Haters gonna hate, but that’s nothing compared to what devoted RuPaul’s Drag Race tragics can unleash when the show puts the wind up ‘em. And after this week’s ep – only the second ever of the Aussie iteration – we can already hear the march of the pitchfork and torch wielding masses coming over the horizon. Not that this will worry the show’s producers too much. Outrage is better than obscurity, and this was an episode, love it or hate it, that will go down as one of the most goddam iconic upsets in Drag Race herstory.
In the 13 years since Drag Race first sashayed onto our screens, the show’s format has settled into a reliable yin and yang of surprise plot twists and predictable fan-favorite challenges. Both of these essential ingredients came crashing together in the latest installment of the Down Under franchise, when Ru sprung the ubiquitous Snatch Game on the girls before the Windex had time to dry on the season’s first parting lipstick message.
This is the earliest the Snatch Game has featured in any Drag Race franchise. Ever. And to say this was a gag would be quite the understatement. Snatch Game is arguably the pivotal challenge of any season. It’s a mercilessly exposed real-time litmus test for which queens have the star power to go all the way and which are just the fillers. Doing well in Snatch Game does not necessarily guarantee you a path to the crown; in season 11 of the American Drag Race, the eventual top two finalists, Yvie Oddly and Brooke Lynn Heights, both ended up in the bottom for their sorry Snatch Games, serving up a lipsync for the ages that earned them a double Shantay. But more often than not, the tightest snatches are the most victorious.
Photograph: Supplied/Stan | Yes, the Aussie queens are making the New Zealand girls do a 'shoey'.
The early bird snatches the… dingo?
Putting it so early in the season – episode two, for crying out loud – ups the stakes even higher. Ru is still getting to know these girls. Sure, he’s seen their audition tapes, but the rapport Mama Ru develops with the queens in the werkroom over weeks of walkthroughs just isn’t there. Their strengths and weaknesses, their vulnerabilities and personal struggles, the quirks of their humour and their ability to take on feedback and grow – none of that raw humanity has had time to bubble to the surface. All we’ve had so far is some puffed up Day 1 confessionals (“I’m here to win” etc, *yawn*) and some bitchy werkroom whispers.
But lest we forget, this is reality TV, and if there’s one thing the showrunners of Drag Race know, it’s how to craft a juicy narrative. No sooner have the girls wished a fond farewell to the first eliminated queen, Jojo Zaho (the season’s only First Nations representation, surely gone too soon), that the focus turns to the brewing rivalry between arguably the two most well known cast members, Art Simone and Karen from Finance. Art feels cheated by Karen’s episode one win and she’s not afraid to say it – in a privately filmed confessional, at least. It seems inevitable that Scarlet Adams (who has copped a lot of flack for some truly unacceptable behaviour outside of the show) will earn this season’s mandatory villain edit. But almost as damning, poor ol’ Art is well and truly leaning into an arrogance edit, and it’s not a good look.
After a brief appearance by the Aussie goddess of pop, Kylie Minogue – a prerecorded Zoom video that was so stiff and scripted it could well have been ordered via Cameo – the ep gets down to the serious business of Snatch. Certainties may be few and far between on this show, but there are three immutable truths of Drag Race you can set your watch by: never take your wig off during a lip sync, learn to fucking sew, and come with a Snatch Game character you can easily spin comedy gold with. It’s the one challenge you can fully workshop, rehearse, audience test and bring ready to go, yet every season, there are queens who seem shocked that their half-baked choices aren’t hitting the mark.
100 per cent NOT that bitch
Rumours on the Sydney drag grapevine ahead of the episode’s airing foretold of a Snatch Game that might well rank as the worst ever filmed, but the broadcast edit manages to make it just about entertaining. Flying high throughout, Anita Wigl’it’s Queen Elizabeth II is a masterclass in what Snatch Game is all about. Despite the coked-up preschool teacher energy she channels in the werkroom, her characterisation of HRH is far less intense, the perfect balance of close to the bone, whipsmart and peppered with A-grade zingers.
But that’s pretty much where the standout accomplishments of this episode end. Middle of the pack, Etcetera Etcetera’s choice to play the wrongly convicted Lindy Chamberlain of ‘A dingo ate my baby’ fame raised eyebrows in both the werkroom and on the Twittersphere, but it’s well known that Ru loves a bit of bad taste humour, and it’s pretty much chapter one of the drag queen playbook to use shock comedy to elicit a few ‘oh-no-she-didn't’ LOLs. Kita’s Dr Seuss had the opposite issue, turning out so damn vanilla that it’s hard to know why she had the couplet king on her Snatch Game shortlist in the first place.
