I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like I dodged a bullet last night. The show dodged one, too. It is almost inconceivable to me that we were one decision away from what would have been the least-deserving winner in the show’s history, and I truly believe — I know this sounds hyperbolic, but I really think this — it would have been a jump-the-shark moment for Drag Race. Had they crowned Kandy, I think a significant chunk of the fandom would have walked away from this franchise, at the least the regular US version, because the whole thing would seem utterly pointless if THAT was the result. Even though everything worked out in the end, the fact that we were one bad decision away from a middle-pack queen somehow taking the crown shows that there is something seriously broken with the format of this show, particularly this current finale format.
The night started off so well. After a lovely performance by Ru of her new single “New Friends Silver, Old Friends Gold” (the entire EP is pretty solid, btw, one of her best outings in recent years), we got a twist to the finale format: a full-on ball in which each of the Final 4 had to serve looks in the categories Black & White, Red, and Finale Extravaganza. There were some absolutely neck-snapping looks in the mix here. Symone and GottMik — the undisputed fashion queens of the season — nailed every challenge and I think GottMik especially may have set a new standard for Drag Race finale garments. Rose did great in two out of three. I respectfully do not believe Kandy was competing at even close to the same level. For our review of the ball looks, and rest of the S13 girls’ finale looks, make sure to watch the final Photo Finish of the season here:
We then got the typical Ru interviews with each of the Final 4, which were…fine. GottMik continued to be easily the most charming of the four. Kandy was Kandy, and even though she showed vulnerability I simply didn’t feel swayed. I did not think Symone came off particularly well in this interview, and wondered if the editors had been perhaps helping to craft a more polished, cool persona for her all season. And Rose was very clearly off. More about that in a second.
There was an utterly baffling group number to Bette Midler’s “You Gotta Have Friends,” which I suggest we all agree was a collective fever dream. (Sidebar: if the theme of the finale was friends, why were none of the regular judges — including Ru’s best friend, Michelle Visage, present AT ALL? That was a very weird omission. I do wonder if this was perhaps Ross and Carson’s swan song. They’ve been on the panel six years now, which is equal to Santino’s reign of misery. And a panel shake-up would be welcome, I think.) And we got a really lovely tribute to the late ChiChi DeVayne, featuring her Season 8 sisters and other Ru Girls sharing their thoughts on this beloved queen, who was taken FAR too soon.
And then: disaster. Well, near disaster. Out came the Wheel of Misfortune, as the F4 awaited to see who would be battling who in the Lipsynch for the Crown format we have had since Season 9’s shocking finale. (Season 12 had a slightly different format necessitated by COVID, obvi). Unliked seasons 9-11, where the wheel spun once and that queen determined the match-ups, the pairings were selected entirely by the wheel this time. The first landed on Kandy. The second Rose. I have heard conspiracy theories that the wheel may have been fixed to produce this match-up but…I’m not buying that. First, I don’t think the producers wanted GottMik and Symone to go up against each other in Round 1. I think both of them had the best arc to win the whole season, and would have made the most exciting and fulfilling Final 2. Also, of the four, I consider Rose and Kandy to be the most athletic lipsynchers, so if they DID want an easy advance for Kandy, I don’t know why they would put her up against Rose. If the plan was to get Kandy to F2, the easiest path in a lipsynch battle would be against GottMik. I think that’s very safe to say. So I personally choose to believe it was indeed random, but your mileage may vary.
Ultimately it didn’t matter, because all three lipsynchs sucked. That’s an overstatement, but none of them were exciting. For a finale, with this much pomp and production value? Where so much focus is placed on lipsynchs? Extremely underwhelming. Choosing Britney Spears as the featured artists for this probably sounded like a great idea. The gays love Britney! She is having a Moment with the Free Britney movement! But none of the songs they picked lent themselves to good lipsynchs. “Work Bitch” (Kandy vs. Rose) and “Gimme More” (GottMik vs. Symone) are one-note, no variation in tempo, not much of a build. Great for a treadmill, not a performance. “Til the World Ends” (Kandy vs. Symone) is…fine. But big picture not a great song to close out a season airing during a global pandemic that has claimed 375,000 American lives and brought the world to a standstill. It felt tone deaf, to say the least.
