After ten years on air, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its All-Stars spin-off have gone through several twists and turns to keep fans interested and garner even more attention from mainstream audiences. While some of those changes definitely made the show better, more interesting, or at the very least exposed fans to something new, certain rule modifications were arguably harmful to the series as a whole, affecting even who ends up winning a season.
Like any other reality show, Drag Race wants audiences to believe that the very best contestants compose a season’s Top 4, and that the ultimate best queen takes the crown in the end. However, with so many rule changes, there have been seasons in which fans feel like a finale did not feature the best drag queens of that year, nor that a winner was crowned fairly. Over time, the show has done a great job at course-correcting whenever it feels like it made a bad decision. On the other hand, the series has stood by some of its controversial decisions, believing that it is ultimately raising fan interest through criticism.
Nonetheless, RuPaul’s Drag Race does not usually shy away from controversy. One of the series’ main goals is to spark debates on social media, whether that be a positive discussion or a negative one. As the franchise prepares for an 11th Drag Race season as well as All-Stars 4, we can look back for clues about what is coming next.
These are 10 Rule Changes That Hurt RuPaul’s Drag Race (And 10 That Saved It).
20 HURT: TAPING THE FINALE WITH AN AUDIENCE
Season 3 winner Raja was leaked by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, which prompted World of Wonder – the production company behind the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise – to change things up. From season 4 and onwards, the finale of Drag Race started to be filmed in front of a live audience. Also, to avoid spoilers, each queen on the Top 3 (or, later, Top 4) would film a victory walk and speech. Thus, it would only be once the episode aired that fans would learn who won.
With that said, filming the finale in front of a live audience opened a different can of worms and prompted even more spoilers, since hundreds of people were present during the taping of the final episode of each season.
While Drag Race tries its best to dodge spoilers, the details about who wins a season leak on an yearly basis from audience members that attend the show’s finale taping.
19 SAVED: LIP SYNC FOR THE CROWN
On season 9, Drag Race introduced a brand-new concept to its finales: the “lip sync for the crown.” The show has been famous for its “lip sync for your life” moments in every episode, where the bottom queens lip-sync to a song and try to convince RuPaul that they should not be eliminated. Thus, for the finales, it makes sense for queens to lip sync against one another and convince RuPaul and fans alike that they are worthy of a crown.
Though this decision has been controversial, it certainly keeps contestants and fans on their toes up until the very last second.
It creates the possibility for queens who had no chance of winning based on stats to rise to the challenge and make it to the Top 2.
18 HURT: THREE-WAY LIP SYNC FOR THE CROWN
Despite the fact that season 9’s “lip sync for the crown” concept seems like an exciting idea to give the finale episode a real purpose that it never had before, Drag Race added yet another element to the season 10 finale: three queens would lip sync, instead of two.
As RuPaul herself put it, this was the very first time that a lip sync in the show featured three queens at the same time. In this case, Aquaria, Eureka, and Kameron Michaels battled for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.
While this idea sounded good in theory, the reality of seeing three queens lip syncing the same song was too much.
Fans complained about not being able to focus on any of them in particular.
17 SAVED: TOP 4 FINALES
Ever since the very first season of Drag Race, the show featured a Top 3 in its finale. In season 1, the finalists were Rebecca Glasscock, Nina Flowers, and BeBe Zahara Benet. The latter took the crown as the franchise’s first-ever winner.
The Top 3 format was maintained up until season 8, which had Bob the Drag Queen, Kim Chi, and Naomi Smalls in the finale.
However, by season 9, things changed. In order for a “lip sync for the crown” to work, there would have to be two pairs of queens. Thus, a Top 4 was created for the Drag Race finales, a format that was repeated on season 10 and has even been adopted for All-Stars seasons.
16 HURT: NO IMMUNITY AFTER A WIN
Up until season 5, RuPaul’s Drag Race worked this way: if you win a week’s challenge, you are granted immunity for the next one. This format happened up until the finale, when all queens were judged equally and a Top 3 would be formed. However, everything changed mid-season 5, and it is sort of Alyssa Edwards’ fault.
Alyssa Edwards won the “Black Swan” ballet challenge on season 5, which was featured on that season’s fourth episode. Thus, she was granted immunity. However, the very next episode was “Snatch Game,” where she impersonated Katy Perry and totally bombed. At that point, producers felt like it was unfair to grant immunity to a person who should have been considered for elimination.
With that, the possibility of immunity was gone, forcing the show’s Main Challenges to give silly prizes to winners instead.
15 SAVED: LIP SYNC FOR YOUR LEGACY ON ALL-STARS 2
A huge part of RuPaul’s Drag Race is its “lip sync for your life” challenge. With the bombing of the first season of All-Stars, producers were pushed to reinvent the format while still keeping it somewhat true to the show. As a result, the “lip sync for your legacy” was invented for All-Stars 2.
Unlike the original lip sync challenge on Drag Race – in which the Bottom 2 of the week compete to stay on the show –, the “lip sync for your legacy” format is composed of the Top 2 of the week.
They fight for the chance to eliminate one of their fellow contestants who are in the Bottom 2 (or 3) that week.
