Tops and Bottoms: A Final Look at 2022, Part 6

This is when the choices start to really hurt.

29. Black Peppa (UK Season 4)

Early on, Black Peppa is one of the defining stars of UK Season 4. She’s insanely likable, the show giving her more than ample time to show who she is and let her personality run wild. She’s smart and articulate, and she really helps carry the season pass the starting gate. While much of early UK Season 4 is watching everyone slowly set up, Black Peppa comes in guns blazing. You remember her way more than you remember everyone else, even Danny, and she deserves the sheer amount of positive buzz she achieved early on.

But then things start to slow down, and Black Peppa kinda fades into the background.

Much like Angeria yesterday, Black Peppa sadly drops from the season the longer it goes on. The filming is clearly getting to her, not at all helped by the fact that the show forces her to lip sync four times. By around the final five, it’s clear Black Peppa has checked out, and her last few episodes are her accepting her fate as a doomed finalist who never had a real shot to win from the beginning.

Originally I had Black Peppa much lower, but this is a placement made in protest. Much like Le Fil, we all know exactly why Black Peppa was given this specific edit. She’s the Tayce. The Vanity. And what’s worse is that I’m dead certain Black Peppa realized it herself. Black Peppa is acutely media aware, given her apparent awareness about Le Fil’s doomed status at Snatch Game. Post-show, Black Peppa has shown how in tune she is with being a part of a reality show, and the logistics therein. Black Peppa clocked at that second lip sync her role in the season, and it’s heartbreaking. I’ve seen plenty of people point out how low energy Black Peppa is at the end, but God can you blame her?

28. Beverly Kills (Down Under Season 2)

There’s never been anyone this snotty. And it works.

I’ll get to this later, but Down Under Season 2 has a wonderfully chaotic cast, and no one spreads the chaos more than Beverly. While she isn’t the most dangerous shit-stirrer of the season (oh, she’s coming), no one interferes with more people or rubs more people the wrong way. Pretty much every from final 8 onwards, aside for Spankie, directly calls Beverly out at some point as an annoying, untalented drain and she always fires right back, winning my heart. I was initially hesitant with Beverly because she seemed like the type of drama-starter who was all bark and would cower at the first sign of danger, but God bless her for sticking up for herself as obnoxiously as possible.

Obviously the defining Beverly moment is with Minnie, but I want to give a particular shout-out to her drama with Kween, because it is truly two people who do not understand each other. Beverly vs Kween is an endless string of comments and expressions of frustration that never resolves because both end up talking passed one another the whole time. They’re clearly not on the same page, thus stopping any chance they could have at talking about whatever the fuck started the fight. It’s drama that is pointless on face value, but explains so much about who both Kween and Beverly are, so major props.

Beverly is my exact kind of stank kid contestant, and while she’s not the best, she’s definitely the grimiest.

27. Gisèle Lullaby (Canada Season 3)

This glorious himbo.

I love that this is a winner of Drag Race. Gisèle. This is our winner. A slightly confused French-Canadian who could not be less the French-Canadian stereotype. A put-upon front-runner who realized that while she may be the winner, she’d also have to be nice one and help everyone compete their damn outfits. An insanely lovable, awkward man who becomes the sunshine of a season with this many rough edges.

Gisèle is far from an exciting winner, having the dubious honor of being Canada’s least great winner, but she serves her function as the only god damn adult of the season well. It’s so Canadian for the season to devolve into a bunch of immature weirdos doing weird stuff and for the closest thing to a sane man be the guy cosplaying as Jeremiah from 80’s Degrassi. And it works! It works because, despite all I’ve said, you get why Gisèle wins. She’s not just talented and compelling, but damn good at being a TV character. I think a lot of obvious winners play too close to the chest, not let themselves be vulnerable, but Gisèle knows that’s the secret to being a winner people would love. She engages with the cast and the camera, and does it in a way that never feels disingenuous; I don’t think she even could!

Gisèle might not quite live up to Priyanka and Icesis, but she’s also the closest thing Canada has had to a normal winner. Which… says a lot about Canada’s Drag Race.

26. Cheddar Gorgeous (UK Season 4)

When I started this project, I was warned about Cheddar from outside sources. I heard her compared to Sasha Velour, another bald, pretentious Queen, and I was instantly on the defense. If my writings haven’t made it clear, I don’t much like Sasha, finding her an annoying, cynically produced example of Neo-Liberalism. If Cheddar had any of the classism of Sasha, I wasn’t looking forward to the season.

Instead, I quite like Cheddar a lot. And I think the differences are what make this important.

First of all, while Cheddar is undeniably pretty pretentious, she doesn’t use this to downplay other’s Drag. Cheddar has a specific eye and style, but she makes it a point to say it’s her thing, and not to expect it from anyone else. It makes Cheddar more likable, but also makes her more secure. A lot of the vibe you get from your usual “Art” Queens like Sasha is of uncertainty, that they say something is artful without explaining why and that they all feel like they’re talking out of their ass. Cheddar knows what she’s doing, and it makes her Drag that much smarter.

