DOM CREED reviews ten weeks of drag excellence, with hits outweighing the misses in the latest UK season of RuPaul’s global sensation
RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a worldwide sensation since its first season aired in a small studio with a hazy filter washing the queens with an orange glow (now a beloved feature of its time).
A lot has changed since 2009. The franchise has branched off with its own spinoff - All Stars - where fan favourites who missed out on winning a crown and sceptre their first time around, all return into a melting pot of drag excellence to vie for their induction into the drag race hall of fame.
There were whispers of Drag Race making its way across the pond and setting up residence in the UK for a few years, and the show had begun to branch out, first reaching Thailand in 2018. Drag Race UK followed in 2019 and since then has offered up a glimpse into the British drag scene, with high camp and high glamour being offered in droves from the likes of The Vivienne, Tayce, Bimini Bon Boulash, and Vanity Milan, to name a few.
Dragged around the globe
Since 2019, Drag Race has branched out across the globe, with nine franchises starting in the past three years, the most recent of which came to us from France. We’re also currently in the midst of a vs. the World version of All Stars where queens from multiple franchises are all vying to become queen of the ‘mother-pucking’ world (the current host nation is Canada). With this much drag race, many might find themselves fatigued. But I believe the more queer content people have access to, the better.
The most recent season of Drag Race UK has been the topic of weekly discussion in mine and my boyfriend's little flat for ten weeks now, but on Thursday 24th November, RuPaul crowned a winner. However, I feel I need to discuss the season at large first… so spoilers ahead folks, maybe a bit of tea spilling, with a dash of annoyance.
For the most part, I have thoroughly enjoyed this season. The cast were all incredible! We had fantastic representation of: non-binary excellence (Le Fil, Cheddar Gorgeous); black excellence (Baby, Black Peppa); trans excellence (Dakota Schiffer, who also happened to be the first trans woman to compete on Drag Race UK); we even had our first ever bearded queen (Danny Beard… ironic right?). We were spoiled.
Getting to watch Queens of the Bone Age beat The Triple Threats in the ‘Girl Group Challenge’ in Episode Two, and watch all six queens collectively win a Rupeter badge, seems like a fever dream now. I found myself astounded that a solo win wasn’t being offered to Le Fil or Dakota Schiffer - they were clear standouts to me. But I suppose as the show airs on the BBC, and cash prizes can’t be handed out like they are on the US franchise, giving out a six-way win isn’t that far of a stretch? But, if you’re like me, and you religiously keep tabs on the queens’ track records, a six-way win really threw a spanner in the works when nearly the entire cast had a badge by Episode Four (except for poor, Jonbers Blonde, who will always be famous, and I live for).
I found the judging this season, like almost every season of drag race now, to be incredibly hit or miss. Some weeks I and my boyfriend were ecstatic to see our favourites winning challenges and claiming their Rupeter Badges. Other weeks, we were left completely dumbfounded by the lack of rational thinking and abandonment of formula.
Case in point, and something I’m still fuming about, is that Episode Five - the musical challenge, iconically titled, ‘Lairy Poppins’ - had an elimination at all. There have been episodes in the past where the queens have performed so well, that Ru has informed the queens that, instead of a lip sync for your life to determine an elimination, the performances were of such a high standard that instead, the top two performing queens of the week would lip sync for the win and there would be no elimination. This happened in Season Three of UK. It also happened in Season 14 of the US franchise that aired at the beginning of this year. If there was ever an instance for this trope to be executed, this was the challenge for it, and while we did get a double save between Black Peppa and Jonbers Blonde a few episodes later (that I was very thankful for), we had to feel our disappointment sink like a rock as Baby, Dakota and Le Fil were negatively critiqued for pretty stellar performances. Sure maybe they faded into the background a little bit, but strong runways and good performances have been awarded Top Three placements in the past. So RuPaul…. I’m not angry, just disappointed! I wanna have a chat with you sometime.
Putting Yourself First
After an incredible performance of ‘No Way’, from the musical Six, (my favourite lip sync of the season between Baby and Dakota Schiffer) Baby raised her hand and requested to speak before the judges and her fellow queens. She had been struggling with her mental health during the season, and this seemed to intensify for her as her run on the show progressed. The lip sync result could’ve been a double save for me, but Baby informed Ru that she felt she needed to step away from the competition to focus on her health. A brave and empowered move that has rarely, if ever been seen before, to my knowledge. This meant Dakota was safe for another week and Baby could exit the show on her terms.
