One of television’s most prominent and hyped up reality shows currently on air, RuPaul’s Drag Race is on its way to a 10th season and currently airing the 3rd season of its All-Stars spin-off. Unsurprisingly, an 11th season has already been confirmed for 2019.
Drag Race is a competition reality show composed of drag queens and spearheaded by RuPaul himself, inarguably the most famous and successful drag queen of all time. The contestants face challenges of all kinds, having to show their talents in acting, make-up, sewing, modeling, comedy, impersonation, and branding. Though it was initially perceived as a spoof on America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race is essentially a spoof on the entire reality show genre itself, even though contestants and fans take it very seriously.
Former contestants of Drag Race have experienced all kinds of mainstream success after appearing in the series, such as releasing albums that charted on Billboard, appearing in films and scripted TV shows, modeling for notable fashion brands, booking make-up gigs with pop stars touring around the world, and even getting their own talk shows, such as Viceland’s The Trixie & Katya Show.
But despite all the glamour, Drag Race can get shady, too. These are 16 Dark Secrets Behind RuPaul’s Drag Race.
16 WILLAM WAS KICKED OFF
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 featured a wide variety of talented drag queens, including Willam, who out of drag had already enjoyed a substantial career as an actor, being featured as a recurring character in Nip/Tuck and playing a trans woman in the 2007 comedy Because I Said So.
Despite being one of the Drag Race contestants with the most previous professional experience in the entertainment industry, Willam went on to become the first-ever (and, so far, only) queen to have ever been kicked off of the series due to a breach of contract.
According to insider reports, this breach of contract took place as Willam’s partner started to visit him at the hotel the contestants were staying at during the taping of Drag Race. Like with most reality shows, conjugal visits are strictly forbidden for all contestants.
15 RUPAUL NEVER REMEMBERS THE QUEENS’ NAMES
There are countless of podcast episodes and video interviews that have presented an overwhelming amount of evidence to the fact that RuPaul has a really, really, really bad memory when it comes to the names of Drag Race contestants.
RuPaul is known as a pop culture expert who can point out the exact year movies came out and albums were released. His vast knowledge of and love for popular culture is embedded in the DNA of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and many of his guests on the What’s The Tee podcast are impressed with his expertise on dates and tidbits.
So it’s actually quite shady of RuPaul to fail so often at remembering the names of Drag Race contestants, which season of the show they were on, or even what they were like during their time in the series.
14 ELIMINATION SETUPS
For years, rumors have made the rounds on the internet that, sometimes, certain Drag Race contestants are quite literally set up to fail and be eliminated. Drag queen Phi Phi O’Hara has continuously spoken out about the assassination of her character in the editing of the show, and many Valentina fans felt like she was set up to fail on season 9 when she was paired with Nina Bo’Nina Brown, who had been struggling for many episodes.
This notion surfaced yet again during RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars season 3, currently on air, when Thorgy Thor was assigned to impersonate Stevie Nicks and spoke out about how her given material in the weekly challenge was substantially inferior to those given to the other contestants.
Because all Drag Race eliminations are subject to RuPaul’s own judgment call, it’s easy to see how things could swing whichever way the producers favor.
13 SEASON 1 WAS REALLY JUST A PILOT
A massive percentage of hardcore Drag Race fans have not watched the series’ first season, which aired in 2009 on VH1.
It's even labeled as “The Lost Season.”
Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race had 9 contestants and 8 episodes. The production value was so low that, in order to transform the appearance of things into something more glamorous, a substantial (and now laughable) “filter” was applied over the footage, making everything look somewhat blurry and out of focus. RuPaul himself has poked fun at the show’s first year, and even refers to the entire season as “a pilot” for the overall series.
It was unheard of for a reality show’s entire first season to merely be“proof of concept” for a network to truly believe in it, but that was the case with RuPaul’s Drag Race.
12 SOME CONTESTANTS WERE ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO WIN
Hardcore fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race are quick to point out that there have been absolutely obvious winners to certain seasons, which is made clear by the show’s editing. This fact was particularly clear in seasons 2, 6, and 8, as well as in the two first seasons of Drag Race All-Stars, in which there was a contestant who was clearly going to win without a trace of doubt.