But the real issue here, the thing that I suspect chapped most viewers asses, is that this finale format gave us a reality in which Kandy Muse ended up the runner-up of Season 13 of Drag Race, despite having a track record that would place her solidly middle of the pack, and an objective level of performance that should have had her out within the first third of the competition. And she very easily could have won. While GottMik and Rose, who were CLEARLY superior performers all season long, tied for third. Even in the finale episode, GottMik killed the ball, was by far the best in the interview, and they tied for THIRD. Rose has statistically one of the best all-time runs in Drag Race herstory and she tied for THIRD. Kandy, with three Bottom 2 appearances (four if you count Episode 2), a meritless save from actual elimination, and one win under her belt is RUNNER UP. And it’s not like she turned out Sasha Velour-level lipsynchs in this finale. She was just less mediocre than her competitor (sorry, Rose, but it’s true here). She was dragged through this entire season by Production and she very nearly got crowned. There is something very, very wrong with this system if it delivers this result. The finale weighing lipsynchs so heavily is a big part of the issue, but clearly this extends deeper into the regular season as well, as certain queens are squashed (Denali, Rose in the beginning) while others are clearly favored (Kandy, Olivia in the beginning).
Before we wrap up, my thoughts on how each of the Final 4 ended their run:
Rose: Something happened to Rose between the filming of the reunion bits and this finale. We were told in her interview with Ru that she injured her ankle. I wonder if it was during rehearsal or something, because she seemed FINE in her 69 Questions interview segment — lots of movement, high energy, perky — and didn’t give us any of that in the finale. She seemed defeated. She seemed resigned to be an also-ran. That isn’t Rose. There’s a story there and I hope we get it in the coming weeks. As I mentioned earlier, Rose has statistically one of the best runs of any queen on Drag Race EVER. That’s especially impressive given she lost her initial lipsynch and was basically invisible until around halfway through. But something weird happened in the last two weeks in the fandom. Rose went from being a frontrunner with Symone to being looked like as a joke or a loser in the various Drag Race subreddits. I truly do not get it. I think Rose is terrific and she gave us some of the most memorable performances of the season. Rusical? Excellent. Rumix? Amazing. And yet she went into the finale derided by a good chunk of this fandom. For…what, exactly? I think Rose will absolutely come back for All Stars and I think she’ll be a force to be reckoned with. But I don’t think she’s ever likely to actually win the crown. Despite her abilities, she doesn’t connect with fans or producers the way some of the other queens do.
GottMik: I think GottMik is truly the queen who got screwed the worst by this finale format. They were the strongest in every element except the lipsynch, and that cost them everything. How stupid. GottMik came into the finale with tremendous fan support, two of the most coveted wins of the season (Ball and Snatch Game), and very solid performances in the acting challenges and the roast, plus some of the best looks of the runway. A GottMik win would have been huge for the trans community, and the best part is, there was nothing forced about this — GottMik earned that spot in the F4 and would have made a spectacular winner. For some reason I’m not convinced GottMik WOULD come back for All Stars. But I do think no matter what, GottMik will probably have the most successful career of anyone in the F4. GottMik was already active in the fashion and MUA industries, is now a top-tier drag performer, and is a bona fide role model for the trans community. They have an incredible future ahead of them.
