BY Eric Rezsnyak
“UK vs. the World” is back, baby! I wasn’t sure we would get another season of this quirky little franchise, especially now that “Global All Stars” is a thing. But I’m so glad that we did. While the first “UK vs. the World” had an infuriating elimination order, it also massively expanded the popularity of several international queens, making A-listers of Pangina Heals and Jimbo, as well as nicely boosting Janey Jackee and Blu Hydrangea. So I welcome a second season of the show, this time with more queens, a bigger spread of participating franchises, and for the first time in a UK-based season, an actual cash prize: 50,000 pounds!
The premiere was a great introduction to the queens, but a poor showcase for RuPaul herself, who was clearly wrestling with a hell of a cold or flu during filming. I’ll go over my thoughts with each queen, going over their talent show and premiere runway in the category, “Queen and Country” (a look relating to their place of origin).
Before we do that, here’s the queen reveal trailer:
Arantxa Castillo-La Mancha (“Drag Race Espana” S1, 7th Place)
Arantxa is a wonderfully odd pick for our first “Espana” queen to appear on a Ru-hosted series. There are bigger names from seasons 1 and 2 of “Espana” who you might expect first, but a) I don’t know how well they speak English, and b) Arantxa brings an extra dollop of chaotic charm that just feels at home here. Out of this entire group, NOBODY has had a bigger glow up from their original season than Arantxa. She looked absolutely incredible in her runway, and overall there was a lightness and a confidence to her this episode that made her even MORE endearing — and she was already super likable on “Espana” S1. Obviously that’s partially related to her coming out as trans after “Espana,” and I am so happy to see her thriving here. Her talent show was quirky and creative. I’m not sure I would call it particularly memorable or impressive, but she was Safe, so she’s got that going for her.
Choriza May (“Drag Race UK” S3, 6th Place)
Choriza is our rep from “UK3,” and absolutely one of the first I would call up from the most cursed of all the “UK” seasons. Choriza had a solid debut here. She opened the talent show with a bold Latin-flavored original song — Choriza makes some good music, I’m especially a fan of “Feeling Fruity” — and then walked the runway as Britannia, the physical embodiment of the country that has adopted her. It was an interesting approach, given both the UK’s not-great track record with immigrants, as well as Choriza’s legendary original entrance line. But I thought the look was well executed. Choriza placed High, which I found a bit surprising. I would have graded her as Safe. But I DO think she did the best of the UK girls this episode.
Gothy Kendall (“Drag Race UK” S1, 10th Place)
The most controversial casting for this season, Gothy is the UK’s Porkchop, the first-ever boot on “Drag Race UK.” I welcome Gothy back. I don’t think she ever truly got a chance to show what she can do. That first challenge in Season 1 was simply show two looks you brought from home. There was no way for her to know the level of drag she’d be competing against, and she never had a chance to demonstrate her style of drag. Unfortunately I don’t think Gothy made the most of her second first episode. The talent show started with a truly monotonous original song that segued awkwardly into a brief fire-dancing moment, all of it underscored by Gothy’s timidity and lack of stage presence. I thought her Beefeater-inspired runway look was significantly more successful — it’s a good drag look — but for someone who is ostensibly a fashion queen, I don’t understand how Gothy’s walk is underdeveloped. Gothy was Bottom 2, and she deserved to be.
Hannah Conda (“Drag Race Down Under” S2, Runner-Up)
Hannah is a threat in this competition. As of this writing, “Down Under” S2 is still easily the best season of that franchise, and Hannah was neck-and-neck with that season’s winner in terms of challenge performances. Hannah is a hoot and a half, and is already emerging as a delightful narrator for this season. Her talent show was an original song with a bit of cheeky costuming. I enjoyed it, although I thought there was a missed opportunity when the song talked about little cracks, and it didn’t end with Hannah showing us her bum. But regardless, I enjoyed it, and on the runway, Hannah gave us an homage to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In case you have never watched this iconic scene in gay culture, please watch it below. Hannah was Safe, but could have easily switched places with Choriza for High.
