Doesn’t it feel like it was just yesterday when we started this journey with the 10 queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK? Back then, we were eager, but cautious—how would the uniquely American format of this show translate to British television? Would there be too much reliance on bad English accents from RuPaul and Michelle Visage? Would Alan Carr and Graham Norton suffice as regular guest judges?
Our concerns weren’t exactly unfounded. The last few seasons of Drag Race in the U.S. have failed to meet the series’ established high standard. But RuPaul’s Drag Race UK proved itself to be the fresh coat of paint that the franchise dearly needed, one that will hopefully breathe new life into the Drag Race empire as a whole. And looking back, we were silly to worry. Ru and Michelle adjusted beautifully to their surroundings; Carr and Norton were exquisite judges. The whole season was a triumph, up to this finale—and the final three.
Baga Chipz, Divina de Campo, and The Vivienne are not my exact ideal final three. As I mentioned last week, I’d have put Blu Hydrangea in place of Baga Chipz, but this final three is damn close to my dream three. Each of them offers something unique, from Baga’s comedy to Divina’s performance chops to Viv’s stellar runway looks. They represent British drag as it has been, if not quite what it will become. Part of the reason I wanted Blu in this final three was that she does feel more progressive in her drag than these three. But perhaps for the first season of Drag Race UK, honouring what’s come before is the right call. I just hope this version of the franchise doesn’t totally abandon looking for someone who is the past, present and future of drag.
The final challenge is the standard across all Drag Race formats these days: Write and record a verse for one of Ru’s songs—in this case, “Rock It (To the Moon)”—then lip-sync it while performing an elaborately choreographed routine on the main stage. We’ve had quite a few of these routines now, starting way back with “Read U Wrote U” in All Stars 2, that they don’t feel fresh anymore. In fact, it’s generally more enjoyable when they do an original song instead of a Ru track. (See: “Break Up (Bye Bye)” earlier this season!)
To my delight, instead of doing another version of the same challenge, Drag Race UK actually flips the script. Ru brings in Strictly Come Dancing alumni and brothers AJ and Curtis Pritchard to give the queens ballroom choreography. It’s a genuine surprise and adds a layer of difficulty to the challenge that I didn’t anticipate. These are technical, sharp dances and all three queens struggle to learn them. Divina obviously does the best, considering she has dance experience, but it’s not exactly a slam dunk.
But even in rehearsals, you get the sense that Baga’s in the worst shape of the set. She’s so uncomfortable with the choreography, and can’t get in the mindset she needs to be in to learn it. It translates to the performance, in which she’s very clearly the worst of the lot. Her final runway is cute, but underwhelming. It’s also an odd choice to wear one of Cheryl Hole’s left-behind wigs. Did she not bring something of her own to wear at the end?
By the time she’s asked why she should be the UK’s first Drag Race superstar, Baga has clearly given up. She can’t so much as offer a word in her own defense, instead simply saying the other two deserve it more. Were I to armchair-psychoanalyze, I’d guess two weeks in the lower-scoring range coming into the finale were rough on Baga’s self-esteem, and she could no longer see herself as a viable champion. It’s a shame to watch her peter out after such a strong run on the show, but I do believe it leaves us with the correct top two.
Divina and The Vivienne are an ideal final two. They’re both excellent performers, have delivered major runway moments, and each has three wins under their belt. They also have enjoyed a friendly (and, at times, not so friendly) rivalry all season. You couldn’t ask for a more fitting final battle. Plus, they both bring their absolute best.
Here are some points in Divina’s favour: her dancing is technically the best and it most impressively triumphed over difficult choreography. She delivers a uniquely U.K. look on the runway, which matches camp with British regalia. (It’s a little unpolished, but hey, that’s Divina for you.) She also makes the best argument for herself, unrestrained by false humility and willing to make the case that she is tremendous. And she is!
But strangely, it actually gives The Vivienne an in to make an argument for herself as humble and relatable. Which are not words that I would’ve used to describe Viv at any point this season! Here, though, it works. Paired with a tremendous verse, both in lyrics and performance, and surprisingly strong dancing, The Vivienne ends up putting together a pretty impressive finale performance package for herself.
