Kia ora and welcome to my review and power rankings for the second episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2 – “Cagey Queens” – a particularly wretched acting challenge.
Despite living in New Zealand for five years, I haven’t seen a single lick of New Zealand TV – so, I couldn’t tell you if this prison skit is a spoof of anything specific about Down Under television.
(In fact, there have been some well-regarded Aussie prison shows to pull from – namely, Prisoner and its modern reboot Wentworth – but I can’t say whether it references either.)
Just based on what I’ve absorbed from conversational context, it feels like a more apt acting challenge would be a Soap Opera spoof of Home and Away or Neighbours, a high school drama, a parody of Xena, a nature programme, or even a badly-imported reality TV show.
Yet, here we are with a prison script that sincerely has no plot and no jokes. Much like the “here’s some leaves” design challenge last episode, it feels like these Aussie and Kiwi queens are being given nothing to work worth.
In the immortal words of India Ferrah: “Girl… prison, honey.”
Yet, once again this cast somehow managed to shine despite that. Aside from two queens who were particularly lost in this scene, everyone delivered something ranging from a decent performance to laugh-out-loud comedy.
Pair that with a particularly-strong insect-themed runway and it feels like the cast made good episode by sheer force of will. They certainly weren’t aided by a downright surly Michelle Visage, or the typically-hilarious Lucy Lawless as a guest judge. She gets the chance to say maybe two sentences throughout the entire episode.
This criminally bad acting challenge has shaken up the power rankings significantly from my Week One rankings – with one low queen on a meteoric rise and another queen seemingly doomed to be the next out no matter what she does. Do you agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments below.
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.)
Readers, start your engines… and may the best Down Under drag queen win!
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 2: Cagey Queens Power Rankings
Usually there is no power on heaven or earth that could get me to re-watch a Drag Race acting challenge, but apparently “blogging” fits into neither domain because I watched this disaster three times while taking notes for this post.
I’m not going to dissect the finer points of each thespian’s performance, since they were all painting in broad strokes from a script largely lacking in any jokes. That’s fine, because the real devil of a Drag Race acting challenge isn’t in the details, but in how the queens handle themselves through Michelle’s useless direction and in how that was received by the judges.
Before we get to these long-suffering queens and their “Fly Girls” insect runways, here’s RuPaul in an exceedingly-rare shock of silver hair! I must confess, it looks ravishing on her, as does the tightly belted waist of this tinsel-covered one-shoulder dress.
1. Hannah Conda (was 1, Pre-Season #2)
Hannah Conda (Cameo | Instagram) delivered a confident acting performance and had one of the most impressive buggy runways of all the queens. Despite not yet notching a win, she still feels like the queen to beat.
Hannah Conda’s flapper-era gypsy moth was a marvel. This is a great example of how to make “more on more on more” work on a runway look, because all of the “more” is working together. The jacket, the fur, the finger waves, the little antennae, and the way it is all rendered in a golden brown hue – it’s all absolutely gorgeous.
Kudos to Hannah and her designer Kirsten Damned for finding a way to stand out as a gorgeous insect without leaning into neon or stark color-blocking.
Hannah wasn’t only a winner on the runway – her acting challenge performance made it seem like there was actually a good script to work from! Hannah scrounged for every available joke and made up some of her own despite the script making very little sense. You’ve got to hunt and gather your own punchlines in a Drag Race acting challenge, and Hannah was up to the task.
We’ve now witness Hannah easily handle a design challenge and acting, plus we’ve had a hint of the level of opulence she packed in her suitcase. So, what exactly will prove to be Hannah’s weak spot? Perhaps a dance challenge could trip her up, but it feels like we’ve already found the first of three possible finalists with a wide gap between her and the #2 spot.
2. Spankie Jackzon (was 6, Pre-Season #3)
In all fairness to my semi-local Kiwi queen, I don’t think the runway lights did her outfit any favors. Seeing it in more deliberate lighting on Instagram makes it obvious how much cool stoning and detail went into the look that was washed out on the show.
That’s a good reminder that we really can’t trust our eyes with this runway lighting, which is even managing to make RuPaul look bad.
If the symmetry of the stuck-on bits of this look remind you slightly of Spankie’s design challenge look from last week, that might be because (per her Insta) this was also last-minute affair made with materials scrounged from around the house. That’s not only a charming origin story for this fly look, but also the promise that we still might be waiting to see what Spankie is really capable of on the runway. Or, maybe not – the ass-out cut of this dress is almost identical to her entrance look.
Either way, I’m very curious to see what she wears next week!
Where Spankie had a bigger success this week was in the acting challenge. Was it an amazing acting performance? No. Was it coherent? No (but that was a script problem, not a Spankie problem). But, she knew her lines and she came with a fully formed and fully absurd character with plenty of bits of business to try, and she gamely took Michelle’s unhelpful direction.
I think Michelle and Ru both slightly oversold their reaction of “I could watch Spankie answer the telephone all day,” but this was still a strong performance that redeemed her design challenge misfire last week.
