early in the episode without any contrition or explanation from Ru, and aside from Art’s perceived frontrunner status coming into the show, it doesn’t make heaps of sense. Still, I’m glad to see her back!
It turns out you can have your cake and eat it too: Not only is Art back in the competition and back in plum position to win the title, but she also got two weeks of commiseratory media and branding opportunities in the interim. Looking for a That Means Nothing! tee? There’s two color variants, bitch! Want a wee bit of mainstream clout? Bindi Irwin is here to endorse that trainwreck Snatch Game on Twitter! Want to be a guest host on this recapper’s favorite current-affairs quiz show, Have You Been Paying Attention? Sure thing, and they’ll even dedicate a precious moment for you to talk about how you broke a nail backstage. The way Art was able to milk her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exit from the show in such a spectacular way practically warrants her return, so strong is her hustle. But despite the fact that I, personally, am inclined to place my bets on Type-A maniacs like Art, it’ll be interesting to see whether she can actually keep it up for the rest of the season.
Art’s return also exacerbates some of the main complaints I’ve heard about this season — namely that the two PoC queens went home early, and that the show is, well, not good. While the latter complaint feels frivolous — I wonder how much not good is actually synonymous with too scrappy and bitchy, in the vein of early U.S. seasons for a lot of viewers — the former is more justified. It was a shame to begin with that there were no Māori queens cast this season, and only two PoC queens, only one of whom was First Nations, especially considering the rich history of First Nations drag. However, I wonder how salient, or helpful, a critique like “both PoC queens went home early’ is in the case of a show like Drag Race Down Under; watching those lip syncs, it would have been hard to justify sending home Elektra instead of either Jojo Zaho or Coco Jumbo. I think it’s fair to ask for more representation of Māori and First Nations drag queens, because without them, the show is probably an incomplete portrait of “Down Under” drag, if there can ever be a complete portrait. But to suggest Jojo or Coco should have been kept for representation reasons is pandering and paternalistic, and does a disservice to them as performers and artists. Art’s return complicates this a little, because without explanation, it seems as if she just returned because she made a fuss; still, here’s hoping we get to see Jojo and Coco on some kind of global All Stars season down the line.
This episode, notable comebacks aside, all eyes are on Elektra. The gap-toothed dancer extraordinaire has suffered nearly every week, and has had to lip sync in two out of three episodes. The judges have consistently read her as basic, and despite having pretty good justification for her “basic drag” — Elektra once owned a dance studio but went bankrupt, forcing her to move into a garage and get a job at the cabaret bar owned by Anita and Kita, meaning that, in some sense, her outfits, and fate in the competition, are defined by her direct competitors, an absolutely wild backstory that would make a wonderful 75-minute made-for-TV drama — many of her competitors clearly see writing on the wall for her. It’s undeniably bitchy the way they’re basically mocking her for her… less developed, we’ll say, taste level, but it’s also the kind of advice she should probably take. Nevertheless, she takes the road less travelled: comparing herself to Beyoncé, and once again insisting that she was in the bottom for being “too good.” (Among all of this, Kita and Scarlet keep making jokes about how they want to fuck each other, while Anita makes a bunch of jabs at Elektra that everyone ignores. We’ve reached the cabin fever stage of the season, I guess!)
This week’s maxi challenge, aside from getting over the gag of Art returning without any kind of resistance whatsoever, is to sew an outfit out of assorted tacky paraphernalia. As with much of the season so far, this allows for some interesting metacommentary about the show itself in the werkroom: Maxi acknowledges that, while she’s not a great seamstress, she took lessons ahead of the show, “because I’m not an absolute idiot,” inadvertently reading two-thirds of the queens who have ever stepped onto this set. Karen, on other hand, can sew, but isn’t much for aesthetics, and is therefore struggling to develop an idea, rather than fabricate.
