RuPaul’s Rigged Race: Questionable Moments of Season 10
The milestone season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered early in the spring of 2018, fed by much anticipation and promises of grandeur. “In a world full of nines, be a ten,” proclaimed RuPaul in the season’s first promotional teaser trailer. Following a controversial All Stars season where the top contenders either self-eliminated or were robbed of their rightfully earned spot in the final two, fans of the show were not even given a week’s rest. Trixie Mattel won All Stars 3 and the following week fans were already waiting with bated breath to witness Aquaria’s entrance into the Werk Room. It is unfortunate to notice a precedent being set by All Stars 3 played out in season 10. Drag Race has been a different reality television show because it honours charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent first, with the dramatics of reality playing alongside the contestants. However, the changing tide of Drag Race sees the show focus on the reality aspects of the competition while letting talent and character take a back seat.
The genesis of this new direction for the show can be observed back in season 9, when Eureka injured herself and was asked to leave the competition as a result, but was given an open invitation to appear on season 10 once her health improved. This was a disappointing moment for the queen considering she had been performing adequately until then. However, by the time Eureka appeared in season 10, the emotion of seeing her go in the first place had already passed, but redemption storylines make for great television.
Eureka’s magical save and second chance became even more questionable considering her track record the second time around. Eureka is a fierce performer and knows how to command attention; she performed well in acting challenges and worked a one-note Snatch Game performance to her advantage. Her attitude, however, was aggravating and severe. Eureka constantly stirred the pot and purposely provoked queens for argument’s sake. On top of that, none of her runway looks were anything to gag over and her hair was always predictable. Seeing Eureka’s hand be held basically to the finish line was confusing. As Aquaria selfishly pointed out, there’s only one ‘lucky save’ per season, and the fact that Eureka was granted a double shantay-you-stay twice, against Kameron Michaels and then in the finale against Aquaria, raises questions. Was Eureka only kept around for the drama? Or can an argument be made for her talent?
Drama is an inherent aspect of reality TV, but Drag Race had, up until All Stars 3 and season 10, proved to be different, letting queens’ talent speak for itself. Talented queens stand out regardless of the drama and without the reality aspect of the television show getting in the way. Jynkx Monsoon is a prime example; the kooky comedy queen from Seattle was up against fierce competition and the axis power that was Rolaskatox. The token underdog, Jinkx earned the crown the old-fashioned way, by outperforming her competition, proving that it’s not the bark but the bite that really matters in the end.
Looking at season 10, it does not go to say that Aquaria only won the crown because of rigging, but there were times when the machinations of building up a winner became apparent. As the last queen to enter the Werk Room, the 21-year-old did not even have to speak her name to be known. The young New York City queen came in just waiting to be crowned. Aquaria won both design challenges and the Snatch Game. Purported as funny and political, the obvious impersonation of Melania Trump caught the attention of the judges and was meant to impress the audience into a state of disbelief. Not only could Aquaria turn looks, but she’s got the brains too, apparently.
As the most decorated queen of her season with the ‘best’ track record, it is understandable to see Aquaria win the season. The format of lip-syncing for the crown evens the playing field for the top four, giving them all an equal chance at the crown. The best grades in school do not a Drag Race winner make. Sasha Velour had only won two challenges to Shea Couleé’s four, but it takes more than numbers to win. It goes back to the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent that encompass a winner, she who will represent RuPaul’s legacy and represent drag in the mainstream.
During her time on the show, Aquaria certainly carried herself like a winner; the superstar of the season. She worked her lack of charisma in her favour to win the Snatch Game. Despite not having the nerve to stand behind her words, she was always ready to keep herself in check and realize when she may have offended. A redeemable queen, Aquaria’s storyline showed a young queen coming to grips with what it takes to be a superstar for the people. The lights always shone bright on Aquaria, even at the cost of putting others in the dark. It is no easy feat to make it to the end of the competition without ever having to lip sync for your life, but for Aquaria this was unjustly earned. In the makeover challenge, the queens were paired up with male YouTube stars whom they would have to drag up to create a strong family resemblance. Aquaria was paired with Kingsley and received generally positive praise. It was baffling considering there was absolutely no cohesive storyline between the two and the queen committed the worst sin of all: letting her drag daughter look busted in comparison to herself. Where Miz Cracker received praise for bringing confidence and comedy out of her partner, and subsequently winning the challenge, Aquaria did not receive critique for being unable to inspire the same emotion in Kingsley. At the end of the challenge, it was Kameron Michaels and Monét X Change, who had never looked better in the competition and took care to ensure that her partner showed just as well as she did. The judges held Aquaria’s hand through this save so as not to put the powerhouse in danger.
The grooming of the top four culminated in the following episode when Miz Cracker was sent home. The episode saw Kameron Michaels and Miz Cracker in the bottom two, and RuPaul had a choice. The elimination could have been fair, Kameron Michaels could have been sent home after yet another predictable lip sync, and Miz Cracker could have continued her endearing storyline towards success after an entertaining and original lip sync for her life. Unfortunately, RuPaul saw appeal within the alternative. It was a reality TV dream: the young starlet, the big girl, the queen of colour, and the lip sync assassin would make for much better television and a nail-biting finale.
Season 10 was a strategic season wherein a lot of thought was put into the final pool of potential winners. There’s TV value in crowning the first ever big girl, Eureka; or the girl that turns the best looks, Aquaria; or the motherly black queen with nerves of steel, Asia O’Hara; or the lip sync ‘assassin’ who sent home four other girls, Kameron Michaels. But winners need to happen organically, they have to plant themselves in the hearts of viewers and earn the crown by proving they can be ambassadors of the positive message of drag. When you craft the top four, you take away the beauty of drag and what makes this show so different from other reality programming. Drag is meant to be subversive and unrelenting; you do not bend for the sake of the crowds. Aquaria winning looks good, and she certainly worked her way to the top, but don’t build up a winner. True winners build themselves up and win in the face of all opposition.