One of the things I enjoyed most about RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, and what I hope the regional spinoff series keeps going when it eventually returns (filming of the second season was interrupted by COVID-19), was how incredibly British it really felt. A lot of that came from the contestants themselves, who routinely taught RuPaul new British slang and terminology. But there was also a concerted effort on the show’s part to infuse the challenges with as much national pride as possible. We got girl groups styled after the Spice Girls and Little Mix, a car boot sale design challenge, and more.
So far, at least to my American ears, Canada’s Drag Race seems just as committed to making their series as Canadian as possible. Last week, we had a design challenge featuring fabrics and other items from Roots. This week, for the first acting challenge in Canada’s Drag Race herstory, Drag Race goes with the extremely specific Heritage Minutes as inspiration. Split into two teams, the queens must act in their own Heritage Minutes, with draggy spins on familiar Canadian stories.
Because this cast is so delightful and game, these are two of the better acting challenge skits we’ve seen on Drag Race. Sure, the writing’s still a mess, full of references and punchlines so stilted that it takes a skilled actor to make them sound natural. But the plots are straightforward, and the queens’ roles are divided fairly evenly. Unlike so many of these challenges, it genuinely seems like anyone and everyone has a chance to succeed. To my joy, several of them do! It’s a real race to the win this week, but an underdog is the one to seize the day.
Let’s start with the second group first. Although our winner and one member of the bottom two come from the “Burnt Tuck” skit (based on an infamous “burnt toast” Heritage Minute about neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield), this is the group with less trouble in rehearsal with judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. Kiara, Anastarzia Anaquway, and Rita Baga all impress, the former getting the most laughs as a famous queen from Montreal who, gasp! can no longer death drop. Anastarzia plays the skit’s riff on Penfield, who takes credit for mapping the drag queen brain, while Rita plays her long-suffering assistant who actually does the mapping.
Kiara gets major credit for shining in the skit’s opening, when she has no one to play off of. She’s very naturally funny, and proves even more compelling when she has others in her scene: Her performance of “teabagging” Rita is hilarious. But while the three of them take the bulk of the action in the scene, it’s actually two side players, Lemon and Tynomi Banks, who get the most attention. Lemon, in a major bounce-back from her bottom two-worthy look last week, kills it in this scene. She delivers her lines naturally and exhibits terrific comic timing throughout as she comments on Kiara’s character’s surgery. She also keeps things going despite a lacklustre scene partner and does her best to comfort Tynomi throughout.
Unfortunately, this acting challenge just isn’t Tynomi’s to win. The legendary queen has not one ounce of ego about her performance, either—she knows she sucks, and she just can’t get out of her own way. She talks about being a perfectionist and wanting to get it exactly right. It’s a storyline we’ve seen before (perhaps most infamously with Miz Cracker in Season 10). I admire Tynomi for being so honest about her faults, and still finding plenty of chances outside the challenge to entertain this week. Responding to a particularly off-base Jeffrey critique about Tynomi using her inexperience as a reason why she didn’t do as well even though Lemon is also not a trained actor, she playfully mocks his delivery in Mini-Untucked, while also admitting she thinks he’s right.
Jeffrey takes on an active role throughout the episode this week, as he both directs the queens in their skits and delivers the bulk of the “RuPaul dialogue” on the main stage. (The division of labour between the guest host and the judges remains confounding.) I loved Jeffrey in his initial appearance as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and while I haven’t enjoyed his returns in All Stars 3 and All Stars 5 as much, I still find him a fun presence. What seems to be depreciating across his various appearances are his judging skills; his critiques often feel arbitrary, and he can be too arch as he delivers them.
