And with that, we can all communally unclench our buttcheeks, and Fat Slut Summer can begin in earnest!
I think I speak for all fans of this show when I say: “WHEW!” That wasn’t a bullet that was dodged, it was a ballistic missile. Had the show crowned Scarlet Adams, who unquestionably performed the best this season, it would have been a political disaster for the Drag Race franchise as a whole. The conspiracy theorist in me believes that the original intention was to crown Scarlet, as the show’s way of making a statement about moving past “cancel culture.” But I think they saw how most of the fandom was completely, vocally not buying any kind of apology for Scarlet’s past racist actions, and they switched to the next best option for the winner. I was concerned going into this episode that any other winner but Scarlet would feel unsatisfying, but based on performances in this last challenge, I think it’s…fine.
The final challenge was the now-predictable write an original verse, this time to go with Ru’s song “I’m a Winner.” There was also choreography involved, but all you need to know about that is that Scarlet was hands down the best at it, and actually pushed the choreographer to give her more challenging material (which she executed without issue), and several of the girls were very horny for the choreographer. Moving on. There was also an interview portion with Ru and Michelle (curiously, not taped for their podcast), a best drag runway, four solo lipsynchs to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” and the de rigeur RuPaul’s Emotional Trauma Race, where the queens had to offer advice to photos of their younger selves. (Personally, I am not a fan of that element of the finale, but I guess that’s how you win Emmys.)
I’ll go over how I think each queen did, and invite you to share your opinions in the comments.
Art Simone: Good episode for Art. I think she was easily the best dressed on the runway. I was only able to understand about half of her verse, but what I did catch I thought was clever and quick. I thought her interview with Michelle and Ru was quite revealing, and gave insight into Art’s head — which I think was ultimately where Art’s struggles in this series began and ended. Ru and Michelle were working overtime in the armchair therapist roles, but what they were saying to Art about needing to be the one who helps everyone else, but never accepting help when needed, seemed to ring very true to Art. (I may have also found some relevance to myself in this part as well.) I think people who are very smart, very creative, very motivated, and easily let down often develop coping mechanisms that allow people to get in just enough, but never close enough to real damage should the relationship crumble. Given what we’ve seen from Art in this competition, I can totally see that being true for her. You can see how hard she pushes herself, and how she wants to be the best version of herself at all times. Unfortunately that led to her overthinking many of the challenges in an effort to impress both judges and viewers, and on several occasions missing the point of the challenge entirely (see: Talent Show, Snatch Game, arguably the marketing challenge). There is no doubt that Art is a top-tier drag queen. I don’t think she had a great run on this series, and because of that we will likely never see her return for All Stars (yes, international All Stars is a thing — the first season is already filmed, expect it in early 2022). I am glad Art got the exposure, and I hope she’s able to take what is positive from this experience and continue to be the leader she has always been in the drag community. (Sidenote: immediately after the finale Art tweeted then deleted a post suggesting that Production somehow lost the footage of her and Coco’s disastrous lipsynch, which led to them bringing them both back to re-record the lipsynch multiple times. If that’s true, and I don’t know why she would lie about that, it helps to explain some of the weirdness around her elim and return. That lipsynch seemed like a tie at worst, and I wonder if in the first performance Art was way worse and Coco was way better, so the judges had no choice but send clear frontrunner Art home. But also, how the fuck do you “lose” the footage to one of the most controversial decisions of the season? This series, I swear…)
Karen From Finance: Karen closed out the series the way she spent most of it — underperforming. When given the task to create a verse explaining why she should win the title, Karen decided proudly that she wasn’t going to do that, she was going to talk about how they were all winners just for being there. And that, I think, is exactly why Karen was so bad at Drag Race. I recall in Season 7 when Jasmine Masters came in and basically said, “Who cares how we finish? The fact that we are booked on this show means we are now global stars.” Which is true. But you know who cares how you do? The people who actually WATCH this show, which is a COMPETITION. If you don’t care how you perform, why should we care how you perform? And the same was clearly true for Karen From Finance. I don’t think she ever cared about winning. She wanted to be an official Ru Girl, and she wanted the global exposure that came with it. I don’t begrudge her that, but I do take issue with this laissez-faire attitude the challenges and the competition overall. I’m confident the producers did, too. Karen (and Art) were brought on as frontrunners, queens who were supposed to drive this whole season to the end. That’s why both of them made Final 4 despite middling track records. Karen is clearly a very sweet person, and I felt for her when she discussed her late mother. If there was a Miss Congeniality for this season, it would likely either be Karen or Anita. But her verse is among the worst I’ve heard in any final challenge, her final runway may have been god-tier Karen From Finance but I don’t think it was aesthetically pleasing, and she remained hellbent on staying in her very narrow lane. A very frustrating run for a queen so many people were rooting for (including myself). I also don’t think we’ll ever see Karen compete on Drag Race again, and I think this series may have hurt her brand overall. The mystique is gone, and what we were left with is a sweet queen who was either very smart or very lucky with her branding (or both).
