15. Ariel (11th Place)
If I haven’t made it clear yet, Ariel is a vacuous, uninteresting waste of space that should have never been cast. In a season full to the brim with shit-stirrers and trouble makers who know how to do it right, Ariel is the pinnacle of how to do it wrong: boring, unoriginal, and easy to break down. Just look at her trying to call out people during the wig debacle, where she starts loud but immediately folds as soon as Silky starts yelling back. It’s clear Ariel was cast to be a haughty, early-game villain whose downfall we were supposed to laugh at, but Ariel was never smart, cunning, or even mean enough for that role. We live in a post All Stars 4 world, and Ariel has nothing compared to the saccharine, mouthy succubus that was Gia Gunn. The fact that the greatest bit of intrigue involving her wigs happened after she left speaks volumes on how unimportant and lame Ariel was. But speaking of those wigs…
14. Plastique (8th Place)
No one let me down more than Plastique, and it’s beyond the fact that she is an Edwards. Plastique was the center of a good amount of drama in the season (how honest her sob story was, if the wigs were for her), but she was never present in any of these moments. Anytime someone tried to confront her or she would be side-eyed, her response was always a vacant stare. Plastique never got angry, upset, frustrated, or even confused at any attacks on her, killing any potential fun on the spot. There’s something kind of humorous at the idea that Plastique not giving the editors anything despite her contradictory backstories, but I highly doubt it was intentional. Plastique could have been an excellent troll (the Edwards are fantastic at that, after all) but she just never committed.
13. Honey (13th Place)
12. Kahanna (14th Place)
Kahana came, she wore bad outfits, she aggressively did something that only the kindest person would call vogueing, and left her second episode, vanishing into the æther. Most second boots can only dream of an edit this dignified.
11. Shuga (7th Place)
I had to doublecheck three times to make sure Shuga Cain finished 7th Place, because it just feels wrong.
Shuga feels a lot like a typical Drag Race early boot: an older, likable, inoffensive Queen with a small handful of Neat Moments (think Mrs. Kasha Davis without the alcoholism). There’s nothing objectively wrong with that, but there’s a reason I said early boots. Shuga isn’t boring, per se, but she doesn’t have a place in the drama and conflama of Season 11; by the time of the Ra’jah boot, everyone was knee deep in character development and conflict and fun moments, aside for her, a fact that remained unchanged three episodes later when she finally left. Multiple times writing these articles, I would flat out forget Shuga was still around, and just as often had nothing to say about her.
I know I’ve been sorta harsh on Shuga, and that wasn’t my intention. Shuga herself is a fine, albeit unoriginal, part of the Season 11 cast. It just boggles my mind that she outlasted contestants like Scarlet and Ra’jah, and that it took so long for them to mercy kill her.
10. Brooke (Runner-Up)
So… who the hell is Brooke?
By the end of Season 11, I felt confident I knew who each of the final 4 were, their backstories, motivations, drives, aside for Brooke. Sure, we get to know a few of things about Brooke: she gives great reaction images, she’s from Canada, she has a thing for loud, raspy Puerto Ricans. But as to who Brooke… who Brock (of course his boy name is Brock!) is? I couldn’t tell you. Brooke doesn’t go through any character arc, she doesn’t have any notable fights, and she doesn’t exert any particular beliefs or hold any values that make her interesting. Brooke is just… the tall Blonde who can dance.
It hit me in particular how featureless Brooke’s character was during her video from home, where even then all we got from her mom was some vague existence of problems in the past that they are getting over, Brooke doing herself no favors by refusing to elaborate. I’m guessing the point was for us to project ourselves onto her, see her overcome some nonspecific thing and to inspire us to do the same, but compared to Yvie, Silky, A’Keria, Vanessa, and even Shuga, it’s incredibly weak. More to the point, this is exactly why Brooke just doesn’t resonate with me: her character is what you put into her. Again, someone for you to be inspired by. Brooke gives you what you put into her, and considering I’m much more endeared by most of the rest of the cast, you can see why she just doesn’t click with me; I never got invested into Brooke, and because she means nothing to me.
Brooke is certainly not bad, and sometimes you need a straight man who gives good reactions. I just wish there was more to her.
9. Nina (6th Place)
Part of me kinda hates what Nina is, and part of me kinda loves her.
Nina’s character is one we’ve seen countless times before: a campy, comedy-focused Queen with a retro aesthetic and a habit of pissing Visage off with her runways. Nina West feels almost manufactured, taking all the traits of Bendelacreme, Thorgy Thor, and to a lesser extent Pandora Boxx that fans loved and using them to create the perfect fan favorite. And like Dela and Thorgy, her exit was met was hostility from the fanbase despite totally deserving to go home, leading to her fan favorite win and honestly a pretty pretentious speech about how being nice triumphs all. These moments are not that endearing to me, and if she played it more straight I think I would hate her more.
