‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under’ S1E2 Recap: Ouch, Bindis!
As Tatianna would say, "choices".
With the caveat that I hit myself on the head on Saturday with a bedazzled flask, re-watching this week’s episode, I don’t think the Snatch Game was that bad. Certainly not Drag Race’s worst, and for that, we can ‘give a twirl! give a twirl!’ in thanks.
‘Off’ is probably the best way to describe it. Beyond Anita’s winning Queen Liz, the character choices were either baffling (Dr. Suess? Lindy Chamberlain?), under-developed (Bindi? Magda? Lizzo? Catherine O’Hara, sans any accent?) or perfectly fine (Jennifer Coolidge, Dolly).
Still, it wasn’t the trainwreck rumours made it sound, though Ru’s comments about JoJo Zaho being the winner for not “enduring” Snatch Game suggests it was worse than what we saw. But we can only go what off what the show gave us, and it gave us much to ponder — and an elimination as shocking as Joe Black’s.
Art Simone was the queen to beat, and it’s hard to believe she’s really gone. Surely we’ll see her return soon, though with just eight episodes to play with, Down Under might be too tightly packed for it.
The worst part of seeing Art go was that she deserved to sashay. No one bombed as bad as her Ocker Bindi Irwin, an idea that could’ve worked if every joke wasn’t so laboured and long-winded. Then, in the lip-sync, her fangs and mermaid gown turned Ru’s ‘I’m That Bitch’ into her own siren song: there just wasn’t much she could do to make it work. Soz bitch, but Coco wiped the floor with her.
Art wasn’t so much crushed by her elimination as she was furious, which led to one of the rawest exits we’ve seen. We’ve seen anger before in eliminations, but Art’s comes off as more disappointed than delusional.
Sure, it’s laughable to hear someone say they are the best queen in the competition while they’re being eliminated second, but she’s not not the best queen in the competition. This episode really portrayed Art, unfairly or otherwise, as a queen who was convinced she’d coast through the challenges, and there’s no more Australian narrative than tall poppy syndrome. She’ll be back.
Bebe Shoes, Never Said
After a little shoey moment, because this show is designed to generate as much cultural cringe as possible, we’re straight into Snatch Game, with a little two-sentence intro from special guest Kylie Minogue. The queens are shocked the challenge is so early into the show, and this episode proves why it works better later on.
Watching from home, we all say we know what characters we’d do and how we’d nail it, but Snatch Game is clearly incredibly hard: the format itself suits itself to short, snappy jokes, meaning you have to condense your character into a few seconds of screen-time. It’s a nightmare (and honestly, rarely that good!), and by E2, I simply don’t think these queens are comfortable enough with the show yet — at this point, they’ve just put on a lisp and worn some outfits on the runway. They needed more time to settle in, as the (understandable) nervous energy overwhelms the episode.
Ru’s walk-through doesn’t help. Because the werkroom is tiny, the queens hear every word of each other’s moments with Ru: the pressure is astounding. Maybe this is why Kita Mean makes the astonishing decision to portray Dr. Seuss on Snatch Game instead of his back-up, Carole Baskin. Given Kita wears more leopard print than Carole, she’s practically already in drag: it would have been easy, if not somewhat boring.
Art makes the same mistake of trying to over-do it, choosing to do Bindi above Jane Turner, aka Kath Day Knight. Scarlet also has Bindi ready to go, but goes with Jennifer Coolidge rather than battle off with Art — it ends up doing her well, as she can skate by in this group by simply saying lines from the actor’s roles. It’s not ground-breaking, but it does the job.
Art, meanwhile, clearly tries to show-boat. Her Bindi starts strong but she soon loses ground, trying to be too clever for her own good with ‘blowie’ and ‘pouch’ innuendos that she really stretches out in desperation. I love the idea of a super butch Bindi, but it has too many components: she should have just repeatedly ‘farted’.
Kita Mean also should have kept it simple, stupid instead of playing as Dr. Suess
It’s admirable, the idea of making every response a rhyming quatrain
Jokes tied up in knots, she needed a masseuse
Too difficult, an absolute pain
In the middle of the pack are Karen’s uncharacteristic but partonable Dolly and Maxi’s Magda, which is really just her Fast Forward character Lynne. The characterisation is there and it’s funny by itself, but the edit suggests that there weren’t many snappy punchlines, which is the name of Snatch Game. In a stronger group, they’d be in trouble.
