RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under
If fans were already less than pleased about the elimination order of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under going into last week’s episode, by the end of it, they were pushed to the breaking point. [Trixie Mattel voice:] Ho-NEY! The real-world backlash to Art Simone’s reentry into the competition was wild, unlike nearly anything else I’ve seen on social media in regards to the show over the past few years (save, perhaps, the groundswell of support for Bimini after she lost the Drag Race U.K. crown to Lawrence Chaney.) In a genuinely ironic twist on the usual kind of fan backlash that Drag Race elicits (a.k.a. racist bile flung toward any POC queen who wins a lip sync over a white queen), Art said she has been inundated with abuse over her return. I mostly saw one meme in particular being shared. I can’t quite remember the image — it was basically like “When the first-ever all-white top seven becomes the first-ever all-white top eight,” which is pretty funny — but given how toxic the Drag Race fandom’s parasocial relationships with the contestants are, it’s not hard to imagine the vitriol being directed at Art. Sometimes I wish I had a direct line to people who feel the compulsion to bully real people online, just so I could tell them to take a deep breath and reconsider the need to call a complete stranger a disgusting, dirty moll. (Moll is a Down Under stand-in for slut, whore, etc.) Even if it’s in the interest of the “overall good” or whatever — like, you think more POC queens deserved to be in the top seven — it’s still a pretty cheap mode of “advocacy.” There are thousands more tangible, useful things you can do to support POC communities than telling some random drag queen to go kill herself!
That being said: What do I know? I’m just some bitch with a dream and a laptop. I know you didn’t come here to be lectured on online bullying by a guy who, less than 24 hours ago, got in an argument at a bar after pushing in the queue, so on with the recap. After last week’s big elimination — another cause for consternation among fans, it seems — Karen, who sent Anita packing, is a mess. This is either genuine sadness or fake sadness, and I truly can’t tell. She keeps making jokes but is also openly bawling. (Relatable.)
Kita is upset about her frenemy’s exit too, not least because she feels the Australian queens are acting as if the New Zealand queens are just filler — a perception she and Elektra do little to stymie come the reading mini-challenge. Unlike in their Snatch Game, the Down Under queens do justice to this beloved challenge, delivering a handful of transcendent reads, though perhaps not as many good ones as the general savagery of these queens may suggest. The clear standout is Art Simone, in large part due to an instantly iconic read of Etcetera that hinges on the fact that she’s nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns out of drag without resorting to transphobia.
As the queens begin preparing for their branding challenge — they have to design their own yeast spread, a reference to the iconic Australian Vegemite, which is a delicious, thick, salty black paste made from yeast concentrate by-product — Etcetera begins to make it very clear, as usual, that she feels she’s miles ahead of these girls. This particular strain of shit-talking (the delusional one) grinds my gears to no end. If Etcetera were as elevated and iconic as she makes herself out to be, she would have won every challenge; instead, she has mostly been safe, save for one week in the bottom. The cherry on top of this delusion sundae comes when Etcetera says she’s not a shady queen. The gall of her! After four episodes of nothing but snide reads in confessional and in the werkroom, it’s a bizarre, jaw-dropping aside.
When it comes time to film their commercials, the queens are coached by Suzanne Paul, a British-born New Zealand legend due to her ubiquity in infomercials. I didn’t know anything about her before the show, but her Wikipedia entry is wonderful reading. Some fun facts about Suzanne Paul: In 2006, she won the Metro magazine title of “Woman With the Most Integrity”; she became a millionaire by selling a product called the “Suzanne clip”; she has had three TV shows, titled Second Honeymoon, Garage Sale, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; she operates a clothing line for women five-foot-four and under; and in the ’80s, she briefly changed her name to Kathleen. In other words: true queen shit and basically the only person fit to judge the quality of branded-yeast-spread commercials.
