RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under
This is it, frenemies: We’ve reached the final stretches of the strange, stressful, and altogether confusing ride that’s been the debut season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Has it always been fun? No. Have the challenges always been thrilling? No. Have the looks always been sickening? Also no — but goddamn if this wasn’t one of the outright bitchiest seasons of TV I’ve ever seen in my life, and isn’t that something? Say what you will about the judges’ decisions or the quality of the production itself, but if you can say one thing for this season of Drag Race, it’s that it, as with the earliest seasons of the show, genuinely felt like an insight into the rivalries and peculiarities of an extraordinarily localized scene. From the tensions between Anita, Kita, and Elektra to the wild pressure felt by Art and Karen, this season truly felt like, at least on some level, a breather from the insular American Drag Race ecosystem.
As our top five enter the werkroom this episode, Scarlet and Elektra are immediately at each other’s throats, rehashing what I feel to be a pretty bland beef. It takes a real personality to make fighting fun, and Elektra and Scarlet sometimes feel less like personalities than like people bitchily fumbling their way through gay meme speak. (This is, I feel, a win for both queens — I have a theory that the more boring or plain you seem on reality TV, the more well-adjusted you probably are in real life.) Karen pegs Kita as the biggest threat in the competition, and it feels pretty accurate, not necessarily because she’s never been in the bottom, but simply because there aren’t really many likable personalities left in the competition. I think the show is probably a little too risk averse to crown, say, a Scarlet or an Art, the former of whom has faced real-life scandal (and often comes across as cruel) and the latter of whom caused one of the show’s biggest onscreen dramas in returning without explanation. Kita promises that she’s gonna “fuck ’em up,” which I don’t quite believe — she just looks so sweet with her cheeky smile! — but fake it ’til you make it, or whatever.
Ru enters the werkroom and announces that, for what I believe is the first time outside an All Stars season, the queens will be doing a talent show, and Kita will be picking the order. I’m a little sad this isn’t a stand-up challenge (although perhaps that format has been nixed after the abject disaster of Season 13’s bizarre, terrifying stand-up episode), but I’m sure there will still be comedy to be found in some kind of train-wreck talent act, so I guess we’re all winners here. After some requisite jostling over the talent show order — Kita, in an act of “friendship,” gives Elektra her wish and puts her last, a move I’m certain is an attempt at sabotage — Ru enters the werkroom with Raven (!) to check on the girls. I can’t quite remember anything that happened after this because my brain started leaking out of my ears as soon as Elektra started acting devastatingly horny toward Raven. It should quite literally be illegal to (metaphorically) show hog like that on international TV. I know it’s Pride month, but I think everyone in that werkroom could do with a healthy dose of shame just to keep egos in check.
As the queens get ready to perform their talents, Art reveals that she’s faced extensive hatred and death threats in the past after she performed Christmas carols in drag on Chapel Street, a main street of Melbourne. Touchingly, she uses the story as an opportunity to espouse the need for queens to travel to regional centers to create queer spaces where there may not usually be and tells the other queens that, if they’re ever going through it, they should give her a call. It’s a touching and, I assume for a lot of viewers, redemptive moment for Art, who, as I mentioned, can come across as cold or calculating.
On the runway, the category is “How’s your head … piece?”, which is a wee bit genius. But before that, it’s the talent show — which provides an opportunity to evaluate our final five and look at their chances going into the grand finale. Let’s evaluate, one by one.
Karen From Finance
Heading into the competition, there was nobody better placed to win than Karen From Finance. She’s funny, she’s beloved, and she’s known in the U.S., which gives her a big advantage. But week after week, she’s shown that she doesn’t have the same versatility as some of the other queens, despite her charm in and out of drag. That’s obvious this week, when she has a full-blown meltdown over the fact that Ru wants her to wear something sexy. But come talent show time, she … pulls it off! Wearing a Karen-ified leather harness (“Karen From Bondage,” says Michelle), she manages to look great while also doing a clownish balloon act. It’s short, sure, but it’s also fun and shows she can switch things up while retaining her personality. I think this is probably the show of versatility she needed going into the finale, despite the judges’ confusion. (Her strange, glamorous runway also does a lot to show off Karen’s sense for fashion.)