When all is said and done, The Vivienne’s made a great case for herself as the U.K.’s first Drag Race superstar. I don’t think it’s a better case than what Divina sells, necessarily, but as Divina herself says, it’s not about who deserves it over the other. Both would make for deserving champions. But it seemed that from the beginning of the episode, the odds have always been skewed in Viv’s favour: She has the underdog narrative going into another group performance challenge, and exceeds expectations. She delivers a stunning final runway that is the new standard for what a final Drag Race runway should be. She effectively sells herself as the whole package. And even my Divina-stanning heart can’t deny she earns the win.
Divina will be fine, and I’m sure she knows it. I say it to myself, and to anyone else who invested in her victory. Full disclosure: I spoiled myself by watching the ending so I’d know what I was in for going into the finale. (The nice thing about Drag Race episodes streaming, if you’re a spoiler-lover like me, is that you can jump right to the end.) And naturally, I was disappointed when I saw Viv won. But after watching the episode in full, I found myself ecstatic watching Viv take her winner’s prance. That’s what a really good Drag Race finale should do: Give you a sense of satisfaction no matter who wins. In that way, this is one of the best Drag Race finales ever.
Fitting, then, that it should come at the end of one of the best Drag Race seasons ever. That’s not hyperbole, either—I’m dead serious when it comes to my ranking of all Drag Race seasons. (I redo it annually!) And while I want to take some time to see how well it sticks, I can’t imagine this first season of UK being lower than third on the all-time list. Maybe as high as second! I can’t understate what a success this season has been, and how much I’m going to miss it. In the meantime, we’ll see what the Americans can come up with in the next two seasons on VH1. Good luck, U.S.! And don’t fuck it up.
💋 Thankfully, the alumni do not return to serve as a jury—that was just an expert fake-out on the part of the editors—but instead, they are just there for a family reunion. Seeing them all collected is a really great reminder of what a killer cast this is. That they clearly adore one another is the icing on the cake.
💋 Of the eliminated queens, Blu Hydrangea looks the best in her finale drag. I’ll get into this tomorrow in the power ranking, but I really do hope Blu finds her way onto another Drag Race season. I think she has the potential to smash the competition a second time around, with a bit more polish.
💋 Fully cackled at Alan Carr saying Divina all but gives them a PowerPoint presentation on why she deserves to win. There are a lot of jokes about Divina’s self-confidence in this finale, actually, considering her previous storyline was about getting in her own head.
💋 Case in point on the Divina jokes: Ru’s “She was the best actress of them all. She told us several times.”
💋 I once again renew my call for What’s the T? to release the finale interviews with the queens as actual episodes. It’s a no-brainer! The audio’s already recorded!
💋 Speaking of those interviews: Why on EARTH were we not told about the backstory with Baga’s mom in the previous episode? That reframes everything about their interaction!
💋 “I’m Your Man” is just the perfect final lip-sync song for the final two, even though it’s a male artist. I’ll happily make an exception for Wham! No wonder it gives us the best lip sync of the season (one that, despite the result, Divina clearly won).
💋 With The Vivienne’s win over Divina, the final “track record” argument for deciding the winner falls: A queen who had been in the bottom two more than her final competition can win the crown. Every long-held standard for who will win a Drag Race season has fallen. If anyone tries to tell you they know who will win a season of Drag Race based on track record, Viv’s win, among others, is all the evidence you need to not believe them.
💋 My most negative note about the whole production: The finale is terrific, as was the whole season. But the decision to make The Vivienne’s show a Donald Trump parody is dubious enough. But to bring on Baga as Margaret Thatcher to co-star, thus giving her the grand prize too? That’s fully bullshit. Baga got third—it’s a huge fuck-you to second-placer Divina to not get a series, too. Such a disappointing coda to what was otherwise a wonderful season.
💋 Thanks so much for following along with our coverage of Drag Race UK this season! Suffice it to say it’s been a blast getting to dig deep on a season that feels so fresh and fun. I haven’t enjoyed recapping Drag Race this much since All Stars 2. We’ll be back for more Drag Race when All Stars 5 and Season 12 debut next year—not to mention Canada’s Drag Race! Until then, remember us by this one essential truth: Shantay means stay.