We’re about halfway into the season, but I think I can safely declare that RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is officially back in its groove.
Season 5 has been a real delight so far, with a dynamic, charismatic cast full of genuinely different types of queens, a good challenge order, a deft handling of a problematic casting issue (can’t give enough kudos to the editing team) and a good spirit from the judging panel. Even in the early days of UK Season 4, which did start strong, there were already some red flags—Ru’s overly harsh critiques of Baby came in Episode 4, for instance. I’m not seeing any of those this go-around, and in fact, I’m seeing a lot of signs of how things can go even more right.
Take this week’s maxi-challenge, for instance. Instead of just returning to the RuPaul’s DragCon well for the panel challenge, the Drag Race UK team has instead fashioned this week’s task after Ru’s MasterClass program. The concept is “DisasterClass,” with teams of three charged with presenting a humourous seminar on one particular topic: Love, Party or Work. The fact that this is more explicitly framed as a challenge where one needs to be funny—in contrast to something like the DragCon panel challenge or Pink Table Talk—means there’s a more natural goal for the queens as they prepare. And that makes it more obvious when one group succeeds and queens in the other groups fail.
There will always be subjectivity when it comes to challenge wins; it’s part and parcel of the Drag Race fan experience to have your own preferences. But where recent seasons have fallen apart, in my opinion (looking directly at you, All Stars 8), is that the wins have felt so divisive that it’s been difficult for audiences to buy into the narrative. Combined with lack of cast chemistry, wonky or incomplete judging (Season 15’s lack of deliberations!), or not enough diversity in challenge type, and it’s felt lately like RuPaul’s Drag Race has just not had all the ingredients it’s needed to succeed.
That’s why UK Season 5 is proving so fun to watch: it’s reminding me of how this show can really sing when everything comes together. I find myself actively looking forward to every new episode, a feeling I last had with … Canada’s Drag Race Season 2, I think? And after watching more episodes of this franchise than I can count at this point, I’ll always appreciate when a season has me this excited.
As a prize for winning what is only this season’s second mini-challenge, Tomara Thomas gets to assign teams for the DisasterClass seminar panels. She chooses Michael Marouli and Ginger Johnson for herself, forming a coalition of northern queens. (“How dare you, Tomara,” housemate Cara Melle says in the absolute calmest voice in a confessional.) She then puts Cara with Banksie and Vicki Vivacious, and sets up Miss Naomi Carter, DeDeLicious and Kate Butch as the final team.
Kate is in an interesting spot going into this week: she’s the only queen left who has not received any critiques from Ru and the panel up to this point. Complaints about this kind of thing can often read as silly (think Jan in Season 12 or All Stars 6), but I actually think Kate has a fair point here. In the cold open, the other queens identify Kate as the weak link of the group. But that’s not really based on anything at this point: Kate’s had great moments in challenges (and her runway banter with Sophie Ellis-Bextor last week is the highlight of the season so far forme), they just haven’t been highlighted by the judges. Getting some kind of feedback will let Kate know if she’s on the right track or not.
She gets an early hint in the werk room walkthrough with RuPaul. Their group, assigned the “Work” seminar, is focusing on the ins and outs of making a living in nightclub work. Kate says she avoids getting too drunk at work, only having four G&Ts across three hours. This shocks Ru, who has a fake intervention for Kate on the spot. Kate, wisely, immediately leans into this joke: “Let me take notes: four … drinks … too … many.” She then later uses it in her seminar presentation, which is exactly the right call. You can tell Kate is savvy!
Meanwhile, Tomara admits she just created the teams based on where people were standing, which has accidentally left the three RuPeter Badge-holders so far on the same team. Vicki points this out, leading to gasps from Banksie and Cara. Surely this must mean they’re set up for success, no? (Of course they aren’t, we’ve all watched Drag Race, we know how this edit goes.)
As it turns out, Tomara picked her own team so perfectly that it doesn’t matter who’s on either of the others. She, Ginger and Michael absolutely crush this challenge. Tomara is hilarious from the word go, and Ginger and Michael nail the tone perfectly. During one particularly inspired segment, the Geordie girls use Tomara as an example of “colossal” mistakes when going out to party as a northerner. For one? “She’s wearing a coat! … Coats are for what? SHOPLIFTING!” The group also wisely includes some audience participation, having a moment where everyone says together, “I’m a Geordie girl!” (Shades of Eureka!, Kameron Michaels and Monét X Change intoning, “Proportionizing!”)
The three earn a surprise but very deserved three-way challenge win, each picking up their first badge. And just like that, out of the eight queens remaining at episode’s end, six have a badge! It’s a similar distribution to what we saw last season, but that spread was inflated by the six-way win in the girl group challenge. The fact that the multi-win this season comes not on the girl group challenge, but for a group performance that truly deserves the honour, makes this feel a lot better. Plus, now Kate and DeDe will really feel the pressure to step it up and fight for a badge.
Both of those queens do well in their group’s presentation on work, but are weighed down by Naomi’s performance. The group has good bits, with acronyms that mean different slogans (“DILDO: Don’t Inquire, Lose Drag Opportunities”). And Kate as host is terrific. But Naomi gets tongue-tied and is just too serious for what is mostly a comedy challenge. This, plus some negative runway critiques for the two (DeDe’s nose contour, Kate’s overall scuba look), keep them on the lower-scoring side of the equation.
The badge-holders’ group is just a disaster, though. I don’t envy them for having to follow up what Cara accurately describes as “just perfection” from the northerners, but this would be terrible all on its own. Banksie misses a cue early on that throws off the energy, and Vicki’s energy is so wrong all the way through. She actually demonstrates, through going too broad, just how impressive what Ginger, Michael and Tomara do really is: it’s not enough to just be loud or over-the-top, you have to pitch it properly. Cara, meanwhile, is too inconsistent: sometimes she’s funny, and sometimes she feels too reined in.
