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Rampant reviews first season of Canada's Drag Race 


     In the time of COVID-19, many have found comfort in television shows, movies and music. For me, the RuPaul's Drag Race (RPDR) franchise has kept me sane while the world is full of uncertainty. 

     RPDR is an elimination-based drag competition in which RuPaul Charles, the franchise's namesake and main judge, is in search of the next top drag superstar. RPDR is similar to America’s Next Top Model, but is primarily gay men performing in drag (female impersonation) — there is an abundance of lip syncing, singing, dancing, acting, sewing and comedy challenges. Currently the RPDR franchise encompasses six ongoing shows in three different countries, with multiple unofficial drag competition sister shows. The most notable shows of the franchise are RPDR (U.S.), RPDR All Stars (U.S.), RPDR U.K. and Canada’s Drag Race (CDR), the most recent addition.

     As I caught up with about 20 different seasons of the RPDR franchise this summer, I worried I may be running out of episodes. Luckily, RPDR (U.S.) Season 12, RPDR All Stars (U.S.) Season 5 and CDR Season 1 started airing live over the summer months. I was the most excited for CDR which began airing

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Graphic by Lexi Karaivanova

July 2 and finished up Sep. 3. Unlike other shows in the RPDR franchise, RuPaul is not an active host on CDR — rather, RPDR Season 11 runner up and Canadian native Brooke Lynn Hytes is the main judge, alongside Canadian model Stacey Mackenzie and Canadian actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. Knowing that it was an entirely new panel of judges and I would be exposed to the drag scene in Canada, I had high hopes for the premiere season of CDR.

     Unfortunately, the judging in CDR was difficult to watch which made the entire show painful at times. Hytes, Bowyer-Chapman and Mackenzie were all quick to give unconstructive criticism throughout the season, leaving fans and contestants alike shocked. In the first episode, the judges were already telling a contestant, Juice Boxx, “I can’t find anything nice to say.” Such a critique does not offer Boxx any advice on how to improve, rather it just puts her down. Subsequently, Boxx had a panic attack on stage. Watching Boxx cry because of the judges made it hard to appreciate the work of other queens on stage. This was just the first episode, so it set the tone for the ruthless judging to follow.

     I had hoped that CDR contestants and judges would embrace Canadian kindness, but the judges opted to play into the cringe, drama and controversy factors of RPDR shows. Thankfully, though, this was balanced out by minimal controversy between the different contestants, as seen in the makeover challenge. In the RPDR franchise, it is common to have group and makeover challenges in which one contestant selects the teams — typically, there is strategy and backstabbing in how this is done, but the Canadian queens chose to play fair in how they matched everyone. The contestants’ personalities made up for the disastrous judging, as they chose not to lean into the drama factor for views.

     CDR’s first season had a diverse group of 12 queens, offering valuable perspectives: contestant Ilona Verley was a First Nations indigenous person that identified as Two-Spirit when not in drag, the native equivalent to the non-binary identity; contestant Scarlett BoBo identified as non-binary when not in drag; contestant Anastarzia Anaquway immigrated to Canada for asylum from the Bahamas after being shot in her driveway for being openly gay; and a few contestants were Québécois French Canadians. 

     All of the queens’ unique cultural experiences as LGBTQ+ individuals nurtured genuine discussions about global discrimination and what progress is still needed for acceptance. In episode 8, the makeover challenge, the queens dove into this subject as they were paired with LGBTQ+ individuals from the charitable organization Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad is based in Canada and aims to help LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing violence in their home countries, so the Rainbow Railroad individuals shared their stories. As the queens heard the stories, they were all able to reflect on their own coming out experiences and on how fortunate they are in Canada. The stories of the Rainbow Railroad individuals as well as some of the contestants’ stories of discrimination reminded viewers how far the LGBTQ+ community still has to go and that there is a hope for a brighter, gayer future. 

     As the RPDR franchise announced their expansion and the first season of CDR, there was a lot to look forward to. The contestants were immensely talented, diverse and hilarious — but the judging did make for awkward viewing. Nevertheless, CDR Season 1 is definitely worth the watch for long-time RPDR fans. Hopefully the judging will get better in the next couple of seasons, making the show more bearable for superfans and new watchers.

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