Two of our writers discuss the highs and lows of the second season of the Drag Race spinoff, and how it might be better than the original.
From the moment Lawrence Chaney stomped into the Werkroom and declared himself the Susan Boyle of Drag, we could tell the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK was going to hit different.
While the UK edition of Drag Race has always been a little bit punkier, a little more DIY than its continental counterpart, the exclusion of cash prizes seems to foster a summer camp-esque camaraderie between the contestants that you just don’t see on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Add to that watching the COVID lockdown happen in real-time mid-season, giving the queens an unprecedented seven months to hone and perfect (or not) their skills makes this not only the most memorable season of Drag Race but an outstanding season of television, full stop. So grab an Absolute cocktail and join us in the interior illusions lounge as we go through the thrills, chills, and spills of this extraordinary season.
(For clarity, we will refer to the American version of Drag Race as RPDR and the UK version as DR:UK)
Aka The Queens
Elle Busko: Right off the bat, the talking heads portions of this season are just next-level. You’ve got Tia Kofi, the narrator of the season, and you might have one, maybe two queens like that in your average episode of RPDR, but here every single queen is great and has great things to say.
Beau North: It is like having a whole season of just your faves. Like All Stars 2 minus PhiPhi O’Hara. This season has given me the same feeling that I get when I watch season five of RPDR, which I’m rewatching right now for no reason other than it just makes me feel good.
EB: That makes sense, season five was when I really connected with the show because of the Jinkx Monsoon underdog storyline. She was so counted out by that popular clique (RoLaskaTox) and they were so mean to Jinkx. I think anyone who’s ever felt less than—
BN: Or unseen.
EB: Yeah! Or looked down on because of things they can’t control can relate to that.
(twenty minutes of uninterrupted talking about Alyssa Edwards)
Even while wondering how this season of DR: UK was going to top its inaugural season, we get a roster of massively talented and incredibly unique queens, like the adorably camp Ginny Lemon (fancy a slice?) and Brighton drag royalty Joe Black, who right away we envisioned going all the way to the end, only to see Joe sashay away in episode 1. And while he did get the chance to come back after the pandemic, his second go was as short-lived as his first. If we were giving merit badges for the season, Joe Black’s would read Most Done Dirty. Lemon, on the other hand, left on their own terms, simply walking off the stage rather than lipsyncing against Sister Sister. Now that’s what we call punk.
A few other standouts include the lovely Cherry Valentine, aka the Alan Cumming of drag, who served us Traveller representation. Valentine—a mental health nurse and frontline healthcare worker during COVID—gave us life as a gender-bent Freddie Mercury (literally) hoovering her way down the runway. Contestant Veronica Green had to sit the second half of the season out due to COVID, but have no doubt she’ll be fierce competition when she comes back for season 3. Then there’s the lovely Tia Kofi who served as the narrator of the season. Tia’s warm personality and witty commentary made us feel like we were all in on the joke. And while her runway looks might have been one of the low points of the show (excluding her Monster Mash runway), her sunny attitude never failed to make us laugh. In an alternate universe where people watch RuPaul’s Confessional & Runway Banter Race, Tia reigns supreme.
But let’s talk about our final four: Ellie Diamond, Tayce, Lawrence Chaney, and Bimini Bon Boulash.
Ellie Diamond deserves some love not only for turning out some incredible faces throughout the competition but for making it this far for someone so young. That being said, we don’t want to overlook her or label her chum, but there’s no doubt that she’s swimming with sharks. Fellow Scot Lawrence Chaney dominated the first half of the season so thoroughly we all thought this season would end up being remembered as Lawrence Chaney’s Drag Race, but the seven-month Covid reprieve seems to have given Lawrence the chance to get in his head and second-guess himself. While we love Chaney’s bombastic personality and killer handmade looks, there is a sense about him in the second half of this season that Lawrence doesn’t think he deserves to win.
What can we say about Tayce? She has it all: beauty, brains, legs for days, and an unstoppable attitude. Aside from Tia Kofi, Tayce gives some of the best narration throughout the season and never lets herself get weighed down by the drama that other queens always seem to fall into. Tayce’s only real issue has been a tendency to do what Tayce is gonna do no matter what RuPaul or any of the judges have to say. Her runway looks don’t always land, but when you get right down to it Tayce has what it takes to be a superstar.
Giving the queens an unprecedented seven months to hone and perfect (or not) their skills makes this not only the most memorable season of Drag Race but an outstanding season of television.
Which leads us to Bimini Bon Boulash. East London’s Bendiest Bitch started the season in the bottom two and quickly rose up in the ranks to be the fan-favorite, including ours. This is Katya-levels of devotion we’re feeling here. From their innovative runways to their flawless performances in both Snatch Game and Beastenders, Bimini is the queen to beat. Their looks are far and away the most original, and definitely the most planned out. Bimini’s glamour is never diminished by their punk aesthetic, even when they’re trying to.
