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Did RuPaul even come to NZ?
A mystery for the ages (Image: The Spinoff)

Pop CultureMay 14, 2021

Did RuPaul actually come to New Zealand? A Spinoff investigation

Did RuPaul even come to NZ?
A mystery for the ages (Image: The Spinoff)

Social media is alight with a bizarre rumour that RuPaul Charles never came to New Zealand to film the local version of his reality show, Drag Race Down Under. 

Nothing has excited New Zealand social media this year as much as the news that RuPaul had landed in the country to film the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Accompanied by his drag bestie Michelle Visage, RuPaul was spotted everywhere from Papakura to Waiheke Island. 

Except, they weren’t. Only Visage was papped by eagle-eyed Drag Race fans, while the star of the show, RuPaul himself, escaped notice entirely. Visage also did all the media rounds including Breakfast, Seven Sharp, ZM and even The Spinoff (interview coming this weekend) with no RuPaul by her side. 

And since Drag Race Down Under went to air this month, further speculation has popped up on Twitter and TikTok – maybe, just maybe, RuPaul never visited Aotearoa at all. 

If you watch the show itself, you can tell where these wacky ideas may have come from. In the first episode, RuPaul has a weird split-screen conversation with himself in drag and in the second he stays awkwardly distant from the contestants, despite there being no need to stay two metres apart. Contestants constantly express their excitement at getting to meet RuPaul – something that theorists suggest may indicate they were being told to act overjoyed.

Earlier this week, the conspiracy hit the mainstream. The Herald published an article titled: “Conspiracy theory: Did RuPaul actually come Downunder to film show?” Although the Herald’s report on the “conspiracy theory” contained no “factual” evidence, it sparked a yearning in me to discover the truth. Did RuPaul actually visit New Zealand? Or have we all been duped? Let us assess the evidence in chronological order.

January 5: RuPaul appears on the Stephen Colbert show

About 48 hours before RuPaul allegedly arrived in New Zealand, he made an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s late night talk show to promote the 13th season of Drag Race in the US.

In the video, RuPaul says he is in California. There is absolutely no acknowledgement that he’s about to jump on a plane to New Zealand to film a new down-under spin-off of his reality show. Perhaps that’s because he was about to head to a Californian sound stage and record his lines via green screen.

Or perhaps he was already in New Zealand. Let’s take a closer look. During his appearance on Colbert’s show, RuPaul is positioned in front of some drab grey-black curtains. Would style icon and trendsetter RuPaul have those in his own home? Surely not. More likely they are in a hotel. Perhaps… a managed isolation hotel. 

According to MBIE, there are 32 managed isolation hotels in New Zealand. Rumour has it that RuPaul spent his stay in quarantine in Wellington, not Auckland. There are just two MIQ hotels in the capital: the Bay Plaza and the Grand Mercure. I think we can instantly rule out the Bay Plaza because I don’t think Ru has ever stayed in a hotel with the word “bay” or “plaza” in the title.

Which leads me to the five star Grand Mercure. 

Here is a photo from the Grand Mercure’s website displaying some grey-black curtains. 

Curtains at the Grand Mercure
Suspicious curtains (Image: Grand Mercure)

And here, a pic of RuPaul in front of some grey-black curtains.

RuPaul in front of curtains
The… same curtains? (Image: YouTube)

The same curtains? Quite possibly. But that’s not all. Let’s take a closer look at RuPaul’s glasses. In the reflection, I spy green rolling hills and blue sky. And you know what they say: you can’t beat Wellington on a good day. 

RuPaul in front of curtains with an arrow pointing to the reflection
You can’t beat Wellington on a good day, Ru! (Image / YouTube)

You can even make out what looks like Wellington terraced housing in the reflection. Conspiracy? That’s not for me to say.

The plot thickens!

Let’s look deeper. 

January 7: RuPaul allegedly lands in New Zealand

Despite the evidence to the contrary, RuPaul allegedly landed in New Zealand two days later, on January 7, according to this exclusive published in the Gay Express. On this date, RuPaul was said to begin his 14-day stay in a “plush” quarantine hotel. Is the Grand Mercure plush? Any hotel with the word Grand in it has to be plush, that’s the rule. 

January 8: A spokesperson ‘confirms’ that RuPaul is in New Zealand

A day later, the news was everywhere – and the government was forced to confirm it had allowed 16 people into the country to film the show. A spokesperson for MBIE told Stuff that RuPaul was among the first of the crew to land in the country. No exact date or further details were provided.

