Drag Race season 10 episode 1 recap: ‘Is it usually this intense?’ A newbie’s hot take

Drag Race is back. Season 10 is upon us. So naturally, we’re forcing RuPaul newbies to watch and review the show for you every week.

Do our Drag Race virgins have any prior knowledge of the show? Nope. Do they even know what drag is? Debatable. Is this going to be all the fun? Here’s bloody well hoping so.

This week sees UK-born, New-York-dwelling editor and Drag Race noob Max Benwell take on sequins and “sashay away” in his recap of season 10 episode 1: 10s Across the Board.

If you’re looking for an expert review of the latest season of Drag Race then I’ve got bad news for you my friend: I know nothing about it.

My only experience with the RuPaul multiverse so far has been watching one episode of All Stars. It was like a good but confusing dream, full of dazzling sequences, things I didn’t understand and Nancy Pelosi.

To an outsider like me, Drag Race has always had quite an impenetrable air. In my experience fans of the show talk about the contestants like they’re close friends, and display an encyclopedic knowledge of every episode.

They can also quote almost any moment from the show at length. I’ve always wanted to get into it, but this is one of the reasons that has made me feel it’s too late.

But is it ever too late? Season 10 may not be the best place to start, but on the night of its premiere, I’m at one of the best places to do it.

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Once described as the “Grand Central Station for Brooklyn’s gay scene”, The Metropolitan is a popular spot around the corner from me in Williamsburg, and is showing every episode as it airs.

The screening is hosted by two drag queens, Daphne Always and Ragamuffin.

They provide quickfire analysis in the ad breaks, as well as drinks vouchers for anyone who can correctly answer questions such as “Who won the main challenge in season three episode two?” (the answer, of course, being Raja).


Daphne Always and Ragamuffin (ragamuffin_nyc)

When the show starts the most striking thing is how intense it is. Is it usually so intense? It’s cut like the trailer for a high-octane thriller, although not in a bad way. It’s so flab-free that the drag never drags. It’s a constant delight.

The Metropolitan crowd can’t get enough as each contestant introduces themselves in a range of hilarious ways before they banter with each other backstage.

“What is drag like in California?” someone asks Mayhem Miller. “Like this,” she says, pointing to herself. “No I’m joking – it’s not as good.”

While there are obvious frontrunners (such as Mayhem, Monét X Change and the “thin, white and very salty” Miz Cracker), what’s striking is how great all the contestants are.

It’s a rare thing in reality TV when everyone is so confident but also so talented. It’s almost impossible to imagine any of them losing. “How do the judges possibly decide!” I kept thinking, as well as “how can the producers afford to lose any of these people!”

To mark the 10th anniversary of the show, RuPaul throws back to the show’s first ever challenge in season one, when contestants had to make outfits out of 99 cent store items.

Some of the dresses are so good that you can only assume some kind of magic was involved, with Monét’s dress of washing up sponges a particular highlight.

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The biggest laugh of the episode came after Miz Cracker dressed up as a Otto Dix-esque widow for the main challenge. “What was the tragedy, a fisting accident?” she was asked. Without missing a beat, she replied: “There are no accidents in fisting.”

Also, holy shit! Christina Aguilera made an appearance. Charming and self-aware, she gave thoughtful feedback while parodying herself with a string of signature vocal wobbles.

By the end of the episode the biggest question I had was: is there anything these queens can’t do? I know it’s part of the job, but on top of their dancing, lip syncing, and perfect comic timing, they’re also brilliant make-up artists, fashion designers and seamstresses.

However, as the show went on it became clear who the weakest contestant was, and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo got the boot after a lacklustre catwalk display. She had to lip sync for her life, but died next to Kalorie Kardashian-Williams.

I may have been a Drag Race virgin, but I had actually predicted Vanessa would be eliminated early on, which I was very pleased about. What can I say? I must be an expert already.

Max Benwell is a writer and editor at Guardian US. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Benwell.