Photograph: Supplied/Stan | Believe it or not, antics in this Snatch Game were more chaotic than it appears in images.
Both Scarlet Adams as Jennifer Coolidge and Maxi Shield as Magda Szubanski are read for their Talented Mr Ripley meets Madame Tussauds approach to celebrity impersonations, nailing the accuracy sans the funny. On the flipside, Elektra Shock’s bafflingly odd Catherine O’Hara has us questioning what knock-off, low budget Eastern European bootleg of Schitt’s Creek she’s been watching.
But at the bottom of the barrel, Coco Jumbo as Lizzo, Art Simone as Bindi Irwin, and Karen from Finance as Dolly Patron, make for wincingly uncomfortable viewing. Coco’s Lizzo is not good, but it is hell; 100 per cent that disappointing, failing to harness even an atom of the swagger and confidence Lizzo is adored for. Karen’s Parton is like a broken animatronic at Dollywood, more dead-eyed than Jolene. Art’s gambit with Irwin is to add as much smutty innuendo as possible to some generic animal banter, but this just results in long, rambling, incomprehensible (Blue Ring Octopus?) answers that try Ru’s patience and our sanity.
Back in the werkroom, in between the girl’s trying to The Secret their way out of the impending dumpster fire with a self-praise echo chamber claiming theirs to be the strongest Snatch of all time, the producers fill their weekly emotion quota with a quick paddle through the trauma laden waters of gay mens’ relationships with their dads. But who cares about all that tear-jerking stuff after the horrors we’ve just witnessed?
The sea is a cruel mistress, but the edit can be savage
On the runway, category is Sea Sickening, and while there’s certainly a range of budgets on display (alas, money or lack of it is the greatest handicap a Drag Race contestant can face), all the looks more or less meet the brief. Instead of the usually teased out deliberations, upping the suspense before a Condragulations is announced, Ru cuts to the chase, naming Anita the hands down winner. While the televised Snatch Game was fairly watchable, there’s more than a few indications that whatever ended up on the cutting room floor was a total and utter shit show. Six of the nine-strong cast earn a place in the bottom – a short, sharp slap from the hand of reality for most of them.
Photograph: Supplied/Stan | Just imagine if this lipsynch was to Kylie's 'Spinning Around'.
As the mists of their delusion slowly part, it becomes increasingly clear to everyone that two of the season’s frontrunners are going head to head: Coco Jumbo and Art Simone. This is episode two, FFS! How did we end up here? For context, Art already has her own doco produced by the makers of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she has been part of the international Drag Race tours in Australia and been featured at Drag Con in Los Angeles. She is, without question, one of Australia’s most fiercely talented and respected queens, but faced with her potential elimination, it’s dumbstruck disbelief, not fighting spirit, that we see on her perfectly painted mug. Coco Jumbo finds her fire at last, and performs the hell out of RuPaul’s ‘I’m That Bitch’ (nevermind that the producers didn’t budget for a Kylie song after both Minogue’s appeared on the episode), bringing us all to an unthinkable cadence: Art Simone, the heir apparent to be Australia’s first drag superstar, has crashed out of the competition. And thousands of her fans have likely crashed out of their Stan subscriptions as a result.
The final five minutes of the ep are, for lack of a better word, ugly. Perhaps it was a joke, or an attempt at sass, but Coco casually saying “Soz bitch” to a shattered Art Simone makes her look like a sociopath. Art implodes as she collapses into Karen’s arms, sobbing as the crushing weight of the moment hits her. Backstage, a producer tries to reassure her, “But you made it here.” “That means nothing”, she hisses back. “I was the strongest one.”
Thus endeth the arrogance edit.
Photograph: Supplied/Stan | Soz bitch, she's that bitch.
RuPaul's Drag Race Viewing Party review: Universal
One of the Oxford Street strip's best drag bars was bound to throw a good Drag Race viewing party, but what's particularly great about Universal's screening is how little it gets in the way of the show. With a rotating roster of resident drag hosts MCing, there's not much in the way of pre-show housekeeping or warm-up acts, because this venue understands that its punters are here to see what's on-screen rather than what's on stage. Thanks to the club's excellent sound system, you can still enjoy a natter about the episode with your mates without risking talking over the show, and a well-placed bar and bathroom break between the challenge and runway lets you grab a drink or have a tinkle without missing any of the action. The screening starts promptly at 6.30, but since the projection and sound are easily enjoyed from anywhere in the downstairs bar, it's not too much of a scrum for seats near the front if you rock up a little late.