RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under
That! Means! Nothing! It’s been a week since Art Simone’s shocking and instantly iconic exit from RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, and her pained, irreversibly heartbroken final words are still haunting my thoughts. (At the start of 2021, I had two brain cells; now, I have one, and it’s just an image of Art Simone, dressed like a sea witch, looking like she’s about to go Lady Joker.) Although I’m told who leaves each week, review copies of Drag Race don’t include the final elimination scene, and when I went to check out last week’s final minutes after the fact, I was stunned. Drag Race as a whole has begun to feel more and more filtered, as queens have learned that their on-set behaviour will directly translate into online discourse and, in some cases, their ability to get work. Because of that, Art’s honest-to-god freakout felt like a genuine, unplanned watercooler moment. (She’s already made merch commemorating the incident, because this is Drag Race, and even life’s abject lows deserve branding opportunities.)
There’s no front-runner in this race anymore, and this episode sees each queen try to step forward and assert herself as the one to beat. Like much of Drag Race Down Under thus far, that seems to involve a lot of passive-aggression and ill-advised showboating, but at least this feels like purposeful, warranted showboating, as opposed to the kind of delusional antics that made last week’s Snatch Game feel so much like a nightmarish acid trip.
Speaking of delusional: Back in the werkroom, Coco is visibly thrilled that she was the one to knock Art out of the competition. I can’t help but feel this is both in bad taste — a little like smiling through a funeral — and tempting fate. She describes herself later as a “powerhouse performer,” which feels like a wild reach considering that, let’s be honest, her walking-back-and-forth-across-the-stage moves were only a minimal improvement from Art’s baseline of standing still and waving her arms about. If it sounds like I’m being mean, consider that I’m simply a humble recapper and lover of the arts, who only wants to see the world’s best performers thrive to the best of their ability. It’s not my fault that I have high standards!
After a piece of spon-con for the terrifyingly named company Manscaped masquerading as a mini challenge — in which the queens have to dress as lifeguards, while Ru looks on hornily and screams things like “Jiggle dem titties, bitch!” — Ru announces that this week, the queens are doing a girl-group challenge, à la the Drag Race UK maxi challenge that birthed “UK Hun.” I’m thrilled, not least because I’m not really sure that AU/NZ drag has the same kind of intense self-branding ethos that leads American drag queens to actually release music, meaning that some kind of chaos is bound to ensue. The queens split into teams led by dancing divas Elektra and Scarlet with surprisingly little fanfare — although Scarlet explicitly states that she doesn’t want Maxi in her team. Maxi “couldn’t give a rat’s arse,” thereby winning this week’s pettiness cold war. (As ever, Maxi has burnished her reputation this week while doing very little, while Scarlet has somehow done nothing for her reputation while over-performing. Such is that four-dimensional chess game we call RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under!)
The queens begin to write their verses for “Queens Down Under,” but not before another prerecorded guest spot, this time from Leland and Troye Sivan. The longtime songwriting pair give some brief advice on writing about “getting fucked hard in the arsehole” and being a “big bottom bareback bottom raw-dog bottom bitch,” advice that’s decidedly more useful than anything Taika Waititi or Kylie and Dannii Minogue had to offer.
Recording starts with the help of Michelle, and all seems to be going pretty smoothly. Team Elektra generally has Michelle in stitches, with Kita Mean rapping about overdosing on her namesake drug — a big yass from me, to be quite honest — and Elektra trying, and failing, to do a self-deprecating thing with the line “Basic drag, but I’ll make you laugh.” (The audience is left to rack their brains about any times Elektra has made anyone else on Drag Race Down Under, whether contestant or host, laugh; I, personally, came up short.) Karen’s rap — “but like, a white person rapping” — definitely sounds however a white woman named Karen From Finance would rap, but Maxi struggles a little, because, in her words, she would only ever sing “at a straight bar, doing karaoke, [when] everyone’s pissed.” Same, girl!