The beautiful, camp-as-hell Art, like Karen, came into the competition a known quantity and suffered for it, with the judges often complaining that they know she can do better. I’m not sure there’s enough goodwill toward Art for her to take home the crown, and in the talent show, fisting her own mouth, while weird, doesn’t really feel like enough of a showstopper to push her over the edge. Luckily, her Rodarte-inspired dress is gorgeous, and the judges love her this week. Art is probably the most driven contestant this season — we saw that when she was eliminated the first time, in what will probably prove the most indelible moment of Drag Race Down Under — and that doesn’t mean nothing.
Consistency wins the pageant, and Kita Mean has been our out-and-out most consistent competitor this season by a mile. Sometimes she falls into the background, but she’s been getting better — last week, she won head and shoulders above the competition, and this week’s talent act, involving quick costume changes, was genuinely exciting, if a bit twee. (Also, Ru hates magic, which actually confuses me a little.) But seriously, how did she do that? It’s a question many might be asking themselves come crowning time next week. Her robot runway is camp and hardly revolutionary, but consistency is Kita’s game, not showstoppers.
Coming into the show, Scarlett was something of an underdog — you know, with the blackface and yellowface and brownface scandals and all that — but has proven herself a fearsome competitor with some of the most elegant outfits and most inspired dance moves. Does she have a chance at winning? I don’t think so, even though her pole act shows off some genuinely exceptional skill. Unless Ru wants to make another point about cancel culture, I think a Scarlett crowning would leave too many fans offside after what’s already been a controversial season.
In many ways, Elektra is already a winner. Rather than take the Roxxy Andrews route of making it to the upper echelons of the competition through sheer determination and charm, Elektra has genuinely gotten better week on week, taking the judges’ critiques into account and showing massive growth. (Something something something “massive growth,” haha, whatever.) Still, I’m not sure Elektra can pull off a win, especially because this week’s contemporary-dance number isn’t as much of a showstopper as she seems to think it is. (Her Liza Minelli–style runway is lovely, though!) I think Elektra has, in many ways, come off better than a lot of queens here, which shows the power of low expectations.
During critiques, Ru asks the dreaded question: Who should go home and why? As often happens, all the focus is on one queen: Elektra. The main critique seems to be that Elektra is still a little unpolished, but I like that Karen pointed out that Elektra has already achieved a lot by being in the competition, which is true. It’s gutting to see Kita have to throw her employee under the bus like that, too. (Although, let’s be honest, who hasn’t had a manager who tried to pin blame on them in an awkward moment?) Elektra says Art hasn’t really connected with her drag persona, a criticism I don’t really think lands, but I’m glad she said her piece and didn’t also say herself. (Art gets her just desserts, just desserts in this case being an opportunity to scream “Man alert!!” in confessional.)
In Untucked, the Veronicas FaceTime in (!) and, like the messy, airplane-drama-starting shit stirrers they are, they immediately ask who was in the top and the bottom. Interestingly, they ask who deserves the crown, and every queen, slightly, says another girl’s name. They’re left with parting advice: “A well-placed slut drop can save the show at the last minute.”
In yet another moment that feels like producer contrivance, Kita Mean has to lip-sync against Elektra, pitting the two New Zealand girls against each other. Elektra begins to pretend to forfeit the lip sync — which, excitingly, is to the Veronicas’ “Untouched,” one of the greatest Australian pop songs of all time — but is actually joking. Kita can’t move at all in this lip sync — her shoes are massive, the kind of stompers one wears when, say, wanting to dramatically fall down at an event, not that I would know anything about that — and so has to do more of a flailing, overly expressive kind of lip sync, ending it in an embrace of her protégé Elektra. Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall for weeks now: You can’t really be in as many lip syncs as Elektra has and win this competition. As such, it’s time for us to say good-bye. Elektra has caused me a lot of personal strife as a recapper, but goddamn if I don’t respect her quest for self-improvement. This time next week, will we be cashing cheques from Karen, getting high off Kita Mean, or some pun about Art? Only time will tell. Until then, remember: A well-placed slut drop can save a show at the last minute.