After eight episodes, we’ve finally got Drag Race Down Under’s first drag superstar, and she’s a doozy.
We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re honestly quite tired. Even though this season has only been eight episodes, it has felt both so full of drama and like we’re being dragged across the finish line. I won’t go so far to call the season a disappointment – there are some clear highlights and some all-time moments – but I can confidently call it a mixed bag.
The saddest thing is that, with the exception of the blackface scandal, most of the chat around this season hasn’t actually been about the cast, which are frankly a uniformly really talented bunch, but about the production. All the questions fans have had eventually stem down to choices made behind the scenes: Why this group of queens? Why bring back Art Simone and not explain why? Why put Snatch Game that early? Why do a talent show, a challenge usually reserved for All Stars? There’s a whole lot of whys, and it distracts from where the focus should be: the drag.
Production should be invisible. Ultimately, this season committed the ultimate sin of reality TV: it made us think about how it’s made.
Anyhow, the finale. Drag Race finales tend to be 40 minutes of tease followed by a quick thrilling moment and then, roll credits. The winner gets maybe half a minute to bask in the glory, and then we’re onto the next season (All Star season 6 next week, you guys!). This finale is no different.
It starts with a moment of reflection on the season as a whole, followed by a one-on-two with RuPaul and Michelle Visage where each remaining queen confronts some of their inner demons. The “challenge” is to write, record and perform a verse of a RuPaul song, and every one of those songs sound like what you would get if you tried to connect to the internet with a dial-up modem after pouring a bottle of poppers onto it. Then there’s a final runway – where the queens are, in theory, meant to debut their best look – and some inspiring speechifying. Lip-sync, winner crowned, done, dusted.
That’s not to say that there’s not some lovely moments – Art realising that her need to help other people has resulted in her not having anybody to take care of her is a lovely conclusion to her arc (Arc Simone, anyone?) – but they don’t make for revelatory TV. There’s no drama, there’s just conclusion. This isn’t helped by the truly bizarre decision to not do a competitive lip-sync to decide the winner, but to have each queen lip-sync onstage solo to Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical’, and then to edit that together. Great song, and there’s some great performances there, but the editing barely lets the queens complete a lyric, let alone a verse. It’s the season in microcosm: strangely produced, disjointed, and not exactly the best fit for the cast.
When all’s said and done, I hope there’s another season of Down Under. There’s a lot more to our drag scene than what was shown here, and perhaps with a longer lead time, the production might step back and let the drag flourish. At any rate, for one last time this season, here are the Drag Race Down Under power rankings:
4. Karen from Finance
I hate to say this, but Karen kind of whiffed it here. Her verse was fine, and her outfit was lovely, but it wasn’t a huge surprise. The downside of having generally great fashion throughout the season is that you raise the bar for yourself; people notice when a 4 goes to an 8, not many notice when an 8 goes to a 9.
One thing I will say is that Karen was consistent throughout the season: She was always Karen from Finance; witty, glamorous, and camp as a fire made from homosexual wood. That’s what makes her an extremely successful drag queen. It does not make her a successful Drag Race winner, not anymore. Drag Race no longer rewards a queen that comes in fully formed, and they haven’t really done it since Bianca del Rio way back in season 6 of the flagship season. The show needs to have a hand in moulding its winner.
3. Scarlet Adams
Scarlet Adams was never going to win after the blackface scandal. Once you go blackface, you do not get to win Drag Race. It’s wild that’s a sentence I even had to type. It’s clear that RuPaul does not want to condemn her, and I’m in no place to do so either, but the Drag Race fandom is about as forgiving as the cast of The Crucible, and Adams has a lot of atoning to do. Winning three challenges, and being a generally excellent queen throughout this season isn’t going to change that. I don’t wish her ill!
2. Art Simone
I’ve done a complete 180 on good ol’ Art Simone: she’s clearly an excellent queen with a lot to give, and by far the best part of this last episode was getting to see her giving side shine through. It became incredibly clear how much Art Simone gives back to her community, and how much of a support pillar she is to people around her. When you combine that with the general level of good-to-greatness she’s shown this season, she can be happy with the season. At any rate, she’s got enough to set her up well for a future All Stars season, because we will apparently be doing All Stars seasons until the heat death of the universe.
WINNER: Kita Mean
Hell yeah, Kita Mean! Kita has it all: she’s a hell of a performer, seems like a genuinely nice person, takes drag seriously without taking herself seriously, and she’s never done blackface! Kita Mean just feels like the right winner. She’s grown throughout the competition without ever being a frontrunner, and has peaked at exactly the right time. The middling quality of this season shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on Kita Mean, she would be a great contender and worthy winner of any season.
As a New Zealander, I want to say an enthusiastic, patriotic fuck yeah! A Kiwi kuīni won.
And finally, a thank you if you’ve been reading these rankings for eight weeks! It’s fun and exhausting to write about this show, and delve into the wider implications of it. Godspeed, support your local drag queens, and don’t do blackface.