Most of the queens do sufficiently well during taping, with notable exceptions being Etcetera — whose idea of “elevation beyond fart and boob jokes” is … pee jokes? — and Scarlet, who just kinda rehashes her Jennifer Coolidge character and tries to suck up to Michelle by using her new “glam-diculous” catchphrase. (Unless I missed a memo and it is, in fact, catching on.) Elektra is the true stunner of the bunch: Not only does she look gorgeous in bell-bottoms and a white blouse but she knows how to direct herself and the Pit Crew. Michelle questions her RuPaul imitation — which, to be fair, is probably a pretty disastrous idea — but for the most part, Elektra seems to be the one to beat in this race. And good for her! After she put aside her ego and actually improved last week, things are finally looking up for Elektra.
As the queens prepare for the runway, Art is compelled (by the producers) to ask whether anyone has ever done anything in drag that they regret. Scarlet cagily admits that, yes, she has done blackface in the past, as anyone keeping up with the outside-show drama knows. Although I believe in people acknowledging the harm they’ve done, atoning, and moving past it, there’s something a little disingenuous about the way Scarlet goes about admitting this — noting that “many other queens” have done it too and so on. Etcetera and Art are right to prod Scarlet on this admission; blackface is a hard thing to feign ignorance about, especially considering that this was only a matter of years ago. Etcetera eloquently and kindly explains the violence that lies underneath the “it’s all gags” veneer that often excuses things like blackface in a way that feels accessible and illuminating for viewers as well as for Scarlet.
Ordinarily, this would be the end of this kind of engineered moment. Until — gag! — RuPaul asks Scarlet about it on the runway. Having just been schooled by Etcetera, Scarlet delivers, for the second time, a blackface apologia, this time with less caginess and more (potentially fake) deep pathos. It’s a wild little moment made even more wild by the fact that Ru uses the opportunity to meditate on cancel culture. In all, I think this is a good way for the show to address gaffes like this; it would have been a good ending to the saga of Scarlet’s cancellation, too, had she not gone back to doing slightly reserved apologies after the show was filmed. Alas!
On the runway, Maxi Shield stuns, as usual, this time in a gorgeous Picnic at Hanging Rock tribute. I can’t get enough of Maxi’s fashion. As Michelle reminded her two weeks ago, she’s the funny one and the beautiful one and the glamorous one, and we can see it every week. Maxi, if you’re reading this: Never change! I love you! Elektra delivers a sweet, if confusing, tribute to New Zealand’s native wildlife, while Art delivers a sweet, if confusing, tribute to Kath Day-Knight. Etcetera’s runway finally lives up to the hype she has been making all season, with a unique reveal that feels genuinely interesting and representative of the Australian bush.
In the commercials, the New Zealand girls fucking turn it. Elektra’s commercial is funny and self-referential, while Kita’s is wild and irreverent. Most of the Australian girls do decidedly fine. Art and Karen do pretty well, Maxi does not as well as expected, and Etcetera and Scarlet have me filing a complaint to the cringe department. Here’s the thing about gorgeous and fashionable people: Because they’ve never had to be funny to endear themselves to others, they’ve never developed any real sense of humor. (I would kill to have that problem!) Elektra wins the challenge (!!), and it’s well deserved — for perhaps the first time in this show’s history, a contestant is taking on critiques and actively becoming better for it. Talk about a shock!
In the lip sync, my beloved Maxi Shield is paired with Etcetera Etcetera, a pairing that has felt a little inevitable since episode one when Maxi noted that she’s literally twice Etcetera’s age. Still, if this lip sync proves one thing, it’s that age ain’t nothing but a number: Despite Etcetera’s incredible confidence (“Picnic at Hanging Rock? More like get the fuck off the stage” is a phrase I’ll be borrowing), Maxi is an absolutely magnetic performer, and she radiates joy performing a classic like “Absolutely Everybody.” She even has a microphone somehow! She is Vanessa Amorosi, and it’s no match for Etcetera. It’s an incredible lip sync overall and also nice proof that, sometimes, presence is far more important than, say, doing a split. And just like that, another girl is sent packing, and our first ever all-white top eight go back to being an all-white top seven. What’s next? An all-white top six!?