Take his criticisms of the first group, for instance. BOA’s team’s Heritage Minute is about drag queens’ right to vote, and the Muffragette movement (yes, Muffragette) to earn it. BOA is the clear problem with the group, as she doesn’t know her lines. She chalks this up to her ADHD, but even after she gets the lines, her delivery is too one-note and not funny. Yet BOA escapes the bottom three, while Kyne—who is actually pretty entertaining in the skit!—falls into the bottom two instead. Jeffrey tells Kyne she showed up to set and knew her lines, and that was about it. But when talking in deliberations about Jimbo, who’s part of the same group (playing “Premier Cisman,” a closeted drag queen judge who fights the Muffragettes), he cites Jimbo showing up to set knowing her lines as a positive. What wasn’t enough for Kyne is enough reason to put Jimbo in the high-scoring group.
Granted, the judges love Jimbo’s runway and hate Kyne’s, so that’s a factor for their placements as well. But even in that regard, the critiques are confusing. The category this week is an update of what the queens wore their first time in drag, and both queens go for costumey looks: Jimbo does a zombified take on a cheerleader, pulling pom-poms out of her pigtails, while Kyne does a sleek leather update on Ursula, complete with purple body paint. Jeffrey zeroes in on a strip of skin Kyne left unpainted in her back, and while it’s certainly a missed detail, it’s not as big a deal as Jeffrey and the judges make it out to be—especially after last week, when BOA’s messy garment with plenty of construction mistakes was declared worthy of being in the top three.
I’m specifically addressing Jeffrey because he seemingly takes on the role of “head judge” this week, but Brooke Lynn Hytes and Stacey McKenzie are similarly harsh on Kyne, with Stacey calling her runway “horrific.” I think Stacey is the best of the three judges so far, offering up a very smart bit of advice to Kiara about her posture and strides on the runway. But even she’s prone to exaggeration to make their judgments make sense. That, to me, is what’s going on here more than anything else: The judges have their ideas of who is in the top and bottom and mould their critiques to fit that, instead of letting the critiques decide.
One day we’re gonna talk about why white queens get praised for being chaotic, overconfident and messy and making “great TV” but it’s a different tune for queens of colour. I love Lady Gaga. I think she’s a really interesting artist.
— Kyne (@onlinekyne) July 3, 2020
That brings me to what will likely be the most talked-about moment this week: Kyne saying she forgives Brooke Lynn and the judges for putting her in the bottom the previous week. As she says in Mini-Untucked, she means it as a joke, and clearly wants to break up the tension. Brooke Lynn, at least from what we see in the edit, does not take it as a joke. Considering Kyne’s dubious bottom two placement, and the poorly formed critiques used to justify her placement, I have to assume the writing was on the wall for Kyne long before she walked out onto the main stage this week.
Kyne shared her feelings about the response to her largely negative edit last week on Twitter, calling out what she perceives as a double standard: “One day we’re gonna talk about why white queens get praised for being chaotic, overconfident and messy and making ‘great TV’ but it’s a different tune for queens of colour.” She is, of course, correct: The Drag Race fandom’s problems with queens of colour are well-recorded. While there were some online who celebrated Kyne’s nerve, I’m sure there were countless in Kyne’s mentions taking her to task for the attitude we saw last week.
As Drag Race has grown, increasingly it seems fans struggle to separate queens as people from the characters we see on the show. Every queen we see on Drag Race is a work of multiple authors: The queen themselves, the producers working with them, and the editors taking the footage of them after to create a story. Yes, Kyne talked back to the judges and was outraged that BOA scored above her. But we didn’t see everything Kyne did last week. We’re only getting part of her story. And as she herself noted, she was entertaining! But even if you weren’t thrilled—which I get; I certainly was disappointed to see a queen I liked so much pre-season misjudging her own performance the way she did—it’s no reason to direct harsh words or hate towards her online.
All that said, in terms of Kyne’s tenure on the show, it seems that talking back to the judges and her joke to Brooke Lynn this week seals her fate. Making for good TV and thriving on Drag Race are different tasks; it’s why some of the most entertaining personalities over the years haven’t won. To do well on Drag Race requires an almost superhuman mix of confidence and humility, excellence and growth, and strength and vulnerability. It’s not particularly fair, but RuPaul’s Drag Race and its many spinoffs aren’t independently judged competitions. They’re reality shows. And the producers and editors have to tell a story around the competition.
