How RuPaul’s Drag Race Changed Reality TV

How RuPaul’s Drag Race Changed Reality TV

This video is brought to you by Dashlane.
Visit to get a free 30-day trial of Dashlane Premium. If you like it,
you can use my coupon code “sarahz” at checkout for a 10% off discount. We all have our “problematic faves”- celebrities,
movies, bands, or TV shows that are trashy, a little bit troublesome, or just otherwise
bad in some way, but that we recognize for what they are and enjoy nonetheless. Some
of my friends have Azealia Banks music, Harry Potter fanfiction, or makeup YouTubers who
keep continually getting into some kind of drama. As for my “problematic fave”, provided
we only get one, it would probably have to be RuPaul’s Drag Race. Both the show and
RuPaul himself have been embroiled in a number of controversies over the years: RuPaul comparing
trans women on HRT competing on the show to Olympic athletes taking steroids, despite
the fact that numerous cis contestants who make their entire brand how much plastic surgery
they have have been welcomed on and have even won certain seasons; the judges on the show
giving tone-deaf advice to contestants with immigrant backgrounds, such as implying they’re
inauthentic for not being out to their families, or criticisms that the show edits certain
contestants in unfairly negative ways and doesn’t prepare them appropriately for the
onslaught of hate they receive as a result. They’re all very valid criticisms, and problems
I’m well aware of. I’m certainly not going to argue against the ways in which the show,
and the people behind the show, have created harmful content. But we’ve all got our trash,
and, well… this is my trash. Part of why I like the show is the talent
of the various competitors. It’s just cool as hell to see someone make a beautiful gown
out of literal garbage, or somehow make the cringey writing on scripted acting challenges
genuinely funny, or perfectly impersonate a celebrity I’ve never even heard of in
a way that makes me die laughing anyway. I, for instance, am a massive stan of season
5 winner and nonbinary icon Jinkx Monsoon, to the extent that she’s been in my Twitter
bio for like years and I even got a tattoo to represent her catchphrase. I also just
really like drag, and watching the show has encouraged me to get more involved in the
local scene and find some really cool Canadian performers. But as much as I do just enjoy the show on
a somewhat trashy surface level, one of the things that’s particularly interesting to
me about Drag Race is the way it’s able to play the reality TV game perfectly. The
show, at least in its first season, started off as an almost self-aware parody of reality
TV shows like America’s Next Top Model, frequently referencing and borrowing reality
TV tropes and making jokes about similarities to Tyra Banks and Project Runway. Much like drag culture itself often blends
irreverent parody with artistic expression, the show both worked as a serious competition
between drag artists and a parody of hyper-capitalistic reality TV, without taking itself too seriously
in the process. But what’s interesting to me is that it’s almost like, in deconstructing
and learning what elements make an iconic reality TV show tick, Drag Race has almost
become, like… this hyper-exaggerated exemplification of everything a reality TV show is. And it’s been incredibly successful for
it. The show’s been nominated for freakin’ 23 Emmys, a GLAAD media award, five Critic’s
Choice Awards, and a number of other accolades. It’s also got a million spinoffs, like Drag
Race: All Stars, Drag Race UK, Drag Race Thailand, and the upcoming Drag Race Canada and Celebrity
Drag Race. The show is, in effect, a cultural juggernaut of drag, and its mainstream success
has also seen the introduction of many of its alumni into other aspects of pop culture.
Former contestants have featured in popular movies like Dumplin’, starred in Super Bowl
ads, acted in music videos by artists like Taylor Swift, and have even started their
own successful makeup lines. Drag’s mainstream success has been met with…
mixed feelings from the community itself. On one hand, it’s a massive opportunity
for people who have been able to find success through this process, and may lead to increased
acceptance for people participating in it. On the other hand, Drag Race is a really small,
limited view of what drag is. That’s not inherently a bad thing, and it doesn’t have
to represent every type of drag under the sun, but that success isn’t being found
by, for example, drag kings, or people interested in more horror-oriented art. The show’s
gotten better about this, but it also historically hasn’t been super inclusive of openly trans
performers. As a result, people who don’t fit into the very small box of people who
the show has propelled into success may not be able to reap the benefits of drag’s mainstreaming,
and might find themselves excluded in favour of more “profitable” performers. If you
have people who watch the show but don’t know that much else about the community coming
into drag bars and only tipping the big names and excluding everyone else, some people may
not really feel like they’re benefitting. There’s also the worry that making it palatable
to a large mainstream audience could force it to be overly sanitized, and that’s a
criticism of the show as well. Some people are worried it’s become a lot more family-friendly
as of late, which might force people to compromise their art and limit the power of something
that’s been used as a form of protest in the past. Regardless, I think it’d be difficult
to deny the fact that drag- or, at least, Drag Race’s version of drag- has absolutely
gone mainstream as a result of the show’s success. What interests me, given the fact that it
started out as a very low budget semi-parody with little to no production value, is how
we got here in the first place. What made it a good parody, and how did the shift to
high budget high concept reality TV happen? And what drives its success these days? Like
the show or hate the show, I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here when
it comes to how it’s found its success. And given that the show’s frickin’ twelfth
season is about to start, likely to skyrocketing ratings and massive popularity, it feels like
