The queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under race to the bottom, and it’s only episode two.
Someone does Lindy Chamberlain as their character in Snatch Game. Yes, the Lindy Chamberlain whose baby was tragically taken by a dingo, and who was wrongly convicted of murder, vilified in the press, and spent decades clearing her name and overturning her conviction. It should be no surprise that when Snatch Game wraps up, RuPaul declares last week’s eliminated queen Jojo Zaho the winner for not having to be around to endure it.
For those who are new to the format, this how Snatch Game works. It’s based on the classic US game show Match Game (later remade in the UK as Blankety Blank), in which comedians fill in the blanks of a sentence read out by a celebrity contestant, hoping to match their “blank” with the celebrity’s.
Snatch Game adds in two wrinkles. Wrinkle the first? The queens have to perform as a celebrity or character. Wrinkle the second? It doesn’t matter if they’re right, they just have to be really, really funny. This part of the series tends to determine who is rising to the top, and who is not cut out to be a superstar. Drag Race Down Under is the exception to that rule. It is, by some measure, the least funny Snatch Game in the franchise’s herstory.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the reason why. The queens, almost uniformly, fall into the worst Snatch Game traps: they choose characters that are too well known, that are impossible to joke about, or that are already funny. Tip for future contestants: If you’re not as funny as the person you’re playing – and chances are you’re not as funny as, say, Catherine O’Hara, Jennifer Coolidge or Magda Szubanski – then you should look elsewhere.
While these queens might be funny in the workroom, that doesn’t translate to performance ability. They’re much too hung up on their individual jokes and characters to riff with Ru and each other. Thus, we end up with a deathly unfunny 15 minutes of TV, with one sole bright spot: Anita Wigl’it, who is rightfully not just the winner of the game, but of the episode.
However, while the Snatch Game itself is bad, the episode itself is glorious. They make the Kiwi queens do a shooey! They use the word ‘bussy’ (do NOT google that) on our public broadcaster! The judges fight over what colour Ursula the Sea Witch is!
Even better, the hubris of the queens – one of whom genuinely believes they’ve just created the best Snatch Game ever – is swiftly punished by Ru and the other judges. Ru names Anita as the winner, two people as safe, and puts the rest in the bottom, which is a first for the franchise. It’s a clear kick up the tuck for the contestants, and to see them all brought down to an appropriate level makes for some gleeful viewing, as well as a shock bottom two of the bottom six.
Enough about all that, though. Onto the rankings!
ELIMINATED: Art Simone
I’ll be honest: Art Simone should’ve been safe, not in the bottom. Her Bindi Irwin was fine, and her look was genuinely amazing. It’s pure bad fortune that she ended up in the bottom two with the only queen of colour left in the competition – which points to clear mistakes in casting and production – and even WoW knows the optics of sending that queen home.
Art Simone clearly had a lot to give the competition, and it was very clear she threw a LOT of money into this (if you want to check out a piece on how expensive it is to be on Drag Race, I highly recommend this VICE piece).
8. Etcetera Etcetera
Etcetera Etcetera is the contestant who picked Lindy Chamberlain, and I’ll be blunt: it’s a shitty choice in every way. They make exactly the jokes you think they would, don’t even spell her name right, and I imagine the only reason they were named safe is that the production wanted to move past their character choice as swiftly as possible. I’m not even going to put an image of her playing this role in this piece; you can look for it yourself if you’re so inclined. Believe me: I’m sure this queen will be thankful that there is one less place to find an image of them as this character on the internet.
Firstly, drag shouldn’t be about punching down. Nothing should be about punching down, really. Lindy Chamberlain is a victim of the media, of the public, and of the system. To do her as a Snatch Game character, and make jokes about the worst night of her life, suggests a wild lack of taste and a devastatingly misguided sense of humour. Black comedy is great, but it has to come from the right place and it can’t be cheap. This is bargain basement crap.
Secondly, those jokes are older than the person performing them. Those jokes are 40 years old. If you’re making those jokes in 2021, it doesn’t just suggest that they’re coming from a cold, callous place, but also that you’re the kind of performer who thinks that recycling other people’s trash is acceptable on the biggest platform for drag in the entire world.