Personally, I’d have had the three badge winners all lip sync, but there is, of course, a glaring issue at hand here: Naomi’s knee. I said in last week’s power ranking that I feared the worst for Naomi considering her injury. She doesn’t get pulled from the competition, but I do think the show bends itself over backwards a bit to justify putting her in the bottom two. One group is clearly the worst, but Ru instead puts one queen from each group in the bottom two. And, perhaps not coincidentally, it’s Cara—who just won a lip sync—who is put there from the badge-holders’ group, not Vicki (who I think is demonstrably worse than Cara both in the challenge and on the runway).
The lip sync is to Yazz’s “The Only Way Is Up,” and folks, this is my fucking jam. I’ve been slowly watching The Only Way Is Essex with my best friend over the past couple of years, and it is always turn-up time when the theme song comes on. So I’m a little disappointed in the edit we get of this lip sync, in which it seems like Cara is doing fun and interesting stuff, but we cut away from her way too often to focus on Naomi not delivering. I think the intention here is to erase any doubt that Naomi’s injury is hampering her in the competition, as she’s significantly less dynamic than she was in her lip sync two weeks ago. But it kinda robs us of a good lip sync to this song in the process.
Naomi sashays away, and while I’m sad to see her go, I’m glad she gets such praise from Ru on the way out. She’s clearly a talented queen, but you can tell she doesn’t quite know her own power yet. Pencil her in for a future, surprisingly strong run on a UK vs. The World, I’d say. Meanwhile, Cara stays, continuing what is one of the wildest trajectories I’ve ever seen on Drag Race. Almost winning the first week, almost landing in the bottom the next, then winning, then actually landing in the bottom? What’s next for her?
Whatever it is, I’m eagerly anticipating it. And like I said, feeling this excited for more Drag Race is the kind of emotion I cherish every time it comes around. Kudos so far to the UK Season 5 team, and here’s to a great back half of the season.
Untucking our final thoughts
✨ Vicki notes that last week, Cara became the first solo winner of a girl groups challenge ever on Drag Race UK. This is true, but I’m not sure it’s as much of a feat as she pitches it as. You could make an argument for a solo winner in every season save Season 1 (Bimini, River Medway and Dakota Schiffer would be my three), those challenges just weren’t formatted this way.
✨ Raven—looking very Raja in an ’80s-inspired look—is the photographer for the mini-challenge, a fake ad task for selling “SPNK” protein drink. (Foul!) “Raven, I didn’t know you were a photographer!” Ru says. “Me either!” Raven replies under her breath.
✨ This group is well above par for UK casts in terms of producing natural, fascinating werk room conversations. This week, we get Banksie opening up to Vicki about her experience dating a trans woman, and the adjustments she had to make within herself when her partner came out. “If I’m really being honest, I didn’t know if I had it in me,” she admits in confessional. “I had to get my head around the fact that I was being with a woman now. And is that what I want? We talked about it for a very long time, and over time I realized that it is what I want. I want this person.” This is the kind of thing that, even as pop culture gets queerer, I will always value from Drag Race so much: the conversations between members of the LGBTQ+ community that can get more complex, and acknowledge that these stories are not always neat and tidy. It’s why I’ve been frustrated with Drag Race’s monotonous, too-pat mirror moments in the past few years; those moments belie ones like these, which really prove the show’s power.
✨ BAFTA-winning actress Suranne Jones is our guest judge this week, and she’s fantastic! Like most UK judges, she skews quite positive, but she’s specific and detailed in her critiques in a way that still helps even when she’s being largely sunny. Also, I absolutely love that she clocks Vicki for caring too much about what others think in deliberations. There’s been an undercurrent of seriousness and hyper-awareness in Vicki’s drag since the first episode, and considering Ru’s usual preference for queens who can have a laugh and put on a show, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a plotline that will come back around.
✨ There is an actual, real fight in Mini-Untucked! On the runway, Vicki says she wishes she had pushed to be the moderator, saying she had questions about how Banksie would do. Immediately after she says this, Cara checks on her, adding an “I love you” in there while not (so far as we see in the edit) checking in with Banksie. Banksie calls the two out for leading her “like a lamb to slaughter” on the runway, which they do not like. When they hit Mini-Untucked, Vicki and Banksie openly declare their annoyance with each other, while Cara really gets into it with Banksie. This leads to Banksie flipping the two off and leaving the werk room, though she comes back in pretty short order and apologizes. Gotta say, I’m Team Banksie on this one: Vicki may not have intended it so harshly, but there is no way to read what she said on the runway as anything but an attempt to throw Banksie under the bus. But I think she makes a mistake getting too into it with Cara and mostly letting Vicki off scot-free. Cara, while supportive of Vicki, didn’t really say anything about Banksie. So points to Banksie for her key issue, but points off for execution in the argument.
✨ If Kate did not already have my heart, she’d instantly win it with her The Traitors reference: “Each member of that group is trying to deflect the blame off themselves. One of those three is a Traitor.”
✨ Really good week for Ru in the critiques, I’d say. You can tell he’s excited about this group by how flattering he is, but he’s not preventing that from still making the necessary critiques. He feels engaged this season, and that’s always more fun to watch.
✨ Speaking of on their game: “Dipping a snorkel into some orange sequins does not an accessory make”? Alan Carr in this episode is on fire in a way we haven’t seen in seasons.
The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. EDT on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. You can subscribe to our drag newsletter, Wig!, for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.