‘Canada’s Drag Race’ Recap: Wait, Was That An Acting Challenge With (Almost) No Cringe?
We're already obsessed with these queens.
From last week’s All Stars Snatch Game, we know that Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman loves ‘edutaint-ment’. And to appease their lord, this week the Canada’s Drag Race queens acted in alternative drag-reality takes on Heritage Minutes, a delightfully and extremely Canadian series of sketches that interrupt TV ads to shine a light on the nation’s history.
As far as Drag Race acting challenges go, it was pretty solid: a few genuine laughs, and no one queen was given an obviously shitty role to land them in the bottom, either.
Two episodes in, that might sum up the tone of Canada’s Drag Race so far: a pleasant, somewhat janky surprise. Like Drag Race UK, the show seems to capture a very specific cultural tone — unlike the UK, it’s a bit more disorientating to watch from Australia, where it’s (probably) safe to say most of us don’t get the references or have any idea of Canada’s drag scene.
I’ve seen some pretty mixed reactions to Canada so far (italics are super necessary here, otherwise this becomes the world’s worst history paper), and I get it: airing against the luxe All Stars 5, it can seem a little low-rent. These queens and the show might not be as polished as the main competition’s become, but that’s by no means a bad thing.
Without the industry behind it just yet, Canada’s Drag Race is closer to what actual queens look like and do in their field, rather than those who max out their cards and work with designers to prepare for the show. I’ll always prefer the queens pretending to lose their shit over a guest judge they’ve never heard of than losing their minds over Miley Cyrus. Drag Race works well when it’s a bit kitschy and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Famously, it’s drag.
Plus, these queens are it! It’s rare that two episodes in I can remember everyone’s name, but each has managed to make an impression. I would say it’s the polite Canadian way of letting everyone have their moment, but this show is pretty brutal — the judging, however disagreeable, is super exciting TV, if only because nothing’s held back. On the US version, usually the judges play roles — if Michelle’s mean, Ross is nice — but here, they’re all in.
The judges are still working out how to do the 3-as-1 thing, and that’ll take time to perfect, but the messiness here works pretty well, even if we pretty much disagree with everything they’re saying. Another week, another confusing win: after being in the bottom last week, Lemon redeems herself, and Kyne is sent packing. That’s not just herstory. As queer people, that’s ourstory.
Hormone Monster From Big Mouth‘s Drag Race
The camera-crew and editors might be the horniest we’ve had on Drag Race, as both episodes so far have featured a series of extended shots on the Pit Crew’s biceps, abs and bulges. This week, two incredibly handsome men came in as ballet dancers, and time stood still for a few seconds: the man on the right’s crotch filled the screen for several seconds.
Maybe there’s pheromones in the air, as the ballet dance mini-challenge sees Priyanka mime giving a man a BJ and getting cum in her eye: it’s impressive that she manages what is surely one of Drag Race‘s most explicitly vulgar gags.
For all her effort and potential infection, she doesn’t win — instead, top honours go to Anastarzia, who I am still mad didn’t win last week, and BOA, who plays up the challenge as a child ballerina with an unhappy home life. She might falter later this episode, but she’s clearly very naturally funny, and would be the queen you’d want on the mic at a club.
The winners are made the leaders for the two challenge groups, and Ilona finds herself picked last. Since she’s an ‘Instagram queen’, it was somewhat to be expected, even if I think she’s a strong competitor.
She takes it in her stride, later joking that BOA, who keeps mispronouncing Ilona’s name (it’s “Ill-ona” not “Eee-lona” or ‘Eye-lona”), should’ve picked herself last.
BOA really struggles this episode with her lines, which she chalks up to her ADD. It’s a shame, as she hits the mark when she gets there, but has every line fed to her. She’s clearly pretty beaten up about it, as she lacks the energy or confidence on the runway that saw her sell that questionable look last week.
Kyne is in that same group, and has almost the opposite problem: she’s too confident, though she does tone down the brattiness seen last episode. In Brooke’s workroom walkthrough, she tries to make a joke about “forgiving” the judges’ critiques which falls flat — it’s not a bad line, but it takes a certain charm to pull it off. With her, it comes across as a bit too aggressive.
Acting challenges aren’t my favourite (are they anyone’s?) but this one worked for me. Part of that might have been Jeffrey’s coaching: as an actual actor, unlike usual directors Jeffrey, Michelle or Ross, he’s super empathetic, and offers genuinely helpful advice. He’s incredibly patient when BOA misses her lines again and again, and tries his hardest to get Tynomi out of her head.