Luckily for them, Coco Jumbo’s Lizzo lacks any of the charm of the singer and relies on referencing lyrics in increasingly awkward ways. It’s a shame, as she’s a good character pick, but she doesn’t embody the ‘bye bitch!’ playfulness of Lizzo — until she says bye to Art on the runway, at least.
Beyond Coco and Art, Elektra is my pick for the bottom three. She chooses a deceptively difficult character, Catherine O’Hara, aka Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek. So much of that character is O’Hara’s pronunciation and cadence, and Elektra does the best she can with her Kiwi accent — it ends up sounding like Lady Gaga on ketamine. Mostly incomprehensible stuff. She gets points for pronouncing Michelle’s last name as ‘Viss ag aye’, but loses them all for not once saying ‘bebe’.
The clear winner is Anita Wigl’it, whose Queen Liz isn’t just vulgar: the jokes about Prince Andrew, Diana and her corgis are a one-two punch of shocking and smart. It’s the one performance that would’ve placed high in any Snatch Game across the show.
And then there’s Etcetera Etcetera, whose choice to play Lindy Chamberlain has proved pretty controversial. Personally, I laughed a lot, but I don’t disagree that it’s in pretty poor taste. While Anita punched up at the monarchy, Etc. punched down, though it’s with such absurdity you could argue it’s less about Lindy as a person than a figure. Then again, that’s exactly the issue at hand, that Australia (and the world) treated this woman’s beyond-awful trauma as a punchline.
I’m not interested in cancelling Etc.: she’s 21, for starters, and probably just too divorced from the events to have ever stopped to reconsider what we’re making fun of when we make Lindy jokes. It’s less an inditement on Etc. then on a culture that has endorsed jokes about a tragic, absurdly violent death because of its pulp qualities — and then refused to believe a grieving mother to this day.
The more I think about it, the grosser the choice seems. And how funny I found it (and, to be honest, still find it, even while writing this) makes me want to stop thinking about it entirely, because there are some ugly things about Australian culture and how it treats women underneath those laughs. But what is drag other than a balance between the reverence and mocking of womanhood?
Lots of people, myself included, might feel inclined to say drag should be offensive and push boundaries. No cancellations or answers: just worth lingering on it for a moment.
Deep-Sea Trauma Diving
Getting ready for the runway, Maxi completely naturally asks what everyone’s relationship is like to their parents. Most are supportive that we hear, though we only get a few stories: it would have been nice to hear from Maxi, in particular.
We mostly focus on Anita, who shares an incredibly bleak story about her father making her promise around eight years old that she wouldn’t turn out gay. Her dad is in the UK, and she emailed him to come out around age 20: through her ever-smiling facade, she says she still loves him and believes he’s a great person, but it’s clear there’s a lot unspoken here.
I have a lot of respect for Anita, who evidently tries to see the best in all people and things in a world that has seemingly not been very kind to her (as Kita also alludes to). Once again, I am reminded of my all-time favourite Tweet, “the gentlest people I know are full of rage and grief”. To refuse to be eroded into hard edges is one of the most admirable, difficult things a person can do — oh my God, how did this one episode of Drag Race make me feel so many things?
Moving on, this week’s runway is an ode to Azealia Banks’ seapunk phase. Here is a photo of the queens reacting to Azealia’s recent selfie with Lourdes Leon.
Etc. is shaping up to be the ‘fashion queen’ of the season, and now that Art is ‘gone’, is Karen’s toughest competition for the crown. She’s bold, confident and has a distinct eye: her deep-sea diver look stands heads and helmets above the rest of the looks, as most queens go for more immediately obvious ideas.
Between her Moira and her plain-as runway, I’m surprised Elektra doesn’t lip-sync again. But the judges have other plans, and send Coco and Art to battle it out to ‘I’m That Bitch’, having relegated the Minogues to awkward Zoom appearances.
Instead, the show plops Dannii onto a Mac screen on Untucked, while six of the queens are too busy trying to work out how to make Ru’s song fun to give her any attention. It’s an apt appearance. Speaking of, Dannii would be a great Snatch Game character — simply make her incredibly jealous and bitter of Kylie, and voila! That’s a winner baby.
It’s clear from the lip-sync that Coco is safe, and what follows from there out is perfect reality TV. Art is right: she will never live this down, but not for the reasons she thought. Hope she has a terrible club-remix of her mini-breakdown ready for her next gigs.
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.