‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under’ S2E1 Recap: Bigger, Better And …Potentially… Less Racist
We're cautiously optimistic!!
And we’re off! Filmed this February, Down Under is back with ten new queens, a refurbished werkroom, bigger prize pool ($50,000!) and a new paint of coat.
Production wise, yes, we’re still a few leagues below a regular US season (why is the mainstage lit like… that…), but Down Under S1’s issue wasn’t anything technical: it didn’t, uh, help that the set was tiny and there was a notable lack of gloss to the filming, but ultimately the season made the mistake of completely misunderstanding who the audience would love, and who we’d, um, love less.
RuPaul’s had some tone-deaf moments across her career (train rights forgiven), but watching her absolve Scarlet Adams’ history of repeated racist performance as production pushed the bigger names to the end of the competition ahead of some true, raw talents (Etcetera Etcetera, I’m still mad!) made for a piss-poor watch.
Making grand judgements off the premiere episode is a mistake (I think this is my fourteenth season in four years I’ve recapped now, so trust me, I know), but I will say Down Under S2’s debut suggests they’re keen to avoid similar mistakes this year. The cast feels a little less random — we’ve been given a clear ‘old vs. new’ divide that will help with plot and season pacing, vs. a set of disparate connections and rivalries that never quite connected up.
No shade to any individual queens from S1, but S2 feels better cast: not in terms of individual talent levels or being ‘better queens’, but there’s just clearly been a bit more thought into how these queens will interact with each other. If S1 was filled with ‘bad’ producing (pushing queens through, bringing Art back for no reason, questionable eliminations, Scarlet), the premiere suggests a subtler hand, say including all of Beverly’s confessionals about the other queens to establish a clear tension off the bat.
I’m optimistic! It’s also such a joy to see antipodean queens on the screen: our uniquely messy, campy and self-deprecating drag scene is completely against the grain of what Drag Race has come to be. Sure, there’s a few younger queens who are clearly inspired by the show’s conception of drag, but even then, there’s a roughness and grit to our queens that you don’t see elsewhere — not even the UK, which has crowned three ultra-polished, picture-perfect queens. Let’s get into it.
First to walk in is Hannah Conda, a Sydney legend and possibly one of the first queens I saw in real life. Her laugh is known across Oxford Street, and soon the world: she’s a real workhorse, and a perfect encapsulation of our scene’s stupid silly style, where they can taunt a crowd and whip through a full dance production on a tiny stage, too.
Next up is Faux Fur, another Sydney queen albeit one I don’t …think… I’ve encountered (look, if you can remember every queen you’ve seen do a number, hats off to you. Couldn’t be me!). It’s fairly clear from her entrance alone that she’s not making it far, as the editors include her oversized beach hat flopping down in front of her face mid entrance-line multiple times. It’s endearing, sure, but it’s not a good sign (they let Sharon Needles refilm her entrance after her hat fall off, for eg.), and her fate as the first out is confirmed as soon as the judges rip into her perfectly fine outfit.
Our first Kiwi queen is Spankie Jackzon, a beefy 37-year-old from Palmerston North, which I’ve been told doesn’t even have a gay bar anymore. Spankie loves showing off her legs and seemingly applying no makeup to them, which I truly love: her purple dress just kind of ends at her crotch, showcasing some black panties and pasty legs that could and should (must?!) squish a watermelon open. Spankie beat out Electra on S2 of Kita & Anita’s House of Drag show, so knows her way around a competition.
Back to Australia, we have Beverly Kills, a 21-year-old from Brisbane who arrives straight from a night out at an emo club night with a whip and an even more acidic tongue. She has a confidence that only comes with youth, but she’s almost instantly a front-runner, too: like Violet in S7, who was also 21 during filming, she seems a little arrogant but it’s hard to consider it misplaced. I expect big things.
