Kia ora and welcome to my review and power rankings for the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2 – “Grand Opening” – featuring drag queens from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand!
Drag Race almost always starts out with a look challenge on the first episode. Sometimes that involves a minor “ball” challenge of showing multiple looks on the runway. Other times, as in this episode, it involves a design challenge with a theme and/or using unconventional materials.
This design challenge theme let everyone down – both queens and viewers. The Down Under queens were supposedly offered some native bush of Aotearoa and Australia, but it looks like they only scored a minor assortment of leaves. And… recyclable materials? Including bike tires and a used mattress?
Sure, those things can be recycled, but that’s not the first pile of stuff I think of when I hear “sustainability.” I’d expect much more paper and plastic.
Altogether, the theme didn’t feel especially green in a natural way or green in a sustainable way. This stuff was uncommonly difficult to work with, even for an unconventional materials challenge. Also, by telling the queens the theme was nature and then throwing in the recyclable trash as an afterthought, it felt to me like they were being discouraged to use it for the majority of their looks lest they get a “this really isn’t the theme” comment on the runway.
That’s the show’s prerogative, but for a version of the franchise that might’ve had the most-hated first season of all time I’d think production would be keen to show all of queens in the best possible light for this Season 2 debut. Even the best of their outfits were a bit of a sad trombone compared to most unconventional materials challenges, save for a particular standout.
At least the mini-challenge photo-shoot felt a little more culturally relevant. Sausage Sizzles are enough of a Kiwi staple that even a ovo-lacto-pescatarian shut-in like me has been to a few. They’re the standard fundraiser fodder in New Zealand – effectively, the Kiwi equivalent of selling Girl Scout Cookies or having a bake sale. You run into them at school events, community fundraisers, and even sometimes randomly outside of a grocery store.
And, yes, they sometimes really do just hand over a sausage wrapped in a piece of white bread. The mini-challenge worked because it was something commonly understood by the queens and Ru didn’t need too much specific cultural humor to make and appreciate sausage jokes.
(She missed a The Warehouse joke on the runway – I’m surprised the editors let the free advertising slip through!)
If you want to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2 outside of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada you can sign up for WowPresentsPlus to watch the many worldwide Drag Race franchises for $4.99 a month or $50 a year. (Note that if you’re in the home country of a franchise you will need to use a VPN to “visit” another country to see that content.)
My initial Power Ranking is completely backwards from my pre-season ranking. Bottoms are at the the top and tops are at the bottom! That includes some controversial choices – like listing a pair of bottom queens above a pair of safe ones. HOW COULD I? You’ll have to read on to see if agree on my thoughts on the power of the edit to say things on RuPaul’s behalf.
Readers, start your engines… and may the best (antipodean) drag queen win! Leave me a comment below if you’d rank the queens differently than I did – I’d love to know your thoughts.
Reminders: I consistently refer to Drag Race artists with their drag names and with she/her pronouns even when they are not in drag, which is the convention of the show. Some performers may have different personal pronouns. Drag is inherently brave, political, and artistic, and all drag is valid. It’s also hard to do. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it comes across on this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I celebrate all drag!
RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2, Episode 1: Grand Opening Power Rankings
Before we get to the queens and their greenery, here’s a look at RuPaul in bad lighting stepping on her own skirt in horribly lighting on the runway.
1. Hannah Conda (Pre-Season #2)
Hanna entered first and immediately became the narrator of the season both in the workroom and in the confessionals. She emphasized her “cool aunt” character with knowledge of seemingly every single queen in all of Australia and New Zealand. She’s loud and present in every conversation without being overbearing, and is a delightful balance of encouraging and slightly-shady.
Hannah also seemed to have an easy time of volleying with Ru during the sausage sizzle mini-challenge, which is one of the most important ways to gain favor early in the season.
