The worst thing about Drag Race Down Under? RuPaul’s hosting is holding back the cast
When the host doesn’t know the cultural references, the queens can’t thrive
There was a lot of reasons why RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under season one failed in almost every possible way. It’s widely regarded as one of the worst seasons from the entire franchise – sloppy storytelling, stupid judging, poor runways and a push on two finalists who were embroiled in a scandal surrounding their racist past. It was brushed over, but the season never shed itself of the scandal’s stain (because, honestly, how could it?). Season two got commissioned regardless, and for the first few episodes it felt like Australia and New Zealand’s Drag Race had found its groove – but after a dismal Snatch Game it became clear that the problem with Drag Race Down Under isn’t the cast, it’s RuPaul. And if this version is going to continue, that judging panel needs the biggest shakeup in Drag Race herstory.
Okay, so what’s the issue?
RuPaul has been described by fellow Drag Race producers as “A PhD of pop culture.” And, unquestionably and inarguably, he is. His knowledge of music and cultural references – specifically American – is outstanding. RuPaul is also, for all his faults, an outstanding host. RuPaul *is* Drag Race in so many ways, and has changed the culture and queer people’s lives by creating a juggernaut franchise that we all watch a new episode of at least once a week at this point. Even internationally, where Ru doesn’t host a certain franchise, it is RuPaul’s mannerisms and quotes that are emulated by hosts globally. But, as shows like Drag Race España and Canada’s Drag Race have shown exceptionally well, the franchise is still capable of being at its best without Ru there.
Everyone on Drag Race Down Under is bending over backwards to make RuPaul laugh. Specifically, Ru and Michelle. This means trying to make references and, in the context of Snatch Game, doing characters that Ru and Michelle will know and laugh at. Hannah Conda excelled as Liza Minnelli because she’s a hugely known persona that translates across any franchise. But it means the iconic small characters are getting lost by the wayside.
It’s strange that Drag Race UK doesn’t suffer the same level of lost in translation. When a queen does Gemma Collins or when Bimini did Katie Price, it instantly feels correct. I do sometimes wish we had a UK queen to truly know all the intricacies of our weird pop culture obsessions so we could get a Lauren Harries and a Holly Jervis, but I will be grateful for what we get in comparison to Drag Race Down Under, who thanks to RuPaul keep getting the short end of the stick.
RuPaul feels like he’s just going through the motions
Whether or not we’re discussing the ridiculous but hilarious conspiracy that RuPaul is greenscreened into Drag Race Down Under, it has to be said that the reason such a daft conspiracy gets so much attention is because there feels a massive disconnect between RuPaul and the queens. There are a lot of jokes about how Ru isn’t arsed about the queens after doing so many seasons, and many cast members have spoken about a coldness from RuPaul. On Drag Race Down Under, the coldness is baltic. It’s like someone is pressing a button on RuPaul’s back and making him say quips and critiques – the mechanics of production have never felt so obvious or stale.
I watch Canada’s Drag Race and I’m just so in love with the judging panel and their dynamic, and the way they interact with the Canadian queens. They all feel so engaged, and Brooke Lynn Hytes is exemplary. Australia needs their Brooke Lynn Hytes.
Watch season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under on BBC iPlayer.