Warning – This article contains spoilers for the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK
Aussie drag race fans woke up to a treat Friday morning. We didn’t have to wait to head to a viewing party to watch the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK later that night, as it was ready to watch on Stan when we awoke.
But what could we expect from the first international export of the award-winning franchise?
For starters there are a whole lot of accents, and half the fun was seeing if RuPaul actually understood what anyone saying, let alone the humour. Thank god that we had 2 seasons of Derry Girls to stream this past year, which helped acclimate us to the diverse voices on offer.
When the trailer dropped last month showing the cast on a set that looked like it was from EastEnders, who knew if Drag Race UK would be camp or crazy? But after watching the first episode, it’s safe to say that the UK instalment of Drag Race is just what the doctor ordered. Taking a franchise that has become so self-referential, over produced and overmarketed, that even uber fans like myself were getting fatigue.
Replicating the format and set of the original series, Drag Race UK feels like a return to earlier seasons, caring more about characters than catchphrases. The reason for this is simple—the cast—who are just as diverse and vibrant as the drag scene is in the United Kingdom itself.
Sure, in an episode or two narratives will be created where one queen will be the villain and another underprepared, but to kick things off we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.
Before we dive in let’s get past the T about the prizes, or lack of prizes in the BBC series. No one is walking away with $100,000 or winning holidays for mini challenges. They can’t actually have any prizes or sponsors on the BBC, which is why the winner of Drag Race UK gets flown to Hollywood to do a series with World of Wonder, and the winner of challenges wins a Ru Peter Badge. (This is a play on Blue Peter Badges that were given away on Blue Peter.) For me it actually makes the comp more exciting, because they fight for drag glory, not the cash.
Now to meet the queens.
First to enter the werk room was Baga Chipz, a brassy bold trollop the looks like Barbara Windsor but with a gobbier mouth, followed by Northern Ireland’s Blu Hydrangea, who, like many you contestants to the later seasons of the series have grown up as part of ‘Generation Ru’, inspired by the show itself.
Then there is Divina De Campo, whose seems to have been all over the TV in the UK with a piercing laugh that had me cringing before the first challenge. Divina certainly knows how to play to the camera but delivers when we need it and that’s all that really matters. It was interesting to hear her say that old school drag is about what you do, while new school drag is about how you look. Look queens haven’t lasted long in the US version of the series, will that be the same in the UK? (Spoiler alert: it will).
The sparkly, transparent and cheap Crystal was next to saunter into the Werk Room with the first good entrance catch phrase of the season, ‘Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s body dysmorphia’, showing us her camp parody of the iconic Jessica Rabbit. Followed by Sum Ting Wong, who many may have underestimated by their entrance look. Serving glam on a budget, Sum Ting shows us throughout the episode that it will always pay to be a well-rounded artist rather than just playing to one strength.
Serving fringy minge the Queen of Essex strutted into the Werk Room and all I could think was that Cheryl Hole could be the lovechild of Alyssa Edwards and Trinity ‘The Tuck’ Taylor. Followed by the little chav with a lot of attitude Gothy Kendoll, ‘dragtor’ Vinegar Strokes who has performed with Michelle on the West End, the baby of the bunch knows how to keep serving creativity, Scaredy Kat and last but not least, the Drag Race UK ambassador The Vivienne.
After saying hello, hello, hello to Ru and the Britt Crew, we dived straight into the first challenge—a photo challenge turning everything on its head!
When Ru described the ‘off with her head’ photo shoot green screen challenge, it all seemed a bit weird. But you know what, it made for bloody entertaining television, and that’s what this franchise has been missing. From Ru literally not understanding what half of the queens were saying to posing in a huge cone and ridiculously silly catch phrases, it’s clear that everyone is having a laugh which endears the competitors to us even more.
Scaredy Kat winning the challenge kept the more experienced queens on their toes. After all she was not only the youngest of the lot, she had never actually been to a drag performance before. But there’s no time to rest on your laurels, because we take it to the runway with a double look challenge, serving double queen realness, with a look of the performers as a queen from their hometown, and also of the Queen herself.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more entertaining runway on Drag Race, from the judges, particularly Andrew Garfield having an absolute blast coming up with commentary, to performers creating parody looks of the Queen of England. There was no fear of multiple kimonos like in the Madonna challenge and with so many iconic looks to play with it was a joy to see such camp creations with their individual spin. It was just too much fun.
With The Vivienne announced as the winner of this runway my social media exploded with people complaining that Sum Ting Wong was robbed. But as creative as the stamp and bull look were, you cannot look past The Vivienne’s make up skills providing the perfect transformation in the challenge. Even though Ru took the time to dress The Vivienne down for wearing flats on the runway, who cares, it made for a more authentic portrayal of her caricatures and wasn’t the misstep it was made out to be.
With Cheryl Hole, Vinegar Strokes and Gothy Kendoll in the bottom and up for elimination, I found myself hoping Cheryl would sashay away, simply because their cutaways were getting over the top. We knew Gothy was in the bottom with a tiger look that just left me boggled, but I found myself rooting for Vinegar to be saved, was the look as put together as I would like, no, but there is something about here that I just love to watch. But all good things must come to an end so bring on the lip-synch for your life with Vinegar vs Gothy, proving that looks aren’t everything.
Even though no one wanted to be the Porkchop of Drag Race UK, someone had to go, and for all their big talk, it was time to say see ya later to Gothy Kendoll, who clearly just needs a bit more time cutting their teeth in some different drag spaces to broaden their horizens.
Seeing Vinegar and Gothy lip-synch to Dua Lipa’s New Rules wasn’t easy, as it didn’t seem to fit either of their styles in a strong way. This could be an area where the UK version struggles, since the history of drag the UK is filled with cabaret. But with the show moving across the pond, I think we are seeing a different sensibility to the diversity of drag, at least in reality TV. That lip-synch on the US franchise would have been met with a completely different response from fans (and probably a more negative one) but on the UK series everyone was supportive and encouraging and it just goes to show that a lip synch doesn’t make or break you in the UK.
And with one ep down, ‘God Save the Queens’ is more than just the shows tag line with Drag Race UK showing the US where they’ve gone wrong with the franchise in just one episode. Give me character, creativity and campness any day, now let’s rewatch ep 1 until ep 2 drops next week!