Kandy Muse: How much time have we (myself included) spent bitching about Kandy Muse this season? In that respect, I think that even though she placed second — which is still FUCKING CRAZY objectively — Kandy won Season 13. It was HER season. She dominated the narrative from start to finish. While the majority of viewers disliked her or flat-out despised her, she has her base, and they are very vocal, folks. The subreddits and social media are filled with people who will tell you she crushed the ball last night, she was the best lipsyncher, and was robbed of that crown. Kandy has some kind of power over certain segments of the population, including obviously producers/editors working on this show, who see a magic in her I just do not see. Many people I talk to feel the same. But in the end, she made this season hers. It wasn’t because of her performances. It wasn’t because of her fashions. It was based solely on the cult of personality that is Kandy. That is a kind of stardom in itself, and you can’t deny her that. I’m sure we will see Kandy on All Stars at some point. I don’t think being a runner-up is going to hurt her ego AT ALL — if anything, it’ll be even worse. I DO think she’s going to catch a ton of shit on social media for beating out GottMik and Rose (GottMik in particular). And I don’t expect her to respond well to that. But Kandy isn’t going anywhere. I keep waiting for Ru to Tweet out, “Actually, Kandy…I can’t lose you yet. Condragulations you also won Season 13.” This is the darkest timeline, after all.
Symone: But at least we got the right winner. At least there is that. Symone walked into this competition operating at a completely different level than everyone else. On multiple occasions within the first half of the competition I literally yelled at the screen, “Cancel the season. Crown her. Move on.” She struggled in the back half, but that only helped to expose her humanity — and that, I think, is Symone’s greatest strength. Her empathy. Her openness. Her vulnerability. “You don’t show us vulnerability” is one of Michelle’s go-to bullshit critiques. But here, I kind of get what she is talking about, because when Symone shared her struggles and fully opened up to us, that’s when I really fell in love her, instead of just respected the hell out of her drag. We have never had a winner as genuine and relatable as Symone. I honestly believe that. I’m not entirely sure what she’ll do with her win. She doesn’t have one particular lane she excels in like Bianca or Jinkx or Raja. But I think she’s generally very good at just about everything, and I think the House of Avalon is itself a compelling story. I suspect we’ll see more from them in the future. And I can’t wait to see more of Symone.
BTW LaLa Ri won Miss Congeniality, which shocked me. I assumed it would go to Olivia Lux or Denali. The fact that it went to a queen who you could barely understand is an indication of how random this season was overall.
Speaking of which: how do you rank Season 13 in the pantheon of Drag Race seasons? It’s definitely lower half for me, possibly veering to bottom 25 percent. A lot of that has to do with the dragging of Kandy through the production so blatantly, but it’s also the emotional cruelty of the opening episode twist, the lack of elims for nearly a month, the fact that there was 17 EPISODES (if you count the queens during COVID special), and some not particularly memorable early and mid-season boots. It is not a season I have a strong desire to watch again, and I’ll be curious to see if that changes with time. I hated Season 7 when it aired but have now come to fully embrace it, and I’m even starting to warm up to some elements of Season 11, which I still consider to be the worst in show history. Maybe in a few years I’ll find the charms of Season 13. But not right now.
So. We did it. Now let us never speak of it again.
Up next: Drag Race Down Under starts Saturday, May 1! Great Pop Culture Debate will again be doing a viewer pool, so if you want to join that make sure you do so by Sunday, April 25 — that’s the deadline to get in your queen picks for the season. After that, Drag Race Espana should also be debuting at some point in May, and we’ll have a pool for that too. And THEN All Stars 6 will be bowing on Paramount+ (yes, another streaming service you have to buy — it is not slated to air on VH1 at all) some time this summer and we will ALSO be covering that.
I don’t know why I’m so excited this “marathon” is over — it has barely begun!
Thanks to everyone for playing in our pool! Hope you enjoyed yourself! Thanks especially to Michael Schwarz, our Data Dominatrix, for managing the scoreboard, and to Curtis Creekmore for producing our Photo Finish videos. And CONGRATULATIONS JESSE GEIGER! You are the winner of the Season 13 Prize Package! Check out the final scoreboard here. While a few other players technically scored higher, they have already won pools (Kevin Dillon, Joey Armon) or are Great Pop Culture Debate panelists (Curtis Creekmore) and have graciously opted to abdicate their status as pool winner. I’ll be ordering that package from the WoW Presents shop this week and you must let us know when it arrives!