Fifth up is Minnie thee Cooper, who I am so, so fucking excited to see on TV. Minnie is Sydney drag — if Hannah is a legend, then Minnie is a goddess. My favourite part of S1 was watching the world fall in love with Maxi Shields, and I just know they’re going to be obsessed with Minnie. She walks in with her own twist on RuPaul’s racing suit, albeit with a below-knee cutoff and some compression socks, which seemingly make the blood rush to her brain as she’s faster and wittier than any other queen in the werkroom, quick to throw out jokes about being a 1920s pandemic queen.
Molly Popinz is a Newcastle/Adelaide queen who arrives bursting out of a hot pink PVC dress, paired with a lime green wig. Where, say, Faux feels a little too loud and grating this episode (sorry!), Molly is more assured in her persona and presence: she breaks out plenty of jokes, but doesn’t need to scream them. (I think Faux may have been a bit nervous and so gone a little too big on camera, which I totally empathise with.) Excited to see more from Molly. Fun-ish fact: She also spent a bit of time in Canada, so is the drag sister of Ilona Verley.
Another instant front-runner is Yuri Guaii, a hottie from Auckland. She enters all bloody and ready to butcher the competition — if she can translate that polish into other more conventional looks and embrace her kookiness in the acting challenges, she’ll be unstoppable. (The preview of next week suggests she might struggle.)
Pomara Fifth is a Māori/Kamilaroi queen currently based in Sydney, who comes in wearing a First Nations print (she wasn’t more specific on Instagram, sorry!) and reminds me of multiple campy hospitality managers I’ve had. I don’t really remember much of her this episode beyond kiki’ing with Molly, but I think we’ll see a lot more of her.
Drag Race loves a ‘pandemic queen’, and Down Under‘s is Aubrey Haive, who lives in Melbourne but hails from the tiny Timaru in NZ. Her mullet is representing every second Melbourne queer I’ve ever met, and her drag plays with nods to the ’60s (note the Austin Powers reference in her name). It’ll be interesting to see what she can do outside of looks, as baby queens are a mixed bag on the show/often really find themselves after the fact (look at Olivia Lux!).
Last and certainly not least is Kween Kong, from Melbourne. I love her entrance look so much, a skin-coloured body suit with a mesh cape that turns into an ape hand with red nails, as if she’s both King Kong and the damsel in distress all in one. It’s one of those branded entrances that doesn’t try too hard, and as she opens up the hand, we see that it’s a cape where the fingers can be placed and held at will. Rare to see something new on the show.
And that’s our cast! Amazingly, seven of them have ties to New Zealand (only Minnie, Bev and Hannah are Australian). Given the shitshow of S1’s racial politics, it’s worth mentioning that S2’s cast is far more diverse, too. Pomara, Molli and Yuri are all Māori, with Pomara also being First Nations; Kween is Samoan and Faux is Vietnamese-Australian.
After Ru addresses the ridiculous but funny conspirucy that he was green-screened in last season (though the camera angle where he slaps Spankie does little to dispell the truthers, which seems like an added layer to the joke), the queens are given their first mini-challenge, a photo shoot at a sausage sizzle. It marks the return of this pit crew member, who is also a photographer (he actually directed Rurangi, the film S1 guest Elz Carrad starred in. Yes I’ve fully stalked him.)
It’s a chance for the queens to volley off Ru, and while Hannah wins, I think it’s Minnie who really takes Ru’s heart: if Ru ever called me “so stupid”, I could die happy.
Ru Said ‘Make An Outfit With NO FABRIC Fuck You I’m Jetlagged And Mad’
S2’s first maxi challenge sees the queens take on unconventional materials to create a ‘queen of nature’ look, introduced by Bob and Bindi Irwin. It might be one of the hardest design challenges in recent history, as there’s no fabric at all: it’s all natural products (ie. leaves and flora) and then some recycled plastics, wires and TVs. It explains, uh, the quality of the looks, and why the queens all seem super stressed in the werkroom — even the queens who can sew feel like they’re relegated to glueing leaves onto a corset.
