Now that was an interesting episode. Not so much the fashions that came out of the design challenge — although there were some solid looks in there. I was more interested in the storylines that were cemented for virtually the entire cast. Last week I said that the queens had started to realize they were all in a competition. This week the queens (or the editors) seemed to realize they were working on a reality TV show. So they gave us the drama, mama. And that’s good, because more than one person had told me they were about to give up on this show. I hope this episode brought them back. (BTW we only have four left! We’re halfway through! Just buckle down for the rest of the ride!)
The first big moment of the episode was the return of Art Simone to the competition, under the thinnest of possible pretenses. See, the theme of this episode was “Rucycled,” and since the queens had to give second chances to “opp shop” finds (what we would call a thrift store), the show brought Art back as a discarded queen who deserved another shot. Um, OK. I guess we’re going with that.
Welcome to Eric’s Conspiracy Corner. Have a seat while I walk you through what I think is happening here. When the Australian spinoff of Drag Race was first announced back in 2019 — same time as Drag Race Canada — RuPaul was not initially supposed to host it. Like Canada and Thailand before it, this was supposed to be part of the franchise, but with its own local talent. At the time, Season 6 stunner Courtney Act was mentioned by many people as a potential host — just like Brooke Lynn Hytes eventually became the face of Canada — but that was unlikely to happen due to alleged bad blood between Court and World of Wonder/Ru. The other name mentioned frequently as a potential host for this spinoff? Art Simone, who is — again — a big deal in Australian drag.
But then something weird happened. While Canada took off and quickly produced its first season, Australia languished in development hell. The rumor was that they couldn’t find a network willing to air the show (Australian TV is notoriously weird and financially challenging). So for over a year, the franchise was basically dead in the water. During this time, Ru’s daytime talk show fizzled, her Netflix sitcom was cancelled after one season, and then COVID hit, putting a stop to numerous other projects — including the very lucrative DragCons, of which there were three by that time. So suddenly, Ru had time in her schedule and a desire for income. And hey, RuPaul is an international name. And magically, wouldn’t you know it? Drag Race Down Under got a greenlight, with RuPaul judging, just like UK.
My theory has always been that Art was initially supposed to be the head judge of this show. (Fun fact: I actually ran into Art herself at the metal detector at NYC Drag Con 2019, right after Australia was announced. When I asked if she would be involved she gave me a knowing smile and said, “Mmmmmm.”) But I’m guessing Art wasn’t a big enough name to get a network, so it was shelved for a while. Further circumstantial evidence for this: a few months before Down Under was announced as a go with Ru involved, Art Simone got her own series on WoW Presents Plus, Highway to Heel. At the time Heel was announced, my immediate thought was, “Oh, she had a contract with WoW for DRAus, it was expiring, so this is the contractually obligated project they worked out as a consolation.” (In Art’s lipstick message at the end of E2, she actually wrote, “Watch Highway to Heel.”)
Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe that Art was cast on this show as the inevitable winner, and that she was eliminated in Episode 2 specifically with the intention of bringing her back in, so that the producers could defuse any allegations of favortism for talent *who already had her own WoW spinoff show*. Let’s stress that again: before even competing on Drag Race, Art Simone already had what is the ultimate prize for the WINNER of Drag Race UK. I won’t go so far as to call it a conflict of interest, but I think it’s pretty clear that WoW was invested in Art’s success on this show, since they’ve already invested in her as a talent. Had Art cruised to the finale, she would have been dogged by allegations of favoritism. But being an early out, and then a returning queen who fights her way back to the top (if that happens, and let me stress — there is no truly reliable information on how the rest of the season plays out)? With that arc, you can’t argue that WoW protected her, and it gives this season a clear, interesting narrative. Ru even said that explicitly this episode: Usually when we bring eliminated girls back, they go home right away. I don’t see that happening with Art Simone. No shit.
That’s a very long segue, but I think it’s important to acknowledge this situation. It is 100 percent speculation on my part that Art was supposed to be the initial host/judge of this show. That might be totally false. But it is 100 percent true that she already had a WoW Presents Plus show, and that she came in a favorite to win this competition. It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. And honestly, I don’t even mind it. Art’s original elimination seemed forced to me, and certainly I felt that the cast was much weaker without her. So if Art can bring it at the level I believe her to be capable of, then I welcome this, even if it’s producer-dictated shenanigans. (BTW if this theory is true, I don’t believe Art was in on it. That reaction at the end of E2 was way too visceral to be faked.)
