Some seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race feel like they go on forever, and that’s fine. The U.S. version of Drag Race, which is now prone to stretching out to 15 or 20 episodes, is supposed to kind of feel like torture; we watch it like some kind of penance for being gay, and it adds to our community’s sense of collective struggle. Drag Race Down Under, on the other hand, is a different beast. This season is only eight episodes, we’re already on episode six, and yet it feels like I’ve been watching it for years. Somehow, every episode feels like a season opener; queens keep exiting the show, but I come back each week without really knowing anything more about the queens who remain. Watching this week’s episode — another uniquely dull spectacle, a sad change from last week’s energetic girl-group challenge — I felt like Sisyphus, pushing the gay little rock that is Drag Race Down Under up the never-ending hill that is my life. I don’t mean to get too philosophical in this lighthearted recap, but that’s the nature of watching Drag Race Down Under: The mind tends to drift.
This week’s branding challenge makes it clear just how little we’ve gotten to know these girls. Apart from Spankie Jackszon and Kween Kong, most of these queens are ciphers: They wear great outfits and can very, very, very occasionally crack a joke, but there’s not really been many opportunities to see what makes them tick or what makes them worthy of our attention. That’s part of the reason, I think, that RuPaul has so clearly chosen Spankie as her favourite: She’s far less polished than Ru’s favourites usually are, but she’s so charming and so consistent within her own worldview that she’s impossible not to love.
This week, the queens are tasked with making infomercials for their hometowns and, honestly, it feels like the kind of challenge that should have been in the first half of the season. When Ru speaks to the girls about their ideas, she basically tells every single queen to throw away their ideas and just focus on something that sells their personal story. The editors truly aren’t fucking around at this point: The whole sequence is literally a smash-cut montage of Ru telling every single queen to change their idea.
For a bunch of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants — a group of grown men with pathological gifted-child syndrome — this, obviously, causes some distress, and the negative vibes pervade the rest of the episode. (Part of this is due to the fact that no contestant seems to have prepared for how grueling it is to compete on Drag Race. Everybody seems tired as hell, to which I say: Imagine how tired we are.) Nobody even humors Beverly when she complains that Ru “kind of read” her for not showing any vulnerability. Without missing a beat, Hanna cuts Beverly off and tells her to stop being so fake. The pile-on that ensues is, honestly, low-key violent: Hanna and Kween are clearly at the end of their tether with Beverly, and it’s only Spankie who gives her a reprieve. It’s a mark of Spankie’s innate kindness that she’s so kind to Beverly, given that Beverly was making fun of both her drag and her age mere episodes earlier.
The tapings are basically an opportunity to spend ten minutes watching infomercial icon Suzanne Paul try to give kind notes to a bunch of deranged drag queens and, naturally, it’s the high point of the episode. (I could sit and watch an entire episode of Suzanne rating different small Antipodean towns, saying things like “Palmerston North — hard sell” over and over.) As ever, it’s Spankie who clearly excels in the challenge, while the rest of the queens have a little trouble connecting with comedy naturally.
On this week’s swimsuit-themed runway, very few of the outfits actually read “swimsuit” to me, but they’re uniformly excellent nonetheless. Spankie looks almost alarmingly polished in a Pamela Anderson–inspired outfit, while Molly and Beverly both turn out twists on Gold Coast meter-maid outfits. I think Molly’s, which is a little more simple, reads better onstage as swimwear, but both outfits are highlights of the week.
The infomercials themselves almost feel like a metaphor for this season of the show: They’re certainly competent, but they’re hardly enthralling pieces of content. Kween Kong’s infomercial is sweet, but doesn’t tell us much more about her. For the most part, it’s been Kween’s workroom discussions and revelations that have given us the greatest peek behind the curtain, rather than anything she’s put on the runway or done in challenges. When Kween reveals that, prior to filming, she had an upsetting phone call with her homophobic father that left her rattled, her behavior in the competition suddenly makes a lot more sense: She’s not been the formidable competitor everyone expected because of how much that was weighing on her.
Molly’s infomercial, similarly, is well-done but not particularly funny — it more describes the beats of a general night out, as opposed to a night out in Newcastle. Hanna’s infomercial, on the other hand, is filled with details about Perth, but doesn’t really say anything about Hanna herself. On the runway, she’s Barbarella, in past weeks she’s been Weimar-era baroque camp, and in her infomercial she’s … some kind of fairy? It’s not a bad infomercial, but it adds to an overall perplexing image of Hanna herself.
Beverly’s infomercial is similar: It’s more like a skit than a branding exercise for Beverly herself, and it’s littered with references that don’t really land. She looks great — as ever, she’s the most polished of the queens here — but polish doesn’t really count for much when there’s not much going on behind it. When every queen on the runway tells Ru that it’s Beverly who deserves to go home, it feels less like a referendum on this challenge than a reflection of what a different game Beverly seems to be playing. She appears to have come prepared to compete on the Instagram-aesthetics-heavy U.S. Drag Race rather than Drag Race Down Under, which is altogether a weirder, more (appealingly) parochial competition.
When push comes to shove, it’s Kween and Beverly who have to lip-sync for their lives — to RuPaul’s “The Beginning” — and they fucking fight for it. Although both queens are splitting and jumping and rolling across the stage, it’s Kween who wins, and Beverly who’s sent home. It feels, weirdly, like a high point in the competition for her: a chance for her to show off the skills and charisma that so often eluded her throughout the rest of the season.