Another instance of baffling judgement was during the makeover challenge in Episode Seven which required the queens to makeover a group of incredible women, aptly referred to as ‘The Queen Team’. All acting as aids to the queens behind the scenes, it was, however, apparent from their comfort and ease with one another that this job goes far beyond offering aid. They all seemed genuinely close, which made the challenge feel all the more special. A traditional makeover challenge on drag race demands family resemblance between the competing queen and the person they have made over. Imagine my outrage then when Dakota Schiffer was placed in the bottom two for a third time when she had arguably one of the strongest examples of family resemblance. Dakota received critique throughout the season for showing the judges she was pretty every week and not pushing her aesthetic enough… but in a challenge that demands a queen be true to their aesthetic and stamp it onto somebody else, I struggled to understand why the judges felt this was the week to step away from what Dakota knew?
I feel in more recent seasons, the input of production has become more apparent than ever before, with queens clearly not providing narrative or story to the season, whether it be because they have faded into the background, or they don’t have a conflict that can be resolved on camera down the line, usually through an epic build to a lip sync for your life that settles the score once and for all. Coco Montrese vs. Alyssa Edwards in US Season Five is the perfect example of this. However, this feud began outside of the show, so production didn’t need to get involved here. In the instance of UK Season Four, queens such as Le Fil and Dakota Schiffer being given the boot, despite performing consistently well through the season, left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m so pressed about these two queens. Can you tell I was a huge fan of them? Is it obvious? Nah, I reckon I’m playing it down how raging I still am… It is difficult though when all the queens are incredible - I didn’t want to see any of them go.
Okay, I’ll keep stewing about that in private.
Now, onto the finale, which is one of my favourites in recent memory. Black Peppa, Cheddar Gorgeous, Danny Beard, and Jonbers Blonde were a stellar Top Four. I don’t recall there ever being a season where two queens have both won four challenges each, but Cheddar and Danny achieved this feat during UK4, boasting two of the strongest track records in the history of all the franchises. The final was for either of these queens to snatch. However, I didn't count out Black Peppa or Jonbers who, despite not winning as
many challenges, still had exceptional runs, impressing Ru week on week, narrowly missing wins and dominating in lip syncs. A special mention to Pixie Polite who narrowly avoided a spot in the final, but similarly could’ve taken one of the places in the Top Four.
Spoilers Ahead… because I’m about to discuss the winner and yeah, it’s been and gone, but now you’ve read this and know everything that happens, you definitely want to go and watch the whole thing and root for Dakota and Le Fil and get angry with me too right? Right.
Going into the final, we had a little viewing party with a couple friends, and all of us agreed that, like All Stars 4 before it, this season could’ve easily resulted in a double win between Cheddar and Danny, except this double win would’ve been fully justified (I loved the chaos of a double win in All Stars 4, but I do feel Monet cinched it with that Fighter lip sync). However, we were all rooting for Danny Beard to snatch the crown. Cheddar was incredible too, and we all agreed if it did go to Cheddar we would be equally as thrilled. But…
. . . . . . .
We cheered for Beard!
Danny Beard was crowned our UK4 winner!! We all erupted into cheers, probably to the annoyance of our neighbours, but oh well. We’d just seen the results of the queer olympics, after ten weeks. Our favourite had won, so yes we did scream, and yes our neighbours did have to deal with it! The whole cast seemed to have true love and respect for one another this season, and Danny exuded this energy throughout their run. Cheddar was a graceful runner-up and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this cast of queens. I know opportunities are already rushing in for them and I’m so excited to see them all getting their flowers!
This season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK was filled with drag excellence, perfectly crafted challenges, (except that god awful big mother/squirrel games acting challenge in Episode Eight) and stellar lip syncs. It has provided ample queens to bring back for future All Stars seasons, be that vs. the World, or when the UK finally start to produce their own equivalent of the spin off. I had a great time watching this season, as I always do, despite the faults. I look forward to reviewing Canada vs. the World in a few weeks and discussing all things, the great white north.
Written by Dom Creed