‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under’ S1E1 Recap: Strewth, She’s A Ripper! Also Dingo Eat Baby
This is much better than we thought it'd be.
After years of rumours and delays, we’re finally here: Drag Race Down Under has arrived, and might just be the perfect palate cleanser after a bloated, over-produced S13.
I’m a big fan of the early Drag Race seasons, vaseline filters and all, and Down Under, on premiere alone, is very reminiscent with its ad-hoc set decorations, tiny stage and queens who aren’t afraid to be a total bitch (Coco Jumbo, I love you).
Part of that, no doubt, is the last-minute filming adjustments — the show was set to film in Sydney but made a last-minute swap to New Zealand in January after God’s Country had a small COVID cluster.
It only adds to the charm, especially given the antipodean scene (I refuse to say ‘Down Under’ more than absolutely necessary) is so bloody campy. For me, Drag Race is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s truly nothing more Australian (and Kiwi?) than that — well, besides being absolutely brutally mean to each other ‘as a joke’. One episode in, and these ten queens have supplied more ‘shade’ than a Tamisha Iman Instagram live.
With only eight eps to work with, the show and cast waste no time getting into things. The downside is that we said bye to Jojo Zaho: like the Pasha Bulka, this Novocastrian was gone too soon.
First my land now my crown…
— Jojo Zaho (@ZahoJojo) May 1, 2021
Meet The Queens
First into the werkroom is Melbourne’s Art Simone, who is the queen to beat. Her accent alone primes her to be our first Drag Race winner, but there’s a lot of polish, humour and charm to match, too. Every quip, every look, every moment: she’s perfect for this show, and I’m so excited that the world gets to meet her.
Next up is Sydney legend Maxi Shield, whose ridiculous breastplate jiggles in laughter at India Farrah’s $600 puppies. I was worried that she might be a case of ‘excellent queen, so-so Drag Race contestant’, but she’s very much at home on the show. Was also nice that the edit didn’t care that she’s 46, which is usually a laboured ‘plot point’: Maxi is such a huge figure in Australian drag, no pun intended, and she also clearly used her connections to come prepared.
Which brings us to Jojo Zaho, a proud Biripi and Worimi queen from Newcastle who has the best confessionals of the group, between saying she wanted to ‘colonise the colons’ of the handsome cast and calling Maxi a lesbian truck driver out of drag.
I love her entry look, but she doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to the runway — where, say, Maxi and Art clearly have funds for their drag, Jojo’s looks are a little cheaper. It’s a shame this is an elimination episode, given the main challenge is just wearing clothes brought from home.
Next up is Elektra Shock, an Auckland queen who most of the others don’t seem to know. She makes a terrible first impression by looking truly awful thanks to that wig, though really turns it around by ep’s end. We’re getting a real underdog edit here, as the two other NZ queens, Kita and Anita, own the club she works at, and she nervously makes a couple cracks about being off the clock.
I’m calling it: she’s in the top three. Also, Elektra has an open invite to embrace the trans-Tasman bubble and top three me while Jojo colonises us both. This cast has some real cuties!
Scarlet is next, a Perth queen who is perhaps the most notorious cast member, due to multiple offensive performances involving Blackface and cultural appropriation. Very curious as to how the show handles her, given her very Aquaria-esque drag is super polished and she’ll likely make it pretty far.
Coco Jumbo is next, another Sydney queen I’ve seen across Oxford St more times than I can count. The cast isn’t shy of some ‘shade’, but Coco is leaning hard into being a bitch. I love it, and will fight any trolls online with my little rapidly aging no-longer twink stick arms.
Kiwi queens Kita and Anita sandwich Etcetera Etcetera and pretend they didn’t know the other was cast, despite working together: as Tammie Brown would say, they’re acting! There’s a little plot about Anita being second-fiddle to Kita, and I’m sure it’ll end in a lip-sync between the two. If it’s a Wiggles song, Kita better watch out: Anita gives off big Murray vibes, and makes more zany faces than Utica uticould ever.
Etc is another queen to beat, a non-binary Canberran who runs Sydney’s Imperial’s club nights and therefore is responsible for most of my brain failures. She comes in as a glamourous Cockroach because drag is fucking dumb and she knows it, and excels all episode. One to watch for sure.
Finally, the big one: Karen From Finance, the best-known queen, partially because Katya and Trixie love her name and mentioned it so much that KFF became famous. Like Art, Karen is one of Melbourne’s most revered queens, and she instantly steals the show with a 9 to 5-inspired office suit, but mostly by missing her mark and almost walking right into the camera.
