The drag queen Jan Sport has now been on RuPaul’s Drag Race twice: in season 12 in 2020, and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season six in 2021.
She once described her experience on as “very emotional and very, honestly, psychologically intense.” That was due to her ups and downs in the competition itself, but Jan has recently described life for the queens behind the scenes, and I think that adds some intensity to the experience, too.
On TikTok, fans asked questions, and Jan answered, gathering those in a TikTok playlist titled “RPDR Questions, Janswered.” Many of the questions are focused on Jan’s experience, such as entrance lines she prepared but didn’t use, while others are about things we didn’t see, such as songs from season 12’s lip sync playlist that didn’t make it to the show.
But among those answers, I heard seven fascinating tidbits about how the show works. The RuPaul’s Drag Race contract really reveals what the queens give up to be on the show, but doesn’t really cover their production experience.
I’m sure some of these will not be news to superfans, and may have been revealed in other contexts, but they were new to me, from secret helpers and choreography sessions to details about what happens at the hotel and before filming starts every day.
1. There are secret helpers before the runways
The standard structure of a RuPaul’s Drag Race episode goes from the challenge to the workroom, where some of the contestants will have a heart-to-heart conversation while putting on their makeup.
While we sometimes see the queens help each other, with makeup or costumes, there are more people who help out. But the cameras don’t film that.
“When the cameras go down for that, and we start to go to the runway, that’s like a very quick transition,” Jan said. “You finish the makeup, and then you have to get into your outfit. Everyone’s kind of scrambling to put things together.”
That’s when, Jan continued, “the talent team comes in and they help us zip and nails and everything—anything that we would need, they help with. They are so accommodating.”
2. Confessionals are filmed every single day
The queens confessional interviews are a key part of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as are confessionals in most reality TV shows. That’s how we hear what the contestants were thinking and feeling in the moment—even though they’re no longer actually in the moment!
Most reality TV competitions sit down their cast once every few days to reflect. Not Drag Race.
Jan explained that confessionals happen “every morning before we start filming,” and non-confessional filming usually starts around 9 or 10 a.m. That means the queens are “”leaving the hotel to go and film sometimes at 6 or 7 a.m., to film your confessionals,” Jan said.
That’s 45 to 90 minutes a day, five days a week, and that’s a lot!
Jan said that “sometimes if something really dramatic happens and it’s the middle of the day … they will pull you in to the confessional room.” But otherwise it’s just the morning.
And once they’re done, they cannot return to the hotel. Instead, “you wait around,” though the producers are good about “allowing you to start the process of getting ready,” she said.
Despite that absolutely bonkers schedule, Jan described the process as “therapeutic,” and said “the story producers are really, really good at their job. They get you to trust them.”
3. The queens walk the runway twice
After they’re dressed and ready, the queens are transported, on golf carts, to the soundstage with the main stage and runway.
They walk the runway to music, and the judges make jokes, just like we see on TV—except those things happen separately.
“The first time that you go out there it’s to the music,” Jan explains. “Everyone does that once.”
Then, the queens “line up again, and you do it without music, and that’s where you get the judge’s commentary.”
The judges throw out multiple jokes, and of course not all of those are used in the final edit—probably for both time and because some of them just don’t work.
The queens can hear RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Ross Matthews, Carson Kressley, and Ts Madison making jokes.
Jan described that as “fun and a little awkward sometimes” because the soundstage during that second runway walk is “just dead silence. I cannot describe to you all how silent that room is.”
4. There are secret rehearsals for dance challenges
For dance challenges, whether queens or choreographing themselves or being choreographed by a pro dancer, they do not get videos of the routines or other materials to be able to practice later.
“No phones, no iPads, nothing—you basically have to remember it,” Jan explained, saying she “wrote down all of the choreography” for her first dance challenge.
However, what she learned is that the hour that is filmed for TV is not the only opportunity for the queens to practice.
“You have more time than that—in my experiences,” she said. “You have rehearsals over the weekends most of the time, where you go in for hours and perfect it and make it as good as possible.”
Ultimately, it’s a lot “more time than it seems.”
She added that the producers “set you up for success” to make the final product look as good as possible, and noted that, during those off-camera rehearsals, “there’s a choreographer, most of the time who’s on set, pointing out things.”
5. Judges and queens watch rough cuts of challenges
For the improv or acting challenges, the queens have no control over the final edit of that sketch, which isn’t that surprising, considering that allows producers to decide what exactly makes TV.
“I can tell you that there is no editing that we are allowed to do,” Jan explained, saying she “would have loved to have seen the footage, because I would have loved to change some things … especially for my Jantastic spray on season 12.”
But what I found fascinating was that the final edits are not done by the time judging takes place—both in terms of time and special effects like green screens.
Jan described that as “a really rough version—maybe something that’s double the time of what it is actually going to be, with none of the underscoring and sometimes not all of the images in the green screen.”
That means the judges see more than we do, which might give them more material to critique, but they’re also not judging the version we’re watching. Jan did add, “You do get a pretty good of what we’re all going to see on TV.”
6. Lip sync songs are edited for us and the queens
The lip syncs we see don’t always include the full version of the song, from start to finish, but most of the time, the queens lip sync to the full song.
Her lip sync with Silky Nutmeg Ganache to Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” was actually to the full song. “We lip synced to the entire thing—you see the edited version, but we lip synced to the entire song,” she said.
However, sometimes they, too, get an edited version. “Depends upon the length of the song,” Jan said.
For those longer songs, producers will “condense it down” before giving the song to the queens to rehearse and/or learn.
7. They break ‘soft ice’ and ‘hard ice’ rules
Jan Sport was asked about whether the queens interact with each other when they’re back at the hotel at night.
The answer to that is basically no: “It is secure, you’re all in your own room, you’re not allowed to leave your room, and you don’t have communication with each other,” Jan said. “In the workroom, yes, -ish, sometimes no; in the hotel, no.”
The workroom conversations, she explained, are controlled by two phrases: “soft ice and hard ice. … When you’re on soft ice, you’re allowed to talk to each other, but you’re not allowed to talk about anything that goes on in the competition. When it’s hard ice, you are not allowed to talk to each other, period.”
That’s very similar to other shows. On Survivor, for example, contestants are transported to and from tribe camps and challenge locations and Tribal Council; on those boats, they cannot talk, because producers want to be able to film any conversations. Of course, that doesn’t stop nonverbal communication.
Jan said that the queens on season 12 obeyed that rule because “everyone’s nervous, everyone’s trying to be their best behaved” self.
But “when we were on All-Stars however … it was a lot more liberal, and we were talking to each other,” she said, though she added that “there’s not a lot of times that you want to talk about the show.”
The producers, of course, created these rules because they want to “save it for the camera”—to make sure they capture everything and can show it on TV.