Telling Brooke Lynn “I forgive you” is nervy as hell, and a terrific TV moment for Kyne. It also almost certainly spells her doom in the competition.
The bottom two is Kyne and Tynomi instead of BOA and Tynomi, and while I’m certain Kyne’s unwillingness to kiss the judges’ rings is part of what lands her there, I also think a fear that a potential villain like BOA could go home is another concern on the show’s part. Tynomi proves to be an able lip syncer to “If You Could Read My Mind” by Amber, Jocelyn Enriquez and Ultra Naté, and while Kyne does well, it’s clear who wins this. Tynomi stays, and Kyne sashays away.
I like so much about Canada’s Drag Race so far—the Canadian challenges, the contestants, the extra-long lip syncs—that what doesn’t work is all the more glaring. The judging panel needs to step it up. They were the most heavily criticized element of the premiere by the fandom, and while I actually thought they did OK last week, their insufficiencies come through loud and clear this week. Kyne is gone, and that’s a shame; she’s a terrific reality TV personality, and likely would’ve given us a lot this season. I can’t help but feel like she was eliminated more for running afoul of the judges than she was for her actual work.
If the judges can’t recalibrate and offer smart, coherent critiques moving forward, other terrific queens could suffer from confounding feedback, too. And it would be a shame for a group this strong to not live up to their potential.
✨While I have major problems with the critiques, I do feel a bit more comfortable with the judging system in this episode. Having one of the “throuple” host the mini-challenge and introduce the maxi-challenge, then have another help the queens through the main task and deliver the most dialogue on the main stage, feels like a fresh way to update the system. That said, it still feels like there’s some kind of power vacuum at the centre. I disagree with those who think that can only be Ru, but I would love to see someone a bit more authoritative in the middle seat. Maybe the winner of each season can take the gig for the next season? Or maybe even bring an American Drag Race alumna in for the job?
✨On that note: Jade Hassouné is absolutely adorable as a guest host, so excited to be there and letting his fandom of the series shine through. He doesn’t help with the power vacuum—he’s a little too passive as a host—but he’s still very fun.
✨The mini-challenge is Brooke Lynn Hytes–inspired, as the queens must perform in a drag ballet. Anastarzia Anaquway and BOA win it, which grants them the roles of team captains. That goes a lot better for Anastarzia, to say the least!
✨I really love the idea of updating your first time in drag as a runway category. The results are mixed, but those that work—Jimbo’s, Lemon’s, Anastarzia’s—really work.
✨Anastarzia has one hell of a mirror story moment this week, as she shares how she was shot for being gay and doing drag when she still lived in the Bahamas. It’s an absolutely harrowing story, one that involves her driving herself to the hospital after being shot three times (!), and ends with her immigrating to Canada while seeking asylum. Anastarzia gets overwhelmed with emotion as she tells the story, like she’s letting a giant burden off her shoulders as she shares something she says she often doesn’t. It’s an incredibly emotional moment, and proves that for all their occasional too-earnest hokiness, the mirror moments can deliver some truly powerful scenes—and, most importantly, bring the queens together.
✨Quite a few non-Drag Race references in the skits! Kyne gets to say “move, I’m gay” and “I have never in my life yelled at a girl like this,” while the other group gets a Real Housewives of New York-derived “Not well, bitch!” We’re not completely out of the Drag Race woods, though, as Kiara’s character says during surgery both “And I oop” and “Ra-ka-ta-ti-ti-ta-ta.” (Love a Jungle Kitty reference!)
✨Interesting that two weeks in a row, the queen who lip-syncs the riffs in a song—Lemon with “I Really Like You,” Tynomi in this episode—is the one to stay. A good note for future contestants!
✨Lemon describes her mini-challenge performance as “Swan Lake meets Björk meets Sia meets me getting hit by a bus.” She truly has a way with words.