Despite this, it still works as a challenge, even if it creates a few too many breakdowns, including Kween Kong’s allergic one, which doesn’t make the edit. On Instagram, she says her skin blew up due to the grass she was working with, which is part of the reason she restarted her look last minute.
Even if the queens are stressed, there’s a pretty laid-back atmosphere as they all get to know each other and joke around. Beverly and Aubrey become fast friends and spend a lot of time trash-talking the others, which is surprising given they’re the least experienced queens there. Minnie’s off it and calls out their comments for what they are: ageism.
There’s playful shade and then there’s being mean, and it seems like they made one or two many comments about Minnie and Spankie. I appreciated the show letting us sit with Minnie and Spankie, as ageism conversations on the show tend to favour/lean towards the younger queens (Kandy vs. Tamisha, Violet vs. the old bitter lady brigade).
It’s Beverly and Aubrey’s loss, at the end of the day. Those intergenerational queer friendships are so special and rewarding. At the same time, it’s a TV show and Beverly and Aubrey have grown up with Drag Race, so probbaly just know how to construct drama and are happy to give producers what they want — say, Beverly rattling off in a confessional what’s wrong with a heap of her competitors’ looks, with the show then, of course, editing out the part where they prompted her to go through everyone’s looks.
On the runway, we see RuPaul adopt a Ken Done-esque print and what has to be Zaldy’s take on a Gorman dress. I kind of love it: it’s giving art teacher supervising the year 10 formal. Michelle is back as is Rhys Nicolson, who really just shits on Carson and Ross. Ru evidently finds him super funny too, and Rhys seems to get a real kick out of making his fellow judges laugh.
Look time! So, this is an interesting runway: the materials are so odd that there’s no real cohesion to what the queens present, with many going for a futuristic or industrial look, others just chucking leaves on themselves. Molly takes the win, though I thought her and Hannah might have cancelled each other out by having two quite similar, if not well constructed, looks.
The other high placement of the week is Yuri, who makes a gown of see-through plastic. She would’ve won if she didn’t trip on the look, but it’s by far the most fashion-y of the night, and signals a sharp eye.
Deemed safe are Beverly, Aubrey, Minnie and Pomara: I probably would’ve put Beverly in the top above Hannah, but I also think Beverly getting frustrated backstage was worth the suspect judging. The rest are fine: Aubrey’s seems cute till you look at it for a few seconds, Pomara really just glued shit to a corset, and Minnie, bless her, came out in a robotic businesswoman fit that looks like when I’d play with my nana’s car window shield. She also accessorises the outfit with a giant monitor screen and does absolutely nothing to it (there’s still half a sticker on it!), which is so stupid that I can’t help but love it.
The bottom are clearly Spankie, who creates a horrific butterfly look from tubes and shows off her crotch again, and Kween, whose homage to Pacifika women and culture can’t quite make up for the fact that the look isn’t finished. The show knows it’d be a crime to lose either of these queens so early on though, and so Faux ends up in the bottom two against Spankie for a perfectly fine look — the judges blame her black panties underneath, which are unsightly underneath the shear skirt. I guess it does speak to a broader lack of refinement, but given Pomara’s look, it’s pretty harsh.
Ru’s really on a Kylie kick, so we get a lip-sync to one of her best tracks: ‘Get Outta My Way’. Faux serves up Kylie’s air of sweetness and light, but she doesn’t have the words down; Spankie does an unbelievably clean spin into a split, which I frankly was not expecting from her. It sucks to see Faux go, especially as I don’t think the episode was terribly kind to her, but we’ve only got eight episodes to work with.
Next week, we’re diving into an acting challenge. My predictions for the season? I see Kween, Beverly, Yuri and either Molly or Hannah making it to the top four, but at this point, I’m just excited to see it all play out.
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Down Under streams on Stan in Australia, with new episodes each Saturday at 4pm AEST.
Jared Richards is Junkee‘s Drag Race recapper, and a freelancer who writes for NME, The Big Issue, The Guardian and more. He’s across the internet as @jrdjms