When approached by The Spinoff, a spokesperson for MBIE said they could “not comment on the details of individual returnees so [they] cannot assist with the debunking!” Suspicious.

January 18: Michelle Visage spotted in Auckland 

January 18 sparked what can only be described as “Michelle Fever”, with the popular Drag Race judge spotted basically everywhere in Auckland. 

If we go back 14 days from January 18, that means Visage had to have arrived in the country by at least January 4 in order to spend the requisite fortnight in managed isolation before she was spotted galavanting down Ponsonby Road, H&M bag in hand. In other words, Visage must have been in the country when RuPaul was purportedly recording his Colbert interview in “California”. 

Would the best friends of Drag Race really be in the country so many days apart? I think not. 

February 7: RuPaul gets ‘served’

The trail went cold for a while, with Visage continuing to be spotted around the super city. RuPaul, on the other hand, remained hidden. On February 7, a Twitter user claimed to have “served” the drag star in Auckland. Served in a cafe? Served at the cinema? Served a restraining order? At this stage, the exact details of the serve remain unknown. The Spinoff has asked for clarification.

There’s no photo, of course, so what evidence did this Twitter user provide for RuPaul being in a cafe? “Everything he is on TV + 20 inches,” they claimed. Checks out.

February 14: Visage attends Big Gay Out

This marked the last known appearance of Visage before she left the country. Once again, there was no sign of Ru. 

May 1: RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under premieres 

At 6pm, the first episode dropped on TVNZ OnDemand and the conspiracy theories began. 

Why was Ru out of drag for most of the episode? Why did he not appear to interact with any of the queens? Why were the camera angles so frenetic? Was it simply a question of New Zealand’s television production values… or something more sinister?

May 10: Bombshell dropped on The Spinoff’s reality TV podcast

Earlier this week, the trail warmed up again. On The Spinoff’s acclaimed reality TV podcast The Real Pod, comedian Eli Matthewson claimed that RuPaul had been spotted in the background of a 1News vox pop. The footage, so Matthewson claims, was not able to air.

“All I know is they had to last minute take a shot out of 1News because RuPaul was very clearly standing behind the person they were interviewing,” Matthewson said.

While Matthewson said the footage didn’t go to air, The Spinoff has been leaked the following images from broadcast television that reveal possible sightings of RuPaul in public.

The first reveals an individual who The Spinoff suspects could be RuPaul, in disguise, doing his weekly shop.

RuPaul in disguise at the supermarket (Seven Sharp)

This second image reveals a possible sighting of RuPaul, in drag, on Auckland’s busy Queen Street.

RuPual in drag on Queen Street (Newshub)

The plot thickens.

When approached by The Spinoff, a TVNZ spokesperson said they could not provide any visual evidence for RuPaul being in the country. “Unfortunately no crew picture… I don’t know if it helps confirm the theory, but the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment did confirm that he was one of the crew in the country back in Jan if that helps?”

Sadly for TVNZ, that’s not the proof I need.

May 12: ‘RuPaul’ spotted at Auckland Airport

This week, I got the breakthrough information I needed. A photo of RuPaul, reportedly snapped back in February.

The Spinoff was leaked a copy of said photo, providing the most definitive answer to date that RuPaul had in fact travelled here. However, the individual identified as RuPaul (the person on the left) has taken numerous steps to conceal their celebrity identity. 

Let’s dissect the image further as there are some telltale signs that this is RuPaul Charles.

RuPaul at the airport
(Image / Supplied)

According to our photographer, the fingers are the giveaway. “You can tell from his tendril fingers,” they said. While they said Ru was “wrapped up”, they remained confident the mysterious individual was him. “I don’t think he was spotted anywhere else, which was mad.”

Upon closer examination, the length and tendril-like nature of the fingers do appear to be that of RuPaul.

Then there are the feet. RuPaul is reportedly a size 13. The placement of his left foot on the airport floor gives us a good look at the length and allows me to very clearly deduce that they are certainly nothing less than a 13. That is very clearly a long, thin, rich foot.

Finally, there is the mask. It’s hard to identify anyone behind a face covering but thankfully for my investigation, RuPaul has a track record of identity obfuscation. Take this from the Drag Race US season 12 finale.

The same person? Let’s look closer. Yes, the mask may be different but the face shape is the same. In my mind, this – coupled with the strength of the evidence already on the table – confirms without a doubt that RuPaul did in fact visit New Zealand.

Case closed. Unless that’s what they want us to think. 

One and the same

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