I think this week’s guest judge — Australian infomercial queen Suzanne Paul — said it best: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does, doesn’t it?”
I have tried to defend this series. I was right out of the gate telling people to give it time, that new franchises often take a few episodes to find their footing. That we need to appreciate having this show at all, given how long it took to come to fruition. To just appreciate the lovely queens finally getting their big shot on the telly. But god help me, this season is bad. It is one of the worst seasons of Drag Race ever, giving All Stars 1 a run for its money by wasting what I still consider to be a great group of queens with boring, unfunny, low-energy challenges. The queens themselves are not immune to criticism here, because ultimately they are responsible for what they put out in these challenges. But when you’re handed a turkey, no matter how you cook it, it’s still going to be turkey.
Which brings us to this week’s main challenge, a branding challenge in which the Final 7 queens had to sell a yeast spread. That’s the start of your problems, right there. In other seasons of Drag Race, the dolls have had to sell sodas or their own unique products. But here they’re stuck selling something that, while uniquely Australian, is basically automatically revolting to the broader global community.
Selling something called “yeast spread” also immediately lead most of the queens to approach the challenge with a decidedly low-brow take. So Scarlet Adams, Maxi Shield, Kita Mean, and especially Etcetera Etcetera all went for sexual references or gross-out gags, while Art Simone at least had a more elevated concept that she had trouble landing, and I honestly forgot what the hell Karen from Finance did. Just like I have almost every week.
Ultimately Elektra Shock went from the early-season struggle bus to her first main challenge win, and even that commercial veered into the vulgar. But it was, in my opinion, the only one of the bits that was even remotely funny or clever. Everyone else tanked this challenge, and when you consider how poorly almost everyone did in Snatch Game and the largely unimpressive rumix verses from Episode 3, there’s another trend here: these queens are just not delivering.
I’m not sure to what we should attribute this. Was it shooting during the height of COVID? Was it a rushed shooting schedule and apparently very little budget? Was it the fact that these queens were handpicked to be on the show, they didn’t have to audition and fight their way on? Are many of them great queens but lousy at Drag Race? I don’t know, but I do know this: we are three episodes away from the finale, and thus far the wins have gone to one queen who has been eliminated, one queen who has been stinking up the joint post-Episode 1, one queen who barely survived the first three weeks of the competition, and MOST of them went to a queen who has done fucking blackface.
So, let’s get into that — in my opinion the most notable element of the episode. Scarlet Adams is outed as having done blackface earlier in her career, and there is photographic and video proof. I haven’t watched it personally, but from all accounts, it’s very not good. Scarlet addressed this is the work room while the girls were getting ready, and Ru specifically brought it up on the mainstage during judging. Scarlet made an apology and said how embarrassed she is by her past mistakes, and Ru made a very telling statement: she suspected that many viewers would want her to cancel Scarlet on the spot, but that Ru wanted to turn this into an opportunity for humility and accountability.
Ru is correct: most viewers did indeed want her to cancel Scarlet on the spot. Scarlet’s racist past was absolutely no surprise to the Australian drag community. When they were shooting this season it had been the talk of Reddit. If the producers/casting directors were somehow unaware of this pre-filming, they really need to up their vetting game. If they knew and wanted to make this a Teachable Moment, I’m not sure it’s going to play out the way they wanted. I suspect Ru and the producers hoped the discussion this episode would be sufficient to calm the critics about Scarlet’s past actions. Guess what, Mimi? It didn’t. A sizable and very vocal chunk of the show’s fanbase wants absolutely nothing to do with Scarlet, even if her apology was sincere (and there are various opinions on that matter). This is not going away, and the viewers are not going to get over it.
And that’s a real problem, because as of right now Scarlet is the obvious frontrunner this season. She has two wins, and she’s one of the only queens who actually seems to be competing as opposed to just…there (*cough* Maxi, Karen, and to a lesser degree, Kita). If the finale were this week, and they crowned anyone BUT Scarlet, it would seem like bullshit based on track record. But as it stands we have three more episodes. Do I think one of the other queens can step it up significantly enough to challenge Scarlet, who really is killing this game but is far too problematic to be given a crown? I find myself less and less convinced of that every episode. Art seems to still be thrown by the elimination/return stunt. Maxi is barely even registering. Kita has never fully failed but she has also really never pushed through. Karen is a colossal disappointment and I actually think this show will hurt her career in the long run. And Elektra is fighting, I’ll give her that, but I think it may be too little, too late when it comes to a season win.
And then there’s poor Etcetera Etcetera, eliminated this week after lipsynching against Maxi Shield to “Absolutely Everybody.” Maxi won that lipsynch because she used a microphone. That’s how little effort is being exerted this season. I think the lipsynch itself was a toss up, but in terms of who is bringing more to this competition? It was clearly Etcetera. The judges were not giving her any flowers, but I think she actually acquitted herself well in almost all the challenges (Snatch Game is still super uncomfortable given her character choice, but the delivery was one of the strongest). Even her commercial this week, for PISS spread, was stronger than at least half the cast. Ru took issue with how crass and vulgar it was, as though the winning commercial THIS VERY EPISODE didn’t have a queen simulating a blowey on a Pit Crew member (again, let’s take a moment to acknowledge one of the few things this spinoff has gotten right — the delicious Pit Crew, and Earth Angel Rhys Nicholson). Etcetera is crazy young, and when Ru was her age, she was doing some pretty shocking things as well. To be so dismissive of her approach, which seemed exceptionally Australian in tone to me, feels like bullshit. I think Etcetera is super talented, fiercely determined, and a very exciting drag queen. I don’t think the judges fully appreciated her, but I did. And I will miss her. I enjoyed watching her more than almost any of the queens left in the competition.
No G’Day Runway this week because a) both Curtis and myself were traveling over the holiday weekend and b) it was a terrible runway theme that made no sense. There were some decent looks (again, say what you will about Scarlet, but she is SHOWING UP), but on the whole the category — Another Sheila in the Bush — made no fucking sense.
Make sure to check the scoreboard for your updated standing! Thanks as always to Michael Schwarz for keeping on top of everyone for their picks, and tabulating the scores!
Next: makeovers. At least we get more beefcake…