All that being said, I think what makes Nina work is she’s much more evocative of Dela and Thorgy during their All Star runs rather than their first seasons, runs notable for how unhinged they ended up being. By episode three, Nina secures her first win during the televangelists challenge, a win swiftly undercut by an impromptu fight between Silky and Yvie, leaving Nina pressed because now they can’t celebrate her win. As the season progresses and Nina does steadily better, her achievements and place in the season become more and more overshadowed as it becomes clear the focus is on Brooke, Yvie, Silky, and to a lesser extent A’Keria, a fact Nina realizes and gets understandably pissed. This is most evident in the Cops challenge, where Brooke steals the entire show and makes it about her, nabbing all the praise and leaving Nina fumed. These things nicely dovetail to her embarrassing exit (though personally I wish she threw more a fit), because while Nina should not have survived that lip sync, no one should have, and you can tell she was upset it wasn’t at least a double elimination. Like with a certain winner down the list, I like Nina most when she’s not “on,” not trying to sell herself to the audience, and instead when she’s not even bothering to hide that her frustration. It’s a lot more human, and Drag Race thrives when it has humanity to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I get why Nina is popular: she’s likable, decently charismatic, and has some really strong moments in challenges and even the runway. But for me, I don’t watch Drag Race for people like Nina; I watch Drag Race for the drama and shit stirring, for the hurt feelings and fights, and the fact that these things are wrapped in a unmistakably campy, queer shell. Unlike Brooke, whose popularity is in large part because she’s a handsome Caucasian, Nina’s role in Season 11 is a lot less cynical, and one I would not want to see go away. It’s just not my cup of soup.
8. Vanessa (5th Place)
If nothing else, I appreciate the fact that the show didn’t even bother hiding that Vanjie would be back. I guess Bringing-Back-A-Queen-From-Last-Year is gonna be a thing. (What are the odds Season 12 has Soju just so she can be first boot twice?)
For better or worse, Vanessa’s time on Season 11 rings very much of Shangela’s time in Season 3.: both were popular first boots with clear clout that the show decided to bring back to take advantage of. It’s easy to forget with her time mostly being defined by her memeworthy exit, but Vanessa sole Season 10 episode is full of her quips and comments, all delivered in the harshest rasp Puerto Rico had that completely contradicts her drag aesthetic. Even ignoring the Miss Vanjie moment, and the subsequent callbacks to it, if anyone should have been come from Season 10, it’s Vanessa.
And at least at the start of Season 11, she proved why. Vanessa is heavily featured at the start of the Season, and while everyone else is still busy getting established and finding their place, Vanjie is a constant source of dumb quotes and fun energy. She helps Season 11 have as good a start as it does, because even if you don’t know how to feel about Yvie or Silky or Brooke, you at least know Vanjie will be there, calling someone their “cyst” or screaming something weird across the Werk Room.
But unfortunately, things started to get dull.
What’s forgotten about Shangela in Season 3 is that while she started strong, she peters out by the end and her exit feels overdue. Sadly this also happened to Vanessa. When watching it live, Vanjie is fun, exciting, and never a negative moment of air time. But she doesn’t have a lot of staining power, with her good moments being more easily forgotten than everyone else of the Season. Vanessa is a lot of sizzle, but not a lot of steak, and by the time of her boot she’s not nearly as developed as everyone else.
Vanessa just needs time to marinate and find herself. I fully suspect her to come back in All Stars 7, much like Shangela did, where she will no doubt be amazing. And like Shangela, I suspect her to be totally robbed by… I dunno, Sonique, at the finale. Mark my words, it’s gonna happen.
7. Yvie (Winner)
The ending of Season 11 happened months ago, and I still can’t process that Yvie Oddly won.
For a winner, Yvie is incredibly flawed and unfiltered, and I mean that in the best way. The show does not shy away from Yvie’s weirder moment: from benign stuff like painting her taint electric pink in front of everyone, to her near-constant fights with Silky and to a lesser extent Vanjie. Yvie is a much more complex, nuanced winner than reality shows typically have, with her negative moments roughly equaling her positives. She’s loud, abrasive, and has a weird ass laugh that makes you think she’s planning something.
