Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6: The RuCap, OR Lessons Learned from S6

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 2:06 AM

The “RuCap” episodes rarely give us much new to digest, and that was the case for the Season 6 edition. It was a highlight reel with a few new scenes (animals!) and quips from past-season queens (I am very concerned about Sharon Needles, who totally bombed tonight). We also got a baffling rundown of the supposed top looks of the season, which in truth should have been everything by Trinity and maybe one or two Ben and Courtney outfits, but which somehow included Joslyn and several other seriously questionable choices. And we got the debut of the “Sissy That Walk” music video, which was…fine. Better than the Season 5 video, that’s for sure. Although it curiously lacked any of the dramatic scenes we saw the queens shoot last episode.

Given that there was so little content to discuss for this week’s episode, I thought it best to look back at Season 6 as a whole and discuss some of the lessons I learned from it, and some suggestions I have for the show’s future. Because trust: I love “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and I want to be watching Season 23 from my submarine after the polar ice caps melt in 2034. Of course by then we will all have our own personal Scruff Pit Crew members. It will be glorious!

*The cast overall was outstanding I truly think this is the best crop of contestants this show has ever seen. Sure, some past seasons had some super-strong queens. But they all also had some really weak ones in the mix, too. In Season 6 we were eliminating strong queens by literally the fourth episode (arguably the first episode, based on Kelly’s pedigree). And I think we had a fairly diverse group of drag styles represented as well. I saw at least one well-known fashion blog bitch about how generic and bland the Season 6 crew was, and…come on. Bianca, Milk, Vivacious, Ben, Laganja, just to name a few. I don’t know how you consider any of those queens “bland,” and that’s almost half the cast (and the others were largely polished at what they were attempting to do). So kudos to the casting directors. I think they nailed it this time. (And the promotional materials were also on point.)

*I was a big fan of the split premiere, but…both episodes should have aired on one night. We had a double episode later in the season, followed by two “Untucked” episodes. Do the same thing for the split premiere next season. The split allowed us to get a sense of literally every single queen right from the beginning. That has never, ever happened on this show. Typically you don’t feel like you “know” all the queens until Top 10, maybe even later. So I welcomed this twist.

*I need to stop dismissing the “weak” queens Before the show started airing I had already pegged April Carrion, Joslyn Fox, and Trinity K. Bonet as the “weak” queens of the season -- the obvious chaff. I came to love all three of those contestants, and two of them went quite far in the competition (and April was totally railroaded, going out fourth). Even if you watch all the preview material, scrutinize the YouTube channels, etc., there’s just no telling how a queen is going to do in this competition. Next year I vow not to make any opinions on any of the queens until the show actually starts airing.

*I need to stop expecting too much from the “strong” queens The no-opinion rule goes double for the queens I expect to do well. One of the popular refrains this season was that Kelly Mantle, Courtney Act, and even MILK did not live up to expectations based on their pre-show careers. But that’s not really fair. This competition is such a singular machine that there’s no way to know how a contestant is going to fare once they are put into the meat grinder -- and how they will be translated via the editors (see also: Detox). From Season 6, Courtney is obviously the best example of this. She’s already globally known for her drag, and everyone expected her to strut in and walk away with the competition. And she did well. She won several challenges and gave us a host of spectacular runway looks. And yet, the general consensus is that she doesn’t really have a shot of winning next week. Had she come in with little or no buzz, I think Courtney would be faring much better in the court of public opinion. (Obviously her edit isn’t helping.) Going forward I’m going to try to keep from expecting too much from any queen, and just hoping that they all do well.

*Don’t put any stock in spoilers Back in Season 3, the entire elimination order and winner were spoiled before the first episode ever aired. This prompted Ru and the producers to overhaul the coronation and reunion. Since then, the show seems to have gone to greater and greater lengths to prevent spoilers -- and I am grateful. This season, nobody had the entire cast right. There were a bunch of queens reportedly involved who weren’t part of the cast, and several cast members I never saw mentioned prior to the reveal (MILK, Magnolia Crawford). Then there were the pre-show rumors. Kelly Mantle was F3. Bianca Del Rio either injured herself or screwed up the first challenge so spectacularly she was immediately sent home. A queen from a previous season would be brought in mid-way through. Etc. All wrong. The only decent source of information was counting the outfits in the supertrailer, and even that wasn’t reliable -- the editors deliberately held back shots of Bianca, and nobody expected Ben DeLaCreme to go out in fifth place. I love that this show can still surprise us. I applaud all of the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into that. I’ve even seen posters on Reddit claiming that they work for the show to intentionally put out misinformation. I don’t know if that’s bullshit or not, but if it’s true, I think it’s awesome. Keep us guessing!