I love her. I love all these queens so much if that wasn’t already obvious! I’m sure I’ll read them yes muma work boots slay, but I am so excited for them and Down Under drag to have an international stage. Be sure to shower them with love, see them live, and tip them by throwing our dollar coins directly at them while they perform.
Tough Titties, Taika
We start the season with a bang and a whimper: handsome New Zealand auteur and Rita Ora’s man Taika Waititi is a guest judge! Kind of? Because of the late-minute move away from Sydney, the show has to Zoom him in to judge the mini-challenge, a camera test where queens play a Marvel-esque character with a really big lisp and read off cue cards.
It’s very obvious that Taika’s mostly non-verbal responses to each queen were pre-recorded, to the point that the show is clearly making a joke of it. It’s weird and dumb, so it’s no surprise I laughed a fair bit. Elektra is the winner, while some queens barely get two seconds of screen time, and then they all de-drag in the werkroom.
Most of these girls know each other, so it’s fun to see them all joke around like they’re backstage at a gig — and because it’s a Stan Original, the edit doesn’t cut out any naughty words. Cunts all round!
While they get ready for the main challenge, a born-naked and ‘hometown look’ runway, we learn Jojo spent part of her childhood living on a mission. Jojo is there to showcase her ‘faboriginality’, and while we only get a small amount of time with her, she is incredibly generous, funny and open on the show about the pride and pains of being Blak.
While her looks might’ve lacked a little ‘polish’, the power of her ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ reveal during her second runway look was monumental. The show doesn’t have the episodes to bring back a queen, unfortunately: is it too early to call for her s2 rudemption?
We also learn about Kita’s bypass surgery and self-esteem issues around her weight, which honestly feels a little rushed in the edit. They back a lot into this episode, but maybe this is a case of a ‘backstory’ moment happening authentically in the werkroom, so the editors felt compelled to keep it in.
Sometimes, over-stuffing works, other times, something’s gotta give. Scarlet’s ‘human fleshlight’ silicone nude illusion rips while she’s putting it on, and she sews together the ‘back door blow-out’ just before the runway. In another season, she’d be read for it, but the judges commend her on the patch job. They also swoon over her Perth swan look, despite it reading more like a homage to Dickie from Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
There are 20 looks on the runway, and my pick of the pack is Art, whose all-black (not All Blacks) Melbourne look reveals into a Hosier Lane-inspired grafitti assemble. The homage probably made most Melburnians groan, but this wouldn’t be an Australian affair without some cultural cringe.
It’s a little surprising Karen gets the win over her, but the drunken Melbourne cup look is a classic idea done really well. I also loved Etc’s intricate silver-leotard, a very specific reference to the roads of Canberra. A Canberran referencing incredibly niche Canberra things but offering no interesting details about them is an incredibly Canberran thing to do.
I was also super impressed by Maxi’s Prawn look, a nod to Ballina’s big prawn. Generally speaking, I’m not terribly patriotic, but I do love our country’s insistence on ‘big things’: Coco pays homage to Coff’s Big Banana by dressing as King Kong, which is such a baffling choice I have to assume she already had the look and decided it’d do.
Between that and her born-naked look, a conceptually sound but aesthetically lacking nod to drag-as-armour, Coco should be lip-syncing alongside Jojo. But the judges dislike Elektra’s runways and call her busy hometown look, inspired by Auckland’s Māori name, Tāmaki-makau-rau.
Speaking of judges, Rhys Nicholson joins Michelle and Ru on the panel, and is immediately a perfect pairing. He’s clearly ecstatic to be there and just wants to make Ru laugh as much as possible by being as crude as he possibly can be. We’re going to hear a lot of fisting jokes this season.
Elektra and Jojo lip-sync to the Bee Gees’ ‘Tragedy’, and step into each other’s light in a particularly good riff. Elektra breaks out all the moves and splits, while Jojo is a little lower energy: she seems a bit defeated. It’s hard to see her go, but delightful to hear next week is Snatch Game, potentially with two Bindi Irwins. Rumour is the challenge goes terribly: I genuinely can’t wait.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under is exclusively streaming on Stan. A new episode streams every week from 4pm AEST.
Jared Richards is Junkee’s Drag Race recapper and a freelancer who writes for The Big Issue, The Guardian and more. He’s on Twitter as @jrdjms.