Despite struggling mightily with her unconventional materials, Hannah Conda ultimately turned out a clever look. We’ve seen so many stuff-affixed-to-a-corset looks in the history of Drag Race that’s it’s always wise to emulate a specific form or costume if you can to take the attention off your corset. Hannah appearing as a sort of “green Tinkerbell” achieved that, plus stayed true to her fairy godmother brand.
Ultimately, her mossy bodysuit with a black belt wasn’t much to look at – it was her smarts in styling and presentation that made it work, including a lovely green, stoned eye look. Beverly Kills could’ve easily supplanted her in the top three, but I think Ru was in a bigger hurry to interact with Hanna on the runway.
Hannah Conda is giving strong vibes of having the sort of brassy, irreverent personality Ru loves, and she succeeded at every possible element of this first episode aside from getting the win. Right now, it feels like she is the queen to beat.
2. Molly Poppinz (Pre-Season #9)
Molly Poppinz struck me as a somewhat tentative and uncertain queen in the edit just as she did in the Meet The Queens, which is why I was so shocked to see her score an absolutely decisive win in the design challenge.
That actually makes me very happy. It’s a good thing that not only the standard big personalities dominate on Drag Race. We have the cerebral Willow Pill as our reigning champion of the flagship franchise, which is a good reminder that Drag Race champions tend to be a diverse bunch when it comes to their drag and their character.
Molly has a real eye for styling and for flattering her body that came through in her runway look. The shaping and draping of her green bodice looks stunning, and the clever reverse V into her wheatgrass skirt is a cute transition. And, of course, Ru and Michelle loved the joke of her having a literal green bush for exposed pubic hair under the dress.
If Molly was up against stiffer competition I could see her getting comments about not having enough of a waist or the skirt being too much of an undefined poof. On the other hand, she might have the most smoothly blended make-up of this entire cast apart from Pomara. Aside from some darker red at her wigline, Molly’s make-up looks like a completely natural face at first glance even though she’s using all the standard drag tricks to shape it.
Molly proved she is a resourceful queen who knows how to flatter her figure. Was this initial win a free handout or a sign of season-long domination? That’s entirely up to Molly.
3. Beverly Kills (Pre-Season #8)
Beverly Kills (Cameo | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter) entered saying “Giddy up, motherfucker” while cracking a literal whip, and she brought exactly that brand of whip-crack confrontation to the entire episode.
In her intro package, Beverly brands herself as “burlesque side show drag [who] will always take the road less travelled when it comes to make-up style and performance.”
Beverly came off as the cast member with the most confidence on camera and on stage, and she had an engaging self-deprecating wit in front of Ru in the mini-challenge. That’s pretty powerful from a 21-year-old! Her youth was more on display through her vocal judgment of everyone else in the competition – especially the “older” queens like Minnie and Spankie (which got a sarcastic laugh from me, since Spankie is younger than I am!).
An older queen might have kept those opinions to herself. Pr, at least, they might keep them confined the interview chair rather than going on the attack in the workroom! That’s not only to avoid early conflict, but because conflict can become easy fodder for production to use to frame an older queen to get revenge on a younger one. It’s the difference between the Kandy Ho edit and the Violet Chachki edit.
Yet, it also never hurts to give production some reasons to keep you around. Setting up a few early conflicts is smart self-production from a queen. And, I somewhat doubt how seriously Beverly meant any of it, since before she delivered all of those reads she was the one most excited to meet each new queen during their entrances – especially Minnie!
I also don’t think Beverly’s shade about the design challenge outfits was all that misplaced, because her shredded plastic mini-dress was easily in the top three on the runway. Everything about it was smart, from construction, to the symmetrical duct tape frame of the bodice, to the styling. I think she was blocked from the top three purely because Ru wanted to talk to Hannah and because her having a plastic-based look would’ve interfered with the simplicity of the judge’s comments to Yuri.