Furthermore, this is also a great chance for winners to show the judges why they should crown them in the end.
14 HURT: COMPETING IN TEAMS ON ALL-STARS 1
It is hard to find a decision in the history of the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise that is worse than having contestants compete in two teams for All-Stars 1.
Contestants with wildly different fan bases and entirely diverging styles, such as Mimi Imfurst and Pandora Boxx, were forced to team together, sparking ire from fans.
Because Chad Michaels was poised to win the season from the beginning, her teammate Shannel was taken to the top without doing much.
Even Drag Race producers have admitted to the fact that this was a wrong decision, and the ultimate proof that this was a bad call is that it took four years for the second season of All-Stars to be greenlit. Furthermore, All-Stars 2 did not require contestants to compete in teams.
13 SAVED: QUEENS ELIMINATING EACH OTHER IN ALL-STARS 2
Instead of having pairs of queens, All-Stars 2 introduced a brand-new idea that actually pleased fans: instead of having the judges send contestants home, they would do it themselves.
Of course, the judges were still responsible for picking the Top 2 and Bottom 2 of each week. However, the best queens of each week would “lip sync for their legacy,” and the winner would get the chance to send one of the Bottom 2 queens home.
This rule change introduced a Survivor-like quality to Drag Race, and it was certainly entertaining to see drag queens playing politics inside the workroom. This rule was behind the success of All-Stars 2, resulting in a hit All-Stars 3-- and 4 on its way.
12 HURT: THE PANIC BUTTON
Speaking of how weak the first All-Stars season was…
Because the queens were competing in teams but “lip sync for your life” moments were only between two contestants, each pair had to decide which drag queen would be lip synching to save their places in the competition upon landing in the Bottom 2-- which, in this case, was more like a Bottom 4.
However, if a queen felt that she was not doing a good job lip synching, she would have the option to press a so-called “panic button,” allowing her teammate to trade places with her in the lip sync. The button was only used once during that season, on episode 4, when Yara Sofia chose to trade places with Alexis Mateo, who finished the lip sync.
Ultimately, they were still sent home, and the “panic button” never came back to Drag Race.
11 SAVED: LIMIT TO ONE COCKTAIL FOR UNTUCKED
On season 2, Jujubee decided to have quite a few drinks during Untucked after performing badly during a challenge. This caused her to lip sync while being completely inebriated on stage, as confirmed by fellow contestant Pandora Boxx.
After this incident, Drag Race producers decided to limit the amount of alcohol intake that the contestants were allowed to have during Untucked. More specifically, from season 3 and on, the queens were only allowed to have one drink while “untucking” backstage.
It is hard to argue that this decision hurt the show. Instead, it actually helped the contestants keep a sober and stable mindset, even during weeks when they performed badly.
10 HURT: ELIMINATED QUEENS DECIDE THE TOP 2 - ALL-STARS 3
In many ways, All-Stars 3 had the exact same set of rules as All-Stars 2. However, fans did not expect that the big gag of the season would come towards the very end, when a new rule change was introduced: the judges would not decide who among the Top 4 would make it to the Top 2. Instead, the eliminated queens of that season formed a jury and individually voted for whom they wished to see in the Top 2.
Shangela, who was poised to win All-Stars 3, only received one vote, being deterred from even “lip synching for the crown.”
Instead, Trixie Mattel and Kennedy Davenport made it onto the final lip sync. Ultimately, this was a terrible rule change, as the queens voted based on their social relationships rather than based on who deserved to win.
9 SAVED: QUEENS CAN COMPETE IN THE SHOW AGAIN
The precedent for queens returning from one season to another was set very early in the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise. That is because, despite the fact that Shangela Laquifa Wadley made a huge impact on season 2, she was the first queen to be eliminated. Interested in exploring what else Shangela had to give, the Drag Race producers brought the queen back for season 3, where she placed 6th.
Throughout the years, a few queens were thankfully allowed to return for not having enough time to show their talents during a season. For instance, Cynthia Lee Fontaine competed in seasons 8 and 9, and Eureka O’Hara was featured in seasons 9 and 10.
Moreover, reports point to Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, the first eliminated queen on season 10, will be back returning for season 11.
8 HURT: WINNERS COMPETING IN ALL-STARS
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars is all about giving Drag Race queens another chance to shine. More often than not, the queens who are eliminated “too early” in the minds of fans end up having the most success outside of the series. Thus, All-Stars seasons are chances for the franchise to capitalize on the success that these queens have had after appearing on the show.
However, All-Stars 3 opened a precedent that many fans were not quite as happy about. The season cast BeBe Zahara Benet, the winner of the first season of Drag Race, as an All-Stars contestant.
Rumors began circulating the Internet that BeBe was actually a mole who would serve as an informant to RuPaul.
As it turned out, those rumors were false, as BeBe was actually competing in the show. Nonetheless, having a winner compete on All-Stars is just odd.
7 SAVED: DOUBLE SHANTAY
Besides opening the precedent for queens from past seasons to return, the third season of Drag Race created yet another brand-new rule: there was now the possibility of two queens staying in the show after a “lip sync for your life.”
