Joining me for the Drag Race's final week is Ariel Italic, a friend of mine from NYC! She performs there and writes RPDR recaps for Queerty!
Chad: So, it's been a long season. Or, at least, that's what it feels like to me. After drawing and discussing the show week after week, I'm usually pretty burnt out by the end. How are you feeling about it?
Ariel: Similarly. I host AND recap, so I watch every episode at least twice. There were a lot of queens, but also this season didn't have the punch of some of the others, so it felt even longer than it was.
Chad: Yeah, and the pacing is always weird -- the way that the "RuCap Week" slows things down, the long wait to find out who actually won. The show has more padding than Pearl ever did on the runway!
Ariel: Having the clip show right before the reunion is a terrible choice, honestly. Like, we spend a whole hour recapping the past ten weeks, and then... bring the eliminated queens back to recap the past ten weeks again.
Chad: Yeah, that's totally true. SO MANY MONTAGES! I mean, some of them are fun, but still. How many times do we need to hear "WAKE UP, PEARL?"
Ariel: I think this season was trying to impose storylines where there were none. Like, there were so many attempts at manufacturing feuds, or giving Pearl that "growth" plotline even though she's clearly just as sleepy as ever, or making Violet a horrendous villain early on only to steer her toward quick, friendly redemption... it all felt much more forced than usual.
Chad: Yeah, everyone talks about how Pearl "came out of her shell," but she's still the same as ever, for better or worse. She DID get a little more energetic and earnest with the challenges, but she's the same quirky queen we love and ridicule.
Ariel: That really shows the divide between reality and reality TV. Pearl is extremely fashionable and has a weird sense of humor and is a fantastic drag queen overall, but she doesn't come across to the audience in the structure of the series. Jasmine Masters may not have the same eye for fashion, but she's so much more watchable.
Chad: Yes, absolutely. And it's just not clear whether America's Next Drag Superstar is supposed to be the queen who makes the best TV, the fan favorite, or the queen who is actually just... the best.
Ariel: Exactly. Like, the challenges this season were almost all performance-related, which made Ginger seem like the clear front-runner. Then the clip show made this "the season of fashion" and all of a sudden Violet was the one to beat, even though the sewing challenges were minimal, and the ones that they did have were often edited almost completely out.
Chad: Yeah, that's a really good point. I wonder why they went back and forth like that. Because Ginger seemed like the strongest contender from early on -- she was charismatic, funny, and a great performer! What went wrong for Ginger?
Ariel: For me, it seemed unfair to give Ginger the win when Katya exceeds her in pretty much every area except singing. Katya is funny, a great dancer, and has a phenomenal eye for fashion. You could tell by the audience reaction to her that she was the true winner this season. Violet, I think, took the win because she is different from Katya. Ginger is just LESS than Katya.
Chad: I see. A harsh comparison, but... I see it.
Ariel: I don't mean to be anti-Ginger, I'm still bitter about Katya's elimination.
Chad: The show has developed SUCH a strange, incestuous relationship with its fans. From the constant call-outs to reddit, to the social media whoring for the crown, to the jaw-dropping moment when Ru called out Katya to the stage. It was a clear acknowledgment that, ultimately, her winning would have been the most satisfying!
Ariel: I think this season must have been difficult for the producers in that sense, because the fan reactions seem to have been wildly different from what was predicted. Plus, the eliminated queens got so much hatred on social media that Ru even called it out during the finale. And I'll admit, it was stuff like that that kept me from making an audition tape for next season.
Chad: Here's something that I've been thinking about: the last few seasons, the generational divide between the older (pre-RPDR) queens and the younger ones has been a constant source of tension and drama. Do you think there might be a similar generational gap between the show's creators and its fans?
Ariel: Oh definitely. The fans get younger every year as a new group gets interested in drag and as acceptance for gay culture permeates further into the mainstream. It says a lot that the two oldest queens were eliminated quite early, and the remaining elders were positioned as bitter villains.
Chad: Well, with Katya caught in the middle! She stood apart -- although she seemed closest with the older queens, she never threw the younger ones any shade. I think the Drag Race is fostering a whole new fandom of drag culture, and the art form might go in new directions faster than the show can keep up with. Or has that already happened?
Ariel: Gosh, I don't even know. I do think it's interesting that the contestants are increasingly constrained by the format. Fame has make-up and runway skills that set her miles ahead of the other girls, Violet can do aerial acrobatics on silks... even Katya's Russian character had limited opportunity to come out and play. There's a diversity to drag that the show has never been 100% equipped to represent. But again, this is the divide between reality and reality TV, and that's always going to be a weird space they navigate.