But I think most important to Cheddar is the message she wants to deliver. Cheddar doesn’t hide being the oldest Queen of the season, and while age plays a factor in many Drag Race contestants, Cheddar is the only one who uses it to talk about queer liberation. Cheddar’s best moment of the entire season was her conversation with Dakota and Pixie about the AIDS pandemic, a moment that is appropriately uncomfortable and gripping. Cheddar forces the show at gunpoint to stop talking about the bright future of queer culture and to remember the tragedies of the past, and it’s so righteous and moving. It’s a perfect scene, because Cheddar doesn’t remotely try to make it easy, wanting to make sure the moment lands with as much weight as possible.

If you ever wondered why I hate Sasha taking Peppermint’s moment about being a Black Trans woman and co-opting it to talk about herself not being able to be out in Russia, this is fucking why.

Cheddar Gorgeous is the real deal. She may not be the snappiest or funniest Queen, but no one this year has kept it this fucking real.

25. Yuri Guaii (Down Under Season 2)

So, full disclosure, this will be a shorter section, as I can’t really verbalize why I love Yuri so much outside of pure vibes.

First of all, it needs be remarked, Yuri is hot as hell. Every single gay kid fell in love with a Yuri in high school: an alternative twink with hooded eyes, painted nails, and gauges. Yuri Guaii’s out of drag aesthetic is tailor made to appeal to that young emo teenager in all of us.

But even ignoring that, Yuri is just insanely likable. From episode 2 on, where he has a breakdown about losing his family and Spankie swoops in to help him, you want to see Yuri succeed. She’s clearly young and inexperienced, but she puts everything into what she does and even risks worsening an eye infection in episode 3. That might seem counter to the narrative that Down Under Season 2 is just insanity, but the difference is that Yuri isn’t weak, just vulnerable. She still has all the alternative and grungy side of her, and it’s far from polished and pristine. The difference is that Yuri may be open and honest about what she’s going through, but she’s not looking to be a pity case. She’ll fight back whenever she’s being undermined, like she did with Beverly. What this adds up to is a very sweet secondary character who adds a surprising amount of flavor to the season.

24. Vanity Milan (Canada vs the World)

Put this Dionne Davenport look in the Smithsonian where it belongs!

It was really nice to see Vanity come back and get a chance on a season that would actually take her seriously. UK Season 3 was a fucking shambles of a season, and no one suffered harder than Vanity Milan. The season never gave Vanity the space to breathe and to develop into her own character; you think the treatment of Black Peppa was bad, wait until you see the treatment of Vanity. So to see Vanity on a much better produced, much less racist, franchise was a great thing for her.

And she really excelled during it. By far the biggest storyline of Vanity was the racist treatment she felt during her first season, and so it’s wonderful to see her come back on a season with Ra’jah and Silky, the three forming a tight unity that clearly meant a lot to Vanity. It’s not just a great way to show the growth of Silky and Ra’jah, but this friendship really lets Vanity come into her own, with a better ability to define her own brand and taste. Vanity isn’t the most compelling Queen on the planet, but she’s still very personable and sweet, and she’s able to get almost an entire season to spread her wings and be her own person.

If you ever wondered what my favorite sector of Drag Race was, it’s the Canadian side, and it’s because it lets people like Vanity be who they are. Canada let Vanity define herself, and it’s a real damn treat.

23. Kerri Colby (US Season 14)

The rise of Tranos.

Much like Yuri, Kerri is someone who excels because of what she represents; unlike Yuri, Kerri is a celestial being from on high, with a divine power to crack every egg in sight. It really can’t be understated the power Kerri’s Trans-ness has. Not to put too much weight into “passing,” but there really is something to be said about a Trans woman serving so much cunt that attempting to socialize her as a man would make you look like an idiot. In fact, as much as we meme about it, Kerri serving this much as a woman is actually what drove Jasmine, and implicitly Bosco and Willow, to come to terms with their own genders. She’s really that powerful, that “manipulative Trans menace” Fox News warned you would turn all of your children Trans.

If that was just it, Kerri Colby as Tranos who with one snap cracks half the eggs in the universe, that would be one thing. But she’s also just insanely lovable and powerful. It’s odd to call a twenty-four year old “maternal,” but she gives that strong, supportive force to Kornbread and Jasmine. Even at the reunion, she unleashes her full abilities and is able to Mom the shit out of the entire cast and show support to Daya at her lowest. Kerri isn’t the kind of drama-inducing contestant that I’d personally rank high, but she’s the glue that holds the cast together. It really can’t be said enough the insane chemistry of US Season 14, and Kerri is in the middle of it.

22. Baby (UK Season 4)

First of all, how amazing is it that Drag Race no longer shames the absolute shit out of people quitting? We’ve come a long way from Adore Delano!

Baby is another icon whose character is just too self-evident to write. I just want to list off the million little things she does that I love. I love her drag aesthetic. I love her attitude. I love her adorable friendship with Dakota. I love that she fucking kills a lip sync harder than anyone else this season. There’s a small things about Baby that are easy to love.

