The makeover challenge needs to sashay away from Drag Race for good – here’s why
The makeover challenge from RuPaul’s Drag Race has facilitated some of the most blatant riggory across the entire franchise. It needs to be chopped, for the good of the show.
In the most recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s fifteenth season, the queens were presented with a phrase familiar to even a casual viewer: “For this week’s maxi challenge, you’ll be making over…”
It was at this point that Loosey LaDuca – proprietor of Drag Delusion, perennially ‘robbed’ Connecticut queen and winner of three mini challenges – should have told the entire crew that they could clock off early, packed her bags and sashayed away from whence she came.
Why? Not because she was destined to do badly in the challenge (she wasn’t). Not because her makeup skills or sewing abilities weren’t up to par (they were). Not even because of her ‘beef’ with Mistress Isabelle Brooks and Luxx Noir London (who cares?). But because production were already going to give her the chop.
A challenge that traditionally comes during the later stages of Drag Race, the makeover task is used to thin out the herd and very rarely ends up sending home the person who actually deserves to leave. Why? Because there are absolutely no boxes a queen has to check in order to excel.
Think of it this way: in a comedy challenge, the bottom two contestants are the least funny queens of the week. In a sewing challenge, they’re the ones with the shoddiest garments. But with the makeover challenge, there’s no clear cut criteria.
Like clockwork, every season Michelle Visage fatefully intones “There was no drag family resemblance” to unfortunate queens assembled on the main stage. And to that, I’d like to pose a very fair question: what is drag family resemblance? Quickly.
To LaDuca, the absence of a mark scheme is something that should have put her on red alert. Everything the queen does is dutifully by the book – but when there’s no book, what do you do?
If the challenge was really about ‘drag family resemblance’, then LaDuca would have won hands down; for her teacher, the newly christened Lala LaDuca, looked exactly like her. In fact, on Drag Race companion series Watcha Packin’, she told Michelle that one of the crew members actually mistook Lala for LaDuca.
In reality, it was foreshadowed by the hilarious Ross Matthews that she would land in the bottom because of Lala’s shoes.
In that one critique alone, the injustice of every single Drag Race makeover challenge came to light. Because let’s be real: LaDuca showcased real sartorial skill, and she can paint like the best of them, too. So placing her in the bottom proved that the makeover challenge really is a tactical move from production to prevent a certain queen from advancing further in the competition.
It is, quite simply, a perfect example of the golden rule of reality TV: nothing you see is actually ‘reality’.
LaDuca is the most recent casualty to join the Hall of the Slain (Slay-n?), where the death-dropped mannequins of Nina West, Dakota Schiffer and Cheryl Hole lie surrounded by Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics and RuPeter badges (though none of the latter came from Cheryl).
Before there was LaDuca, we had Alyssa Edwards on All Stars 2, Nina West on season 11 and even Detox and Coco Montrese on season five, none of whom had the worst ‘family resemblance’ on the runway in their Drag Race makeover challenge. But Edwards got the chop because it was good TV, production needed to get rid of West, and Montrese had no use for the competition after Edwards’ elimination.
On this side of the pond, Drag Race UK‘s inaugural makeover challenge saw Cheryl Hole land in the bottom two for one of the best makeovers ever seen on the show.
Cheryl and her sister looked identical to each other; but as she hadn’t won any challenges up until that point, production needed to eliminate a queen from the lineup to make a top three – and realistically, that wasn’t going to be The Vivienne, Divina De Campo or Baga Chipz.
The same can be said for Dakota Schiffer’s makeover of a member of the ‘Queen Team’ on UK season four; undoubtedly one of the best looks of the night, with a strong ‘family resemblance’ to boot. But yet again, the queen was kicked to the curb.
Drag Race, of course, requires the viewer to suspend disbelief to a certain degree as to whether the show is ‘fair’. If you don’t, it becomes pretty futile viewing.
Whoever gets the crown ultimately comes down to whoever RuPaul likes the most, and that’s not always the best drag queen. But the makeover challenge is one example in which every semblance of fairness soars out the window, and production’s giant puppeteering hand comes looming into view more clearly than ever.
At this point, there’s no stopping the Drag Race machine – and no reason to. It provides a platform to queer entertainers from all over the world (and Maddy Morphosis); and whatever controversies emerge during the race to become the next drag superstar, it’s rare that any ill feeling lingers. But the makeover challenge is the one time every season that viewers – and queens – are consistently upset with the results.
Granted, we know that as soon as Ru steps into the Werk Room to announce a makeover challenge that whoever goes home will most likely come down to personal preference, rather than performance that week.
But nevertheless, the challenge needs to redefine its parameters rather than moving its goalposts every season depending on the producers’ whims. Either that, or they run the risk of irrevocably putting viewers off the show. After all, what’s the point of watching a drag competition if drag isn’t the most important thing?
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 airs on Fridays 8/7c on MTV in the US and will be available to watch on Wow Presents Plus on following Saturday mornings from 2am GMT in the UK.
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