In 2011, after Perez Hilton prematurely ejaculated the results of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 3, the entire format of the show changed. Since then, multiple outcomes for the season have typically been taped in advance, and the real winner is not announced until the day of the televised finale. It’s smart to take precautions, as nothing both titillates and infuriates the internet more than spoilers. However, as far as shocking information goes, the Season 3 leak wasn’t much of a spoiler, as Raja was obviously the winner of Drag Race from the moment she walked into the workroom.
I remember watching the season at the time and feeling profoundly sorry for the other contestants, including the immensely talented Manila Luzon, who came in second, because it was difficult from day one to see a path to victory around Raja. Not simply because Raja was one of the most beautiful queens to ever compete on the show, even though she was, or even the most exciting to watch lip sync. Raja came into the competition with the confidence and ease of someone who was likely going to win, easily returning the judges’ volleys as if she deserved a seat at the table rather than a role performing in front of it. Other queens have been standouts from the jump as well—Sharon Needles burst blood pack in Season 4, Episode 1 changed my life—but no one in recent years has stood out quite like the latest star, Symone, whose critique from Ru in the first real week of competition was basically one sentence: “You got it, kiddo.”
That’s not to say Season 13 is otherwise devoid of queens to watch. In fact, based on the first couple of episodes of the season, there might be so many queens to watch that they’ve been split into two siloed groups: the winners of week one’s lip syncs and the “Pork Chops” awaiting their fate on the loading dock. In a beginning-of-the-episode twist, Elliott was saved from the losers’ circle by the Chops’ own bitchery; they thought they were sending her home with a unanimous vote but instead sent Elliott (and what I think is a very cute ’90s Vegas trophy wife aesthetic) straight to the winners’ circle.
And after a premiere that felt simultaneously too full of chaotic lip-syncs and devoid of the chance for getting a real sense of who was competing, the second episode somehow still offered more room to breathe. Despite three runways, a group lip-sync, songwriting challenge, and final lip-sync for the win, the episode cut out much of standard writing in the workroom scenes and all of the recording in order to focus on the drama, chiefly the queens’ belief that Elliott is a spy because she interrogated Kandy about her drag family within seconds of meeting her. However, Elliott was able to appease these fears by revealing that she’d been picked unanimously by the other queens to get the chop, which caused the winning queens to dismiss her as harmless—a mistake because, come performance time, Elliott could fucking dance.
Another portion of the show was focused on Gottmik, the first trans man to compete in Drag Race. The pressure on the 24-year-old to perform well in the competition, both to push back against discrimination against trans people in general but in the drag community specifically—not to mention the regular pressure of simply wanting to win—must be tremendous. And Gottmik was obviously feeling it, visibly shaken when her (Gottmik stated that he prefers she pronouns while doing drag) lyrics outed her to the other contestants before there was an opportunity to speak with them about it. However, while the moment must have felt huge to Gottmik, the other queens were mostly focused on learning the choreography and their own performances. In the workroom, Olivia (who is obviously this season’s Miss Congeniality) very kindly offered space for Gottmik to share, explaining “It wasn’t the right time in rehearsals” to get into a larger discussion that will hopefully continue throughout the season, addressing prejudices that exist for the trans community even within LGBTQ spaces.
But while Gottmik’s nerves were apparent during the lip-sync, her looks were the best of the episode. That rainbow latex in the day-to-night runway was the best latex in an episode positively squeaking with it, and the Violet Chachki-inspired, titty-out nighttime look that also revealed a top surgery scar was elegant and a little smutty, like the best drag race looks are. Symone also brought rainbow to the runway, in a skirted, caped pantsuit that somehow made perfect sense in the moment, not to mention made Symone look like a “Supermodel”-era RuPaul.
The main challenge, mostly just a shill for Ru’s Vegas show, was too full of lyrics and bodies to really follow, but LaLa Ri established herself as a fun performer to watch, and her gold lamé, gift-wrapped runway presentation was an excellent showcase of what she may have ready to go for the rest of the season. But the real standouts were Olivia Lux, a stunningly beautiful person whose performance in the main challenge begged the question “What if Mariah Carey was voted head cheerleader?” in a way that definitely drew the eye away from anyone in her vicinity.
On the opposite side of the performance spectrum, like Raja, Symone is never rushed. Her performances are slow and measured even to an uptempo lip-sync, as if she’s standing still and waiting for the spotlight to find her. Those differences were on full display during the final Dua Lipa lip-sync for a $5k cash tip between the winners of the challenge, Olivia and Symone. As Olivia bounced around charmingly, trying on different characters to fit the lyrics, Symone, dressed fittingly as a prizefighter, calmly fluttered her long limbs while lip-syncing completely as herself—a dry, funny persona that comes through even while mouthing the lyrics to someone else’s song. To quote Ru once again, she’s just got it. At the end of the song, Olivia’s wig was askance and disheveled from dancing literal circles around Symone in an effort to grab some spotlight. Symone had barely broken a sweat.
There are so many queens worth watching this season, it will be interesting to see how they try to win the attention the judges are obviously already giving Symone. Next week is the revenge of the Pork Chops, who will be competing against one another presumably for a chance to join the winners’ silo. In other seasons, the gimmick might be a bit annoying, but this season feels like a welcome opportunity to spend more time with a very strong group of competitors.