Start your Chitty-Chitty Bang Bangs and may the best lady win! Sam Brooks recaps the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
I still can’t believe this spin-off actually happened. What a world we live in.
My first observation: RuPaul absolutely loves England and finds everything about it hilarious. This show is stuffed with more puns than an entire season of OG Drag Race. I’m generally pun averse, but there’s something about how delighted everybody is to be saying these dumb things that I can’t help but be a little charmed by. I’m easy, what can I say?
My second observation: Is it possible to culturally appropriate a culture that colonised over half of the known world? Don’t answer that! Onto the show.
“Baga Chipz here, queen of the battered sausage and I love to be covered in daddy sauce! I’m Baga Chipz MBE, I love gin and tonic, Coronation Street and a good ol’ shag.”
That’s the level we’re operating on here, people. A little bit more bawdy than the OG, a little bit more silly, and just a bit rougher as well.
I’ll give you a quick rundown of the queens here:
Baga Chipz, 29, London. The human personification of what happens when you pop a bag of chips open.
Blu Hydrangea, 23, Belfast. Young, sweet, has a Northern Irish accent. One warning that I need to give you is that this show has a lot of accents.
Divine de Campos, 35, West Yorkshire. An experienced queen, on TV a lot apparently! The production makes fun of her by fast-forwarding through her listing her credits. What fun!
Cheryl Hole, 25, Essex. Named after Essex popstar Cheryl Cole. Seems like fun, much like her namesake. Seems nice, maybe not like her namesake. I couldn’t say! Remember when she married the guy she met on a reality show when he was in his teens?
Crystal, 34, London. “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s body dysmorphia!” Think one part Adore Delano, one part Laganja Estranga.
Sum Ting Wong, 30, Birmingham. To address the name immediately, the Chinese queen says: “The name Sum Ting Wong is a reclamation of those little microaggression racist digs that people give out.” Sure! I’m not the person to comment on whether that’s okay or not, so I’m going to move right along. You’ve all got your own Twitter profiles and Facebook accounts. Discuss as you wish!
Vinegar Strokes, 35, London. Seasoned performer, was recently in the gay teen musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie which I saw last year and did not think much of! Michelle Visage was also briefly in the musical. She uses the word ‘minging’ on television, which is exciting.
Gothy Kendoll, 21, Leceister. Very young, tries to meme herself immediately, which is never a good sign.
Scaredy Kat, 19, Wiltshire. The youngest contestant ever on Drag Race, and semi-proudly, maybe semi-dishonestly, says that she has no performance experience.
The Vivienne, 26, Liverpool. Seems good! Look, there’s ten of them. We’ll get to know them all over these recaps.
Those are the queens! Some of them will surprise us, others will not. We will stan, we will not stan.
The first mini-challenge is “Off With Your Head”, a photo-challenge where the queens pose with their own decapitated head, ‘in the tradition of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots’. “Too soon!”, shouts me, an Anne Boleyn stan.
It’s fairly uneventful for a mini-challenge – it’s one of the photo challenges where the queens are run through as quickly as possible, and a winner is picked seemingly at random. The most memorable thing that happens is Ru laughing, for the first time that I can remember, at a queen’s genuine lack of competence.
Gothy’s chosen punchline: “I give better head than all the queens here.” Imagine if your laptop read that line out, and even that is more full of life than Gothy’s reading of it.
Ru tries to give Gothy a note, kindly at first: “You don’t seem very enthusiastic.” Gothy nods and… does not take the note. Ru just laughs, and laughs, and laughs.
It’s a wild, nearly cruel, moment of reality television, and a sign of things to come: this is not the tightly honed, much memed Drag Race of the homeland. This is sillier, rougher, and a chance for everybody to let their hair down a bit.
I shit you not, the first thing they talk about is bad teeth, which leads to a confessional with Gothy Kendoll where she, not unsympathetically, talks about how her issues with her teeth lead to a shyness about talking. As someone with a prominent Paquin gap, I sympathise! As a Drag Race watcher, it is the second thing that makes me worry that Gothy is not long for the show because that’s not a great hook for drama, honestly.
We’re already running a bit long here, so I’ll sum up and say the workroom vibe seems a lot nicer and more friendly than the original version. Maybe it’s the shared glow of being the first set of queens on the show, or maybe it’s how the scene in the UK is. Only time will tell if it hangs around, but for now there’s a refreshing lack of the conflict which has started to overtake the flagship series a bit too much.
The challenge for this one is that the queens have to prepare two looks – one that represents their hometown, and one where they essentially cosplay as a certain era from Queen Elizabeth II’s career. At this point, you have to wonder how quickly they’ll run out of British references. Can’t wait until all they’re left with is The Lion in Winter and Dunkirk.
It’s your usual first week runway – a few people kill it, more than a few people end up in the middle, and two people seem to have utterly misread the level of the competition and way undershoot everybody else.
The most notable thing, for me, is Baga Chipz’ Amy Winehouse, or her approximation thereof. Think of what people were doing as Amy Winehouse for Halloween right before she died, and if we’re honest, after she died. Big beehive wig, holding booze, stumbling on too-high heels. It is what some people might call problematic. But everybody goes for it and the performances show where this version may end up. It’s sillier than the original show, but also it might be a little bit darker and more risky in its humour.
Viewers of the OG show jump on every queen’s word, reaction shot, and wonky eyelash to the point of exhaustion, and it’ll be interesting to see how audiences treat the new queens on this version which already has proven itself to be markedly tonally different.
The other notable thing is that Sum Ting Wong dresses up like a stamp, which is the kind of shit that I need to see more of, not just on this show, but in my life.
GUEST JUDGE: Noted fan Andrew Garfield, who seems to have a delightful time. Also, my god that man’s voice is soft. It’s like a feather caressing the inside of your ear – you’re not sure if he’s talking or just audibly breathing.
WINNER: The Vivienne. This is a good look for her – two memorable looks (a tribute to Pete Burns and the Queen’s hunting outfit) that she came out fighting for, and she even managed to survive what is often a deathblow: “Why on Goddess’ Gay Earth are you wearing flats?”
BOTTOM TWO: Vinegar Strokes and Gothy Kendoll. It’s a clear blow to Strokes’ confidence, who is a seasoned queen and obviously a talented performer.
Look, I was hoping they’d troll the queens with Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’, but instead they went with Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ which is… not a great lip-sync song. Dua Lipa has the vocal energy of a retail worker at 8 hours 45 minutes into their nine-hour shift murmuring, “Can I help you?”
Which, of course, means that the queens have to bring it. With all the energy that a performer who has to do eight shows a week can muster, Vinegar Strokes brings it. She plays your aunty who is out on the town for the first time since she signed her divorce papers, full-on Nicole Kidman cheering for the paparazzi vibes. She lobs her breasts around, she does a truly amazing double wig-reveal, she counts off her new rules with vigour. She sells the song better than Dua herself does.
Gothy Kendoll does not. She’s clearly nervous. Like most 21 year olds, commitment probably comes with a fair share of Dutch courage and throwing away of cares. But she cares so much about this, and doesn’t want to fuck it up, and the irony is that she disappears onstage. It’s a rough showing, and you can’t help but feel sorry for her.
ELIMINATED: Unsurprisingly, Gothy Kendoll. Even more unsurprisingly, she tries to Miss Vanjie herself into a meme and… it does not work.
VERDICT: Two crumpets up! I’ll be tuning in, and I hope you’ll tune in with me for these weekly recaps.
Drag Race UK drops on TVNZ OnDemand every Friday for the next eight weeks.