‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World’ Season 2 is the international ‘All Stars’ we’ve been waiting for

Halfway through the season, it finally feels like the promise of the ‘vs. The World’ format is being fulfilled

In the first three episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World Season 1, exactly three of the nine queens in the cast finished in the top two in challenges: Drag Race Holland’s Janey Jacké, Canada’s Drag Race’s Jimbo and Drag Race Thailand co-host Pangina Heals. Everyone else, including the many queens Ru had previously judged himself on the American and British series, had failed to make much of an impression, despite all being strong competitors in their original seasons.

So it was, depending on who you ask, either the gaggiest or most loathsome twist of fate when, at the end of Episode 3, Pangina eliminated Jimbo. And then, the very next week, when Drag Race UK queens Blu Hydrangea and Baga Chipz finally triumphed in Snatch Game, they both immediately picked Pangina’s lipstick, with Blu ultimately sending her home. By the time American queens Jujubee and Mo Heart won the following week’s Rumix, and Jujubee sent Janey home, it felt inevitable that all the queens who spent the first half of the competition dominating would fall before the finale.

Though I personally enjoyed the more cutthroat gameplay of the season, it’s hard to argue that the final four were underwhelming—because they weren’t particularly representative of the competition. For the second run of UK vs. The World, two things would need to change to avoid this happening again: a longer season with more queens, and more diversity in the choices of winners across the first half of the season.

On both of those points: mission accomplished. Not only is this cast and season both bigger by two queens and episodes, it’s also the most international All Stars cast we’ve seen yet—albeit with a bit more UK representation than one would like. (But hey, it is called UK vs. The World.) And across the first four episodes, only two queens have appeared in the top two more than once: UK’s Tia Kofi and France’s La Grande Dame. We’ve also seen the American series’ Scarlet Envy, Philippines’ Marina Summers and Down Under’s Hannah Conda take home victories.

So though the midway point of this season also ended in a shock elimination—Tia choosing to send home Holland’s Keta Minaj, who was in the top for the ball challenge, over the flailing UK first-out Gothy Kendoll—it doesn’t feel nearly as threatening to the rest of the season as Pangina’s elimination of Jimbo did. If anything, it provides the kind of surprising spark that I was worried UK vs. The World would abandon entirely, all while keeping us more invested in what’s to come.

 

Keta Minaj’s surprise elimination would’ve destabilized UK vs. the World Season 1, but this season is sturdier with it Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

On the whole, I’ve found this season quite entertaining. I thought the season-opening talent show was the best edition of that talent show we’ve had on a RuPaul-hosted season in quite some time, with both a great lip sync act (Marina’s) and a strong, weird act (La Grande Dame’s kooky sound-based performance) landing in the top. When your bottom two includes performances as unusual as a sound bath meditation and firebreathing—both of which were penalized for actual execution issues, not for being unusual—you know you’re cooking with gas.

The runways have been remarkably strong all season, with the Happy Endings Ball and last week’s nautical category being among my favourites. LGD has definitely stood out as the fashion queen of the season (the Jean Paul Gaultier from this past episode!), but Marina, Keta, Scarlet and even Tia have impressed. Speaking of Tia, her glow-up is the kind of thing All Stars seasons are made for: not just improved because of some veneers or a better wardrobe, but a new confidence in her talent and star power. It’s been a lot of fun to watch, and even more fun to see her finally snag a RuPeter Badge this past week.

I know there was a lot of grumbling about the immersive experiences challenge, and I can’t disagree that as a concept, it was pretty terrible. There just wasn’t a clear enough directive for the queens, which resulted in a broad swath of largely mediocre results. (Still, a thrill to see Scarlet finally triumph again, five years since her last maxi-challenge win.) I also wasn’t in love with this edition of the Snatch Game—I appreciate that we’re still trying to innovate with new formats of the signature challenge, but I think this season proved the limitations of the Family Feud-style structure. When the stand-out moment, Hannah tap-dancing as Shirley Temple, was done better months ago by Jimbo on All Stars 8, you know it’s rough.

But, in what I recognize is an unpopular opinion, I’ve never felt that Drag Race lives or dies by how good the challenges are. Yes, I do think the show needs to freshen up its task design, but we’ve seen great seasons with the most standard challenge types imaginable. What Drag Race needs more than ever for a good season is a great cast—check—and strong storytelling. And it’s on the latter point that I think UK vs. The World Season 2 is really thriving right now.

Jonbers Blonde was the first UK queen eliminated of the season, sent home by U.S. veteran Scarlet Envy Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

I actually couldn’t imagine a more ideal boot order for this season in order to tell a compelling story. First, American legend Mayhem Miller went home, making for a shock first boot—but also removing someone who has told all the story she’s going to tell on her other two seasons. (If I can be frank: I’m not sure why Drag Race even invited back someone who effectively quit by picking her own lipstick in her All Stars season.) Then, though it was incredibly sad to see España’s Arantxa Castilla La Mancha go home, her departure added fuel in her Spanish sister Choriza May’s fire to fight even harder. 

And just when you worried that the UK contingent was getting too powerful—an alliance storyline that the season has been doling out week after week—here comes Scarlet to send home Jonbers Blonde. Love to Jonbers, but she got to the finale once on a dubious track record; we didn’t need to see her coast on Ru’s love of her again. And all three of the other UK queens (glowed-up Tia, emboldened Choriza and coming-out-of-her-shell Gothy) have more story to tell.

This culminated in this week’s elimination, which I think blows the whole back of the season wide open. Tia chose to eliminate Keta over Gothy, following her heart over her head. Not only is this the most “unfair” elimination of the season (though with this format, all is fair in war and drag), one that will certainly have the other queens looking sideways at Tia, it also enforces the UK alliance storyline. Unless Tia, Choriza and Gothy can run the board in the remaining challenges—unlikely, considering Tia’s the only one with a win and there are still lots of threats left in the game—they’re going to be targeted more than ever.

That’s why, unlike Jimbo’s elimination, I think Keta’s is actually good for the health of the season. The problem with UK vs. The World Season 1 was never the brutal gameplay—it was how the structure of the season couldn’t support such devastating departures. Were there more episodes to play with, Drag Race could have avoided the season becoming such a lopsided affair, and thus avoided all the momentum draining out of the season in those back-to-back cutthroat eliminations. By the time Tia eliminated Keta this season, there was so much potential that it actually added to the momentum instead of squashing it.

It’s always possible I’ll be back in a few weeks with our season-ending piece lamenting that this season took a bad turn. But I would be surprised if we see all the winners turn against each other like we saw in Season 1; this group seems too savvy for that. Even if Tia pays the price for her emotional decision this week, we’ve still got queens like Hannah, Marina, LGD and Scarlet to sustain us until the end. And call me crazy, but I just don’t see this cast letting Gothy get to the end. So I feel confident in saying that UK vs. The World Season 2 has learned where Season 1 failed—and that we’re in for a great back half of the competition.

Episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World drop on Fridays at 4 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S., on BBC Three and iPlayer in the UK and on Crave in Canada. We’ll be checking in on the show again at season’s end. If you want more Drag Race coverage, subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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