Sherry Pie has been disqualified from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12, an incident that took the Drag Race fandom by storm last week. BuzzFeed News published a report about Sherry a.k.a. Joey Gugliemelli, which laid out several accusations that he allegedly catfished and preyed upon young actors both at SUNY Cortland in New York and from a theatre company in Nebraska. That report led VH1 and World of Wonder to announce Sherry’s disqualification last Friday, complete with a disclaimer that said Sherry would not participate in the season’s grand finale.
What we don’t know yet is how this decision will change the season before the finale. Sherry is already being edited out of the show’s supplementary materials, like recap show The Pit Stop, so there’s a possibility that she’ll be further edited out of the season itself. Changing the season is more of a task, though, since they’ll have to re-do edits and redistribute prints to international outlets. Even if such changes are made, we probably won’t see them reflected until mid-season. (Until then, it seems like audiences watching the show won’t respond well to her presence onscreen.)
Such changes aren’t unprecedented in reality TV. Similar changes were reportedly made to this season of Vanderpump Rules after new cast members Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni’s previous racist tweets were discovered by fans. The show significantly de-emphasized the pair in the edit and cut their confessional moments for several weeks. Just recently, however, the guys have been getting confessionals again, to fans’ dismay.
Suffice it to say, if Drag Race does re-edit episodes, Sherry’s confessionals will be cut down drastically (if not eliminated entirely). The larger question at hand is what kind of precedent the Sherry situation sets for future seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as other reality TV shows. This is the kind of issue that should—and, I believe, will—affect procedures in the future, from changes in casting to challenging other shows to better hold themselves accountable.
In Drag Race, other instances of queens being accused of misconduct have either turned out to be false (as was the case with Silky Nutmeg Ganache last season), or never rose beyond the level of rumour. Sherry’s is the first case in which a queen’s behaviour has been broken by a reported news story, with several on-the-record accounts and accusations. In the wake of the story, some people on Reddit and other social media platforms have claimed the allegations about Sherry were known before (from what I can tell, they were just whispered rumours). It wasn’t until before the second episode of Drag Race aired (which Sherry appeared in), that the most viral of the accusations against her was posted on Facebook.
It’s tough to say what, exactly, VH1 or World of Wonder should’ve done differently in their casting procedure. It seems unlikely that asking the queens if they’ve previously been involved in problematic behaviours would yield results. What queen looking at a shot at being cast on Drag Race would be honest about that? And background checks, which are standard in reality TV production, wouldn’t show accusations. Even in cases where there are issues that would show up on background checks, shows don’t always handle it right: On this season of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, participant Geoffrey Paschel’s past accusations of domestic assault, kidnapping and more didn’t stop TLC from casting him.
What Drag Race can do, as suggested by reigning winner Yvie Oddly on Twitter, is to change the type of queen they’re looking for. She suggested that the show’s casting team “look for their new role models in the intersections of our community that are still at the highest point of discrimination and hate,” adding that casting “trans, AFAB [assigned female at birth], and non-binary voices” would help diversify the show and prevent abuses of power.
“We cannot STOP anything from happening,” she wrote in a reply to one user. “What we can do is realize we’re creating a system where only gay men have power, a monopoly if you will. And the more power goes unchecked/undistributed the easier it is to abuse it.”
Beyond changes in casting, the show can also become more responsive in general to claims brought about online. While they did ultimately (and relatively quickly) do the right thing by disqualifying Sherry, VH1 initially just referred BuzzFeed News reporter David Mack to a statement Sherry made Thursday night when the story was first published, instead of giving him a statement. Being reactive is one thing; being proactive is another. Disqualifying Sherry and adding a disclaimer to her first episode is a great reaction, but making changes to prevent something similar from happening in the future is another.
Survivor fans just saw what happens when a production team is too reactive without being proactive during the show’s 39th season last fall. A #MeToo controversy endangered the safety and comfort of female contestants, most notably Kellee Kim, when contestant Dan Spilo repeatedly made inappropriate physical contact with them. Kim’s protestations fell on deaf ears, and the show kept Spilo on for far too long in order to maintain its “social experiment” angle before eventually removing him from the game. Host Jeff Probst later apologized for the production’s handling of the situation, and the show announced changes to make sure such a situation wouldn’t happen again.
So far, I think VH1 and World of Wonder are reacting to a difficult situation quite well. Considering the tricky beast that is reality TV production, disqualifying Sherry and potentially making edits to the rest of the season is realistically the best they can do for now. If there are going to be casting changes, further edits or anything else, announcing them ahead of time could go a substantial way toward fostering goodwill with the show’s large, loyal fanbase. No one could have expected a situation like this to develop—but we can hope for the team behind one of TV’s greatest shows to do everything they can to avoid a repeat in the future.
In the meantime, fans can approach this season not as a chance to bemoan Sherry’s appearances, but to instead celebrate the other 12 killer queens of the season. Season 12 has one of the strongest casts in recent memory (save one, obviously), and this can still be a great installment of the show. Ideally, we see some great drag, a terrific champion is crowned and we step into future seasons of Drag Race more aware and conscientious than we—or the show—were before.