So Yvie was pretty great, but like Nina, her positives at almost at her own expense. I’m not a huge fan of Yvie’s reuse of the Sharon Needles, “I’m quirky and no one takes me seriously” storyline, and Yvie’s worst moments are when she leans into it. And while her knack for inserting herself into other people’s problems typically leads to great moments, it also leads to some not cute ones, like choosing to speak on Mercedes’s behalf after she disclosed the Islamophobia she has endured. Yvie spends a decent chunk of her edit talking out of turn, beyond her knowledge, which can sometimes be great, but it’s also often tryhardy and uncomfortable.
But in a way, I think that’s why I like Yvie so much? Season 4, especially today, reads very rehearsed, with everyone post-Race admitting Sharon and Phi Phi planned out most of their drama, and the storylines being too perfect to be realistic. With Yvie, it feels like I’m watching an actual person. Some of her weirdness was likely played up for the cameras, but considering she pairs that with her non-stop fights with Silky, Yvie feels a lot more sincere than others who have come in with similar trajectories. Yvie never pretends to be better than anyone else on a human level (aside for, like, Trump voters), so even when she’s talking out of her ass, it’s much more personable and much less pretentious than a Sasha Velour or a Trinity Taylor. She’s not trying to prove how smart she is; she’s frustrated with the system and is calling out the bullshit in her immature but genuine way. Yvie’s story is not perfect, it has problematic elements, but the imperfections make her much more engaging. She’s the most endearing winner of the VH1 era, and probably will be that way for a long time.
6. Mercedes (12th Place)
What a god damn miracle Mercedes is. ❤
Because of how much she gave us, it’s easy to forget that Mercedes is only around for four episodes, but she makes the most of all of them.
- Episode 1: Mercedes startles the hell out of everyone with her entrance before being asked the impossible task of taking a decent picture with known demon from hell Delta Werk.
- Episode 2: Mercedes juxtaposes her actually amazing vogueing and lip sync skills with a malapropism that skyrocketed her to be the seasonal meme.
- Episode 3: Her most quiet episode, Mercedes still shows up by being by far the weakest member of Team Britney and laying the groundwork for her sad backstory segment to come next episode.
- Episode 4: Mercedes leaves after holding her own against resident lip sync assassin Ra’jah, but not before telling us how awesome goats are and how the societal anxieties from being Muslim and on the no-fly list (!) caused her to have stroke while driving (!!!)
By the time she leaves, Mercedes is by far the most developed character of the cast, and even by the end I can count on one hand the number of contestants as nuanced as her. Mercedes is the perfect early boot: an angel who descends to give amazing memes and be awkward as hell before ascending back to heaven. She’s just a giant collection of “things to do if you’re an early boot on Drag Race,” and I hope all future early boots try to ape off of her.
5. Soju (15th Place)
If there’s one undeniable positive of the VH1 era, it’s that the first boots have all been amazing train wrecks. And now one has been a bigger one than Soju.
Starting with her awful Hamburgular entrance look, Soju’s premiere was a master class in failing. Everyone remembers the five minutes Soju forced the show to dedicate to her cyst, and for good reason, but for me nothing screams absolute failure than the skirt on her dress being just yards of tulle tied into giant knots on a waistband. The show is vicious in its portrayal of Soju as this nice but totally inept weirdo who should have never been cast.
From that first episode alone, Soju was never going to be forgotten, but Season 11 just had to sweeten the pot and bring her back for her greatest contribution yet: annoying the piss out of Silky. Soju’s return was clearly meant to incite drama, as between her tendonitis and overall awkwardness, the producers had to know that anyone teamed up with Soju would be at an instant disadvantage. And the fact that it ended up being Silky helped create hands-down the best character assassination episode Drag Race has ever had. Silky is enraged at the mere prospect of working with Soju, to which Soju counters with a non-stop smile and joy at just being around.
As much as the show ripped apart past contestants like Jaymes, Laila, and Kalorie, they at least highlighted something they did of actual talent. Soju? Never. Soju is everything I want in a first boot. And I would say it’s the most vicious Drag Race has treated a contestant, but…we’ll get to that,
4. Scarlet (10th Place)
Let’s be clear. I am not putting Scarlet this high because I see her as some unfairly maligned performer unfairly eliminated (she’s not, Reddit, stop it). No, Scarlet is this high because she’s a smart ass who openly mocks others and ridicules people more talented than her, all with the same delivery and dryness of Pearl. And I love her for it.