It all happened during a lip sync between Carmen Carrera and Yara Sofia, which was deemed so good by RuPaul that forced her to decide to keep both queens in the running. Ultimately, neither Carmen nor Yara made it very far in the season. However, they still deserve the credit for putting together a great lip sync and forcing RuPaul’s hand to invent the “Double Shantay” format.
Over the years, Drag Race used this “double save” several times. In season 10, it was used twice.
6 HURT: QUEENS CAN BRING FIVE BAGS TO THE SHOW
All contestants are allowed to bring a maximum of five bags to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Despite the fact that certain props and costumes are massive and it takes a lot of makeup for a drag queen to transform, this number of bags still allows contestants to bring a wide assortment of clothes and tools.
It ultimately gives queens the opportunity to plan out their entire run in the series.
While this sounds like a good thing, the most recent seasons of Drag Race have allowed queens to never have to make anything out of scratch, which was an essential element to the franchise during its earlier times. Instead, queens have ample room to bring a wide range of costumes made by professionals, rarely being put to test in regards to design.
5 SAVED: ELIMINATED QUEENS CAN COME BACK IN THE SAME SEASON
Besides setting the precedent that contestants can come back from one season to the next, season 3 also introduced the concept of “Comeback Queens” to the Drag Race franchise. Carmen Carrera was eliminated in episode 10, and then was brought back in episode 12.
Over the years, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its All-Stars spin-off have featured many challenges that allow eliminated queens to come back. This is a great way to ruffle feathers in the workroom and also give fans a little more of queens that were clearly making a huge impact on the show.
In season 4, Kenya Michaels was eliminated and then brought back. In season 7, it was Trixie Mattel, who would later win All-Stars 3. All-Stars 2 had two queens come back: Alyssa Edwards and Tatianna. In season 8, Naysha Lopez was brought back. During All-Stars 3, BenDeLaCreme picked Morgan McMichaels to trade places with her in the series.
4 HURT: RUPAUL AS A REUNION MODERATOR
RuPaul plays two roles in the Drag Race franchise. When dressed as a man, Ru is a Tim Gunn-like personality that walks around the workroom giving the queens expert advice and pointing them into the right direction. Then, while dressed in female drag, RuPaul is “Mama Ru,” the fabulous drag queen who is a mother to all of the Drag Race contestants.
However, in recent times, there has been yet another version: Ru, the moderator. During the reunion episodes of seasons 9 and 10, RuPaul was dressed in male clothing and served as an interviewer/instigator personality, much like Andy Cohen in the Real Housewives franchise.
Particularly during the season 10 reunion, it became clear that audiences have a hard time reconciling with the fact that Mama Ru can instigate those who are supposed to be her “children” to such an intense extent.
3 SAVED: DRAG IS NOT A CONTACT SPORT
On season 3, Mimi Imfurst and India Ferrah landed in the Bottom 2 and had to face a “lip sync for your life.” All was good and well until Mimi carried India on her shoulders and spun around, giving life to what has now become a well-known RuPaul saying: “drag is not a contact sport.”
Ultimately, Mimi was eliminated in that episode due to what she did during the lip sync.
Besides yielding a famous RuPaul quote, the actions of Mimi Imfurst also prompted the Drag Race franchise to very explicitly create the rule that contestants cannot touch one another during a “lip sync for your life.” While this rule is often forgiven when the queens are not hurting one another, it seems obvious that doing what Mimi did is now strictly prohibited.
2 HURT: AIRING UNTUCKED ON YOUTUBE
From season 2 until season 6, Untucked aired on TV, just like Drag Race itself. It was in season 7 that things changed, forcing World of Wonder to release Untucked episodes on YouTube.
While VH1 decided to pick up Untucked seasons beginning with season 10, it was still a terrible decision to relegate this accompanying series to YouTube for seasons 7, 8, and 9.
For instance, Aja’s infamous “You’re perfect, you’re beautiful, you look like Linda Evangelista” moment didn't originally air on TV.
Instead, it became viral from being posted to YouTube.
Thankfully, it seems like VH1 has learned its lesson. Now, Untucked is back on TV, where it always belonged.
1 SAVED: MISS CONGENIALITY IS VOTED BY THE QUEENS
Over the years, the Miss Congeniality award on RuPaul’s Drag Race became more of a “Fan Favorite” title. This switch became even more evident as Valentina was voted by fans as Miss Congeniality of season 9, despite the fact that the queen was arguably not congenial at all.
In season 10, the fan voting for Miss Congeniality became out of control.
Vanessa Vanjie Mateo was leading during certain moments due to the popularity of her “Miss Vanjie” catchphrase, and The Vixen led other moments of the voting due to her stance on social issues. In any case, there wasn't anything especially congenial about either of them.
To remedy this issue, RuPaul decided to cancel the voting and allow the queens to vote for a Miss Congeniality. The winner turned out to be Monet X Change, which was approved by the fans as well.
What other rules changes have helped or hurt RuPaul's Drag Race? Let us know in the comments!