It’s not OK, and I wish the production addressed it more robustly than Ru chuckling and saying, “We’re all going to hell.” There’s absolutely no way this group of queens didn’t talk about it afterwards, and there was definitely more discussion that the side glances and under-breath whispers we see before the game.
Moving on, swiftly.
7. Elektra Shock
Elektra Shock does Catherine O’Hara but she’s really doing – thanks to Drag Race not being able to do licensed characters in Snatch Game – Moira Rose. Once more, I’ll be blunt: Shock is a bad Catherine O’Hara and an even worse Moira Rose. If she’d jumped into a closet and put clothes on at random, she’d end up looking closer to either than what ended up onscreen, and you, the reader, speaking in your normal voice, sound closer to the real thing than Shock did.
She’s clearly a game performer, and skates out of the bottom two because she came more ready to riff than anybody else, but the character sits so far outside her range that she’d need a telescope to see it.
6. Coco Jumbo
Coco Jumbo did Lizzo, whom she clearly has a deep love for, which does not translate to performing well as Lizzo in this challenge. This, combined with a fairly pedestrian look, kicked Coco into the bottom two, and even though she gave the messier lip-sync (although I pity anybody who has to lip-sync to any RuPaul song that isn’t ‘Supermodel’), I’m happy she’s back in the competition. Drag Race should never look whiter than a pack of Extra gum.
5. Maxi Shields
Maxi Shields ends up in the bottom for what I thought was a pretty spot-on impression of Lynne Postlethwaite, a character played by Magda Szubanski on ’90s Australian sketch comedy show Fast Forward. She’s not as funny as Magda though, and she sits so deeply in her interpretation of the “character” that she’s unable to connect with anybody else onscreen. Her performance is less impersonation and more wax figure.
Also, Maxi’s dress is more glad wrap than mother of pearl. Michelle Visage puts it better than I can: “Is it shit? No.”
4. Scarlet Adams
Scarlet came ready to do Bindi Irwin – and truly, you haven’t seen drama until you’ve seen two grown men fight over who gets to play Bindi Irwin – but settled on Jennifer Coolidge. She sort of nails the actor’s breathy tone but doesn’t look a thing like her, and all of her jokes are just Coolidge’s jokes. Jennifer Coolidge does those jokes better! That’s why she’s Jennifer Coolidge!
Scarlet’s look was absolutely great, and although her explanation of it being a tribute to the Great Barrier Reef was more “pageant queen” than this show likes to be, she definitely shows promise.
3. Karen from Finance
Oh, Karen. Why’d you pick Dolly Parton? This is another pitfall of Snatch Game: if you pick someone who is a global subject of professional impersonation, you have to be as good as those impersonators. If it’s not your full-time job to be that person, you will fail. Again, to quote Visage, “If you don’t nail her, you will fail her.”
Karen is this high because I absolutely love her look, which nails kind of comedic editorial style that many queens attempt and fail at.
2. Kita Mean
Kita’s placement at number 2 is solely because everybody else was so bad and Kita was… fine. For some reason, when deciding between Carole Baskin and Dr. Seuss – yes, the famous author who married the woman he was having an affair with eight months after his wife died and no I will NOT not mention that – Kita decides on Dr. Seuss. She’s thrown almost immediately, and never recovers.
Her look is absolutely great, though, and although they’re together at the top this week, Kita continues to distinguish herself from Anita.
1. Anita Wigl’it
Holy hell, Anita kills it this week. Not only is her performance as Queen Elizabeth II genuinely good – including jokes at the expense of Prince Andrew, the very definition of punching up – but she gives a complex, moving interview about her complicated relationship with her father, and seems to let the mask down for a few moments. It’s a great moment, and an example of one of the things that Drag Race can do at its best: it gives a glimpse into the lives of queer people in a way that a comparatively mainstream audience might not otherwise see.
It’s almost a shame that Anita’s performance comes in a week where everybody stumbled so hard, because I think this performance and this look would have given her the win in any Snatch Game, anywhere in the world.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under air on Saturdays at 8.30pm on TVNZ2 and arrive on TVNZ OnDemand earlier that night.