With one lip sync and one win to her credit, Spankie has already experienced all the highs and lows Drag Race has to offer in just two episodes! It’s clear that Ru finds her charming and she has no hesitations as a performer. If her suitcase doesn’t let her down she is poised for a deep run.
3. Minnie Cooper (was 4, Pre-Season #6)
Minnie Cooper (Cameo | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter | YouTube) effortlessly glided through the acting challenge and presented a chic butterfly runway, but she’s stuck in her head. Will she survive getting a dose of reality as the season continues?
Minnie Cooper’s butterfly dress was her best look yet this season.
On some queens this combination of black and bright blue (complete with little pom poms) could look garish or costume-y. Minnie brought it together with the blue detailing on her black hair to complete the retro illusion plus a lovely make-up look with a bright pink lip. It wasn’t the best garment on the runway, but it was one of the stronger looks.
The same is true for the acting challenge. Mini didn’t have quite the level of flashiness to her performance as Spankie or the humor of Pomara, but her batty old prisoner may have been the only character that stood out to me as being fully realized even without having to pay attention to the dreadful script. Minnie found plenty of bits to perform and she delivered them with confidence.
Confidence isn’t Minnie’s problem. Based on the workroom interactions we saw this episode, she seems to be struggling with an intersection of ego, sensitivity, and a hint of delusion.
At first I appreciated her forthright way of dealing with conflict and insisting on real apologies and actual resolution. “Wow,” I thought, “here’s a no-nonsense performer who is used to being the queen bee and who doesn’t have patience for working with assholes. I love her.”
However, as the episode pressed on we saw her inventing (and, maybe instigating) a conflict where there was none. I understand Minnie was feeling sensitive about her dyslexia, but that sensitivity led her to misread a simple joke from Pomara that hung over her like a cloud for the remainder of the episode.
From a narrative perspective, that’s intriguing. We’re used to seeing this sort of archetype from younger queens on the show. We’ve had older queens who have gotten a “delusional” or “out of touch” edit before and we haven’t seen an “old pro with no time for your nonsense” edit since Chad and Bianca on Seasons 4 and 6. Minnie exists somewhere in between the two. That feels like an archetype ripe for story produces to mine for content.
If Minnie keeps delivering in challenges there is plenty of space for her to be slightly pushy with the other queens. In fact, a self-involved edit might be as close to a “villain” as we’ll get from a Down Under season. Combined with the strength of her performances, she could be insulated from elimination all the way to the top four.
4. Molly Poppinz (was 2, Pre-Season #9)
In a weaker field, Molly’s green insect runway would fare just fine. However, Molly was blown away in comparison to a crowd that leaned hard into the high-fashion possibilities (plus Yuri’s acid trip paying mantis in the same color scheme). This was a lot of disconnected elements that didn’t move especially well.
Once again, Molly impressed me in a challenge by bringing more to it than I thought she would. I didn’t peg her as a queen who could chew scenery and take up space, but her eyepatch-wearing butch prisoner brought me some of the only genuine giggles I found in this performance.
I think Molly was rightfully called safe due to her runway, which means she has already outlived my pre-season prediction for her placement! I’ll be interested to see how she fares next week in a hosting challenge that’s all about force of personality. If she can make herself memorable amongst the big personalities in this cast, we really might have a contender on our hands.
5. Beverly Kills (was 3, Pre-Season #8)
Beverly Kills (Cameo | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter) had one of the most thankless roles in the acting challenge, and seemed to be invisible to the judges despite a slick latex look. In a 10-queen season, she doesn’t have much more time to start capturing their attention.
This black-and-white bug mosquito look went slightly more abstract with the “insect” resemblance than the other queens, but it was well-fitted and fun to look at. I think it might’ve worked better with a long-nosed mask (like that of a plague doctor) rather than the mosquito-faced hat, which she wisely ditched for her Instagram photo shoot. Also, I always love a floating heel!
Beverly wound up with the most beige part in the prison farce: that of an inmate doomed to execution. Despite not having any of the ridiculous business that almost everyone else got with their scenes, Beverly brought her own perspective to this character and swung hard at every line. While she clearly wasn’t a challenge winner, there wasn’t a single thing wrong with her performance.
(I wish we could’ve seen her in Kween or Yuri’s role instead, where she might have slayed.)
I continue to get the impression that everything about Drag Race is coming easily to Beverly, which is absolutely wild considering she’s only 21-years old! The one thing she is missing so far is the X-Factor of Ru’s obsession. She still has a week or two of padding to make her connection with Ru, but if she doesn’t do it soon she’ll find herself pressed up against Ru’s favorites without a win to show for herself.
6. Kween Kong (was 8, Pre-Season #1)
Kween Kong (Cameo | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter) was adrift in the acting challenge, and a graphic dress that did nothing for her shape couldn’t save her from a trip to the bottom two. However, I think the challenge order may be on her side for the next few weeks.