Even if I could’ve done without some of the attitude in her commentary, I can appreciate Beverly’s forwardness and confidence. We’ve seen many 21-year-old queens who were birthed by Drag Race who remain mysteriously unprepared for the full gauntlet of challenges it presents. Beverly seems downright entertained by the idea of tackling the typical array of Drag Race challenges.
Beverly Kills seems like she has the chops for a deep run and the edit is strongly suggesting we’re going to be seeing a lot of her… possibly including a lip sync against Minnie or Spankie.
4. Minnie Cooper (Pre-Season #6)
Minnie Cooper (Cameo | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter | YouTube) entered saying, “Mini on the outside, but once you get inside me I go real fast,” and in confessional she says, “I’ve got the looks of Cate Blanchett and the voice of Chris Hemsworth.”
(Fun fact: Cate Blanchett is 53 – the same age as Michelle Visage and older than Minnie!)
The thing that stuck out for me about Minnie Cooper this episode is how incredibly well-considered her drag is. Neither her racing outfit pantsuit nor her reflective design challenge mini-dress look were” best in show,” but both of them were smart, flattered her slight frame, and told a story.
She also has a quick wit not unlike Ru’s own. In the mini-challenge, Ru loved how quickly Minnie was able to volley so much that she paid her the highest possible RuPaul compliment: “you’re stupid!”
After that, it was no surprise that Minnie scored the mini-challenge win.
However, my preseason concern about her dark eye make-up persisted throughout this episode. Minnie is a fan of a heavy black wing without any pops of white, and it really swallows her eyes. Clearly she knows her face from decades of experience, so I’m not saying it’s a wrong choice. But, I don’t think such dark eyes read on modern Drag Race in high definition they way they did five years ago.
It’s not just clowns like Bianca and Trixie doing pops of white under their eyes anymore. Look at Monét X Change’s surgically precise wedge of undereye white in most of her make-up looks from All Stats Season 7!
I’m hoping the judges give her that critique early on so it doesn’t become an Achilles heel later in the competition when the field has narrowed and the critiques are more nit-picky.
Minnie’s design challenge runway was fine enough in this line-up, though it was likely just a hair out of the bottom. While her space-age take on recycled materials told a story, the construction was a vague affair. Her silvery material was iorm and inflexible, which took me out of her fantasy as much as the exposed undergarments did for Ru on the bottom queens.
Yet, even in a wobbly runway her “you’re stupid” level of humor stuck out, with her Geordi La Forge futuristic glasses and a computer monitor as a handbag.
I didn’t get the sense that Minnie will be a senseless early cut of an older queen the way we saw from Charlie Hides. So far, Ru seems to be laughing with her and not at her. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the top next week for an acting challenge, but also she has obvious story potential facing off with (and maybe lip syncing against) the two youngest queens. I don’t feel like we could possibly see all of that play out in the next two weeks.
Plus, after last year’s snoozy Snatch Game, I’m sure production would love to have her around at least for that long.
5. Yuri Guaii (Pre-Season #7)
There isn’t much to say about Yuri Gauii’s mini-challenge. Ru lobbed her a few softballs about butchery and she didn’t especially knock them out of the park, but she didn’t make Ru cringe at her, either.
I thought Yuri Gauii did something wise on the runway, but Ru seemed to disagree.
There is no question that Yuri had the best runway of the night. Ru and Michelle both admitted it! Yet, she was having some trouble walking it on the runway. We’ve seen so many queens trip and stumble on their garments, which always results in negative marks from the judges. Yuri felt herself on the verge of that, actually paused for a moment, and then lifted her dress.
Sure, it could’ve gone better if she made a comedy bit out of it, but wouldn’t we rather have a queen be practical than ding her for falling?
If we’re being honest, I think if Ru was living for her she would’ve overlooked that little snag and gave her the win. The fact that she didn’t could mean one of two things. Either Yuri seems destined to win some other major challenges so they took the excuse to spread the wins around. Or, Yuri is already earmarked as an early-to-mid out, and they didn’t want to complicate that with an early win.