a good time to take a look back at the program’s popularity. So lemme take off my Jinkx Monsoon
stan hat for a second, and let’s talk about Drag Race: the epitome of reality TV. Drag Race doesn’t always take itself completely
seriously. There are lots of self-referential jokes, abject silliness, and parodies of other
content. But, at the same time, success on the show is genuinely a huge deal these days.
Winning the show means you get $100,000 dollars and a ton of opportunities, but being declared
the “winner” isn’t always the best way to actually win at it. The real prizes are
the opportunities afforded to you if you’re able to make a career out of your exposure
on the show, so actual placement isn’t quite as important as how much screentime you get
and how favourably you present yourself. Look at finalists like Brooke Lynn Hytes from
last season- she didn’t win, but because of her performance and romance with a fellow
contestant, she got a ton of screentime and became extremely popular, and is now going
to be a permanent host on Drag Race Canada. Many of the most popular contestants, such
as Katya Zamolodjikova, Adore Delano, or Shangela, never won anything, and managed to gain their
popularity based largely on how they were able to make themselves appear on TV. Reality TV is, in a lot of ways, a pretty
uncontrollable process- you have no idea in what order the things you say will be edited,
and even people who were pretty nice can be edited to look extremely unlikable with a
variety of tactics. One of the most egregious examples of this on Drag Race is what they
did to contestant Max on Season 7. After she took a break onstage when her corset was hurting
the producers asked her to sing a song to let them know that she was doing okay. They
then edited out the producers asking about it, making it seem like she had a mental breakdown
on stage and started singing for no reason. She ended up getting eliminated that night,
and was made to look negatively in a way that could potentially harm her career. You can’t
plan for that. They often even stitch together clips from different days altogether to create
sort of Frankensentences where queens supposedly talk about things they never actually mentioned
in real life. Just look at this clip here, where Shangela’s clothing literally changes
midsentence. I love my girl Stacy, but I don’t feel that she’s completely confident in what she’s saying, so I’m wondering, is she gonna be able to pull this off? Nowadays they make them all wear the same clothing for all their confessionals
so you can’t tell they’re doing it, but you can easily look back to a lot of mid-episode
costume changes in earlier seasons to see how the show crafts certain narratives. Now, this isn’t unique to Drag Race, and
while I think this is a bit ethically dubious given that it’s people’s careers that
are being played with here, it’s certainly not a unique criticism of this particular
show so much as just an observation of reality television in general. Everybody knows that
reality TV isn’t actually real, and this certainly isn’t going to be a revelation
to most people. But even though everyone watching it probably knows on some level that a large
amount of it is editing, people do still get taken in by reality TV narratives. And when
it comes to a show that depicts people engaging in their actual careers, the ramifications
of that can be severe. For example, Phi Phi O’Hara was depicted
as the “villain” of the show’s fourth season. She certainly did not act her best
during the show, but there were still a lot of editing choices inherent in what narrative
was chosen to be depicted and why. During such a stressful competitive time with hundreds
of hours of footage per person, everyone has sweet moments and out-of-control moments,
which were certainly selectively chosen for Phi Phi to highlight some of her worst traits. When she returned for an All Stars season,
she had this really interesting conversation about how she kept getting hate on social
media for how she appeared on the show, and even had trouble getting work. Clubs wouldn’t
book her because they perceived her as someone who would be unprofessional, difficult to
work with, or with a bad reputation. Pretty much everyone I know who’s met her in person
has said she’s extremely sweet, but she’s still had trouble getting work because of
the perception that her behaviour in real life is the same as it would be on reality
TV. The same thing happened for the editing on All Stars, and she’s spoken about how
she was asked by producers to say negative things about certain contestants, which was
then aired as if she started complaining about them for no reason. I follow her on social
media, and people still tweet hate directly at her on the regular. And Season 4 aired
f-cking nine years ago! The potential consequences of the unpredictable editing process are serious,
and often long-lasting. But, of course, the reverse is true as well.
People who are able to control that process, or at least come out of it relatively unscathed,
are most likely to succeed. So, for example, contestants like Shangela are extremely good
at playing the reality TV game. She’s very good at finding moments that can be exploited
for drama, whether it’s noticing that an outfit a contestant said she made out of hair
was actually made of tulle fabric and managing to spin the entire narrative of that episode
to be about her figuring it out or giving a whole monologue that convinces one contestant
and the audience that she’s about to be eliminated before turning it on someone else
entirely. I love her. Shangela was robbed. Contestants like her, who understand the tropes
and “beats” of what make reality TV interesting, are often able to manipulate the workings
of the show to both create favourable television and make themselves appear particularly important
for the show’s narrative. Shangela is now one of the most popular contestants to have
been on the show, at least if you go by Instagram followers, and has managed to use her TV success
to her advantage, having acted in a number of movies like A Star Is Born and being a
commentator for Eurovision. She’s done better than a lot of contestants