EB: Bimini has such a clear-cut point of view. Every move she makes with her drag is completely thought out, she’s perfected the smart bimbo in the most loving way possible. She is honoring the idea of a bimbo. But she’s in on that joke. Her comedy challenge is the perfect embodiment of that. She knows comedy beats, she knows her body, she knows her references, fashion-wise. She’s so incredibly smart with her drag, but at the same time she doesn’t take it super seriously.
BN: I specifically want to point out the Prehistoric Runway challenge, and how Bimini took it so literally and was like (puts on horrible cockney accent) “I’m a bacteeeeeeria!” And was this amazing…like, an amoeba under a microscope construction. And it was beautiful!
EB: The way she presented it, it was actually runway. The way she was just standing there so the little feathers would move like tendrils. It was such a well-thought-out concept, no one else thought to do that.
BN: No! We had two of the same Wilma Flintstone dress!
EB: And it was such an out-of-the-box concept. Like Bimini can look at a box and just be like “I don’t know her.” Even if you look at her ‘Stoned on the Runway ‘ look, her beads were zits and she was dressed as a rash?
BN: I mean, that’s art.
EB: No one else would have brought that to the runway
Aka The Drama
While DR:UK has considerably less drama than RPDR, that’s not to say there hasn’t been any. On Drag Race, you can always find Shade.
BN: That’s just the thing about this season, and even last season, just so much talent in one room, even last season of DR:UK
EB: Shocking, the amount of talent. I didn’t know how they were going to get any better because the first season is so so good. That’s one of the things about this season that’s so surprising. They had such a high bar to clear and they cleared it.
BN: hang on hang on, they made it…MUCH BETTA!
EB: That’s staying in. But yeah, the second half of the season has this goofier, wilder vibe to it because of covid. I don’t think we would have gotten that H&M moment. Ru is a lot looser and sillier because of it.
BN: The H&M thing wasn’t that big of a deal for me, I guess?
EB: I think it’s a weird tension with RuPaul’s drag race from within the UK, they don’t quite have the polish of what’s expected of a RPDR queen. But I get where RuPaul is coming from because this is an international platform and you’ve got to go above and beyond what you are in your city and even your country. But at the same time the UK queens are, I don’t know, a little more DIY, a little more punk.
BN: Yeah, I just gonna say they’re campier but you’re right, they’re also a lot more punk
EB: Which is weird because RuPaul loves that. RuPaul herself was punk, you know? At a certain time in her life. But I think her polish is now such that she can’t abide pulling something off the rack and saying it’s good enough for TV.
BN: That’s fair.
Sister Sister ruffled feathers after “borrowing” looks that were suspiciously similar to AWhora’s, a fact that AWhora never let Sister forget. Veronica Green, usually quiet and bubbly in an extremely relatable and dorky way, bristled at being overlooked and underestimated by the other queens and the judges. The confrontation was getting heated just as Ru cut the post-lip sync cocktails short to send everyone home for lockdown. After Ellie Diamond won the mini-challenge in episode 8, it was up to her to pick the performing order for the Stand-Up comedy challenge. Lawrence Chaney—fully aware of how funny Bimini could be—was none too pleased about being placed right behind them. His inability to stop seething at poor Ellie might have been briefly entertaining, but after 2 episodes he needs to make like Elsa and Let It Go.
RuPaul himself was not without drama this season. When Joe Black (briefly in the competition once more) played his part in RuRuVision in an off-the-rack dress from H&M, RuPaul melted down, shouting that he didn’t want to see “any more fucking H&M” and a million memes were born. Ru later apologized to the contestants for the meltdown, saying that his two weeks in quarantine had done no favors for his temper. While we understand the reason, but the one thing you can say about RuPaul is that he never pops off unless it’s warranted. The last time we saw anything close to this kind of vitriol, Jasmine Masters was making excuses for an abysmal Shakesqueer sketch.
Aka The Challenges
EB: I wanna talk about Rats: The Rusical.
BN: Oh no. Do we have to?
EB: It was a lowlight. It’s a low point for me, dawg. Are the Rusicals ever going to be good again? Have they ever been good?
BN: No one likes the Rusicals!
EB: But this one in particular, Rats: The Rusical was such a fucking mess. Why do they insist on doing one every season?
BN: It’s no RuRuVision
EB: Oh my god. The UK Dolls specifically! They had all this pent-up energy after quarantine and some of them had stuff to prove, cause they came back roaring. The song? Is so Eurovision.
BN: And it’s so freaking catchy!
EB: It’s such an earworm, it just fills your head with bing bang bong. Do you have a favorite verse?
BN: Well, Bimini’s of course. And I really liked AWhora’s as well.
EB: Yeah, AWhora’s was very good, very sultry and seductive. But Bimini’s…like the lyrics to her voice just snuck up on me. Gender bender, Cis-Tem offender. I didn’t even realize it was Cis-Tem and not system.
BN: I like it rough but my lentils tender.
EB: (laughs) WHAT! But I love how Bimini’s lyrics are all about femininity and how it belongs to everyone. Femininity isn’t just for women, it’s for everyone to enjoy. And I feel like that’s Bimini’s deal, to celebrate the femme, that’s what their verse is about. It’s so refreshing to see a contestant take what people see as weakness or softness and use that to just dominate. It’s like a sneak attack! These are incredibly thoughtful lyrics. She’s not just talking about how great she is, and she could! It’s just…layers, man.
