RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under
Each day on God’s green Earth brings us new challenges and new joys, especially when living under the specter of rampant late capitalism. Today, my friends, is no exception, for while this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under maxi-challenge is the much-loved, always-great makeover challenge, the elimination that comes along with it — my beloved, kindhearted, unbelievably glamorous Maxi Shield, one of Sydney’s most iconic drag queens and a constant bright spot of Drag Race Down Under — is crushing. Before we get into the buffoonery, riggery, and straight-up tomfoolery that went down in this week’s episode, I’d like to send my love out to Maxi Shield, and (digitally) pour one out for, perhaps, one of the kindest queens to ever grace the Drag Race stage. You’re better than all of us, Maxi!
Anyway, back to tomfoolery: Barely seconds pass post-elimination before the Australian and New Zealand queens get in another tiff. Karen is (rightfully) frustrated after receiving a middling placement in yet another challenge. Art, supporting her hometown sister, suggests — snidely, as is her wont — that, perhaps, some queens (read: Elektra) are receiving praise simply because the expectations of them were so low. Elektra thinks Art is just jealous, and feels confident that her win was merited. Me? I land somewhere in the middle of the Art/Elektra spectrum: While I feel that Elektra’s commercial was undeniably the best, and she did make a major improvement on the runway, I’m not so sure that a look like that would be accepted on, say, Art or Karen, who both seem to have outsize expectations placed on them by the judges, simply because they’re both well-known in America. Ultimately, I think that Elektra is right to be proud of her win, but, as with anything in life, but especially on RuPaul’s Drag Race, hubris can be a cruel, callous bitch, and resting on your laurels probably isn’t the best strategy. (“Hubris” probably doesn’t even cover how single-minded Elektra’s wish for Scarlet to be eliminated is. Every time I feel like Elektra’s about to get me onside, she unleashes some unhinged, unmoored form of jealousy that makes me just a wee bit scared, even through the computer screen.)
Aunty Donna are this week’s video guests, which, Scarlet admits, she’s more excited about than Dannii Minogue. While this undeniably reveals some things about Scarlet’s personality — I’m now not even sure they needed Scarlet to admit she had done blackface on-camera, seeing as, between this revelation and the hat she wears in confessional, she already appears to be flaunting all the accoutrement of cancellation — it is also undeniable that the guest stars have been a little lackluster this season. Not getting to meet Kylie Minogue in addition to the fact that you only have the chance of winning AUD $30,000 really just adds insult to injury. (In case you were wondering, yes, I have met Kylie Minogue — I asked her for a photo and she said, “You’ll have to check with my people,” and I said, “Oh,” and she said, “I’m just kidding!” and we laughed and laughed like old friends — and therefore I consider myself more of a winner than any of these queens. I don’t make the rules!)
After winning a typically inane mini-challenge, Maxi is given an advantage in the maxi-challenge: the ability to pair each queen with the rugby player they have to make over. Scarlet notes that Maxi could either play nice “or be a cunt,” and, as if jinxing herself, gets paired with one of the only bearded players. Maxi, strangely, picks a player who fits the same size as her, but who has a massive, bushy beard. It seems strange that this was Maxi’s strategy, especially considering that all she would have to do to create a family resemblance would be to strap someone with a pair of her great big giant honking mommy milkers, but the heart wants what it wants, and she instead goes with the guy who has a great big giant honking beard.
Immediately after the queens pair off, we’re given a lovely few minutes of gay-on-gay violence, in which each rugby player admits they’ve never done any kind of drag before, and each drag queen gives them a look somewhere between consternation and outright conniption. Are they really expecting more from these guys? They play rugby, which, if I understand correctly, is basically just guys beating each other up. (I don’t understand rugby correctly.) Still, as often happens, as soon as the players get their corsets and heels on, they begin to truly feel their oats. (I lost my mind when one player was asked to “walk like a woman” and still couldn’t, because I guess if there’s a kind of man who understands women even less than a rugby player, it’s a gay rugby player.)
In one of the most bizarrely touching moments of this episode, Maxi encourages her rugby player to shave his beard, and the look of joy on his face when he sees himself in the mirror is precious. While many of the D’n’Ms this season have felt, for lack of a better word, contrived, the conversations the queens have with their makeover partners are genuinely touching and add some much-needed pathos into a generally quite bitchy atmosphere. Kita’s partner explaining how comfortable Kita made him feel, in particular, is a very sweet moment. (The moment is counteracted, of course, by an extended bit of Art-bashing, wherein the other queens ream Art for painting her own face before her makeover partner’s. It doesn’t really matter, as far as I’m concerned, but it is fun hearing Karen mutter, “It’s a shame that personality stinks!”)
On the runway, both Karen and Kita transcend — Kita and Pheta Mean bear a striking resemblance while still looking like their own characters, while Karen and her partner, Debbie From Reception, look jaw-droppingly similar, to the point where I did a double take when they first stepped onto the runway. The other queens struggle a little: Maxi and Cilla Wet look similar, but they also look … bad? (Forgive me, Maxi!) And while Elektra looks stunning in sequined purple, her makeover partner, Riri Action, looks cracked as hell — almost like she’s wearing a lopsided mask. Art and her partner bear some resemblance, but, despite a couple of extremely fun outfits, just don’t feel as similar as some of the other pairs. Scarlet and her sister do have a resemblance, but their costumes are also just corsets and tights, which feels a little easier than what most of the other queens did. Kita nabs her first win, and it’s extremely deserved — her transformation was head and shoulders above the other girls’. After a few weeks of her clearly wanting a win very, very much, it’s pretty nice to see.
Come judgment time, it’s Maxi and Scarlet who have to lip-sync, the former because of the lack of detail in her outfits, and the latter for her outfits’ simplicity. Considering that nearly every queen got read for something, this choice does feel a little arbitrary, but I guess it’s not called Shaad’s Drag Race, so I’ll keep my beautiful, perfectly shaped trap shut. The queens prepare to lip-sync, and …
Halle-fucking-loo! After six long episodes, we’re finally given a Kylie Minogue lip-sync song: the iconic 1990 single “Better the Devil You Know.” This is a far cry from what ideally would have gone down this season — shout-out to my cousin Ashwin, who has been floating the concept of a season with only deep-cut Kylie lip-sync songs in gay bars across Sydney — but after some truly miscellaneous choices, this feels like sweet, sweet relief. (Ru is getting her life, as she should be.) The lip sync is fairly evenly matched, in my opinion, but, at the end of the day, it’s Scarlet, with her athletic burlesque moves, who gets to stay. It’s hard to say good-bye to Maxi, but if she had to go, at least she got the dignity of exiting to a Kylie Minogue track. In this cutthroat game we call Drag Race, few can say the same.