who have won the entire thing, despite having lost all three of her seasons. We also see that contestants who are extremely
talented but don’t have as loud or infectious personalities don’t test to last particularly
long. One egregious example of this is season 11 contestant Shuga Cain, who was performing
extremely well and did great in a number of challenges, but didn’t get into a ton of
drama and didn’t have a very clear “narrative” assigned to her by the editors. Story-wise,
she clearly wasn’t “supposed” to be in the top any more, and the producers essentially
decided that her time had come despite the fact that she was performing relatively well.
Despite being widely accepted as the third best performer in the magic show she was assigned
to compete in, she was placed in the bottom for essentially no reason over people who
did genuinely terribly, and was eliminated rather unceremoniously. Success on the show, particularly in the most
recent seasons, is therefore a lot less about “being the best drag queen”- not that
it ever really was- and is a lot more about being the best reality TV contestant. To me,
this really just makes it a fantastic case study for what reality TV is. It’s not that
being good at drag doesn’t matter- contestants who are funny or likable but have really f-cked
up challenges can still get eliminated, and more quiet people can still make it fairly
far and even sometimes win- but, realistically, being a good reality TV contestant is just nowadays as much an aim of the show’s competitors as being a good drag queen is. Which is why
it’s extremely interesting to watch a competition where what people are trying their hardest
to do is “win reality TV”. And it’s interesting to see what people actually do
to attempt to achieve this. A lot of people on the show try as hard as
possible to “produce” themselves, using clear, brandable catchphrases as much as possible
and heavily emphasizing one or two marketable traits about themselves. After contestant
Vanjie had an iconic, spur-of-the-moment exit that became an instant meme, she was actually
allowed to return for the show’s next season despite being eliminated first, and became
an immediate fan favourite. Miss Vanjie… Miss Vanjie… Miss Vanjie… Given the fact that these moments can mean
such massive career success, you have a large number of people on the show essentially trying
to catch lightning in a bottle and engaging in extreme self-commodification. Sometimes,
this can be successful… [Alaska: “Hieee”] and sometimes, particularly if it’s perceived
as “trying too hard” or inauthentic, it can be less so. I just wanna see if everybody remembered this. Excuse me, everybody’s attention. ATTITUDE CHECK! So y’all gonna do me like that. It’s a very interesting dynamic, one where virtually everyone is trying as hard as possible
to make themselves into a meme, but if it’s too apparent that someone is trying to make
themselves into a meme, it’s received really harshly. The same thing happened after Season 9 competitor Sasha Velour did an amazing reveal in the finale with rose petals in her wig and won
the crown, despite not being the front-runner at that time. Next year at the finale, literally
every contestant had a whole bunch of stuff hidden under their costumes, including actual
functioning fireworks and live butterflies. It got so ridiculous that it got parodied at next year’s finale,
and contestants were criticized for trying too hard and relying on reveals as a crutch.
And it definitely got goofy. But, honestly, when contestants can be so successful by studying
the exact formulas of what works for virality, it’s hard to blame people for trying. It’s
worked for so many others, and the rewards of creating a stunning TV moment and potentially
winning the series are massive. So as much as it’s easy to roll one’s eyes at forced
catchphrases and excessive reveals, they’re incentivized by the structure of the show
itself. [IT WAS RU!! RUPAUL! BLAME HER! NOT SILKY!] On the whole, this means that the way the
show works and is edited is genuinely important for a lot of people, despite its sometimes
tongue-in-cheek nature. In effect, the show has to take itself seriously to a much larger
degree than it used to, and it’s definitely been elevated beyond simple parody as a result
of its success and evolving content form. So even though I don’t *ethically* love
the fact that it’s manipulated so heavily, it does make it a pretty strong exemplification
of what reality television is. And I think, largely speaking, that comes from how the
show started out. The show’s beginnings were extremely humble.
Its first season was filmed with an extremely low budget, filmed in the basement of a studio
in Burbank and needing to use an actual broom closet as a control room. Even after the rest
of the show became popular, Season 1 was extremely hard to get a hold of, which is why it’s
still referred to by many fans as “the lost season”. Part of why that is is because
they didn’t actually have the proper license to use a lot of the music they used on that
season, and couldn’t properly air it until that license was renewed. The show was absolutely a celebration of drag,
and there were a lot of genuinely heartfelt moments in that first season. But there was
also definitely a larger element of parody as the stakes were a lot lower. Much like
a lot drag itself, it blended tongue-in-cheek references to shows like Project Runway, even
using a former contestant as a judge, and genuine competition. And it could afford
to do that because given the limited scope and consequence of the show, the actual outcomes
of the competition were a lot less real for the queens competing. So, I think in a way,
its shift from a parody of hyper-capitalistic reality competition shows to just being a
hyper-capitalistic reality competition show simply came from its ability to find success
after its first season. But I also think its tongue-in-cheek status at the beginning of
the show kind of uniquely equipped it for reality TV success. So let’s talk about
that. I always feel like there’s something interesting
there when something that starts out as an abject parody of something ends up just becoming
an example of that thing, played completely straight. One of my favourite examples of