Team Scarlet begins to suffer immediately, because Etcetera is trying to give direction on Scarlet’s verse, which Scarlet won’t have a bar of. To be fair, Etcetera’s direction of “I think, like, punctuate it” has little worth on an actual constructive level. All goes well musically until Coco steps up to the plate — I, like Etcetera, have been known to tip the hat to straight audiences with a sports reference here or there! — and her towering confessional hubris meets its withering, Jersey-accented nemesis, Michelle Visage. The Ancient Greeks warned us about this, Coco! She tries to sing the line, “All my good gay girly gods” about “50 or 60 times,” according to Scarlet, before Michelle just tells her to call it a day. For all her mwa-ha-ha I’m a supremely confident villain schtick in the confessionals, Coco is surprisingly meek during most challenges, and here it works against her more than ever: Believe it or not, most drag queens are not good singers or rappers, and it’s just the under-confident ones who seem to let it get away from them.
During dance rehearsal, Karen’s inner dancer comes out, as does Elektra’s inner type-A diva. It’s for good reason: This, she reveals, is the first time she’s taught since the dance studio she owned shut down and she lost her home. It’s a heartbreaking revelation, made all the nicer by how earnestly Maxi and Karen seem to appreciate her direction and dancing ability. The genuine cattiness of this season has rarely been countered by genuine kindness, but this is truly a touching moment. Team Scarlet, on the other hand, can’t seem to get off each others’ backs — Etcetera and Scarlet clash continually, with Coco diagnosing Etcetera’s insubordination as evidence of the fact that she “surrounds herself with amateurs” back in Sydney.
As the queens prepare to take the stage, even more drama transpires: Etcetera finds a hastily scrawled note reading “WATCH OUT” hidden among Coco’s glitters. A lot of fingers are pointed, with nobody taking responsibility for it. Is it really from Art? I’m unconvinced — the whole thing smacks of me, age 14, sending myself anonymous questions on Tumblr. As with that situation, I doubt we’ll be getting any real resolution to this plotline, but the intrigue is fun while it lasts!
Both teams’ performances go down smoothly, with only Coco really seeming to flub her verse. Some verses, namely Karen’s and Scarlet’s, fade into the background a little, but only because of the sheer amount of content present; there are few weak links here. (Elektra, admittedly, looks cracked out — but she kinda always does, so it’s not any particular shock, pardon the pun.) On the runway, the category is Bogan Prom Realness — “bogan” refers to something like a redneck, although Bogan Prom Realness is itself an oxymoron, because we have formal, not prom down here — and the interpretations of the theme are mixed. Scarlet’s goon sack (“goon sack” = bagged wine; her mention of “gobby” refers to dick-sucking) look is beautifully camp, while Karen’s frilly ’80s-inspired look is giving me extreme Vaquera vibes. Mostly, the looks are a little nothing; there seems to have been a bit of miscommunication, with Coco dressing as the eggplant emoji and Kita dressing as the aging rockabilly woman emoji, were there such a thing.
The queens praise Scarlet for her outfit and performance, but read Elektra and Coco for both. I have to say, while I’ll take any opportunity to express my distaste for Elektra’s — or anyone’s, for that matter — look and vibe, her critiques this week feel unfounded. Her gold mullet dress is genuinely bogan prom, as opposed to “basic drag,” as Michelle says, and while she definitely was outdancing everyone else onstage, it feels as if Bimini was praised for the same thing during this very challenge on Drag Race UK. Still, the writing on the wall is clear: It’s time for the self-anointed lip-sync assassins Coco and Elektra to lip-sync once again. Elektra is absolutely spewing at this news, and takes the opportunity in confessional to assert, once again, that she’s a better drag queen than Etcetera and Scarlet, the latter of whom wins the challenge. It would come off a lot better if it were … true?
Either way, Elektra proves that she’s the dancer to beat come lip sync: She twirls and sashays circles around Coco to Peaches & Herb’s disco epic “Shake Your Groove Thing,” landing multiple jumping splits. (Everybody say penile fracture!) Coco is no match for her and is, unfortunately, sent packing. Her time on Drag Race Down Under was an achievement, for sure, but in the words of one mentally broken drag queen: That means NOTHING!