What does ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World’ Season 2’s ending tell us about its future?

It can’t help but feel like “The World” is facing an impossible challenge

At the start of this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World, I argued that the show had two goals for its second installment: introduce wider audiences to superstars from other franchises, and lean into the idea of the “versus” in the title. On the first, I think we can easily declare the mission accomplished. The 11 queens of UK vs. The World Season 2 put on one hell of a show, and queens like Hannah Conda, La Grande Dame, Marina Summers and Arantxa Castilla La-Mancha have made a major splash in the greater Drag Race universe.

Regarding the other goal: it’s complicated. UK has beaten The World once again, with UK Season 2 fan favourite Tia Kofi taking home the crown. She did so through a combination of her quick wit, elevated runways, a savvy understanding of her narrative and brand (“from Baroness Basic to Queen of the Mothertucking World”) and a preparedness for the competition that often felt akin to Alaska’s own in All Stars 2. Regardless of anything else, it must be said that Tia fought hard for this win, and she deserves her crown. As a fan of hers since her first season, I’m delighted to see her as Drag Race UK’s latest champion.

However, Tia’s win has been controversial, for reasons that are largely rooted in fans stanning other queens. With such a strong top four—Hannah, LGD and the über-popular Marina among them—it’s natural that some would be bummed that their fave did not win. (This, of course, does not excuse the excessive and miserable wave of hate that has come Tia’s way. Once again, I implore Drag Race to start being more assertive about this on their own social channels, as well as the show itself.)

But there’s been another response to all this alongside more expected stanning: a frustration that, despite the series being called UK vs. The World, queens from non-UK countries feel disadvantaged by the format. Unlike Canada vs. The World, which crowned a U.S. queen in its first season (Ra’Jah O’Hara, our purple-loving legend), UK vs. The World has kept the crown at home for both of its seasons. The question of what it will take for a queen from an international series—and more specifically, from a series not hosted by Ru himself—to win is a fair one.

In other words: Tia’s win may be deserved, but queens like Hannah, LGD and Marina would’ve deserved a crown, too. So why does it feel like, despite doing terrific all season, they didn’t have the same chance to win it all?

 

Arantxa Castilla La-Mancha, one of the breakout queens of ‘UK vs. The World’ Season 2, was voted by her fellow contestants as Miss Congeniality Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

There are a couple of factors at play here, not the least of which is that the BBC, which airs the show on BBC Three and streams it on its iPlayer service, has a vested interest in producing UK-based winners. There’s something self-defeating about producing and distributing a drag competition that ends in a queen not from your own show winning it all. That actually proved to be a point of embarrassment on Canada vs. The World, in which the Canadian team stacked a cast of nine with four of their own alumni—including a winner!—only for two to be early outs, the winner to quit and the last to be knocked out in the first round of the finale lip sync tournament.

So I can’t fault UK vs. The World for wanting the titular United Kingdom to prevail. And looking at the circumstances of both seasons, the wins make sense. Tia finished in the top two four times this season—which we’d call “wins” in the All Stars 2-4 and 7 format, but vs. The World seems bizarrely insistent on calling simply top placements—and was never at risk of elimination. Marina won all of her lip syncs, but did land in the bottom in the last episode owing to the “if you’re not in the top, you’re in the bottom” twist. So Tia did have a better track record, and Marina didn’t even make it out of her first round in the Lip Sync for the Crown tournament owing to losing her face-off to Hannah. And then in the final lip sync, Tia’s performance and track record both outclassed Hannah’s.

UK vs. The World Season 1 was another beast entirely, with Ru doing his best to boost three queens not from Ru-hosted series (Jimbo from Canada’s, Janey Jacké from Holland and Thailand host Pangina Heals), only for them to all be eliminated in a car crash of strategic decisions in the middle of the season. By the time we got to the finale, we only had American and UK queens left, and Blu Hydrangea prevailed in a thoroughly underwhelming lip sync battle royale.

Neither decision is inexplicable, but taken together, they paint a picture of a UK vs. The World that is weighted toward the former. And in truth, that may also be true. I’ve thought a lot since the finale about UK Season 3 queen River Medway’s assertion on Twitter that as this show is Drag Race UK, it makes sense that it would reward the attributes most associated with British drag. That, of course, includes a heaping helping of camp and comedy, both areas in which Tia excels. It’s notable that Hannah, an Aussie queen, brings a lot of the same elements to her own drag, leaned into those elements in her battle with Marina, and was rewarded with a runner-up spot for it.

More to the point, as comedian and recent RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judge Joel Kim Booster noted himself on Twitter, Ru is always going to default to favouring comedy when all other factors are equally balanced. This was an incredibly strong top four, but by her own admission in the roast challenge, comedy is not Marina’s strength. And while LGD got a good deal of praise for being a goofball throughout the season, her fashionable looks always trumped her sense of humour. Tia and Hannah were delivering more of what Ru himself usually prefers.

The cast of ‘UK vs. The World’ Season 2 made it a fantastic viewing experience, even if we have some concerns about the sub-franchise’s future Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

So if that’s the case—if this combination of host and host country is going to favour a certain kind of drag every time—what is the solution? I have two suggestions, the first being more deliberate casting. Hannah Conda is an example of how a queen can succeed on Drag Race UK despite not being British herself, because her skill set is a good fit for what Ru and the show are looking for. If Drag Race UK casts more queens who fit the profile of a potential winner from other countries (comedy queens, camp queens, etc.), I think we’ll have a more interesting and entertaining competition.

This could be a bit restrictive, of course—why should only those kinds of queens get this international exposure?—but UK vs. The World is not the only such show. Canada vs. The World and the upcoming Global All Stars will offer those opportunities as well, and each is going to look for something different. Brooke Lynn Hytes and her judging panel in Canada really like to focus on runway presentation (not just looks, but how they’re worn), while I can imagine Global All Stars will focus on finding someone who truly feels like they can represent the world of drag.

But I have another potential solution: instead of UK vs. The World, just give us UK All Stars! I can understand why this wasn’t a variable option two years ago, with just a few UK seasons under the show’s belt. Now, however, there have been five, with a sixth to come later this year. Plenty of amazing UK queens have yet to return for a second season anywhere: Divina de Campo! Bimini! Tayce! Asttina Mandella! River Medway! Cheddar Gorgeous! Dakota Schiffer! Michael Marouli! Tomara Thomas! Kate Butch! That’s a cast of 10 right there, and I’m still leaving off major stars like A’Whora, Baby and Banksie. 

The talent pool is absolutely ready to go. More than that, Drag Race España just proved that an international season can do All Stars successfully. So why not pivot that way, and negate this issue entirely? To the point I just made, other global stages for Drag Race exist. If Drag Race UK is going to celebrate what makes British drag excellent, then I think it should commit to the bit with its casting.

We’ll see what direction the franchise goes from here, but if UK vs. The World Season 2 was the last of its kind, it was one hell of a ride. For any quibbles I might have with it, it has quickly become a favoured season of mine, and I can see myself returning to it a lot just to spend more time with this cast. It may have exposed some potential issues for future seasons, but in the moment, it was bliss.

UK vs. The World may be over, but Season 16 continues! The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, April 5, at 8 p.m. EST on MTV in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. Check back every Monday after new episodes for our recaps and power rankings, and subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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