It’s hard to recommend Scarlet Envy, not because she isn’t great, but because she is defined less by singular moments are more by her entire, weird aura. She’s less an original character and more massive pile of positive character traits you see in tons of great Drag Race mid-boots. She’s a cocky jackass and trouble maker, who gives mouthy confessionals in a stoned cadence, and struts around looking like a romance cover model. You get the impression Scarlet was that kid told his whole life how handsome he was, with his long, overly conditioned hair and his jaw so square and defined he could cut glass with it, and that kind of attention lead to him feeling like he’s the hottest shit on planet earth. That’s the only explanation I can figure considering some of the choices Scarlet made, like insisting they stick with Mariah even when no one knows anything about her, or baiting Silky and Ra’jah into fights, or even her god-awful entrance look.
This is… so awful.
The Scarlet Envy experience is of highs and lows: from sharing a win with Yvie in Episode 2 to being called the worst dancer ever by the choreographer in her boot episode (I-god-damn-conic ❤ ). Really, the only negative about her time is that it was far too short. Five episodes, seven if you want to count her brief return and the reunion, was all we got out of her and I wanted so much more. You can not convince me Plastique was a better use of time. But I guess it’s better to love and lost, and Scarlet is incredible.
3. Ra’jah (9th Place)
And speaking of god-tier mid-boots cut way before their time.
Ra’jah’s energy is amazing to watch: she’s so damn tall and so damn thin and so damn pissed about everything, and she will tell you all about it in a voice that is at least six octaves too high. She’s less a person and more a rage elemental, someone who keeps to herself until you say the exact wrong word, at which point she sets you on fire before leaving, acting as if nothing happened. Fittingly, her best feud is with Scarlet, who repeatedly responds to Ra’jah’s angry shrieks with a glazed, uninterested “whatever,” truly a battle between the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
And while Ra’jah unquestionably left before her time, her boot episode is outstanding, easily one of the best of the Season. The show goes out of its way to give Plastique all the love and attention she doesn’t deserve, and every time Ra’jah is there, visibly pressed at the injustice she sees. And what’s so fun is, despite coming from a place of jealousy, Ra’jah is absolutely correct in saying Plastique’s hug with RuPaul was disingenuous, that she got an enormous amount of love by production, and that her sob story is suspect. Ra’jah making a tear at production for trying to manufacture a fan favorite gives me vivid flashbacks to the Vixen calling out Aquaria for banking on fans siding with her because she’s White, and anytime a contestant reminds me of Vixen, I approve.
Ra’jah and Scarlet are perfect Drag Race filler, and the show best learn that real quick.
2. Silky (4th/3rd Place)
Club, Legend, Art, Theater.
Like it or not, Season 11 lives and dies by Silky. All roads, all character arcs, all storylines, in some way, make a pitstop at Silky. Typically, good reality show seasons like this one run on ensembles but have that one defining character that acts as the season’s pulse. And this time, that honor went to Silky Nutmeg Ganache, hands down the most important character of Season 11.
If my everlasting worship of Valentina was any indication, I love actual insane people with unflinching arrogance and a penchant to ignore the blatantly obvious. Silky takes that formula and adds two elements that are hallmarks of great competitive reality show characters: complete incompetence, and inability to argue in good faith. Not only does Silky talk shit, make excuses, and blame everyone else but herself for her shortcomings, she does so confidently in some of the worst runway looks I’ve seen in a finalist in a long time. Silky never properly blames herself, thereby self-sabotaging and getting into her own head that just leads to more and more delusion.
With this Jade Cole-ness alone, Silky was already going to be a contestant I would adore, but there’s also a tragedy to the story of Silky: how much she never expected this. It’s evident that Silky came in with a plan to be a big fan favorite, outright comparing herself to Latrice, and made many remarks about how fighting her was career suicide because she going to be loved by everyone. Ignoring the fact that she would already be at a disadvantage with fans (not White, not thin), Silky instantly torpedoes those slim chances by being an insecure, obnoxious narcissist who plays to the camera in all the most annoying, grating ways. Drag Race, especially in the VH1 era, has had plenty of contestants like Silky: contestants who come in with planned characters, planned catch phrases, and planned story arcs. And while I side-eye Drag Race for choosing Silky, a heavyset, Black contestant, to deconstruct this trope as oppose to whenever a thin, pretty, White girl did it (*cough*Cracker*cough*), no one better exemplified how fucking awful these kinds of people would be like than Silky.
All these things combine into Episode 11, one of the greatest pieces of character assassination I’ve seen in any reality show. Silky’s inconsistent track record, terrible runways, poor sportsmanship, pessimism, and habit of hyping herself beyond her talent lead to Drag Race’s most embarrassing single episode performance, and the fact that they didn’t mercy kill her on the spot is frankly crueler than getting rid of Nina to ensure her Miss Congeniality. Once RuPaul gave her a resounding “meh”, it finally hit Silky how badly she handled Season 11, and the next episode and finale were a much more somber suite, with Dr. Ganache effectively waiting to be executed. The story of Silky, specifically the ending, is a tragic, hilarious masterpiece, and is one of the best story arcs Drag Race has ever had.
