It’s another episode in the strange corner of collective consciousness we call Drag Race Down Under and many fans are hailing it the best episode we’ve had so far – and we’re sure the troupes of hunks entering the werkroom this week have nothing to do with that consensus. We’ve got a nonsensical cameo, a never-ending mini-challenge, and many more references lost in translation between the Antipodean cast and the American skewed judging panel. But with the main challenge, with the queens tasked with putting a team of gay rugby players in drag, we are reminded of the magical space that Drag Race can hold.
Before that, the mini-challenge, involving the largest pack of pit crew we’ve ever seen on the season, involves many lingering shots over the crotches of budgie-smuggler-bearing men as the queens are challenged to guess what stuffed animal they have stuffed down their pants. It's cute, it's thirsty, it's entirely stupid and it should not go unnoticed that this challenge feels like it had more airtime than any other segment in this break-neck-paced season. For no apparent reason, Aussie comedy trio Aunty Donna make a pre-recorded cameo before the stuffed-pants strut out. The boys make big on the absurdist humour that saw them score a Netflix deal in the States, but even though they’re taking the piss out of themselves, they literally add nothing to the episode? They don’t introduce a challenge or offer any advice? One day, we’ll recall this crossover with the vague, confused recollection it deserves.
Photograph: Stan | Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of ...what?
Honourable mention though, to Ru’s sheepskin runway look that really embraces the Down Under theme, giving us sexy full body ugg, minus the ugly.
Run it up the guts!
The queens that do the best in the challenge are the ones that focus on nurturing their new drag daughters in finding their inner drag queens before throwing them into a look and sending them teetering onto the runway like a baby deer in their stilettos. Although they’re all out gay men, the players from the NZ Falcons walk in very different shoes to many of the queens. They’re all getting into drag for the first time and reacting in different ways – with Elektra Shock and Kita Mean’s daughters getting their absolute hair flicking life – which opens up interesting, heartfelt conversations that are so sweet that we don’t care if there was some pre-meditation from the producers to get us there.
Elektra, series underdog and apparent trade of the season, has some of the most revealing chats as they unpack feelings like you need to keep “one foot in the closet” when navigating certain people and situations. She puts it best when she says: “There’s so much more to putting someone into drag than just the wigs, the makeup and the costuming. It’s releasing something from your inner self.” Nevertheless, her matchy-matchy purple alien runway with her drag daughter is a clever idea but a little lacking.
Photograph: Stan | Not to be dramatic, but we must protect these men at all costs.
Doppelganger? I hardly know her
Some queens take the challenge of creating a “family resemblance” as a directive to create a doppelganger, others take a more creative approach. Art Simone’s updated Priscilla reference goes unappreciated by the judges for its indirect route to representing family (were the judges too disconnected from the Aussie reference, or did Art fall into the trap of leaning too heavily on the reference?). Kita breaks her safe streak to come out on top with her floaty black and white presentation with her drag child, and their fun, seamless runway presentation shows a good working relationship. For the first time in the competition, it feels like the New Zealand queens have some real stakes to make it to the final.
Maxi Shield and Scarlet Adams find themselves in the bottom, and it feels like it could be the perfect time for the competition to ditch her after the revelations about her history with blackface in the previous episode. Maxi’s neon pink and lime runway presentations are cute but not quite there, and her signature massive jugs (there’s no way to put that delicately) feel conspicuously absent. Scarlet boasted about sewing a costume from scratch for her footballer, but with no visible padding to feminise the silhouette she falls into the curse of slender, pretty drag queens who aren’t sure how to make a transformation happen for a manlier frame.
Photograph: Stan | Romy and Michelle, the Golden Years.
Say you won't leave me no more
The bottom two lip-synch to our Kylie Minogue’s ‘Better the Devil You Know’, continuing last week’s trend of selecting songs that would actually go off in local drag bars (‘Absolutely Everybody’ was difficult to top, now we’re hanging out for a hit of the Veronica’s ‘Untouched’). Maxi has no sparkly surprise prop to boost her this week, and admittedly, Scarlet turns the party, pulling out some old school burlesque tricks. She shantays to slay another day. There’s something uncomfortable in the way that Scarlet is back on track with a ‘main character’ edit. In her statements, the now 28-year-old says that her racist performances were a regrettable action from her teenage years, but evidence suggests that she was still donning blackface as recently as four years ago, amongst other racially insensitive costumes. Would Drag Race allow someone with such a recent and problematic history to take the crown? And what does that say to POC viewers, especially First Nations people?
Maxi sashays away having proved an old(er) drag queen can turn impressive tricks, and she’s done Sydney and the Pink Mile of Oxford Street proud. She’s surely a shoe-in for Miss Congeniality, and her handling of this episode proves her heart of gold (having won the mini-challenge and the chance to pair the queens and footballers, she chooses kindness and doesn’t try to trip anyone up with her pairings). All of the Sydney queens have now departed the competition. With two episodes to go we're left with two Melbourne queens (with the well-known Art Simone and Karen from Finance battling to keep up with high expectations), Scarlet (Perth), and New Zealand's Kita and Elektra. All bets are off, there's no telling who will wind up on top of this scrum.
Photograph: Stan | I don't recall this episode of the Genie from Down Under...
RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under streams on Stan every Saturday from 4pm AEST. Watch the show under the most fabulous circumstances at the best viewing parties in Sydney.