Jonbers Blonde (“Drag Race UK” S4, 3rd Place)
Real talk: Jonbers was the queen I was least excited to see back. I don’t dislike her (I don’t dislike any of these queens). I can see some of the allure — she did serve some gorgeous runways in “UK4,” and also did well in several of the performance and comedy challenges. I just personally never really vibed with her, and found the judges fawning over her often baffling. But here she is, and she’s leaning very heavily into her Irish background in both the talent — and original song about fashion, with a special appearance of an industrial fan — and then in her shamrock-based runway. It was all…fine. Jonbers was safe.
Keta Minaj (“Drag Race Holland” S2, 4th Place)
I was super excited to see Keta back, as she was one of the bright spots of “Holland 2” and arguably its strongest competitor. She was iced for very little reason at F4, because had she made the finale, she probably would have won — and there was a very obvious winner in mind for that season, whether they deserved it or not. Anyway, I felt disconnected from Keta this episode. Between her talent number — an aggressive original song that referenced doing hard drugs, with a too-brief gymnastics moment toward the end — and a a two-for-one runway that wasn’t quite seamless, it was not a great premiere for her. I know she can do better, because we have seen her do better. Hopefully, like her “Holland” sister Janey Jackee, she can redeem herself in subsequent episodes. Keta was Safe, but if she’d been in the Bottom, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
La Grande Dame (“Drag Race France” S1, Runner-Up)
On the other hand, La Grand Dame had basically a flawless premiere episode. I suspect that LGD will leave this season with the kind of popularity that Jimbo and Pangina did in “UKvsTW1.” She showed every facet of herself in this premiere, and she did so brilliantly. In addition to being impossibly tall and gorgeous, she showed us how smart, funny, creative, and goofy she can be in a truly original talent number, and then gave us easily the best runway look for the night, a CRAZY creative French melange featuring a frog and the Eiffel Tower. La Grand Dame was Top 2 this episode, and there was absolutely no denying it. Superstar Mode achieved. Also, if you haven’t watched “Drag Race France,” go do it now; both seasons are excellent.
Marina Summers (“Drag Race Philippines” S1, Runner-Up)
The other non-UK queen at the top of my wish list for this season. Marina was THE obvious breakout star of “Philippines” S1, and I was absolutely gobsmacked when they gave the win to the other finalist. Marina OOZES star quality. She’s good at just about everything — she is beautiful, she moves like a dream, she has incredible fashion, she’s quick witted, she’s got personality. I just knew that RuPaul would eat her up, and indeed she did. Marina’s talent show was good, an original pop song that incorporated some cool ribbon dancing in the end. High impact visually. The runway, which evoked the rice farmers of her country but was still super chic, was also a hit. But it was when she was Top 2 and absolutely served the fuck down in that lipsynch…bitch. You could see RuPaul fall in love with her in that moment. You KNOW when RuPaul is impressed, and boy howdy, she was LIVING for Miss Marina in that lipsynch. Whew!
Mayhem Miller (“RuPaul’s Drag Race” S10, 10th Place; “All Stars” S5, 7th Place)
Oh, god, this makes me so sad. So, first. Mayhem was receiving a lot of negativity when her casting on this season was announced. Apparently certain segments of the fandom thought it was unfair that she was given another shot after she self-eliminated in “All Stars 5.” To that I say: you are crazy. Mayhem Miller is a fucking legend. We should only be appreciative when she appears on our screens. Also, she wasn’t the only queen to quit on “AS5,” and any queen who wasn’t named Shea Coulee saw very clearly where that ship was heading very quickly. I don’t blame them for throwing in the towel when they had no shot. That being said: this episode was brutal for Mayhem. If you thought her “All Stars” Talent Show where she forgot the words was bad, this was worse. The concept had promise: Mayhem was going to lead us in a guided May-ditation, and started off taking the piss out of serious mindfulness by making a fart joke. Then she started to laugh at her own material and…it was all over. According to the edit — which is always dicey, there were LOTS of cuts during this — she then totally blanked, and cursed aloud, before just…kind of giving up. Mayhem cops to all of this in her talking heads, so if there was editing shenanigans, they couldn’t have been that misleading. On the runway, she gave us a Statue of Liberty-themed garment that I thought was lovely and effective. But based on that performance, there was no way that Mayhem was escaping the Bottom 2.