this is the web series Um, Actually, by Collegehumor, bless its soul. Um, Actually started out as
a scripted comedy video five years ago starring Mike Trapp, and the bit was that he was an
insufferable nerd grilling other insufferable nerds about nerd shit, and they’d have to
respond with the correction “Um, Actually”. This, to be clear, wasn’t an actual competition
show, and the people in the video weren’t fully playing themselves, it was just a fictional,
mostly scripted parody written by Trapp making fun of people who feel the need to compulsively
correct others about minor details of nerd shit. The punchline comes where, after
many minutes of correcting each other about trivial details like where the bands in Star
Wars first played, Mike Trapp asks them a real life skills question, and none of them
are able to answer it. They know the ship in Firefly is named Serenity, not Firefly,
but none of them know how to jump start a car or what an IRA is. There’s a bit of
authenticity there, but ultimately Um, Actually is a mostly scripted parody series that mocks
pedantic nerds. Well, eventually someone at Collegehumor realized
that 1) there are a lot of pedantic nerds in their audience, and 2) there are a lot
of pedantic nerds working at the company. Which I can’t be too harsh on, I am also
kind of a pedantic nerd. So, about a year and a half ago, they launched Um, Actually
as a real competition series. They even bring on celebrity guests, like Matt Mercer or Rachel
Bloom, and the thing is even pretty high budget for Collegehumor. It can still be a little bit self-deprecating
at times, but for the most part, the show plays it straight. It’s not really making
fun of nerds for correcting minor details about fictional works; the aim of the game
is genuinely just to be a nerd correcting minor details about fictional works. Um, Actually
has, in many ways, become the thing it hates. It’s just completely unironic. They even
air segments from fans correcting them on details they get wrong on the show. I say all this like my aim is to be snarky
about the fact that Um, Actually started as a parody of “Um, Actually” nerds and now
it’s a show for “Um, Actually” nerds. In actuality, I don’t think this is necessarily
a terrible thing. I mean, I like making fun of those people just as much as anyone else,
and I do think being overly pedantic about stuff that doesn’t really matter is just
a bad social skill in most situations. But, also, I think a lot of us do have a part of
our personalities that don’t like when people call Remy the rat Ratatouille or misquote
Star Trek. Plus, it’s kind of a fun show to watch sometimes and feel smug when you
know the answers. And, hey, some people behind Collegehumor
recognized that there was money to be made from doing Um, Actually as a real show, and
also probably realized that they were having fun filming it. I don’t blame them at all
for taking something that started as a parody and just playing it straight. I just think
recognizing its origins makes it a very interesting story as to how it’s so easy for things
that start out as a mockery of common pop culture tropes to get… actually good. I feel like for something to be a good parody,
you have to recognize, and play with, the tropes that makes the original thing work
in the first place. If I want to make a parody of reality TV with some stunning drag queens,
I have to understand what made stuff like America’s Next Top Model tick. Only when
I really get it can I start to play with it or poke fun at its core. It’s the same reason
all artists, even ones who draw in hyper-stylized cartoon styles, are encouraged to properly
learn real human anatomy first. I mean, to quote what is essentially the bible
of tropes in pop culture, “tropes are tools”. They’re basically just commonly recognized
building blocks that we can use to tell a story, and recognize other stories for what
they are quickly. In a lot of ways, they can work as storytelling shorthand- if music with
a dark minor chord plays as we see a low-angle shot of someone in a menacing mask walk towards
us, that probably means they’re going to be a villain. It doesn’t have to mean that,
and you can definitely subvert that trope- look at the scary guy from Home Alone- but
just like subverting a trope doesn’t make something automatically clever or good, using
a trope doesn’t make something automatically cliche or bad. In the words of a tweet by Maia Franklin,
complaining about a work for having tropes in it is like complaining about a tree for
being made of wood. I mean, I don’t agree with their take on TV Tropes, because I think
the website is pretty clear that tropes are fine and every story uses them to communicate
their narrative more clearly, but there’s definitely this widespread idea online that
a story having tropes in it makes it bad. Just look at words like “tropey” used
derisively. Like, what’s next, are we gonna deride buildings by calling them “bricky”?
Ugh, that’s a terrible dish. It’s so… ingredienty. Anyway, my point is, for a parody of Thing
to be good, you have to understand what makes Thing work in the first place. That’s why
surface-level parodies that don’t really get to the heart of why something is funny
don’t tend to do well. Like, I remember back in 2010 I was so excited to watch Vampires
Suck, which was this vampire movie spoof, because I had just looped around from liking
Twilight to being too cool for it, and my little cynical self was like “yes! Tear
it to shreds!”. But I was watching it like, whoever made this
clearly didn’t understand anything about why people like the Twilight movies in the
first place. It’s just dumb jokes that have an aesthetic similarity to Twilight at best.
There’s a lot of funny stuff in there to legitimately parody if you do the work and
understand what makes it tick, but this is just… dumb. On the other hand, parodies
of, say, reality TV shows that actually understand reality TV tropes and can make fun of them
in engaging ways can be really funny. One of my friends Emily, who is an amazing
writer, started writing a fanfiction of the DND podcast me and my friends do as a joke.
And it was really funny at first, because it was sort of a parody of My Immortal and
popular fanfiction tropes. A lot of stuff happened in it that’s common in fanfictions
and sitcoms, like “oh, this person has a date with two people at once” or “oh,
there’s a good version of this person and an evil version and we have to stop the evil
version!”. But it turns out, those building blocks are
popular for a reason. And it’s because you can do a lot of cool stuff with them, and
once a whole bunch of us started tuning in and were like “oh, this is interesting”,
Emily ended up taking those building blocks and turning it from a parody into a genuinely
compelling story that used our podcast setting as its backdrop. And now it’s up to like
75 thousand words and it’s something a whole bunch of us tune in every few days for and
get really excited whenever another chapter drops and draw fanart for, because she took
something that started as a parody and used the building blocks that she satirized to
tell a genuinely good and compelling story. And I think that is exactly why, when you
play with fiction in a way that’s not about being snide and superior, but is instead about
celebrating it and seeing what you can do with a popular idea, you can create something
genuinely amazing. I think that’s why parody- loving, creative parody, not snide surface
level mockery- is such a uniquely equipped genre to create something good. I think this
is true even when something stays a parody. People love Young Frankenstein not because
it makes fun of horror movies and tries to tear them down, but because it plays with
what makes horror movies good in a funny and compelling way. Even though Drag Race takes itself a lot more
seriously now and winning it is genuinely a big deal that people spend tens of thousands
of dollars trying to do, one thing I do love about it is the fact that it’s just
so completely shameless about its corporate sponsorships. There’s this moment where
RuPaul is interviewing the season 9 finalists, and they’re talking so seriously about what
being queer means to them and how they got into doing drag and what winning would mean
to them… and then RuPaul pulls out a fucking Squatty Potty and he’s like “okay, this
is our sponsor, ladies”! And everyone just has to smile awkwardly while
pretending they’re super elated about this gift. And it’s so stupid, but it’s genuinely
such a hilarious and goofy moment and one of my favourite dumb things of the recent
seasons. And it’s such a funny riff on the way a lot of these shows are sponsored to
hell and back. Like, some of y’all don’t like me doing sponsorships, you should see
how many products they’re peddling on Drag Race. There’s like, five per episode and they’re
all so completely shameless about it. And yet, despite the fact that they self-referentially
joke about it, the show makes a shitton of money. RuPaul himself is a 16-millionaire,
and the show’s budget is consistently growing more and more massive by the minute. Whether
or not one likes Ru- and I’ve repeatedly said RuPaul is my least favourite part of
RuPaul’s Drag Race- the way he walks the line of parodied reality TV and playing reality
TV straight is absolute marketing genius. And I think it’s exactly this phenomenon
that makes Drag Race such a massively successful show. I mean, I’ve certainly criticized
the fact that it’s *so* reality TV that it can be unfair to contestants who don’t
fit that mold. But, like it or not, it has absolutely captured the very essence of what
makes reality TV shows successful. In a way, it’s essentially deconstructed and almost
reverse-engineered the perfect reality show, which is why it’s so archetypically “reality
TV”. My favourite example of this is the moment
where a bunch of contestants are shit-talking the queens who have been eliminated while
looking into the mirror, and the two-way mirror lights up and they’re all there, having
listened the entire time. And like. It’s iconic! That season aired four years ago and
it’s still being talked about today as one of the show’s most memorable moments. I
already mentioned earlier that producers engineered this moment by encouraging Phi Phi to trash
talk the girl she’d sent home. It’s not authentic. No reality shows are. But by god,
it is it good TV. On the whole, I just think parody is a really
interesting genre in general. Good parodies, I think, need to be made with love and not
with snide derision of the source material. It’s easy to enjoy and engage in content
that’s largely just tearing other content apart, especially when it validates our pre-existing
opinions. I mean, I know in high school I used to veg out and watch Honest Trailers
after finishing math homework, because I was literally tired of using my brain in a positive
and productive way. F-ck that, I wanna make fun of Divergent! In the words of the critic from Ratatouille,
which is a great movie that I unironically love, “we thrive on negative criticism,
which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that
in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful
than our criticism designating it so.” And I think this is true. Competition reality
TV may be a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it engages people for a reason. Watching people
compete, watching them get into manufactured drama, seeing the stuff people create with
limited resources… it’s genuinely enjoyable, and the fact that it isn’t actually reality
is kind of the point when folks are looking for an escape from reality. And I think, despite
its many, many problems, Drag Race is something that was made both out of a love for drag
and a genuine love for the shows it riffs off of. And I think, ultimately, the fact
that it was largely borne out of the art of parody is what makes it so incredibly successful.
It understands the tropes of reality TV so well that it’s become sort of the *ultimate*
reality TV show in the way it’s produced and received by its audience. And although
it’s problematic, this understanding and engineering of those tropes makes it both
intensely successful and intensely captivating. Now, if you need me, I’ll be watching Season
12 and hopelessly trying to figure out who to root for. Please tell me! I don’t know yet. Usually I know. Like… help? Being a media critic and spending so much
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100 thoughts on “How RuPaul’s Drag Race Changed Reality TV”

  • at one point i was almost yelling at my laptop screen because sarah moved her hands so much her drink almost spilled kfjdhgkj oh my god sarah pls put down that cup please its killing me

  • My biggest problem is how over-produced and how it's just "selling queernes for straighties" at this point.
    And how the production has still giant failures and mishaps handling the participants.

  • This is a little off topic for the subject of the video, but THANK YOU for being the first youtube critic I've ever seen that actually seems to get the uncomfortable reality that Ratatouille quote is describing about the role of a critic. I've seen so many people use only the first parts of it as a way to explain the value of the profession, and of course that's true, but in an age where so much of online media criticism thrives on being hyper negative about everything, everyone seems to ignore the ending, which to me, as a person who both wants to critique art and make it, is the most important part. Creating takes so much effort, and tearing apart something someone else created is just so much easier in comparison. (That doesn't mean negative criticism is inherently bad, of course. It's just… what the quote says, really.)

  • I was surprised you didn't bring up Laganja, because she's such an interesting example to discuss in light of both of your insights about the show. The producers didn't allow her to have access to her meds and then milked all the instability in her behaviour for all it was worth; and her constant use of catchphrases was at first deemed annoying to the point the bullying after season 6 aired almost made her stop working, but now her catchphrases have legitimately caught on. Everyone uses it and they've become part of the show's legacy. It's just a very interesting example of the whole "ironic use leading to unironical use" phenomenon, imo.

  • I noticed awhile back how it's actually better to be a runner up than a winner of these reality TV shows. If you win, Simon Cowell gets you to produce one single, then devours your soul.

  • Heraclitus Blacking says:

    At around the 20 minute mark you offer a mild rebuttal to those who criticize works for being "too tropey," as though a dish could be "too ingredienty."

    I think you might be missing the mark a bit; a piece of work that's "too tropey" is one that does not sufficiently blend or incorporate tropes into a work to make a coherent whole, but lines up tropes in a formulaic way, to the point where the work seems more like an exercise than an opus. To take your analogy about food, it is easy to imagine a dish where the ingredients have not been sufficiently blended or cooked together. Or a piece of music that uses the same arpeggio pattern to the point of boredom, even though arpeggios are a part of music.

    Great video, as always.

  • 50% off (god rest it's soul) was a great example of parody. It took homoerotic swim practice and turned it into funny, quotable, and intelligent satire that loved the source material but also critiqued the fanbase. It was engaging and at times poignant while also getting me to address people by shouting "WHAT'S UP SWIM DICKS".

    TL;DR: I love 50%off so fucking much and im mad that the algorithm killed it.

  • If you’re going to be a contestant on the show (or any reality tv show) you have to know that it’s a television show first, talent competition second. A lot of queens who do “well” on the show( Yvie Oddly, Willam, Raja, Bianca Del Rio, Shangela etc) seemingly had an understanding of that.
    And many who became “villains” (Roxxxy, Phi Phi) were just less experienced with TV and genuinely thought being the “Best Drag Queen” was what it took to win.

  • If I were to go on the show, I would strategize not just my looks and Catchphrases, but also my storyline. Day one, you have to figure out who falls into each trope. Who is the underdog? Who is the experienced front runner, who is the antagonist, who is Miss Congeniality, etc etc. and you have to track it throughout the season and have the self-awareness to know where you fit in. If you want to stay, you have to serve a purpose to a storyline. As soon as it’s run its course, your head is on the chopping block.

  • Sarah I love your content. It's insightful, interesting and possessing of a lot of nuance other talking heads on YouTube really lack. Please invest in some sound recording equipment. The reverb/echo and noise on this video makes it hard to listen to for the whole duration, and it distracts from the legitimately good discussion. Much love <3

  • Oh my freaking God I have to take a deep breath before watching one of your videos. I love them. I really really love them, but your cup of tea launch me into an OCD euphoria!
    Jokes aside, like you said at the beginning, one of my major concerns is that neoliberalism has evolved to assimilate unconformity and criticism of capitalism into the system itself. Today, the show is a beacon of uniqueness and a critique of the status quo by the minority it oppresses, tomorrow, it is validating corporate rainbow-washing.

  • The Tribunal Of The Imagination says:

    [Duckman walks onstage in front of an audience]

    Duckman: "I know you all came here to see Iggy Catalpa, because you think he's funny. Because you like his style. Because you just plain like him, right?"

    Audience: "Yeah! Yeah!"

    Duckman: "But you just think you do! Because you were manipulated into thinking you do—by him, King Chicken! [Bernice and others gasp in shock to see King Chicken on stage with a cane] He did it the same way they manipulate us into buying toothpaste, car wax, even politicians! All prepackaged- the least offensive, most appealing alternative. But it's precisely when humor is offensive that we need it most. Comedy should provoke! It should blast through prejudices, challenge preconceptions! Comedy should always leave you different than when it found you!

    [the audience start murmuring to each other]

    King Chicken: "The rabble seems roused."

    Duckman: "Sure, humor can hurt, even alienate, but the risk is better than the alternative: a steady diet of innocuous, childproof, flavorless mush! Demand to be challenged! To be offended! To be treated like thinking, reasoning adults! And raise your children to be the same! Don't let a comedian, a network, a congressional committee, or an evil genius take away your freedom to laugh at whatever you want."

    –"Duckman" S1E13, "Joking The Chicken"

  • I’m not a Drag Race fan, but I’ll put in a shout-out to Tom and Lorenzo (, because they have a book about the history of Drag Race coming out soon.

  • Vampires Suck was awful. Go watch What We Do in the Shadows instead; its an fantastic mocumentry of a group of vampires living in a share house and created by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. It's made from a place of understanding and love of the vampire genre rather than a cynical cash in like the Vampires Suck movie.

  • This is why I can watch Drag Race! Its ridiculous OTT nature is much more authentic than the ridiculous OTT nature of most other reality tv.

  • I went to a local drag show this week and it illustrated to me very clearly how much Drag Race suffers for not being inclusive. That show had a hyper-queen (/bioqueen but I don't like that word very much) nipple-clip her labia set to Rihanna, a drag king doing an appeal about mental health and hitting a blunt on stage, and a queen performing to Contrapoints quotes and Within Temptation. It was so much more interesting than a lot of recent drag race and genuinely engaging with the diversity of performers and all I remember thinking was, "Wow, I wish there was more stuff like this in Drag Race."

  • I've been watching Drag Race since the first season. The feeling of the show has changed so much from an earnest attempt to show an art form and have some fun with the format, and even though there were a lot of amazing queens on the show, it's become quite formulaic and just like most other reality shows.

  • I was just thinking "I need more Sara Z content" after watching the shout out from the Quentin Reviews video on Mr. Peanut, when this video dropped. Yay!

  • I was so distracted by your mug the whole time and you never even took a sip from it. Maybe don't use distracting props as a crutch? x

  • Your analysis didn’t take into account the value of “camp” to the drag and lgbt community’s which is kind of the lifesblood of drag race both on behalf of the editors and queens. That being said, great video and super interesting! New subscriber for sure

  • Kinda like when Edgar Allan Poe started out writing prose to parody popular genres written in prose but ended up seeing the benefits in writing in such form and writing many short stories.

  • Entraya Crosshill says:

    you have to genuinely enjoy thrash talking something to make a compelling thrash talk which means you have to enjoy the subject all the same

  • I'm so sorry I didn't watch this sooner from the thumbnail I thought it was one of those clickbait videos and missed your name

  • Carrot Of Doom says:

    wow, i couldnt ever decide whether i want to watch drag race or not

    well this cleared it up to me, i hate drag race now

  • Carrot Of Doom says:

    25:00 – maybe its because making fun of it doesnt realy hurt it and its just another way advertisers are trying to get us?

    i dont know, the fact that it makes people be so positive about those ads because LOLZ THEY ARE SO SHAMELESS HAHA is kind of concerning to me

  • Sarah, I'd really like to know what you think of The Great British Sewing Bee. It's 'reality TV' only in that it's a real competition that's then turned into a TV show. But it's gentle, and sweet, and all the contestants seem to genuinely like each other. And it's weirdly still utterly compelling watching. You can check it out here:

  • There has been no show before and after drag race (that I know of) where contestants have to make almost everything from scratch, turn look, perform and loads of things.

  • Benjamin Wambeke says:

    "We've all got our trash, and, well, this is my trash" (Sarah Z, 2020)

    "We've all got our junk, and my junk is you" (Spring Awakening, 2007)

    – Cinematic parallels

  • I have to say I really disagree with your criticism of "tropey" as a criticism of media, when I say it about something I don't just mean it has tropes, I mean it's using them in an unimaginative way, and that the characters are two-dimentional and unengaging, and only seem to do what they do because that's part of their trope and not because of any real character motivation

  • I will never forgive RuPaul for changing drag from a revolutionary art form to a reactionary display of opulence

  • When I do drag I wanna dance and express myself and forget the constraints of cis society. I don’t want to compete with cis men for who can best fit into heteronormative beauty standards while straight white women yell “Yaaaaas queen”

  • I think it’s so true that parody has to be made with love. Grown men who hated twilight (because it was so loved by teenage girls) will never be able to make a good twilight parody. people who loved twilight understand why it was so loved and really understand it enough to play with the ideas. Even tho 50 shades isn’t a parody, the author was able to capture what made twilight so popular because she herself loved twilight.

  • Basically, abridged series.

    Sword Art Online is a very troublesome show in that the idea is absolutely amazing, but the execution is, uh… _Questionable_. Something Witty Entertainment's SAO:Abridged is a parody, but honestly… It has become a realization of the show a lot of us thought SAO could be, and this is a widely popular opinion on it, not just my take.

  • After seeing the first episode, Crystal Methyd is definitely #1 for me. I love me an oddball (Yvie and Sasha were my picks in their seasons). Haven’t watched the Meet the Queens yet, so we’ll see about the others.

  • Tyler Cannington says:

    I love all your videos and look forward to hearing your well-developed thoughts every time I see you in the feed!

  • Hedvig Wilhelmina Björkman says:

    what we do in the shadows is probably the greatest parody i've ever seen, period. it understands every vampire trope under the sun (or moon, as it were) and makes fun of them perfectly, all the while crafting likeable characters with arcs, and a hilarious and at times heartfelt story. it makes fun of everything Vampiric, but the love for the original stories they're parodying shines through in how well made it is. unlike every twilight parody out there, they're laughing WITH vampire fans, not at them

  • In the case of Max. There are alot of material out there about her behaviour when the cameras weren't on. She had allegedly diva like behaviour and was never done with her makeup when they needed to be at the stage.

  • I love your shirt! The pastels are cute and it really suits you.
    That being said, Who DO we root for on season 12 😨? There's too many fun ones this season.

  • On Instagram shangela isn't in the 2 mill.
    Only Bianca and adore are.
    (But I'm not hating at all. I love your video very well done girl )

  • The Greedy Worm says:

    Idk how I feel about watching rupauls anymore, I feel like I don’t want to support a show that steps on other people to climb higher

  • I feel like the trope thing can be compared to dessert. You expect for dessert to be sweet, but you can definitely have food that is too sweet to be enjoyable. It can also be fun to play with the contrast of sweet and bitter to make some interesting new combinations.

    Like I'm not going to get mad that I get a cookie for dessert because it's too sweet, and I'd enjoy something a bit more experimental with very dark chocolate or something, but if you serve meatballs, I'm going to be confused.

  • Haven't watched drag race since Bianca Del Rio won, but I'm gonna watch to support my girl Sarah. Plus I'm generally curious how drag race has become

  • I don’t think the “friend writes a parody fan fic that becomes sincere” is that good a parallel in this case. Yes it’s true that people are confused about the difference between a trope and a clique. But I think an important thing to remember when talking about media is: capital estranges is from what we love. Reality tv as a capitalist product was widely produced as means of breaking the 2008 writers strike. (I don’t say that to make any one feel bad btw like or not liking doesn’t materially change anything) capital estranges is from what we love so of coarse a parody tv show that becomes successful is going to become like every other product. (This not to say that newer season aren’t “good” cause they arent subversive just that there’s an economic pressure in tv that does not exist in fan fic)

  • This reminds me of when I had to write Cinderella but told through Holden Caulfield’s (the catcher in the rye) voice. I ended up writing Holden as Cinderella joking fanfic making fun of Holden and have him and the prince fall in love through fanfic troupes, which Holden hated. After I turned in the first version I went back and wrote a genuine character study of Holden using the story of Cinderella to show the themes of the book. I still made it at heart a love story between Holden and the Prince but it became a project very close to my heart as I explored the different aspects of what Holden was all about. It is the one and only fan fiction I’ve ever written. It is currently large enough to be its own book 😂

  • the fact that the biggest fans are never even trans or gay at least from my experience is probably what's most interesting

  • Silky really was done so dirty by the show and that is the hill I will die on. It's one of many many Drag Race related hills that is really more of a large mountain range at this point.

  • I really wish the YouTube show King Me had a higher budget and could do more stuff that Drag Race doesn't. But a lot of what you said is why This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer Report are so funny! They take the talk show/news anchor stereotypes and adds their own parody. Using the format of what they're making fun of makes it really good!

  • As a 31 yrs old #TRANSGENDER #WOMAN .. I feel SAFE , HAPPY & PROUD just by sharing this world with you younger generation 🙏🏽😭💕 ITS MAKING ME SPEECHLESS WHEN MOST OF YOU GUYS STANDING UP FOR OUR RIGHTS SPECIALLY AGAINST THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA . I know that we are going through a lot since forever but its my pleasure to fight everyday for our lives AS LONG AS YOU ARE BY OUR SIDE. 👁😌💅🏼💋💋💋

  • Violet Rochefort says:

    Not sponsored by Squatty Potty but Dashlane ? Unsubscribed !
    Kidding, actually this is my first video of you and it made me subscribed because that was a very interesting essay on my favorite TV Show. This show, while flawed like everything else, actually saved me from really dark thoughts, and I'll forever be grateful for it. (Also I have no clue who to root for either in Season 12 because they're all fierce. But I'd say Rock, Jan, Gigi and Jackie for my top 4 ? Ugh, so hard…)
    Consider me hooked !

  • i watched the 1st season of drag race as it was airing on tv but my parents forbid me from it before i could find out who won :/ i was rooting for raven from day 1 tho

  • Pee Pee The Clown says:

    Hey another calgay here, come to Dickens (if u haven't already!), the best drag in our city happens there tbh…
    Forever iconic that one of our best drag queens is a trans woman whos stage name is Karla Marx

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