*It’s time to shake up the format Speaking of keeping us guessing, it is really time to reapproach some of the challenges. Things are getting awfully predictable. Not for one second did I believe the shock from the F5 when they were told to put on a song-and-dance number before the ball. They have to do that EVERY SEASON. The puppet-insult challenge was cute in Season 4, but it’s tired now. Credit where it’s due: the show is still finding variations on the main-challenge themes. Doing stand-up comedy in front of senior citizens was a novel approach. And there are absolutely some challenges that MUST remain: Snatch Game, the drag makeovers, a sewing challenge. But truly the show is becoming awfully formulaic. I’ve seen some fans say that they love that aspect of it. That they know exactly what to expect, and they like to see how the queens react to familiar challenges. My argument is that if the fans know what to expect, so do the queens. And we’re not really seeing genuine reactions to the “twists,” because there were very few “twists” to begin with -- the contestants all knew what was coming. If nothing else, the final challenge really has to change. I’ve never understood how a video shoot for a song that came out months ago is a good ultimate test. The final challenge for “All Stars” was a much better test of a drag superstar’s skills.

*It’s time to change the panel We have had the same core judges since Season 3. Obviously RuPaul isn’t going anywhere, and thank Beasus Arthur for that. But the other two judges, Santino Rice and Michelle Visage, are adding very little to the proceedings. Michelle has become increasingly irritating on the show, even as she takes on a larger role as a brand ambassador (she hosts the Battle of the Seasons tours and does quite a lot of promo work). Everything I’ve heard about Michelle outside the show is that she’s great and wonderful with the queens. On the panel, her critiques often border on the nonsensical, and she seems to almost hold grudges against certain queens, where there’s nothing they can do to please her (*cough*Ben*cough*). As for Santino, he has long since outlived his usefulness on the panel. I am sorry if that comes off as cruel. It’s not meant to be -- I do not dislike the guy. I actually thought it was great when he was brought on for Season 1. And he can still offer some decent critiques. But at this point, he is judging contestants who are coming in to the show with WAY more cultural clout than he has -- his claim to fame was coming in third in a reality sewing competition nearly 10 years ago. As this show continues to grow in its cultural relevancy, is he really the best fit for the panel? Is there nobody better suited to offer a fashion point of view? (And let’s be honest, if you saw “Project Runway” 2, Santino’s taste level was dubious from the start.) I understand keeping Michelle, but it really is time to replace Santino with someone new, with a fresh perspective, and a different energy. I also think more than one guest judge per episode means that none of them really get a chance to make an impact.

*That said, do not change the Scruff Pit Crew I love them. If anything, add more. The “hungman” challenge was a highlight of the season for me.

*Above all, y’all need to calm down with the editing I harped about this all season long regarding Darienne, and several commenters claimed that I was being overly defensive of my hometown queen. There is some truth to that. But even after the bitch baton got passed from Darienne to Courtney I still bristled at the ham-fisted way those queens were being portrayed, likely because the producers felt the show needed a “villain” (and I’ve seen both Darienne and Courtney referred to as such on social media). After Gia and Laganja were eliminated, all seven remaining queens seemed to genuinely like each other. Couldn’t we just let them compete and show off their stuff? Would anyone have a problem with that? Wouldn’t there be drama enough worrying if your favorite queen was about to be snuffed? Look at the outcry when Ben went home -- people still would have been furious even if there wasn’t this manufactured feud with Darienne. Drag queens are ALWAYS going to be sarcastic and bitchy. Always. When you put on a frock, you are instantly granted the ability to speak shade fluently. But this show puts that throw a filter, a prism, and chooses to paint some of them (Darienne, Courtney) as bitter or mean, and others (Bianca, Adore, Joslyn) as cute, fun bitches. What I ultimately find irritating about this is that the manipulation was so obvious, and that it has had a profound impact on the work these queens will get post-show. And the queens themselves have absolutely no control over how the persona they’ve created is put out into the world. I can’t think of another reality show like that, and given how much of this show I LOVE, it saddens me when I see a queen possibly HURT by appearing on it.

So what do you think? What lessons have you learned from Season 6? What is the show doing right? What does it need to fix? Post your thoughts in the comments!

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