Scarlet Envy (“RuPaul’s Drag Race” S11, 10th Place; “All Stars” S6, 9th Place)
Also returning for her third tour is Scarlet Envy. And like Mayhem, I was happy to see her. I don’t think Scarlet has ever really gotten a fair shake on “Drag Race.” She won a challenge on Season 11 and performed well pretty much consistently up until her unceremonious ousting midway through the competition. I thought she was repeatedly robbed of High placements on “All Stars 6,” and her elimination there also felt forced. I fear we may be getting more of the same here, as I actually enjoyed her talent show. Was the singing super strong? No; and I would say to ALL queens doing a talent show on “Drag Race,” please do not sing live unless you are a SERIOUSLY GOOD vocalist. Otherwise, it’s totally fine to lipsynch to your original track. Or do something else. But the singing here wasn’t BAD, and I thought Scarlet’s lyrics were really smart and funny. On the runway, she immediately had my heart when she served up Drop Dead Gorgeous Realness — Scarlet Envy, you are Mt. Rose’s American Teen Princess. (Also, you should listen to our Best “Drop Dead Gorgeous” Quote episode.) I thought it was bullshit that she ended up with a Low placement this episode. That talent show was better than several of the girls who placed Safe. I wonder if it’s because the judges didn’t get the runway reference. Uncultured swine!
Tia Kofi (“Drag Race UK” S2, 7th Place)
My No. 1 British draft pick for this season was Tia Kofi, the charismatic legend from “UK2.” Tia did a great job summing up her “Drag Race UK” resume this episode, but bottom line, of the 50-plus queens who have appeared on the “UK” spinoff, I don’t think ANY of them have more natural charisma than Ms. Kofi. This premiere was not the slam dunk I would have liked for Tia. The talent show, live singing to an original — again, Tia has some solid pop songs, you should check them out — was not particularly strong, and I could see the anxiety on her face during the performance. The runway look, which married both her British and Nigerian heritage, was pretty but didn’t have the biggest impact on the runway; I also don’t know that the dossier she was carrying was fully effective with the judges or viewers. Tia was Safe, and that seemed correct to me.
In the end, La Grand Dame and and Marina Summers lipsynched to “Dreamer'” by Livin’ Joy to decide the fate of Bottom 2 Gothy Kendoll and Mayhem Miller. This is one of those lipsynchs that was decided within seconds of starting. Absolutely no shade to La Grand Dame, who is incredibly fierce and a great performer, but Marina BODIED that song so hard — she will also be an international superstar because of this season, I’m sure.
Marina was named the victor, and she didn’t drag out the drama: she chose Mayhem to go home. I do think it was the correct choice. Mayhem was undeniably the worst in the challenge, and this was her third (fourth, if you count the “Holi-Slay Spectacular”) run at “Drag Race.” While Gothy did not make the most of her second chance, it would have been incredibly brutal to send her home on Episode 1 again.
With that being said, I want to send only love to Mayhem. What happened to her this episode was difficult to watch; I can’t imagine how challenging it was for Mayhem to live through then, and relive again now. Mayhem is such an accomplished queen. She has nothing to prove, to anyone. She is and will remain an icon, and I think is the purest example of an entertainer who is amazing at drag, but who struggles at “Drag Race.” It’s never pleasant to go out first, but to go out after a challenge goes like this…that’s rough. Mayhem also shared in the episode that she suffers from Long COVID, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that may have impacted her performance in the talent show.
Regardless, I know there are people out there who will take this opportunity to kick a queen while she is down. Not here. I hope Mayhem knows that people love and support her, and remain in awe of her talent and thankful for everything she has given drag fans throughout her career. And I hope that career continues for many years to come.
Next: It’s the ball, which appears to be fairy tale themed. Will Tia Kofi wrap herself in an adequate fabric? Let’s find out together!