Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4 Finale Ends Without a Champion

Ten queens have already sashayed away on this season of RuPaul's Drag Race after failing to impress the Superstar Glamazon herself in feats of sitcom acting, drag wrestling, baby daddy beautifying and zombie apocalypse survival (among others). It all came down to last night's season finale, a battle royale between seasoned veteran Chad Michaels, grating whippersnapper Phi Phi O'Hara, and outside-the-box fab freak Sharon Needles, to see who would be crowned America's Next Drag Superstar.

Or so we thought.

The queens completed the requisite finale challenge of starring in a new RuPaul music video—this season featured them as giant Godzilla-esque monsters in "Glamazon"—and then showing off their best looks on the main stage in a final Lip Sync For Your Life in front of the judges. The previews had already hinted that Ru would be "breaking all the rules" in the finale, but it seemed that just meant that all three queens would do the lip sync instead of just the Top 2. And given the amount of screen time given to Sharon Needles and her squid-like finger props, a new champion was clearly in sight.

But forget what we think and forget what we know. After all, this is (and has always been) Ru's little puppet show and she will do as she sees fit, even if that means jerking us around a little bit to remind us who's boss. So instead of announcing the Next Drag Superstar, she announced... next week's reunion special, at which the winner will be revealed.

Ugh. Okay, let's talk this out for a minute.

RuPaul's Drag Race has always been a campy joyride of reality TV that loves to blatantly call out the ridiculousness of the genre it's in while fully embracing it at the same time, frequently (if not constantly) giving the viewers a little wink to let us know they are in on the joke. The central idea of drag culture is the subversion of our ideas about what is masculine versus feminine, and the subversion of reality television is another logical step in the process of creating the show. One of the best parts about Drag Race is that while turning the dial all the way up on all the craziness of the genre, the show manages to be one of the best in the business, turning out moments of emotional vulnerability and discussing real, important issues like HIV, bullying and gay rights, while at the same time recognizing that it's not an after school special—it does, of course, star two almost-naked muscle boys walking around like models on The Price is Right.

What that whole long tangent is meant to prove is that it is okay when RuPaul decides to pull a trick out of the old reality television hat, like keeping the reason for Willam's elimination a secret until the reunion special, and now the crowning of this season's winner. In order to subvert the game, you've got to play it a little bit. What upsets me about last night's announcement is that it didn't feel like a wink. This felt like a typical reality TV ratings grab to get people to watch a reunion they might not otherwise be bothered to tune in for. It was like a clone of Ryan Seacrest saying, "we'll find out who is in the Bottom 2.... right after this commercial break!" for the 856th time.

Ultimately, it's Ru's call and it's certainly one that's going to work (though, to be fair, I'd be watching that reunion anyway), but I just wish that it had been done with at least a shred of self-awareness of what was happening. It already happens every time she blatantly promotes one of her books or albums—available on iTunes—and it works perfectly. We know it's an overt self-promotion, but we also know that Ru is aware how over the top she's being. And I love it. Unfortunately, that's exactly what was lacking in last night's champion-less finale.

Listen, I love RuPaul's Drag Race and there's not much that would get me to stop watching it, even a victory for Phi Phi O'Hara next week (seriously). The amount of amazing antics on that show is more than can be said for just about any other reality fare on television, and it doesn't seem to be losing steam any time soon. But that level of excellence makes moments like these that much more disappointing. Ru, you don't need to stoop down to the level of those other shows. And if you do, at least give us that knowing glance while you're doing it. And give Ryan Seacrest one of your epic slaps while you're down there.

And, since I know she'd want me to do it, I'll promote that damn reunion special during which we'll find out which one of the three remaining queens will be America's Next Drag Superstar. RuPaul's Drag Race: Reunited airs Monday, April 30th at 9/8c on Logo. Happy, Ru?

[Image Source: New Now Next; LogoTV Tumblr]
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