Chad: The reunion shows are always interesting -- the live presentation gives it a different kind of spontaneity, but then there are scripted elements that often do a disservice to some of the queens who are relegated to a punchline. Which queens *didn't* want to be there?
Ariel: That's tough to say, since everyone besides the top 3 was given precious little screen time. I think people seemed relatively game. Why, did you sense some lingering ambivalence in someone?
Chad: I thought, for the most part, the queens were treated fairly well. Fame doesn't seem to mind the constant chicken jokes, and even Tempest doesn't seem that ticked about her early departure. But I do wonder about Max. What do you make of her?
Ariel: I thought it was interesting that she got almost no screen time. I've been a huge fan of hers since the beginning, and was honestly hoping she'd make Top 3. She has a clear aesthetic and point of view, and I find her specialized nature more compelling than the producers do, apparently.
Chad: I adore her approach to fashion, to her conceptualizing of the runway challenges. But I wonder about her strategy on the show. It seemed like her character only served to distance the other queens from her, as well as a lot of fans. There are times when she comes across as eloquent and lovely (like when she was recounting boosting Jaidynn's morale) and then others when she seems like an awkward teenager who's over-compensating for something. Which could probably be summed up as... being a young artist.
Ariel: Yeah, that's my take, too. She's kind-hearted but ultimately kind of weird. I have known so many Maxes in my day. Sometimes I'm a Max myself. I think in a parallel universe she could have been given a whole arc about learning to interact with the other queens even though they initially found her tough to deal with. Like, she could have been a less villainous Violet if the editors felt like it.
Chad: Right. If you had been on a reality TV show at 21, 22, whatever age Max is, what would YOU have done?
Ariel: Oof, I shudder to think. I already spend too much time anticipating the many ways I would spectacularly fuck up if I were on the show NOW.
Chad: So, you'd be a Katya?
Ariel: I'd never make it that far.
Chad: I do have to say that my very most favoritest moment of the whole night was Katya talking with Ru. That was RIDICULOUS!
Ariel: Katya brings me infinite amounts of joy. I wish I understood what was going on in her brain. It literally does not matter what question you ask her, she will just respond with hilarious nonsense. It's like if Miss Fame were possessed by Robin Williams.
Chad: Hearing Katya so crudely and creatively and candidly describe her feelings about Ru? Sheer gold.
Ariel: And Ru is equipped to roll with the joke, which is why she is the supreme leader.
Chad: Granted, Katya wants everyone and everything to pee on her. Still.
Ariel: Hey, everyone has a wheelhouse. Dumpster comedy works for Katya.
Chad: Yeah, she's doing alright. If Katya couldn't win, would Violet have been your next pick?
Ariel: Absolutely. I think she grew throughout the competition, she served incredible fashions (that she often sewed herself), she has legitimate performance talent, and against all odds I ended up kind of liking her. As a queen who started on the internet, I understand her personality.I have been mistaken for a jerk simply because I am socially awkward in front of other queens. It happens.
Chad: Yeah, I think she's a flawless queen with impeccable taste. Her performances don't always leave me gagging, but she deserved the crown. Part of me wants her to find a good financial planner and put away that prize money. But I'd also love to see her spend $100,000 on one REALLY amazing gown.
Ariel: HAHAHA she would pick a good one for sure. I think she's the right choice after Bianca. Ginger would never have lived up to Bianca's standard in terms of comedic performance, so they had to go with someone who wasn't aiming to be funny. Plus, Bianca always gets called out on wearing the same dress in different fabrics, and Violet won't have that problem.
Chad: I feel like the Drag Race takes over so much of queer pop culture each season. For good and bad. Now that it's over, what are you going to be talking about with all your squirrelfriends?
Ariel: Well, Season 3 of Reddit's LSFYL competition is about to get started, so that'll hold me over for a few months. After that, my life will be empty again.
Chad: As the winner of its first season, what will your role be? Fangirl?
Ariel: I'm hoping to be the Michelle Visage. Each week I'll throw on my judging wig and give some feedback on the performances. What about you? What happens to you when you stop drawing drag queens?
Chad: ...I haven't figured that out, yet.
Oh! And I'll be at CAKEin Chicago THIS WEEKEND! It's an amazing, free comics show catering to the quirky, queer side of the spectrum.
Thanks again, everyone! You're the best!