According to fans, RuPaul was undoubtedly crowning Tyra Sanchez in season 2, which aired in 2010. Season 6 was Bianca Del Rio’s to win from the very beginning, and the same storyline took place on season 8 with Bob The Drag Queen. On the All-Stars side, there was little doubt that Chad Michaels would ultimately win the first season, and that Alaska would rise to the top during the second season.
11 MERLE’S EXIT AS A JUDGE
Because Michelle Visage had already worked alongside RuPaul for many years during VH1’s The RuPaul Show and on radio stations, the plan had always been for her to be an ongoing judge in RuPaul’s Drag Race. Due to contractual obligations with CBS Radio, however, she was unable to participate in the show’s first and second season, which made way for fashion writer Merle Ginsberg to fill out that blank space.
As soon as Michelle Visage was relieved from her CBS Radio contract, she joined season 3 as a permanent judge, and Merle disappeared from the Drag Race panel for years. The disappearance was so sudden that, on season 7, the show poked fun at the fact that Michelle had killed Merle Ginsberg to take her rightful place alongside RuPaul.
10 ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHALLENGES
Many casual RuPaul’s Drag Race fans always wonder how the heck the contestants know what to bring for challenges that are very specific. Aside from the “Snatch Game” segment that happens every year, there are runway challenges in Drag Race that seem like complete surprises to the contestants and the audience, such as showcasing their best Madonna runway looks, or the beard-themed runway challenge.
The truth is that, upon being called to be on Drag Race, all queens receive a long and vague list of things that they should bring to the show, meaning that they half-expect to see certain challenges take place throughout the season. If a beard challenge might happen, they are aware that they should bring a beard. If a Madonna-themed runway challenge might happen, the contestants know that they should bring a Madonna outfit.
9 THE BIG SEASON 3 SPOILER
In 2011, gossip blogger Perez Hilton took to his website to leak who the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 3 was going to be, which started a major beef between the team behind the show and the blogger.
The most outspoken person on the Drag Race side was judge Michelle Visage, who also happens to be one of RuPaul’s personal best friends. She had missed out on being a judge on the show due to contractual obligations with CBS Radio, and finally joined the panel during season 3, which was spoiled by Perez Hilton.
Four years later, in 2015, Michelle Visage and Perez Hilton were coincidentally (or not) cast in the same season of UK’s Celebrity Big Brother, and actually had multiple fights during the season that all seemed to come from Michelle’s overall distaste of Perez since he spoiled Drag Race.
8 THE CHARLES MANSON CONNECTION
For some time now, RuPaul’s Drag Race has been taped on a soundstage located in Simi Valley, California, which was home to Charles Manson’s family, held the Rodney King trial, and set the background for many episodes of the 1955 Western TV series Gunsmoke.
Historically, there was definitely a lot of violence in the surroundings of the soundstage where Drag Race is shot.
This feels ironic due to the humorous, kind, and flamboyant nature of the series. In an interview with Vanity Fair, RuPaul acknowledged the history of that region and said: “We’ve come to cleanse the whole area of its checkered past.”
In 2017, Charles Manson was portrayed in two major projects on television, Netflix’s Mindhunter and FX’s American Horror Story: Cult, which both explored the background and the motives behind this serial killer.
7 THE RUNWAY SEGMENT IS SHOT TWICE
According to former Drag Race contestants and production insiders, the runway segment of the show is always shot twice.
One time, the queens walk with no music, just for filming the reactions of the judges.
Another time, the queens walk to no commentary, only to music playing in the background. These two versions are put together in the final edit, as we simultaneously watch the judges react to the queens walking the runway to the beat of music.
Aside from the runway challenge, it is said that certain Drag Race mini-challenges are also shot twice, especially when they require a lot of group choreography or acting. It’s no secret that this TV show’s contestants are asked to do a lot, including acting, sewing, performing, lip-synching, writing comedy, dancing, and modeling. Multiple shots are sometimes needed.
