‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ Season 5 premiere recap: Fifth time’s the charm

It’s time to meet the 10 new cast members of “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK”—but who’s that in the background?

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is back! The gap between seasons of the British spinoff has felt longer than ever this go-around, and for good reason: the gap hasn’t been this long since between the first and second seasons. That waiting period was owed to COVID-related delays in filming Season 2, while BBC Three produced and aired Season 3 on a much quicker turnaround to get back on schedule. Then last winter, we saw the international all-star spin-off UK vs the World premiere to give us a bit of British flavour to tide us over between Seasons 3 and 4.

There is another season of UK vs the World coming, but rumours place its future airing in early next year. As a result, the last time we were on the British stage was when Danny Beard took home the crown in November 2022. And you know what? I’ve missed it! The past two seasons of UK haven’t been my favourite, but as we know from Seasons 1 and 2, very little is quite as great as UK is at its peak power.

This season does come with a bit of an anchor hanging around its neck, however, and it’s one that had me a bit distracted upon my first watch of this episode. Rumours have been flying since this season filmed that though the Meet the Queens promised a cast of 10, there were actually 11 queens on set this season. The alleged 11th queen, Crystal Lubrikant, was reportedly disqualified, and would be edited out of the season. I was intrigued going into the premiere to see just how the editing team would handle this. Would they be following the precedent set by the Sherry Pie situation back in Season 12?

Reader, I have to give it up to these editors: the 11th queen is invisible for most of this episode. I kept looking for her in wide shots, to no avail. I began to question whether she was actually in the episode at all. It isn’t until the lip sync, in which it finally becomes clear that there are 11 queens in total on the set, that I could even confidently say I believed the rumours of an 11-queen cast were true. But kudos to the show for not letting this interfere with the show—and as a result, we can happily talk about and enjoy the rest of the episode without further concerning ourselves over a disqualified contestant.

 

Supermodel Kristen McMenamy is our first guest judge of the season, and she comes dressed to the nines for a drag competition Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

The entrances for our 10 queens range from the bombastic (Cara Melle, instantly iconic) to the more reserved (the soft-spoken Polish queen Alexis Saint-Pete). Notably, a lot of the early entrances fall a bit flat, owing to the queens seemingly not being familiar with each other. Previous international seasons have seen a lot of queens recognize each other right off the bat; this time, there are just a couple pre-existing relationships. This cast feels a bit more like they’ll be building their own relationships during the season.

Maybe the most notable instance of a queen not being recognized is Michael Marouli, a 15-year veteran of drag who often performs in Gran Canaria. She actually notes that she doesn’t think the other queens who have entered up to that point—Tomara Thomas, Banksie and Miss Naomi Carter—recognize her. Cara and Krystal Versace’s drag sister DeDeLicious get far more recognized, with Cara in particular inspiring major cheers from her fellow queens.

Cara is a real curveball of a casting choice. Yes, she’s the UK spinoff’s second trans woman cast, after Season 4’s Dakota Schiffer. But more notably, she’s the first American to be cast on UK, a fact she hides as a bit in her first confessional. I imagine there might be some strong feelings about this among Brits, but as a London transplant who first went to the UK for school and has built her drag career there, Cara feels like a fitting first American representative.

Vicki Vivacious’s entrance is perhaps the one that perplexes me most. She’s a big character, incredibly cute out of drag (Vicki, if you’re reading this: hello), and she wants you to know she supports the armed forces. Genuinely, she mentions this no less than three times in this episode. It becomes a funny bit of banter later with Ru and the judges, but at least when she first presents it, it’s quite serious. Everything about Vicki is a bit serious, actually, which makes her energy an interesting addition to this otherwise pretty quirky cast.

DeDeLicious, drag sister of UK Season 3 winner Krystal Versace, has a close scrape with the bottom — only for there to only be top queens this episode Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

The challenge this week is a pretty standard one for a Drag Race premiere, but branded into a ball. The entrance looks are considered the first category (a “Daytime Drag” category), while queens are then given the option to change some elements in an hour’s time to prepare for a club category. In this mini-challenge-style arena, the queens must make the best impression they can in front of a collection of Drag Race royalty. It’s similar to the Season 10-opening mini-challenge, but with a smaller crowd and the judges present. Pretty minimally about the look, but here we are.

The final “category” is the regular runway, which is an Eleganza Extravaganza category—but with an outfit brought from home, not sewn on the spot. The whole thing lives up to the Fierce Impressions Ball’s name: it’s mostly a new way to make the first episode all about first impressions. Were there an elimination, I would find this to be a frustrating development. A queen being eliminated not because of a challenge performance, but because of basically an initial judgment of their drag, would feel quite harsh.

