Today’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season eight took the franchise into new territory: RuPaul did some work, appearing in an unplanned segment and talking—hold your breath here!—without a teleprompter.
Ru left his trailer/fracking to come to the workroom and bravely chastise the queens, all to ensure the episode and/or season and/or all-star franchise didn’t fall apart more than it already has.
What prompted this? Yet another improv challenge that was actually an acting challenge, because no one on this show knows what improv is, and thus give the queens scripted characters and scenes for “Wha-Ha-Happened to Lil’ Poundcake.”
Three of the seven challenges so far have been acting/improv challenges, which might give a queen who has other strengths the impression that the whole thing is fixed and they’re just being used to dispense with before Ru gives the crown to the preordained winner.
Drama over selecting roles for left Alexis Michelle crying (though, honestly, when is she not crying) and Kandy Muse stomping off because she’s tired of all the crying and it temporarily took the attention from her.
In the wake of all this tension, Kahanna Montrese decided to quit, following Heidi N Closet, who left in episode five for her own mental health following conflict with Kahanna Montrese, who’d accused Heidi of sabotaging her by, uh, teeing her up for a joke during the Snatch Game of Love.
My sense watching both was they were just like: this show is not worth this.
Heidi’s exit didn’t affect the show because, in a truly shocking and totally unpredictable moment, RuPaul saved both queens. But losing a queen mid-episode? Leaving an “improv” role open? That will not do.
So Ru was summoned somehow, and came to the workroom, not clear on where to stand to address the queens because improvising is not Ru’s strength, either.
“Mama is here,” Ru said. “I just want to set you straight.”
Setting them straight consisted of a lecture about shoving one’s emotions down and sucking it the fuck up so Mama can finish her episode and go home.
Repressing feelings is something queer people are well-trained to do, so it’s so comforting to see Ru asking the queens to lean into their strength like that.
Here’s what Ru said:
I just want to set you straight before you make any mistakes that you can’t undo.
You’re having all these feelings. Of course you’re going to have these feelings. You’re under a lot of pressure.
But feelings are not facts. You have emotions going: Oh yeah, I’m feeling some bad way. But I’m going to do this thing because I’m a professional.
I’m a professional.
Don’t let your feelings sabotage your experience in this life. Do not.
This is the greatest stage in the world for you to present your act on. Do not allow the little things to derail your bigger picture.
The show must go on! So must the cash flow and awards to Paramount Global, World of Wonder, and RuPaul Charles! The actual human beings who make the show and their mental health cannot get in the way of that!
Even if Ru was well-intentioned here, is it actually a good idea to give people in Hollywood advice to ignore how they feel on set? Considering what we know about what happens on some sets?
After her Ted Talk, Ru asked Kahanna, “you feel like you’re ready to pack your shit and go?” The best way to make the lecture’s point clear was to shame Kahanna into staying. After all, shame is an emotion that is okay as long as it’s being used to manipulate.
“No, I’m here for you,” Kahanna said, and then adjusted: “I’m here for me.”
Kahanna Montrese decided to stay—only to be sent home anyway. I mean, sent to the “Fame Games,” an idea that is surprisingly not terrible considering it came from this producing team.
I’ll stop being sarcastic for a second and float a sincere idea: If the queens are truly professionals—and I have no doubt they are—maybe treat them like professionals. Give them a salary, and health care, and retirement contributions. Provide them with budgets to spend on all of the outfits they have made for the show.
Sure, being on Drag Race gives them exposure, and that might lead to other jobs. It also might not. It might also lead to harassment by the racist and monstrous fans in the Drag Race community.
What the queens do for weeks at a time on the show is actual work, and fundamentally no different than the kind of work actors on scripted shows do. Why not make the time, energy, and effort they spend worthwhile for them, so they don’t want to leave?
Also, maybe rewrite the contract to treat them at least like professionals. The ludicrously lopsided Drag Race contract (for season 8) said that queens had to give up all rights to content they created on the show, but were also “responsible for providing their own food, drink, clothing and personal items.”
Even if that’s not the case on set, the queens certainly do have to spend their own money: thousands of dollars, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars, as Vice reported, on their way to that main stage.
BenDeLaCreme called this “an unfair playing field” because “folks who might not have the funds also probably don’t have the time. They’re working paycheck to paycheck. And there’s other queens who can afford it, and literally can just be like, ‘Make me 10 amazing outfits,’ and then they pack them in the suitcase and show up.”
Just a few weeks ago, Drag Race alum Yvie Oddly called out the show, tweeting this:
The producers are often the greediest, most-calculating, capitalist culture thieves.
They fuck with real people’s lives, career opportunities, and health. They drive themselves home in their luxury cars when their contestants are sleep-deprived, depressed, and DRASTICALLY underpaid for their contributions to the cultural phenomenon
Then they tell themselves they’re good people for showcasing queer content and creating opportunities for us while ignoring the irreparable damage they cause, and creating a chokehold monopoly on how drag artists can succeed
Considering the queens’ knowledge of how RuPaul’s Drag Race is produced, and the effect that it’ll have on them, is it any wonder that some of them change their minds? It’s actually surprising more haven’t quit—though who knows how many outright refuse to return because they know what bullshit this is.
In a Hollywood Reporter article that slobbers all over World of Wonder founders and Drag Race producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, Bailey actually makes a point: “Drag queens are the Marines of television. They speak television fluently. They dance, they sing, they lip-synch, they do makeup, they do hair.”
So how about providing compensation and treatment worthy of that talent? That’s not the production company alone, of course, nor RuPaul herself; they’re all just working for a massive international corporation, Paramount Global.
In the surprise workroom visit, RuPaul also told the queens this:
You know how many bitches can’t get a job? You know how many bitches work for years in this business, in this game, never have recognition?
Don’t walk away from it.
Maybe that’s a good argument for staying. It’s also a good reminder if they did walk away, Ru would be out of a job, and a girl can’t get by just on fracking alone.
Drag queens are getting enough shit from fascist Republicans who think resurrecting old lies against queer people will scare enough people into giving Republicans more political power.
We don’t need RuPaul telling them to not feel their feelings just to make a corporation more money.