So Silky is the best and unarguably the most important Queen of the entire season; she’s the backbone for how everything shakes out, and no episode was complete without her loud, obnoxious input. Going with my head, she should be number 1, and for most of the season I would name her the best contestant of Season 11. But at the end of the day, this is a biased rank, and going with my heart…
1. A’Keria (3rd/4th Place)
The many moods of A’Keria.
Yeah, I’m sorry, there can be only one number 1.
In a season full of loud, abrasive jackasses and some of the most heated Untuckeds of the series, A’Keria’s deadpan was what ultimately won me over, and she might be my favorite contestant of the VH1 era. Whenever there’s drama around, someone screaming at someone else, you best believe A’Keria will be there to goad it on and provide choice commentary.
On the surface, A’Keria is a lot like Kennedy, and in fact a big reason why I enjoy is because of the similarities: dry sense of humor, permanent stank face, brutal honesty, etc. But what A’Keria has even over her is this weird magnetism and fun growth story. As much as I enjoy Kennedy as a character, she’s just a fun character whose story doesn’t have the legs and potential to make a winner; A’Keria does, through her multiple challenge wins and improving runways. And while not even a Silky fan like myself would ever want her to win, I feel it was pretty awful (and, let’s be honest, racist) that most fans never even considered A’Keria as a viable winner. Because for my money, she would make an excellent, likeable winner. She’s not as “unique” as Yvie or as “marketable” as Brooke, but A’Keria has a magnetism to her that is instantly endearing, one that is impossible to fake.
Maybe this is part-protest, for the show sleeping on her so much, But I can not fathom A’Keria not being my number 1, the best character of Season 11.
Season 11 feels like a back to basics season, and that’s very much a good thing. The main problem I’ve had with the VH1 era of Drag Race, and one I fear would continue festering into this season, is that it’s become too popular for its own good. The show has become increasingly meta, with the real race happening after the show with web series, tours, albums, television spots, etc. And the contestants are painfully aware of this, with The Vixen correctly pointing out she would be framed the villain in her fight with Aquaria because she was Black, and Sasha Velour winning off a crafted, manufactured persona based on ART that the young, Tumblr fandom would eat up like candy. So, to go from that to a bunch of misguided, drama-prone sociopaths is not only a breath of fresh air, but a key reminder of why Drag Race is so deserving of this popularity.
Because the truth is, nothing about Season 11 is particular special or unique. As much as I like the cast, I can’t deny that Yvie is just a more bearable Sharon Needles, or that A’Keria is a more marketable Kennedy Davenport. The only contestant who feels original is Silky, but even then, she’s still just a deconstruction of the types of contestants I mentioned above (who come in with manufactured characters), showing just how grating and intolerable they would be in real life. And it’s not just the cast; Nina’s sudden, “unfair” exit is almost beat-for-beat what happened to Bendelacreme, including the Miss Congeniality win. In a lot of ways, Season 11 feels like a Greatest Hits of the past decade of Drag Race.
And you know what? That’s absolutely fine.
I mentioned above that Soju, Mercedes, and Scarlet were examples of contestants who work well less because they’re original and more because they are a bulk collection of amazing traits wrapped into a single experience, and Season 11 is much the same. The fact is, Drag Race is, in its purest, undiluted form, a fantastic show with a great, engaging set-up. It’s a talent show starring caddy queer people, all of whom prone to arguing, forced to work in a tiny studio while The Sphinx watches over and harshly judges them. It’s a format that doesn’t need gimmicks, and sometimes, you need a back to basics season to remind everyone just how good that format is.
I can’t promise I will always feel this way, but right now Season 11 is my second favorite season of the show, only beaten by the God-tier Season 6. I’m aware of the season’s faults: no season with Ariel can be called perfect, and the boot order is wonky (Scarlet and Ra’jah leaving before Shuga and Plastique is a crime), leading to a lull in the third quarter. But at the end of the day, Season 11 was a welcome return home for Drag Race after both the synthetic Seasons 9 and 10 and the overabundance of All Stars. It may not be original, but when your first boot spends thirty percent of her air time talking about her cyst, who needs originality?
If I can get the episodes easily, I do plan on covering Drag Race UK. Apparently one of the contestants is a conservative, so fully expect fun time when that happens.