Adding to that that the edit didn’t include Ru laughing at Yuri a single time in the mini-challenge, and I fear that the latter may be the case. Despite being in the top for this episode, it doesn’t feel like she has any narrative momentum or story at all other than Ru and Michelle not understanding her saying “sewn” in a Kiwi accent.
6. Spankie Jackzon (Pre-Season #3)
Spankie was nearly dismissed after this first challenge, but it felt more like a warning shot across the bow than a kiss of death. Can she mind the details next week to bounce back into contention?
I’m not entirely sure, since the missing bottom half of her design challenge outfit coincided with her butt hanging out of her entrance look. She advertised the latter as a feature and not a bug. “All the wrong things to be doing that’s not classy, that’s literally who Spankie Jackzon is.”
The issue is that – while Ru loves a bawdy body queen who shows off her assets, she is definitely not into a trend alert on ill-fitting garments.
On the other hand, Ru seems to love playing with Spankie already. Spankie was her choice to slap in the opening scene, she loved her in the mini-challenge, and she had fun with her in the runway chat. And, Spankie undeniably turned it out in her lip sync against Faúx Fúr.
I don’t think Spankie is going to leave without a fight, and I suspect she’s going to be great at most of the major challenges of Drag Race, but I worry that this week’s look won’t be the only bottom-baring outfit she wears on the runway. Given how even the lip sync was, I think Ru (and production) likely had a good reason to keep her over Faúx Fúr – and that might be because they know something about her suitcase that we don’t.
7. Pomara Fifth (Pre-Season #5)
I love that Pomara kicked off her first confessional with mocking standard “fierce” drag lingo, because that was absolutely the vibe I got from her Meet The Queens and I love a self-aware meta-commenter.
I also love her for this quote about her dual Aboriginal and Màori heritage: “I love to be the guide between two countries, and I will happily admit – Australia, you down own pavlova, the band Crowded House, or Russell Crowe. Sorry. You don’t.”
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I feel like the sausage sizzle mini-challenge contained a hint that Pomara might not make it very far. When Ru asked about a favorite memory and Pomara responded, “I think his name was Gary,” Ru says, “Okay, we’ll just stop right there.” It sounds like a great volley that would typically be followed by Ru’s raucous laughter. Instead, we get an abrupt cutaway and Ru doesn’t crack a smile through her entire sequence.
I’m going to have a hard time separating my personal obsession with Pomara Fifth from seeing her through the eyes of the show. I’m desperately hoping she isn’t here to play fodder, but it does feel like Molly quickly cornered the role of “unexpected charmer” that I was expecting from Pomara.
Based on this episode’s edit, it feels like Pomara is the sort of queen who won’t be shown any favors by Ru and production. That means she will need to make her own luck with strong performances long enough to outlast at least one or two of Ru’s early favorites. It will be interesting to see how she fares next week with acting keep that in mind. If she shows any obliviousness or difficulty taking direction, she’ll be in danger.
(That all said: She is by far my favorite queen in the cast!)
8. Kween Kong (Pre-Season #1)
Kween Kong (Cameo | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter) is saved for the final entrance, and she received a rapturous response as she delivered her line, “Honey, I’ve got the upper hand in this competition.”
If you didn’t catch Kween Kong’s entrance look reference right off the bat, she is being carried in manicured King Kong’s hand, à la Fay Wray.
I’m fascinated by how Kween Kong styles herself. She is a muscular hunk out of drag, which means she has to do some serious work in cinching and “proportionizing” to create a curvy figure in drag. She managed to do that in her entrance bodysuit, which was a completely nude color. That is drag magic. She had nothing to work with in terms of colors or patterns to create the illusion of her shape – just corsetry, padding, and the cut of the suit.
One ominous aspect of Kween Kong’s episode was that she wasn’t funny in the mini-challenge. Like… not at all. Surely some of her wit wound up on the cutting room floor, but comedy is the quickest way to Ru’s heart – especially on a non-American season where she doesn’t know the cultural reference points. You’ve gotta deliver jokes, constantly.
