BY Eric Rezsnyak
And we have a winner! Season 5 of “Drag Race UK” wrapped up this evening, and although I didn’t agree with every decision made in the finale, I am happy with the winner AND I think overall it is the best season of the UK franchise since 2, and possibly the best season of “Drag Race” period this year.
Spoilers ahead! Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know who wins, you Geordie bastard!
This finale felt pretty stuffed to me. Our final three — Ginger Johnson, Michael Marouli, and Tomara Thomas — had to write verses and shoot a music video for Ru’s song “Spotlight,” have a sitdown with Ru and Michelle, walk in the runway in their finest drag, do the whole “what would you say to your child safe/what would it mean to win?” schtick, and then the final 2 participated in a Lipsynch for the Crown to Erasure’s “A Little Respect.” Let’s break it down by task.
“Spotlight” Music Video: I thought Tomara easily looked the best in the video — although it was most well suited to her style of drag — and that Michael had the best verse. Ginger was wise to play into the goofiness of the whole thing with her approach, but I don’t think it was the best showcase of her drag or her persona. (In fairness, the music-video challenges almost never are, on any edition of “Drag Race.”) If I had to pick a winner, I think it would probably be Michael, who had the best verse and executed the choreo well; Tomara aced the look and movement but that verse was a whiff.
Sitdown with Ru & Michelle: Tie between Ginger and Michael here. Both had a lot of heart and you could tell how much being involved in this competition meant to them. Not that it didn’t mean as much to Tomara, but I think there’s something to be said about working at your craft for decades and finally having this moment of supreme validation. The surprise of bringing out the queens’ loved ones was very sweet.
“Best Drag” Runway: They all looked good, but I might give Tomara the edge here. It was easily the most elegant she has ever looked, and it was a more mature, more serious vibe for Tomara, which I think she needed. Michael served up a fierce ice goddess; I loved the skirt and the headpiece, wasn’t wild about the shoulders or the torso. But it was certainly eyecatching and memorable. Ginger, as she is wont to do, came at this totally left field and gave us a dragged-up, blinged-out version of a matador costume. Her answer for why she did that was a great showcase of Ginger’s intelligence and emotional maturity. The look reminded me a bit of Violet Chachki’s Best Drag look from the penultimate episode of U.S. Season 7.
“What Would It Mean to Win?”: Tie between Michael and Ginger, who both did well here. Again, they have somewhat similar stories — the seasoned pro getting their moment in the spotlight — and similar arcs on this show. I don’t think anyone would have guessed either would make it to the finale based on first impressions, but there’s no denying how intensely they smashed the competition. Tomara, unfortunately, totally flubbed this interview portion and gave an answer that I think spoke to her relative immaturity, at least compared to the other two. She’s funny, charming as hell, beautiful, great performer, but it’s pretty clear they were looking for a more seasoned queen to take this season. So Tomara was cut at 3rd Place, which I do think was the right call from a meta-season perspective. Within this episode, it was a bit surprising since I think she outperformed Ginger in the music video and final runway.
Lipsynch for the Crown: Which left us with Ginger Johnson vs. Michael Marouli for the final lipsynch to Erasure’s “A Little Respect.” (I need to go back and check, but there seems to be a tendency for UK finales to feature male artists for the last lipsynch; Lawrence Chaney won to Elton John in S2.) Going into this, I honestly thought Michael had it in the bag. He had performed better than Ginger in the finale up to this point and the edit seemed to be pointing Michael’s way. But there was no question to me that Ginger won this lipsynch. It was an understated, assured lipsynch that didn’t focus on flare — that’s not really what this song is about, it’s about pouring out your heart — and that’s what Ginger did. Michael was trying very, very hard to catch the judges’ attention, but Ginger was living the song. The bit with the piano playing would normally make me cringe, a la air guitar, but I thought Ginger was so funny in that moment. And the end, when she immediately turned to Michael and they embraced, very sweet. Lovely Final 2.
And ultimately, RuPaul agreed, because Ginger Johnson was named the UK’s Next Drag Superstar! Again, I don’t think anyone would have pegged Ginger as the winner from Episode 1. I even forgot she was High that episode; in my mind, Ginger came out of nowhere at the Rusical and then steamrolled the rest of the competition. Michael also did extremely well the entire competition, but that was really the story of the season: EVERYONE was good. By the time poor Naomi left (sidenote: Naomi looked stunning in the eliminated-queen runway, and Cara Melle was sadly missing again) it was legends only. Week after week they gave us amazing performances, and a lot pre-season and early-season favorites went home MUCH sooner than expected, because literally they were all contenders.
I know several fans of the show who gave up on this season because they were shocked at some of those eliminations, or felt that the show was rigged to push certain contestants along. Personally, the only riggory I saw this season was the protecting of Tomara. And she wasn’t even doing poorly, she was just charming her way through the competition while other queens were working their asses off to advance. But Michael and Ginger earned those Final 2 spots. Even if you disagree with some of their individual wins, there were other instances where either one of them could have won additional challenges and ended up with the same number of RuPeter Badges. It was an overall incredibly strong season and I would love to see any of these queens back for an All Stars or Vs The World season. I genuinely mean that — any one of these 10 queens would be a delight to see again.
As for Ginger, I’ll be curious to see what her WoW Presents+ show will be about. I could see her going any number of directions with it. And should we ever get another All Winners season, I would love to see her compete on that. She’s a super-strong queen and I think she could more than hold her own with many of the other Ru-crowned gals.
So what did you think of UK5 overall? What do you think of Ginger Johnson as our winner? Drop your opinions in the comments.
Come back this weekend for our international “Drag Race” wrap-up, featuring thoughts on “Canada’s Drag Race” Season 4 and “Drag Race Italia” Season 3.
Then check back NEXT week as the Great Pop Culture Debate starts releasing our Best of 2023 content, including my ranking of the Top 10 Best “Drag Race” Seasons of 2023. It’s insane that we have enough international spinoffs for such a list — by my count we had 14 this year overall! — but at this point, let’s rack ’em and stack ’em to see which season was the best of this year.
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