But honestly, I think her best moment is her quit. I’m serious above, after spending nearly me entire life watching people quit reality shows and being shamed about it by everyone, including the host, the way Baby’s quit is handled is beautiful. Obviously, we’re already on a high after the amazing lip sync to No Way from Six, but the sheer amount of dignity that Baby is given when she says she’s leaving? That she’s looking to take care of herself and not get burned out? It touches my heart every single time I watch it. The swell of music as Dakota runs over and hugs her, and we hear Baby tell her how much she loves Dakota, enforces that this isn’t Baby quitting because it’s hard, but to seize her own agency. And as much as I side-eye Drag Race UK for its production, it’s probably the best quit I’ve ever seen in any reality show.

There’s just so much positive to the Baby experience. Just a perfect experience.

21. Chelazon Leroux (Canada Season 3)

Didn’t think an early game gremlin would end up this high, now did ya? Chelazon isn’t even the highest one.

The unintended theme of this section of the list are contestants who are pure vibes, but that has usually still meant evoking something far more concrete than whatever Chelazon has going on. As much as Yuri or Kerri are defined less by what they do and more by who they are, you can at least sum them up easily: Emo Guy Who Made You Gay for the former and Epitome Of Serving Cunt Who Made You Trans for the latter. Chelazon is… not that. You can’t describe her with just adjectives, but nothing fits. She’s Squirrely Dan’s Women Studies teacher from Letterkenny, as played by Janeane Garofalo. That’s the closest I can get to summarizing her weird, oft-putting demeanor, and it still doesn’t feel weird enough.

From the minute she opens her mouth and you hear the accent that’s so thick it sounds fake, you just know Chelazon will go down as one of the great weirdos of the franchise. From even her entrance look, which was a fucking hoodie (!!!), Chelazon clearly does drag by the beat of her own drum. You can tell the judges are perplexed by what to even say to her in terms of her runways, which always include two of the three following: garish words written last minute on the garment itself, flowing Black fabric to completely hide her body, and straps. The choices made by Chelazon are not mistakes, they are clearly intentional, and I can’t even call them bad. What I can do, however, is question what she’s going for, because I’m always perplexed.

Although I do think she needs to have better judgement in general. She was, after all, the first person to start a fight with Fiercalicious.

Chelazon is not a contestant of Drag Race. She’s not even really a vibe. She’s just a weird concept that would occasionally run across my screen for three episodes. She baffles me, and in all the best ways.

Year-End Look: Down Under Season 2

I was absolutely dreading watching Down Under Season 2: it was the only season on this list I didn’t even attempt to watch live, and it was the last season I watched aside for Canada vs the World. The fact that the insult to humanity that was the first season of Down Under got a sequel is mind-boggling, and I will admit I went into this season with the lowest expectations. I had my mind made up from the start, I wanted to hate Down Under Season 2.

And then it had to ruin my fun and be an amazing season.

Before I begin in earnest, it’s important to note that Down Under Season 2 suffers from the same low budget problems of the first season. The set is still clearly a three-wall set, not a closed sound stage, and you can really tell when the Queens have to be repositioned to film around the lack of a fourth wall. The audio is still wonky, although not nearly as atrocious as the first season. The resolution isn’t great, compounded by lighting that is either blown out or too dark. Down Under may lack the fundamentally awful choices of the first season like Scarlet’s fake redemption arc or bringing back Art Simone, but it’s still a low budget affair that lacks the production push of the other English-speaking seasons.

But what makes it work, especially compared to the first season, is that it’s honest with what it is. It doesn’t try to hide its lack of money with pointless Taika Waititi pre-filmed cameos. It embraces its shoe-string look, including with the cast. The cast of the first season were always going to be terrible, but what made the entire experience fall flat on its ass was when it tried to present them like they’re normal Drag Race contestants. You can’t have a Scarlet and an Art and a Karan and then pretend that your top four is on the same plane as Lawrence, Bimini, and Tayce. Down Under Season 1 reads as desperate, wanting to be taken seriously without putting in the effort. Down Under Season 2 doesn’t care about being taken seriously, and lets the cast run wild. Honestly, I don’t know of any Drag Race season that had this chaotic, messy, and unfiltered a cast, and considering how overly branded the main franchises are, it’s so damn refreshing. Down Under Season 1 was ashamed of its cast; Down Under Season 2 features Beverly vs Pomara as a feature, not a flaw. The only thing Down under really changed was its priorities, and it completely changed the experience.

What this has made is a season of Drag Race that feels less like Drag Race and more like Dragula. Like that show, the Drag may not be stellar, but the drama is rough, personal, and fun. And considering how much of a shit show recent Dragula has been, Down Under might have found its niche as a more palatable alternative. If you were iffy about watching this after the first season, please watch Down Under Season 2. As long as you can handle the low budget, you’ll find the most honest, insane season of the year.

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