If Kween Kong doesn’t have those jokes, I fear for her longevity with Ru and production.
Kween Kong was in the bottom three this week, but narratively she never felt as though she was at serious risk of dismissal. She was called safe on the strength of her stunning mug as well as the fact that her garment told a more coherent story than either of the bottom two queens… even if her construction was possibly worse than either of them. This feels like just a sketch of a concept, but the idea of a deep V bodice and a swishing skirt is there.
(I can’t help but wonder what her initial garment might have looked like if she had finished it. She swore it was too off-brand for her, but it was looking lovely and distinct from what other queens were presenting in the few shots of it we saw.)
My fear for Kween Kong is that the show plans to use her exclusively as a lip sync assassin rather than celebrating her full range of talents. Especially on the UK series, production has established an obvious habit of immediately marking queens of color as lip sync assassins and placing them in the bottom just for the thrill of their repeated performances.
Given Kween Kong’s dance pedigree, I have to wonder if this will be her fate. It feels to me like she has so much more to bring to this season than the racist archetype the show has prepared for her.
9. Aubrey Haive (Pre-Season #10)
(This is more than a throwaway line. Given the restrictions on Kiwi repatriation over the first two years of the pandemic, Aubrey’s only way to visit home would be to score a scantly-available slot in a quarantine lottery and then spend two weeks locked in a hotel room. It might’ve been easier to get onto Drag Race than to score one of those rooms… and getting onto Drag Race is ferociously difficult!)
I did not expect Aubrey to look so tiny and youthful out of drag! She has a very small, thin face and soft features.
One on hand, this makes me appreciate her paint a bit more than I did at first – she’s reshaping her face more than I realized! On the other, it emphasizes my comment about her not having a unique make-up look. We’ve seen this face on other drag queens, and it’s not taking advantage of all of her out-of-drag features. She looks more like Art Simone in drag than she looks like herself.
Please don’t get me wrong: Aubrey’s make-up is very good. Make-up is hard, and drag make-up is harder. I would never come for a Drag Race queen’s overall make-up beat unless it’s to comment on a specific aspect that’s not working for me, like a droopy lash. For a queen who has been doing drag for only about a year, Aubrey is already at an expert level!
I’m just slightly puzzled that her look doesn’t seem more specific to her, especially after seeing her out-of-drag face.
Make-up puzzlement aside, Aubrey delivered one of the only fully-sewn looks in the challenge, but she was nearly invisible in the edit. I repeatedly forgot she was in the episode as I made notes about it. It was hard to get a read on how Ru received her since she was the first queen in the mini-challenge. Apart from that, she spent more time on screen being referenced by Hannah and Beverly than she did as her own character.
Does that mean Aubrey is about to get more story to herself next episode, or is she on the brink of an early elimination?
Eliminated: Faúx Fúr (Pre-Season #4)
Faúx Fúr joins Halal Bae in the distinction of being my optimistic #4 pre-season pick who gets the cruelest first cut of the season. The cut seemed doubly cruel because she assembled one of the more decent actual garments in the design challenge but was given the chop for a pair of exposed black panties.
If we’re being frank, I think Ru would have more patience for bad panties from a queen who delighted her more. Ru didn’t seem to find Faúx Fúr particularly amusing in the mini-challenge. It was hard to discern who she was beneath the wacky screaming character she delivered in her confessionals.
When a queen doesn’t hand the show much story potential and isn’t an obvious pick to win, that makes her easy to chop as soon as she shows a moment of weakness.
I wish we had a chance to see more of Faúx Fúr’s potential as a performer – and, especially, her varied make-up looks! I have really loved getting to know her via her Instagram. Luckily for me, she is a queen I actually have a chance of seeing as she tours within NZ! Perhaps I’ll get to witness all of her capabilities for myself in the not-to-distant future.