Like all reality competitions, RuPaul’s Drag Race requires its participants to agree to rules and sign legal documents governing their participation in the series. Although the drag queen competition series is now in its 10th season, and though contractual obligations and rules have been mentioned even on the show, I have yet to see the contract’s contents discussed in-depth—even though it was available publicly online.
Compare the Drag Race contract to the Survivor cast contract or the Big Brother houseguest contract, and you’ll find a lot of similarities. Much of the language is standard and makes sense, allowing the production to use what’s filmed on television and in advertising, and making perhaps obvious things explicitly clear, including that there is “no expectation of privacy.” But there are also many clauses that are very specific to Drag Race and life as a drag queen.
Below is the contract the contestants had to sign for RuPaul’s Drag Race season eight, which is the season Bob the Drag Queen won and the last season to be broadcast on Logo.
During casting for season eight, the process required applicants to sign this contract before they even filled out the application or uploaded a video. As such, the document below was publicly available on World of Wonder’s website, and that is where I obtained it.
The current contract may be different, but while the show moved from Logo to VH1, its parent company (Viacom Media Networks) and production company (World of Wonder) have not changed.
The process, however, is different: potential contestants for season 11 have to answer dozens of questions first, ranging from “How did you get your drag name?” to “Who would you do on Snatch Game?” before they’re sent the “Participant Agreement,” the document you see below.
So what do people who applied to the show agree to? The collection of legal documents is 51 pages long, and includes background check and medical release forms, plus basic rules.
The full contract is below, annotated with my analysis, but first, here are some key parts of the contract:
Filming Drag Race
- Cast members are paid $400 per episode for their first season, and their pay increases 5 percent for future seasons: $420 per episode for their second season, $441 for their third, and so on.
- If an eliminated queen is only shown in a flashback or in the “previously on RuPaul’s Drag Race” segment, that does not count as an appearance, so they’re not paid for that episode.
- The queens agree to “fully cooperate” with recreated scenes, though that the specific language—”require me to re-create, re-enact or repeat certain actions, activities, statements etc. which I have already made as part of my Performance”—refers to redoing something, not staging something brand new. In other words, it seems like contract language that acknowledges what many reality shows do: they ask contestants to repeat a conversation or line, or do something again if the cameras missed it.
- Applying to the show means that the production company “has the option to require me to appear” in one season, but it also includes options for five more seasons, which producers can decide upon six months after the final episode airs. Because the show tapes more than six months in advance of its broadcast, that option could expire well over a year after filming ends.
- There’s a clause that allows for filming to take place in contestants’ homes or elsewhere, and the language allows producers “to enter and occupy” their home or business and “place cameras” “and other recording devices.” If a contestant doesn’t “control” a location, they agree to help producers get permission.
- Since there’s the possibility of “physical or verbal aggression” from one queen to another, the contestants have to agree to “expressly assume the risk of any physical or emotional injuries I may suffer.”
- Contestants agree to “participate in” “sponsor integrations,” which includes “naming, identifying, wearing, using, describing, demonstrating” or “interacting with” sponsors’ products or services. However, they are not allowed to plug their own stuff.
- Producers own the rights and “proceeds” for anything the queens do on the show, which includes characters, songs, and anything they say about themselves (“elements of my life story”).
Drag Race’s rules
There is a three page exhibit attached to the agreement with the “production protocol,” and it’s a list of rules.
Mostly, those are prohibitions of certain behaviors (such as drug use, photography, and physical violence) and don’t get into specifics of the competition.
- There’s an odd line that says the cast is “responsible for providing their own food, drink, clothing and personal items.” Their own food and drink, really?
- There are eight reasons given why someone might be “disqualified and ejected” from the show. They include “ill health,” cheating, “impeding the work of the production team.” (Conjugal visits are not explicitly mentioned here.)
- The rules acknowledge that they may not always be enforced, but it says that “failure to enforce the rules on one occasion, or in connection with a particular Participant, shall not preculde” enforcement on someone else or at another time.
The queens’ careers
The contestants can’t do any other media without permission until a year after the final episode airs, though—because they are drag queens—they are allowed to do live performances and appearances. They cannot, however, mention their connection to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
- The queens agree that the producers have “the exclusive option to serve as my exclusive manager,” and they cannot get a third-party manager without permission. The show promises that will “be negotiated in good faith” and “in accordance with industry standard.”
- If a contestant has a YouTube channel, they have to allow it to become part of the show’s channel, and that includes allowing them “to receive any and all payments” from which the producers will take a “customary percentage.”
- The queens are not paid for promotional appearances, but if they have to go more than 50 miles from their home, they get an airline ticket, hotel, and $75 per day.
- The contestants agree to fully participate in “sponsor integrations” and “sponsor activity.”
- The queens give up rights to everything they do during the show, including the “elements of my life story contained within the Project.”
- The queens are exclusive to Drag Race for 24 months after their last episode airs.
- One clause says the queens consent to having the production misrepresent them “for dramatic purposes.”
- The show may include “actual or fictional” information “of a personal, private, sexual, surprising, defamatory, disparaging, embarassing and/or unfavorable nature.”
- The programs on Logo are described as including “themes concerning homosexuality.”
- To avoid having the queens’ participation fall under union rules, what the queens do on a show is “not a performance” but instead constitutes “appearing as myself.”
- Contestants agree to participate in the creation of “Additional Series Materials,” and there’s a list of possibilities, from “remix” episodes to “virtual reality environments.”