Kita Mean: Kita performed strongly this episode, and she needed to. Kita has done well overall in this competition. Up until Episode 7 she had never landed in the bottom, and she had one win and a few high placements. But aside from the makeover, which she slayed, she was routinely overshadowed by either Scarlet, Elektra, or Anita. Coming into the finale she was a distant dark horse, and there was really no narrative signaling a path to the crown for her. This episode, she gave us a nice moment with her runway look (I didn’t love the overall look, but the retractable wings were impressive), she delivered one of the best vocal performances on any RuMix with her verse (Kita has a lovely singing verse and should definitely explore music), an emotional interview with Ru/Michelle, and an attention-grabbing, if bordering on vulgar approach to the final lipsynch. I think it was enough to justify Kita winning the entire season, which is what the producers and editors needed to do to keep the fandom from rioting. But I don’t think Kita will ultimately stack up well in the pantheon of Drag Race winners. I would put her in the line-up with Sasha Velour, Yvie Oddly, and Monet X-Change, queens who were up against much stronger, better-performing queens who somehow pulled out a win in the end. We’ll see. Kita surprised me several times during this season, and I’d be delighted for her to surprise me in the future. (Fun fact: the majority of the spoilers for this season had Kita going home first in Episode 1, so the fact that she ended up winning the whole thing is kind of a trip.)
Scarlet Adams: In my opinion, Scarlet is the story of Drag Race Down Under. That’s probably not a good thing, but I don’t know how you deny it. Scarlet dominated this competition, winning 3/7 maxi challenges, generating most of the drama both on camera (vs. Elektra) and off camera (the past racism was THE defining topic of this season — well, that and the rest of the cast’s largely unimpressive performances). She was also a key narrator. I truly do think that initially producers wanted Scarlet to win. She brings a kind of energy to the Winner’s Circle that we arguably haven’t had since Violet Chachki or maybe Aquaria — young, hyper competitive, aggressive but undoubtedly talented. And as I said before, I think Ru in particular finds cancel culture and the online fandom to be toxic, and wanted to send a message. How many times did he tell these queens “don’t read the comments” and “ignore the noise”? There is some truth to what Ru is saying. But I don’t think Scarlet was the right queen to push that narrative, especially in this moment in time. Scarlet clearly knows that she needs to atone for her past actions. In her on-stage plea for why she should win, she gave another statement about making up for her past mistakes and being a better person going forward. I know a lot of people find these statements rehearsed and unbelievable (her stoic delivery doesn’t help). I want to believe that Scarlet is genuine in her apologies, and in her commitment to doing better. I find it depressing that stupid mistakes made by late teens/early 20somethings can destroy a person’s life/career years later. But now that this is over, it’s up to Scarlet to SHOW that she is serious by doing the actual work. Words are useless — Madonna taught us that — so show us actions. How is she going to be a beacon for anti-racism? How is she going to reach out to other young people who are like herself and explain why her past behavior was so destructive to so many? There are paths to this, I think. But Scarlet needs to show up in a big way. I personally think it is much, much better for her — and DEFINITELY for the show — that she did not get the crown. The fandom would never have given her the chance, and they would have never let her forget it. (It’s ironic, given how racist “fans” relentlessly bullied Tyra Sanchez for winning a decade or so ago.) Losing was the best thing that could have happened to Scarlet, and I hope she takes the opportunity to take action the way she says she wants to.
Obviously I want that from a broader social change perspective. But I also want it for a more superficial Drag Race perspective, because Scarlet is a hell of a Drag Race contender, and I would love to see her back for an All Stars season (but only if she has made legitimate amends for her past actions — I don’t want another season with this energy hanging over it). I also think Anita Wigl’it and Elektra Shock are well poised for All Stars runs. I genuinely don’t think anyone else from this cast is good fit for a return. Art and Karen are both great queens, and I would love to see them involved in non-competitive projects. But competing again? No, this was a slog, for them and for us.
As for Down Under itself — it’s done. And thank god for that. We knew from the start that there was basically no budget, that it was being hustled out in barely any time at all (they shot this in January, and had it airing by May — that’s a crazy turnaround for a RuPaul-hosted season), and that the queens were all hand selected as opposed to openly casted. There were clearly a LOT of issues with this series, and for me it is easily in the bottom 25 percent of all Drag Race seasons, and potentially the very worst of the international spinoffs (Holland 1 is down there, but I think might edge out Down Under due to a stronger winner and a more competitive overall cast). Rumors tell us that the Powers That Be are aggressively working to get a Season 2 happening. I’m open to that — I would like to see this franchise successful — but only if they take a memo from the S.O.S. Band: baby take your time, do it right.
We also have a winner for our little pool! Technically Michael Schwarz came in first with an astonishing 76 points, but as he’s our Data Maven, he is ineligible to win. That means condragulations Justine Byrne, who came in second with 62 points. Toni Dominguez-Rice JUST missed out by 2 points, finishing with 60. Que lastima! Justine actually lives in Australia, so we are working on a slightly unorthodox approach to your prize (shipping costs and delays are a real boner killer), so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Thank you all for participating in our little pool! We hope you had fun. The Drag Race Espana pool is still going, and we have 30 people signed up to compete in our All Stars 6 viewer pool. That show kicks off with back-to-back episodes Friday, June 25, on All Stars’ new home of Paramount+. We’re super excited about it! In the meantime, please make sure to check out episodes of Great Pop Culture Debate, including our episode devoted to the Best Drag Race Runway Lewks S1-S6! And we’ll have more Drag Race content on the way inevitably, so make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform of choice, and follow us on social media. We didn’t come here to fuck spiders!