But in a smart move, there are no bottom-placing queens this week! The five kept for critiques are informed they’re the top five of the week. (Which does mean the other five “safe” queens are technically the bottom five, a fact they have to reckon with in Mini-Untucked.) Up in the top with Cara, Michael and Vicki are Ginger Johnson, another longtime veteran of drag, and Alexis. The latter’s top placement is an interesting choice: she had a wardrobe malfunction during the club part of the challenge, and while her Polish-inspired eleganza look is distinctive, I’m not sure it’s enough. She and Ginger are called out first when Ru declares who’s safe, so they do seem to be our fourth- and fifth-placers in the challenge.

Michael nearly lands in the top two, but it seems her entrance and club performance looks edge her out. Her eleganza look is a spiky, glittery affair, and I love the rainbow-streaked wig she wears with it. But when Michelle Visage calls her first looks out for being too Lady Gaga tribute act, it’s clear she’s not making the Lip Sync for the Win.

Drag Race royalty from around the world come together as the audience for this premiere episode challenge Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

Instead, Cara and Vicki get there, and I understand both choices. Personally, I am fully behind Cara’s victory. All three of her looks are impressive, particularly the skirt on her eleganza gown. More than that, Cara is just so clearly a star throughout this episode. She’s funny and entertaining, but also vulnerable about the journey she’s taken to get to this point in her career and life. I find myself immediately rooting for her, and it would be great to see her take the win.

Vicki, on the other hand, is a distant second for me. Her royal guard look is just a bit too expected for me, even if it’s well crafted. Ru seems most impressed by how Vicki banters, and I do think this is where she shines most. Getting to make jokes about her “service” for the armed forces takes what could otherwise be a too-serious personality detail and makes it a fun part of her drag persona. I find myself warming up to Vicki as critiques and deliberations go on, and while I’d have given Cara the solo win, I understand Vicki’s spot in the top two.

Unfortunately for Cara, the lip sync song, “Ooh Ahh … Just a Little Bit” by Gina G, is an up-tempo track, and her gown means she can’t just dance it out. She does give great face, and has some good moments, but she also visibly misses some words. Vicki goes with a campy interpretation, and it plays much better. She takes home the win, and the first RuPeter Badge.

Overall, this is a fun installment, and a nice opening to the season. We’re fully in the midlife of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK at this point, and the initial novelty has worn off. So it’s good to see the show growing up a bit in Season 5—even if it has to edit around a potential problem. Overall, I’m excited to see where this season goes. And I’m hopeful we’ve gotten our one and only non-elimination episode out of the way early! (That’s probably wishful thinking, but hey, I can dream!)

Untucking our final thoughts

Interesting crew of Drag Race royalty during the Club Tickety-Boo segment! Pangina Heals, Blu Hydrangea and Jimbo all make sense as UK vs The World alumnae, and it’s fun to have British expatriate Lady Camden there. I’m a little more confused by Nicky Doll and Silky Nutmeg Ganache, but both are bigger figures of the modern series (Nicky hosting Drag Race France and Silky appearing on both All Stars 6 and Canada vs The World), so I get it. But why is Sminty Drop, the fourth-out from UK Season 4, the only non-Blu UK representative there?

Interesting that Cara says this is her sixth time auditioning for Drag Race, which means that six must certainly include at least one U.S. season tryout. Cara definitely leaned into her “an American in London” angle this week, so I’d be intrigued know as to when she tried out for the U.S. series.

Not my favourite Ru look this week. Looks a bit like a dress glued onto a bodysuit. But can we talk about Michelle’s bob? An absolute serve!

American supermodel Kristen McMenamy is our guest judge this week, dressed to the nines and having the time of her goddamn life. You know she’s actually a good Judy of Ru’s, because only a friend could get away with telling Ru, “I remember you when you were nothing!” (Michelle and Alan Carr are fully gagged at this.) Kristen is a delight throughout, at one point saying she’s glad Alexis is Polish, otherwise her outfit would be cultural appropriation. She then points at Vicki in her royal guard look and says, “You better be English!”

Michelle talks to Vicki about how she knows she’s been around for a while, and I’m sure she means it kindly … but it just kinda sounds like she’s calling poor Vicki old! Not the most tactful critique of Michelle’s.

The show pulls off a very fun gambit in Mini-Untucked, with the safe queens believing the tops are actually both the tops and bottoms. They think the bottoms will be Alexis and Vicki, and even tell them so as the top queens fake them out. It’s fun, non-controversial drama, and the kind of thing I’d like to see more of on the show. (How funny they picked the winner as one of the bottom two!)

Can’t tell you enough how relieved I am to see deliberations after Season 15. I missed them!

Not sure we’ll ever hear another contestant describe their garment quite like Cara does hers: “An orgy is happening on my dress—get into it!”

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream on Thursday, Oct. 5, 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.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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