After months of sashays, shantays and Snatch Game, this tumultuous season of Drag Race is finally over. Without a doubt, this has been the most controversial season of the show to date (yes, even considering that mini-challenge in season six).
For me though, one word sums up this instalment of the drag-based reality series: uncomfortable.
With the shadow of disgraced and disqualified contestant Sherry Pie hanging over the season, a lack of drama from the queens and an increasing sense of stagnation with the formula of what the show has become, this no longer feels like the safe haven for the weird and wonderful it built its brand on being.
Now following the first virtual finale in the show’s history, I can’t help but feel uninspired and a little remorseful.
Don’t get me wrong, this season, like its predecessors, has had its share of amazing queens.
From the charming and talented Crystal Method to the instantly quotable Heidi N. Closet (our new Miss Congeniality), we’ve seen some of the best yet.
Don’t even get me started on winner Jaida Essence Hall (who, despite my fears, was not robbed of her crown). In many ways though, that makes the situation sadder. They have all clearly given everything for this competition to show their skills as drag performers.
It feels manifestly unfair that a combination of circumstances beyond their control should forever taint their experience on the show. I don’t doubt that many of them will go on to capitalise on the exposure they’ve been given.
But no matter what they go on to do, they will always be the queens from that season to some, and that’s definitely not what they signed up for.
Of course, we need to address the elephant in the room. The actions of Sherry Pie, which personally I don’t care to repeat, have stained this season in the eyes of many, myself included.
I appreciate that the production team where placed in an impossible situation of having to mitigate the exposure of a contestant who made it to the top four disqualified after filming had completed.
However, to me, the gaps in the narrative where Sherry has been censored out seem only to make her presence more obvious. She will forever be an inescapable component of Season 12.
Perhaps this raises further questions about the seeming obsessions the show has over creating a character arc for each of its contestants.
Personally, I have had issues with the show for a while now.
Beyond ethical questions about the archaic contract the queens are forced to sign, and a structure that seems to reward wealth over skill, the overall formula just isn’t hitting the mark like it used to.
Obviously, being American reality television, the show is overproduced and excessively dramatized. But while before this felt reasonably non-intrusive, it has now taken over the show to the point of being largely unenjoyable to watch in places.
Queens are now so obsessed with not getting ‘the villain edit’ that the drama that helped to make the show is largely absent. There also seems to be a decision from the senior levels of production that at least once an episode, a queen must divulge their own tragic backstory, in a way that now feels more obligatory than endearing.
Worse still, there are serious questions about whether the show’s host is up to the job anymore. RuPaul is an icon and a trailblazer. He is also human, and flawed. Aside from highly questionable remarks about the trans community and a fortune built (partly) on fracking, the show’s host just doesn’t seem to get drag as an art form quite like he used to.
One of the more noticeable points of distinction for this season in the wider narrative of the show came at the very end. The live finale, which typically sees the top four (thanks to the disqualification, top three in this case) lipsync for the crown, was hosted virtually.
Doubtless, these queens (like many an Oxford finalist I imagine) who felt frustrated that one of the most important tests of their lives ended up being done in a non-conventional format that was never designed to accommodate what they need to do. The finale, though not a complete disaster, was messy.
The lipsyncs were really strong, but felt disjointed. Ru wore another horrible mask. The producers tried one last time to make fierce broc-ally a thing. Jaida almost had her rightful crown stolen. Fortunately, Ru saw sense and gave Jaida the win she deserved. It was made out to be a closer thing that it should have been, but its definitely one of this years’ saving graces.
But for all this, as a friend once said to me, the queens don’t need drag race. They can be successful in their industry without the show and ultimately the aftermath of their experience will be what they make of it. Season 12 might be the beginning of the end for Drag Race, but it will certainly not be the beginning of the end for drag.