6 EACH SEASON IS FILMED IN ONLY FOUR WEEKS
Seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race air for an average of 3 months on TV, but that doesn’t mean that it takes three months to film the whole thing. As a matter of fact, an entire season of the show is shot in four weeks.
Each Drag Race “week” is actually done in just two or three days.
This format is common for a lot of competition reality shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Series such as Masterchef, America’s Next Top Model, and The Bachelor don’t actually need seven days to fill out an episode that is meant to symbolize a week’s worth of content. Fewer days of shooting mean fewer costs associated with the production, and reality shows are notably inexpensive TV shows that yield high profit margins for networks.
5 FINALES ALWAYS SHOOT MULTIPLE ENDINGS
Aside from the 4 weeks that it takes to film an entire season of Drag Race, there is one particular episode that is shot closer to its airing date: the finale.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is known for taping its finales in a grand theater with a huge audience, which means that the finale can’t really be filmed until everyone knows who the Top 3 (or Top 4) contestants are. Since the episode does not air live and there is an audience present in the theater, the show also makes a point of filming multiple endings, in which every finalist is crowned and does a “victory walk,” in an attempt to prevent the people in the theater from leaking to social media who’s the winner of that year.
It’s only when a Drag Race finale airs on television that even the contestants know who actually has won.
4 RUPAUL DOESN’T EVEN LIKE REALITY SHOWS
As World of Wonder – the production company behind Drag Race – approached RuPaul to host this series, he firmly declined the offer, which in hindsight seems absolutely ludicrous. As a rule, it seems like RuPaul is not a fan of the overall genre of competition reality shows.
He's expressed distaste for the mean-spirited tone of many reality shows.
RuPaul has repeatedly stated that the production team behind Drag Race never aims for someone “to look bad,” and says that the show is about “the tenacity of the human spirit.”
As RuPaul won an Emmy award in 2016 for Best Reality Host (which he would win again in 2017), he reminded the audience of something he has always said: he’d "rather get an enema than an Emmy."
3 THE “SHE-MAIL” CONTROVERSY
From the very beginning, RuPaul’s Drag Race had a particular segment called “You’ve Got She-Mail,” which was both a spoof on America’s Next Top Model’s “Tyra Mail” segment and the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. The problem, however, is that the “She-Mail” term was also a pun that made reference to the transphobic slur “she-male,” which became particularly problematic after four former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants came out as trans women.
Kenya Michaels, Monica Beverly Hillz, Sonique, and Carmen Carrera were all closeted trans women during their time in RuPaul’s Drag Race. After coming out as trans, Carmen Carrera was by far the most outspoken Drag Race alum to voice out her discomfort with the “You’ve Got She-Mail” segment.
By season 7, which aired in 2015, RuPaul’s Drag Race had officially removed the segment from the series and even erased it from the edit of previous seasons, replacing the segment with the phrase “She Done Already Done Had Herses.”
2 PODCAST SPOILERS
Aside from Drag Race, RuPaul is also the host of a pop culture trivia show on Logo TV called Gay For Play, and the co-host of What’s The Tee, a podcast that also features Michelle Visage. So what’s the point?
What’s The Tee is for Drag Race what Legos are for superhero movies: spoiler central.
A new episode of What’s The Tee is released every Wednesday, a day before Drag Race episodes currently air, and almost every week the podcast features the exact same people that are guest judges on that week’s Drag Race episode. The explanation behind this is that the podcast is recorded during lunchtime on the set of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which means that the TV show’s guest judges are repurposed as podcast guests.
1 CONTESTANTS KNEW THEY WERE GOING TO BE ELIMINATED
Jiggly Caliente, a queen from season 4 of Drag Race, has made allegations that she received a checkout letter from the hotel where the contestants were staying thanking her for her stay, which essentially means that the show’s producers had already communicated to the hotel that Jiggly was no longer going to be staying another night there, even though she hadn’t yet been eliminated.
A few other contestants from earlier seasons have made similar claims, but this hasn’t happened in recent years, as the Drag Race production team has certainly figured out that, even if they have already made up a decision about which queen is being sent home, they can’t allow the hotel to send contestants a checkout letter before their elimination even takes place.
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