There was the usual slate of challenges this time around, with Rats: The Rusical being the soggy fever-dream you wake up from after a Franzia bender. This season’s Snatch Game had the usual highs and lows, but Bimini’s performance as Katie Price has seared “the nipples are the eyes of the face” into our collective brains for all time. And while ‘Beastenders’ got off to a rocky start, everyone excelled in the challenge, particularly Ellie Diamond and Tayce, who hilariously donned Bimini’s breastplate without bothering to conceal or disguise the mismatched skin tone.
None of the challenges, however, can hold up to what might be the most memorable moment of the season, if not in Drag Race Herstory. The “RuRuVision” challenge gifted the world with the unstoppably catchy “UK, Hun?” which charted at number 27 in the UK. Imagine living in a world where you’d never heard “Bing Bang Bong, Sing Sang Song, Ding Dang Dong, Uk, Hun?” That is not a world that we want to live in.
In the ‘Lockdown Supershero’ challenge, A’whora’s stunned everyone for her surprising ruffled construction made from shiny blue plastic with sleeves that popped out like a frilled lizard’s face. As if her Covid Nine-Tina look wasn’t fun enough, the winking nod to Sister Sister’s sticky fingers with AWhora’s makeup was enough to send us into outer space. While in that same challenge Tayce attempted to follow in Bagga Chipz’s footsteps by making a Brillo pad garment, with about the same success. While everything Tayce wears is elevated by her own innate glamour, there’s only so much you can do with a pile of deconstructed steel wool. It hurt Tayce, and it hurt us too.
And while we’re on the topic of Sister Sister…in the Monster Mashup runway, Sister’s look was a miss, from the low heels to the inexplicable tail to the ponytail that just looked like one anemic eel flopping around the top of her head. We’d have liked to see a little more of Sister’s truly bonkers style in a way that didn’t translate to a wilted mess.
Category is…Bon Voyage, Bimini Bon Boulash
Aka The Finale
There wasn’t much flash, spectacle, or surprise to this finale, but there was a lot of heart and the best top four we think Drag Race has ever seen. We only wish the show creators and producers would try stepping out of the box when it comes to the UK finales. The US and the UK are different countries, and maybe playing to the strengths of the UK queens would make for a more exciting viewing experience. During the challenge, Lawrence dissuaded Ellie—thankfully gently—from going with a Burn track. Tayce and Bimini were happy to chime in, they don’t tear their sisters down, they lift them up. Between this and hearing the final four admit their first impressions of one another, it’s remarkable how different this show is from RPDR. All the queens performed well, except for Tayce who absolutely killed it to the point we were ready to hand her the crown then and there.
Despite a strong performance and an outstanding UK Eleganza Extravaganza runway, Ellie was told to Sashay Away. We wish her all the best! Which left Tayce, Bimini, and Lawrence for the lip sync. As soon as we heard Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”, we knew who would be taking home the title. We can’t say we didn’t see it coming, but after 5 wins (3 maxi, 2 mini) and showing some outstanding runway looks, Lawrence Chaney was declared the UK’s next Drag Superstar. While we can’t fault the judge’s decision, we do hope that this is only the beginning of Tayce and Bimini’s success. It was an outstanding season of television, and maybe the best culmination of everything Drag Race is all about.
BN: Do you think everyone’s going to be surprised?
EB: Well I know we both wanted Bimini to win because we love an underdog story. Even Michelle said in the episode, no one expected her to come back that hard. And it was such a delight. But it was obvious they’d made that decision. It felt very…All Stars 3. And the lip-synch just doesn’t matter?
BN: But you know the toughest acting challenge there is for the queens is pretending to enjoy RuPaul’s music.
EB: It’s one of the things I love most about Drag Race, it’s such a vanity project for RuPaul, who gets to craft these challenges around himself and this music that no one asked for. Like no one has ever actually requested a RuPaul song, he just happens to have all these songs that everyone loves because they were forced on us. And I love that.
BN: (laughs) I do find myself singing “This is the Beginning” all the time.
EB: It’s like living next to train tracks, it’s just there and you just don’t hear it anymore. But I agree with you, they deserve challenges tailored to their strong suits. Not McDonald-izing drag and forcing them into a box they don’t fit into.
BN: Great point.
EB: To be fair, I felt like I knew who should win. But this was such a great group of queens. You might see one or two like this in a season of RPDR, but here it was every contestant. Like you know Ellie was just recently struggling with homelessness, and I don’t know how you go through all of that and still continue making this incredible drag. And how amazing that she had options there in Scotland.
BN: That’s probably why RPDR is so cutthroat, the cash prize. Everyone over here has student debt and medical bills. They want to get paid. So how do you feel about this season, overall?
EB: It was such a great season. I think this might be my favorite season of Drag Race ever.
BN: Yeah, move over season five. I’ve got a new number one.