Art’s return was only one of several storylines established this episode. The other big one — Elektra Shock vs. Scarlet Adams and Etcetera Etcetera — is a surprisingly intense rivalry that I don’t think is being producer manufactured at all. Elektra and Scarlet genuinely seem to dislike each other, and Etcetera really does seem to be bringing some heavy Millennial entitlement to the proceedings. But the edit also seems to be swinging to Elektra’s side, giving us a much more scrappy underdog story, while Scarlet in particular really came off as a bitch this episode, and Etcetera got painted a bit like a delusional brat. For the record, I think Scarlet is super talented and great at Drag Race, and Etcetera is terrific and exciting, and I think their critique of her look was a lot of bullshit. But that’s where I feel the edit is pushing us: Yay Elektra, Boo Scarlet and Etcetera.
Meanwhile, Karen from Finance is getting the “shook by Art Simone’s return” edit, as well as the “trying too hard to impress and failing miserably” edit. The past three episodes have not been good for Karen, and the judges all but told her this week that she’s losing it. She certainly overthought this design challenge and went for a character that nobody outside of Australia knows, and executed it terribly. We’re halfway through and Karen’s stock has plummeted.
Interestingly, the obvious storyline involving business and performance partners Kita Mean and Anita Wigl’it amounted to…not very much at all. Anita ended up in the bottom for her paper and film look, which the judges critiqued for being a poor copy of previous Drag Race design challenges, and I was positive that at some point these two would have to lipsynch against each other. But no, Kita was safe for her ball pit look, and in the end it was Anita who went home lipsynching to Dannii Minogue’s “I Begin to Wonder” against Karen From Finance. 1) I guarantee you this was initially supposed to be the lipsynch for the Minogue episode, and they couldn’t figure out rights in time, so they threw in that Ru song out of nowhere; 2) not a great lipsynch, but I personally would have given it to Anita; 3) this lipsynch featured 2/3 of the challenge winners so far in “Down Under”; 4) I cannot think of the last time a winner of Snatch Game didn’t make it to at least F6 — it may have been Stacy Layne Matthews in S3; 5) Karen is very lucky she is a household name, otherwise I think she would already be gone.
Anita getting eliminated so early is a real bummer. She’s a delight and, in my opinion, one of the stronger queens this season. I don’t even think her outfit was that bad, and if the judges were saying “we’ve seen this before,” I’m not sure if they were referencing book looks like the Book Ball from S8, or film looks like Vivienne’s design challenge from UK1. Regardless, I didn’t find it nearly as derivative as the judges did, and I also thought it was better looking than some of the garments that were even in the top of the challenge. Anita will be missed, and I do hope Ru takes her up on her offer of coming back for All Stars. She had way more to show us.
One other thing about those storylines I mentioned: the only queen without any kind of storyline right now is Maxi Shield, who might as well be invisible at this point. I really like Maxi, but I don’t think she’s bringing it. I think the judges want her to. They’ve been gassing her up the past two weeks. But even though she was High this week, I am not seeing the kind of star quality I need out of Maxi.
Up next: a branding challenge in which the gals have to sell their own personalized spreads, and it appears we have an on-stage confrontation, hopefully about a pre-show real-world issue that has been hanging over this series from the jump. But I won’t say more until I see if this was a deliberate fake-out or not…
Here is this week’s G’day Runway, in which Curtis Creekmore and myself critique the Rucycled fashions:
How are you doing in our little viewer pool? Check here for an updated scoreboard (give data mistress Michael Schwarz until at least Sunday to work his magic, please). This is the week that we do the bench shuffle, so if you’re playing along in our pool, name your new winner and you can swap out one of your bench picks!
This is also the last weekend to get your picks in for our Drag Race Espana pool! If you want to play along — it’s free! — fill out the survey before Sunday, May 23, at 10pm!
Quick programming note: I’m traveling next weekend to clean out my parents’ hoarder house in Upstate New York, so the blog and all of the affiliated pool productions will be delayed until at least Tuesday. I probably won’t even be able to watch the episode until then, as time stopped moving in Syracuse in the mid-1990s. They don’t even have internet, much less gay content apps. Pray for me!