‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: Y’all Wanted A Twist?? No?? Well, Here’s One Anyway
S13's first episode turned things up to 11/10 - it was somehow exciting and a little draining at once.
Laganja Estranga, eat your heart out: this was a twist, ey! And just like Laganja, Drag Race S13’s premiere was perversely thrilling if not a little off, as the thirteen new queens battled it out in sudden-death lip-syncs straight after they enter the werkroom.
The result was like an hour of continual amyl — a rush and a comedown, again and again and again. Exciting, yet a touch draining, and certainly not recommended by doctors.
Over the past 20,000 Drag Race seasons I’ve recapped, I’ve been a big proponent for the split premieres of S6 and S12. It gives us a chance to meet the cast without anyone shrinking into the back, and gives the first outs a bit more time to establish a brand, even if it’s not the one they necessarily want (poor Dahlia Sin, who will forever be bound to that Broc-Ally suit).
But splitting them in half — clearly what the show’s done via these lip-syncs — via such a repetitive format was an odd choice. We meet them briefly, they say a few one-liners before lip-syncing against one other queen, and then they either disappear or look absolutely crest-fallen in the losers’ lounge, known as the ‘Porkchop Loading Dock’.
It was ‘gag after gag’, sure — and those song choices were (almost) all divine — but we’ll have to wait for the next few weeks to really meet these queens.
It’s a little ironic that the S13 promos focus on ‘spreading love’ only for the opening episode to intentionally toy with the contestants so much. In Untucked, the ‘Pork Chopped’ queens lament about how much money they spent on outfits, only to get ‘eliminated’ in their entrance look.
And then there’s the stress of getting ready during a pandemic, and having just spent fourteen days quarantining before filming. Like one viral tweet says, it was a bit too ‘RuPaul’s Stanford Prison Experiment‘: it just felt a little cruel.
On the plus side, it was just an experiment — and given I’m almost positive the show won’t actually eliminate any of these queens just yet, we’ll probably shake off the slightly weird energy next episode.
And it’s more than possible the queens were in on the twist, and are just playing along for the cameras, though I don’t think Kandy Muse could fake looking this terrified on the main stage.
Still, it was jaw-dropping to watch so many excellent lip-syncs in one episode: S13’s cast is stacked, too. I hope the show’s producers get out of the way so we can properly enjoy them soon. Here are some first impressions.
Kandy Muse vs. Joey Jay
Off the bat, we meet Kandy Muse, of the former House of Aja and viral ‘sitting alone in VIP’ meme/Alaska song fame. She’s brash, funny, loud and instantly charismatic, a perfect queen to start the season on.
She also says something really astute: “Everyone can be a drag queen but not everyone can be a star. I’m a star”. And it’s true — you pretty much have to be a talented queen to get on Drag Race, but being a great drag queen alone doesn’t make a great Drag Race star. Then Joey Jay walks in and describes herself as a filler queen and a “basic bitch”.
It all feels a little pre-rehearsed, especially against Kandy. They’re instantly summoned to the main-stage, and have a little repoirté with Ru and the panel: again, Kandy is a natural, but Joey throws out one-liners about her chicken-feather outfit and clucking and bucking. It’s kind of funny, but it also doesn’t… quite make sense.
It’s clear they’re both pretty nervous, and that’s before they ‘learn’ they have to lip-sync to ‘Call Me Maybe’. Both are pretty entertaining, but Kandy plays around a bit more with Carly Rae’s cutesy, cotton-candy vibe, and is declared the winner. Joey Jay looks utterly defeated.
Denali Vs. La La Ri
But no time to breathe, because we’re onto the next two. Denali comes plonking in as an ice-skating princess, the second ice-skate queen to enter the show after Milk.
She cites her favourite Britney song, ‘Break The Ice’, before La La Ri comes in with a Lana Del Rey mesh-mask reference, and the two soon battle it out on behalf of their favourite pop queens by lip-syncing to the Pussycat Dolls’ ‘When I Grow Up’, which was previously destroyed on Drag Race by CoCo Montrese, a 40something man dressed as a sexy demonic toddler.
Both are excellent, and Denali stays in her skates on the stage. She even does a flip in them, but her dress clearly isn’t made for lip-syncing: like Kandy, she’s kind of stuck holding it up all song long, while La La is just having fun. It’s a tight race, but La La, who I instantly love, is given the win.