Kween Kong’s runway look was fine, but in a line-up of several queens who told engaging stories with color her black-and-white look wasn’t bold enough. Nor was it stoned enough, The tiny allotment of stones along the border of each of the white sections of her dress barely read on camera.
Also, the illusion of figure she was trying to deliver didn’t quite work here. There is a waist-cinching effect from the taper white on her abdomen, but it is slightly too broad and doesn’t have enough separation from her wings jutting out below. The wings might have been meant to come off as extra-wide hips, but their placement and scale feels slightly off. Add to that her baggy sleeves and it’s hard to figure out what this look was trying to accomplish when it comes to her shape, even if it was easily reading as a “moth.”
In the acting challenge, Kween’s performance was a flatline. She needed to be impressively ditzy to sell her sparse bit of script, but unlike Trinity the Tuck she was unable to “find the pleasure in [her] absence.”
Right now, Kween Kong is giving me the familiar story of a queen who is a real world success and an amazing performer but can’t capture the magic within the restrictions of Drag Race. Kween wouldn’t be the first polished, successful queen to fall victim to this fate, nor will she be the last.
Luckily, next week’s challenge of hosting a Drag Brunch is as close to a “real world success” challenge as any queen could get on Drag Race. I cannot picture any version of reality where she is in the bottom two for that challenge. That should keep Kween Kong alive for one more week, and I suspect the following week will have to be a major Drag Race staple like a singing challenge or Snatch Game.
Even if scripted comedy tripped her up this week, Kween Kong strikes me as a queen who comes prepared. If next week is as easy as I think it will be and if she has a good Snatch Game character in her back pocket she could easily skate through to the Top Five – and she’ll have several chances to impress Ru along the way.
7. Yuri Guaii (was 5, Pre-Season #7)
This neon praying mantis look is almost too much to look at. I mostly blame the bows, which weren’t necessary. If you can see past them, the look is actually impressively streamlined. The busy-ness comes from the vibrating colors and the layering of elements, but my eye never has trouble landing on any one part of it. Plus, the engineering of Yuri’s massive front leg claws is awesome!
Unfortunately, Yuri Gauii gave less than nothing in the acting performance. She had the gift of being one of the most straight-forward characters – a vapid vamp – and despite looking the part she couldn’t sell a single line of it. This comes on top of her distinctly laugh-free mini-challenge with Ru last week.
We all know that a typical Drag Race season is going to foist at least one more supposedly-funny challenge on these queens in addition to Snatch Game. Plus, there’s hosting next week! That’s all going to be difficult for Yuri to conquer based on what we’ve seen in the first two weeks, even if she may be the “look queen” of the season.
8. Pomara Fifth (was 7, Pre-Season #5)
Pomara Fifth (Cameo | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Twitter) received the kiss of death in this episode: she was ignored despite being the most memorable actor in the challenge and having a fine runway.
Pomara Fifth’s runway feels like the improved version of Spankie’s runway. It has color, dimension, shape, and a flattering cut where Spankie’s is just the idea of all that.
Pomara’s challenge performance was full of comedy beats and packed with jokes. She started with one of the more-coherent bits of script, but she was relentless in mining it for as much texture as possible. She did so much with her face! Every line came with an expression, and she didn’t waste a single chance to react to another queen.
For me, Pomara was the obvious winner on challenge alone, and with a proficient runway I assumed she would be in the top group with Minnie and Hannah. Imagine my surprise when Spankie got the nod and she didn’t!
I hate to wave goodbye to this dynamic dual-country queen, who to me seems like one of the most talented and funny queens in this bunch. However, unless they’re being miserly with a win with the confidence that she will slay Snatch Game, the edit is telling us loud and clear that she’ll be gone soon.
Eliminated: Aubrey Haive (was 9, Pre-Season #10)
Aubrey Haive’s runway was simply beautiful. This is a gorgeous garment that takes the insect theme all the way to high fashion.
I can’t help but wonder if that would’ve been enough to keep her out of the bottom two had she not done so much fussing with her suitcase and her wings. I suppose if she felt she was in danger after the acting challenge she wanted to pull out all the stops on the runway, but her smart suited business moth didn’t need all of that distraction – she already had a spark.
Aubrey fell into a common trap in the acting challenge that would also be my downfall: she played it too straight. Not straight, like un-queer, but straight like “obvious.” There are usually only one or two roles in these Drag Race acting challenges where the script alone will equip a queen with all the tools for success. Most of the characters are purposefully blank slates with thuddingly obvious lines. Queens have to bring their own perspective to the roles to make them pop, and hope that resonates with Ru.
I’ve never been good at that as an actor or in any other performance. I tend to want to play things super straight to find the strength in the text without any major flights of fancy. That’s an approach many seasoned performers would take, and I think it’s how Aubrey got mired in this challenge. There may have been a way out for her had she played things bigger, broader, and dumber.
Or, maybe there wasn’t. It’s not fair to Aubrey to play a game of “coulda shoulda woulda” with her performance. She clearly has the chops and the suitcase for Drag Race after an impossibly short time as a drag queen. She has many years of drag success in New Zealand and around the world ahead of her.