Neither really succeeds though. Tynomi is a perfect example of one of those queens you can just tell is excellent, but is immediately overwhelmed by the show: watching last week’s runway footage back this episode, you can see she’s gripped by fear. This episode, she struggles to break free — it’s a shame, but hopefully surviving the bottom two lip-sync will shake her out of it.
Meanwhile, Baga completely misunderstands what the challenge is, and arrives on-set as an overworked nurse in a psychological horror set in the 1960s.
After the challenge, the girls fall onto the topic of Starzi’s life back in the Bahamas, where several of her queer friends were murdered in hate crimes, and she herself was shot three times in one incident. It’s a shocking story: as soon as she was healed, she sought asylum in Canada, and has been able to live without fear of death.
Truly harrowing, it’s a reminder of the violence so many queer men still face across the world, and the importance of having a compassionate refugee program — Australia’s has let down and retraumatised many queer asylum seekers escaping violence.
In one of the few times the show’s made me tear up, the queens rush to hug Starzi, who begins to cry as she discusses her past. Nearing 20 seasons of Drag Race, it’s still amazing that the show can have such genuine heart-string moments that look like this:
Rewriting History On The Runway
This week’s runway is an excellent theme: re-creating your first time in drag. I’d love to see it become a staple, as it gives such a clear indication of who these queens were and who they are now.
At the same time, it’s also an oddly limiting runway, given that most queens had a pretty basic first look in drag. Lemon and Kiara, for example, look wonderful, but neither look is terribly exciting.
The queens who have been in the game for a while are a bit more interesting, mostly because it’s fun to see how different they look a decade later. Starzi has transformed from princess to regal queen; Scarlet’s basic house party dress becomes this bad-bitch who eats fire; and while Tynomi’s almost chain-mail dress doesn’t quite work, it’s still lovely to see how she’s grown into herself.
To see these queens as young twinks is such a wonderful reminder that they’ve lived full lives and had careers before Drag Race — and that the show won’t define them.
The looks are best when they’re more distinct, such as Baga’s sunflower dress, Ilona’s goth girl or Jimbo’s zombie cheerleader, which is absolutely the standout.
Then there’s Kyne’s look, which recreates an Ursula illusion but gives it a Sandy from Grease twist. The judges are super harsh and say they prefer the original. While the update isn’t amazing — the purples don’t match, things don’t quite fit right — it didn’t read to me as awful as they claimed.
Speaking of judging, this gives me an excuse to discuss this week’s extremely handsome guest host, actor and musician Jade Hassouné. This could be due to the fact that I’ve been in hotel quarantine for seven days and need human contact, but I now have 2,000 screenshots of him on my computer as I kept taking them whenever he ‘looked good’.
He was also so charming and enthusiastic (even if his line about the runway looks making him ‘never being prouder to be gay’ made me laugh) and broke out some dorky moves during the lip-sync and dressed like every fuckboi I haven’t [redacted] this year because of COVID-19 (and only because of that, definitely). And he showed pit. What’s not to love?
Judging this week was again a little confusing, but let’s roll with it.
Lemon is given the win, but for me, was outperformed by three of the safe queens, Jimbo, Kiara and Priyanka. As Kiara might say, ‘C’est la vie’. Tynomi, unfortunately, deserved to be in the bottom two, but BOA escapes in place of Kyne — seemingly the show didn’t want to risk losing her just yet.
Tynomi pulls out an excellent, classic lip-sync to a song I am amazed hasn’t been on the show before now, ‘If You Could Read My Mind’. The editors leave the cut long, and we get to see her do her thing. I’d also recommend a rewatch purely to catch zombie Jimbo, dancing along in the back.
Kyne heads home, but has a little reedeeming moment when Tynomi begins to cry when she jokes that Tynomi’s ruining her moment. She might have come across quite immature on the show, but it’s worth remembering that the immense pressure these queens are under can make them act a little off.
Next week, the queens’ record diss tracks: how un-Canadian of them.
Canada’s Drag Race streams on Stan, with episodes available each Friday at 12pm AEST. All Stars 5 streams on Stan too, with episodes available each Saturday at 1pm AEST.
Jared Richards is Junkee’s Night Editor and Drag Race recapper. He’s on Twitter.