Lockdown Binge #2: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Our writers tell us what TV series are getting them through being stuck in their houses - next up for your consideration is the fiercest drag competition on television

Ru Paul's Drag Race

Since we all must (chantay you) stay at home, I’ve been binging the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race – the campy reality competition with all the hilarity, drama and glamour you’ve been missing in self-isolation.

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With 12 seasons available on Netflix, here’s why the fiercest drag competition is a perfect lockdown watch.

What’s RuPaul’s Drag Race about?

Each season of Drag Race follows fourteen drag queens as they compete for the title of America’s next drag superstar, a one-year supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills products and $100,000 (£80,000).

Most episodes of the show start off with a ‘mini challenge’, where the contestants are asked to complete a task in very little time or under difficult circumstances – for example, during season five, the queens were challenged to do their make-up in the dark. 

The winner of the ‘mini challenge’ usually wins the opportunity to choose their teammates for the ‘maxi challenge’ – the main challenge of the episode. ‘Maxi challenges’ have varied from creating music video parodies and performing stand-up, to designing three different runway looks for a themed ball.

The contestants must then face a judging panel, usually consisting of RuPaul, recent Strictly alum Michelle Visage, comedian Ross Mathews and star of the original Queer Eye, Carson Kressley. A celebrity judge joins the panel each week, with previous guests including Ariana Grande, Jessica Alba, Gigi Hadid, Marc Jacobs and Lady Gaga.

How long is it?

There are 12 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race – they vary in length, though most span 14 episodes, with episodes also ranging in length between 40 and 60 minutes. 

Where can I watch it?

All 12 seasons are available on Netflix in the UK. In the US, the series is broadcast on VH1. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 is also coming to Netflix on Saturday 13th June.

Why should I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race?

The contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race season 10
The contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10

My relationship with Drag Race began a few months ago – a time when chucking on trackies to binge box sets was a rare luxury and not a new way of lockdown life. 

I was scrolling down Netflix’s overpopulated home screen, looking for a new series to get hooked on, when RuPaul’s bushy blonde wig and exaggerated smokey eye jumped out at me. Friends had nagged me to start the drag competition, but I would usually be several episodes deep into Sex Education or still catching up on Game of Thrones. Now was the time. 

I soon sped through season after season of lace front wigs, energetic lip sync showdowns and iconic catwalks. With 145 episodes under my belt, I developed a newfound respect for the art and discipline which is drag – words like “gagging” and “sickening” entered my vocabulary, I’d learnt what a “tuck” was (Google it), and RuPaul’s ‘Cover Girl’ was now playing on repeat in my head. 

Season 12 of the Emmy-winning show – the current focus of my lockdown – is now available on Netflix but for those of you who have never been treated to a single episode, RuPaul’s Drag Race is the perfect tonic for these chaotic and uncertain times. 

It is first and foremost a competition, and a fierce one at that. Drag queens hoping to make it to the top four must ideally be: seasoned make-up artists, excellent in acting challenges, skilled at joke-writing and possess the ability to create stylish outfits from plastic bottles whilst impersonating a celebrity. Drag Race feels like 15 different reality competitions combined into one – a variety show but with higher heels, excessive contouring and death drops. 

And for queens who find themselves in the bottom two, the grind doesn’t stop there. They must ‘lip-sync for their life’ to a high-energy bop, with the worst performing contestant being asked to “sashay away” from the competition. These infamous showdowns have set the stage for jaw-dropping moments, from Roxxxy Andrews’s iconic wig reveal to Latrice Royale’s emotional performance of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Natural Woman’ whilst sporting a fake pregnancy bump. 

The highlight of each series has to be the ‘Snatch Game’ – a parody of the ‘60s game show Match Game (Blankety Blank in the UK) – where the queens must accurately impersonate pop culture icons, improvise in character, and land hilarious jokes in a bid to make Ru laugh. The jewel in the Drag Race crown, the challenge has seen some dead ringers (Chad Michaels as Cher was uncanny, as was Ben DeLaCreme’s regal Maggie Smith) and some dead performances (Phi Phi O’Hara’s excruciating Lady Gaga was the cringiest moment of series three). 

On top of the demanding challenges, there’s the shade of it all. From onstage altercations to bitchy confessionals, Drag Race drama makes for top-quality grab-your-popcorn entertainment. The pressure-cooker environment of the workroom can cause some steam-filled queens to boil over (prime example: Sharon Needles calling Phi Phi O’Hara a “tired-ass showgirl”) and nothing satisfies a lockdown-driven gossip-craving like a cocktail, swilled in the face of a drag queen after the judges’ critiques. 

Drag Race rivalries and scandals have generated meme-worthy moments over the past twelve years. Coco Montrese’s tangerine mug went viral after her feud with Alyssa Edwards came to a head in the workroom, while Valentina’s refusal to remove a mask during her lip sync spawned a vast range of GIFs captioned with the infamous line: “I’d like to keep it on please”. 

Although it’s been a month since you’ve seen another human in the flesh, who needs real friends when there are so many Drag Race contestants to emotionally invest in? Each season churns out a new batch of drag celebrities, each with their own catchphrases, tragic life experiences and devoted fanbases. Over the years, viewers have fallen in love with personalities like Shangela, Trixie Mattel, Alaska and Katya as they cracked jokes, bonded with other contestants and revealed their traumatic backstories.

Despite all the tea-spilling and shade-throwing, community and acceptance are key values instilled into the competition. All contestants are considered to be part of a big ‘drag family’, while RuPaul’s uplifting catchphrase “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” is now drag gospel.

This fun, campy competition is both intensely entertaining and full of heart. Full of silliness, tense spats and snatched runway looks, RuPaul’s Drag Race is well worth tucking into during self-isolation. With 12 years of material to get through, by the time you reach the current series the lockdown might even be over – if not, there’s always Drag Race UK to binge afterwards. 

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All 12 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race are available to stream on Netflix