Symone Vs. Tamisha Iman
Next duo is Gigi Goode’s sister Symone, who comes in a dress made of polaroids (a reference to Giselle’s 2004 Esquire cover, as per gay historian Evan Ross Katz) and is absolutely gorgeous. She is inspired by “strong women who have been through things” (same!), “and if they’re Black, even better”.
Symone is clearly in the ‘star’ category: I was enthralled instantly, as was Ru, who she has a good back-and-forth with, which is essential to go far. She’s paired against legend Tamisha Iman — stop what you’re doing and watch her 1996 Miss National performance (it picks up around 3.30m).
I am so excited to see her on the show, especially given that we learn on the mainstage she was cast on S12 but had to pull out due to a cancer diagnosis. Rumour has it she was replaced by Jaida Essence Hall, too: what a Sliding Doors moment.
The two lip-sync to Janet Jackson’s ‘The Pleasure Principle’, and, to paraphrase Wendy Williams, it is the moment. Tamisha goes full Janet, and Symone radiates charisma: she wins it in the small facial expressions. Just an absolute joy to watch, and probably among the show’s finest lip-syncs?
The show then pretends it is eliminating Tamisha, who after missing out on S12 due to cancer has since learned how to walk again to get into fighting form. Brutal, but she’s easily the most gracious of the lot to be given the ‘Pork Chop’.
GottMik vs. Utica Queen
Next up is the season’s most-hyped queen, GottMik. She’s already fairly famous, a well-known make-up artist who landed a stunning Out Magazine cover with Gigi Gorgeous last year. She’s also the show’s first trans-masculine contestant, and as per her entrance line, is “here to crash the cis-tem”.
(While referring to herself as GottMik, Kade uses she/her pronouns on the show, but otherwise goes by he/him. I will do the same in the recaps.)
GottMik is paired against Utica Queen, an overwhelmingly kooky, pattern-clashing queen who seems to be a genuine freak — and that’s a compliment.
Ru calls out her nervousness on the main-stage, but her lines about her “nuggets” and being a “model eating boogers” seemed to come from genuine oddness. I hope we get to see her stick around, but for now, she’s booted after an … interesting… lip-sync to LiLo’s ‘Rumours’.
Rosé Vs. Olivia Vox Lux
In comes Rosé, a comedy queen and hot man who is drag sisters with S12’s Jan: you can already tell by their competitive, slightly neurotic energy that the producers are gonna love to pull and prod. And boy, do they by putting her against Olivia Lux, a relative newcomer to drag whose smile truly does light up the room.
The two have met before, with Rosé hosting one of Lux’s first drag competitions — Lux then beats Rosé in the only bad song of the night, ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ by Elle King, matching the song’s energy by doing some air-guitar. Sure!
Rosé tries to keep her cool, but is clearly shocked by the idea of going home: she’s a tart drop.
Tina Burner Vs. Kahmora Hall Vs. Elliott With Two Ts
The show senses we might be getting a little tired, and lumps together three queens for the final lip-sync.
Tina Burner is a big New York name, and while her comedy queen energy might be a little unnerving for viewers given S12, she’s well-loved by a lot of the Drag Race girls. She’s got some incredible one-liners, a Misty from Pokémon boy drag look, and chucks in a Showgirls reference. I’m in.
Kahmora is stunning, ultra-confident and Jaida’s drag sister, though we don’t really learn much other than she has money, via her original Bob Mackey dress.
Eliott With Two Ts has the misfortune of coming in by the time I’d clocked out, and doesn’t do too much to establish herself against her two extremely assured counterparts.
They lip-sync to ‘Lady Marmalade’, and everyone’s great, but Tina owns it. The queens are split into two groups, and the ‘Pork Chop’ queens are told they have a chance to re-enter the competition, but they must ‘eliminate’ one queen. In the words of Laganja, this is too fucking much.
My money’s on Eliott, just as she seems to be the most reserved of the bunch. And while I doubt she’s actually going anywhere, it’ll be a pretty crushing thing to hear from the contestants. Everybody say love, right?
RuPaul’s Drag Race S13 streams on Stan, with new episodes arriving Saturday 3pm AEDT.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee and freelancer who writes for The Guardian, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter.