There were two standout moments from the eleventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race – the camp, frothy, nonsensical but delightful show centred on drag queens – and neither of them were for the right reasons. Those who are familiar with the long-running Netflix series are aware that two scenarios that provide almost instant notoriety are the Snatch Game and the Library, respectively. The former involves the contestants taking on the persona of a celebrity for a Hollywood Squares-style game show, while the latter is a ‘mini-challenge’ where the contestants roast and rib each other in the name of bantz. They can be off-kilter and chaotic (Season 4) or whip-smart and spot-on (Season 6), as long as they are entertaining. Season Eleven committed the cardinal sin for both – it bored me.
The jokes left in were flat and uninspiring, and no amount of off-key caterwauling and forced guffawing could mask the fact we were watching the most disappointing crop of queens for quite some time. Perhaps Season 10 – where we had the all-out assault of Aquaria, the sponge-loving Monet Exchange and the straight-talking Asia – had just too much quality, but as we say goodbye to the eleventh season of RuPaul, one can’t help but feel a serious shake-up is needed.
One of the main issues, if not the main problem, with this season rests on the shoulders of Silky Nutmeg Ganache. Not since, well, Eureka last season has there been a contestant that has caused such derision and ire. But while Eureka was talented, with each passing week it became more and more apparent that the more visible Silky’s hip pads became, the less noticeable was her skills. Silky proved to be so irritating she made Leganja look like Kameron Michaels, a loud, tiresome presence that became more and more frustrating as talented contestants fell by the wayside.
Of course, the viewers all saw Silky as the pantomime villain, one that could dish out critiques but was unable to absorb them, a bitter and jealous performer that even strayed dangerously into racially insensitive territory. However, Ru and the judges were smitten, seeing a personality that was bold and awe-inspiring, able to withstand any challenge through sheer charm. It proved to be one of Season Eleven’s most frustrating prospects – of course, ratings are ratings, and rightly or wrongly Silky oozed air quality, but her attention-seeking shtick wore incredibly thin.
Case-in-point – the library. Even Nina West, the designated comedy queen, failed to pull up any trees with her John Mulaney-esque routine, while winner Brooke Lynn Hytes nicked her most hilarious line from a fellow drag performer (as she did from The Simpsons in one of the maxi challenges). But Silky was nothing short of a train wreck, a spectacular mess of flubbed lines and vulgarity.
We could devote a whole article to the shortcomings of Silky – the scandalous lip-sync, the fact she ever got close to the top four – but the truth is there were many other disappointments to stem from Season Eleven. Brooke Lynn Heights was too polished, too prepared, too programmed. Vanjie was, naturally, incredibly entertaining, but in previous seasons there is no way her one-dimensional shtick would have brushed the top five. Rajah O’Hara was the de facto bitch of the season, but at least previous catty contestants such as Gia Gunn and Willam had witty barbs and sickening looks. Rajah spent most of her time in the bottom two, pouting and insulting without showing any signs of aptitude.
RuPaul does tend to ebb and flow, with some seasons having stronger contestants than others, but as Season Eleven whimpered to its so-so finale (although Yvie Odly proved a worthy winner), there’s a worrying feeling the days of Del Rio, the sheer amazement of Sharon Needles and the good old days are a sign of the past.
Words by Sam Lambeth