Another thing Karen is struggling with: Art’s return! Although she welcomed her fellow Melbourne queen back with open arms, in confessional Karen makes it clear that she thinks Art shouldn’t have returned. (Kita looks a little too thrilled, noting that Art being back might “fuck with [Karen]’s flow”.) Elektra, too, is having rivalry issues; she finds Scarlet’s smugness frustrating. She gets out her frustration by, as a normal, well-adjusted person does, ripping the heads off a bunch of teddy bears. Once again, I find myself stressed out by the way Elektra consistently chooses resentment over personal growth in this competition. Anita rounds out our trifecta of queens currently piled up on Struggle Street: she can’t sew for shit, and is stuck wandering around, playing with some badly sewn fabric, and leaning on Kita for support. Things aren’t looking good for our Snatch Game winner!
Ru checks in on the girls, and is completely clueless when Karen says she’s doing a homage to Schapelle Corby, her backup Snatch Game character. It causes me pain deep in my soul to know that anyone might not know about Schapelle, so here’s a quick recap: in 2004, she was arrested in Bali for (supposedly) attempting to smuggle some weed into Indonesia in her boogie board bag. After a highly publicised trial, she was imprisoned for nine years, and released a bestselling memoir from behind bars telling her side of the story. For nearly 15 years, she remained a media staple — and a particular favorite for academics, who saw in her story the perfect prism of Australian attitudes toward gender, class, and race — until, in 2017, she was allowed to return to Australia. (Upon release, the New York Times described her as an “Australian obsession.”) Shortly after coming home, she started an Instagram account, gained over 100,000 followers, and embarked on a new journey as a bizarre lifestyle celebrity, appearing on Dancing With The Stars, making and selling beachy resin clocks, posting weird photos, and, with her friend Nat Z., recording the track “Palm Trees (Nat Z Mix),” which I implore you to listen to. In short: she’s an Australian gay (and straight!) icon, of the most bizarre kind, and would probably make an amazing Snatch Game character. Ru thinks it’s a bad idea, but that’s never dissuaded anyone from doing anything before, so onward she marches.
Elektra presents Ru with a clearly deranged concept — a wild little sketch of a character she calls ‘The Kangaroo Hunter’, which looks a little like a dragged-up Ned Kelly, but in a bad way — and Ru pushes back hard. Anita, on the other hand, doesn’t have time to receive any shady looks from Ru, because she’s too busy talking about her experiences in the Navy? I’m not really sure what to do with that information, so I’ll just move on!
On the runway, most do pretty well: Maxi kills it, rocking a stylish and genuinely interesting, if a little on-the-nose, Vivienne Westwood nod, while Scarlet’s gingham romper is chic, weird, and impeccably made. (Michelle calls the outfit “Glam-diculous,” and proceeds to use the word a handful more times through the episode. Keep working on those catchphrases, girl! One of them is gonna stick any day now!) Karen’s Schapelle Corby (Ru says “Schavelle Corgi,” which is pretty close considering she only appears to be actively listening about a third of the time) tribute doesn’t play as well as it probably should, but the outfit itself is well constructed. Elektra provides the, pardon the pun, shock of the night: her gown is chic and, although a little rough around the edges, altogether one of the better dresses on the runway. She gets a shoutout from Ru for listening, and although it feels a little like a “You Tried” award, it’s the best she’s gotten so far.
Scarlet wins another challenge, to the chagrin of her many haters, while Maxi and Art are deemed safe. (In my opinion, Maxi was robbed, but it’s nice to see her in the top.) It’s Karen and Anita in this week’s lip sync — Karen dabs upon finding out — and they seem pretty evenly matched. While Anita is definitely dancing in a more manic fashion, as is her wont, Karen’s moves seem to be more in tune with the Dannii Minogue song they’re dancing to, and is bolstered by screams of “Come on Kaz!” from Art. With confidence and elan, she takes it home — and Anita, like many a successful queen before her, is sent packing. Seeya, sailor!