RuPaul’s Drag Race recently celebrated its milestone 200th episode, which saw the queens pay homage to classic moments – from Laganja Estranja’s entrance to Serena ChaCha’s underwater frenzy – via photobomb, as well as runways – from the Glitter Ball to the Bag Ball – via a, well, ball. So here we, GAY TIMES, are paying tribute to the enduring, Emmy-winning drag mammoth via a rundown of the best episode from each (U.S.) season of the series (so far).
Season 1: Reunited
Don’t you just miss the pre-social media madness of Drag Race’s earlier years? And by “unhinged” we mean a contestant, the incomparable Sexy Orangutan vocalist Tammie Brown, bequeathing a bollocking onto RuPaul for failing to “walk children in nature”. Tammie subsequently telling the host that she should “excuse her mouth” after she snapped back is, without-a-doubt, the epitome of the “nerve” in charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Other highlights from this chaotic reunion include Shannel informing the judges – and her sisters – that she “chose” to sashay away (iconic), Jade and Rebecca Glasscock beefing over whether their lip-sync “crossed the line” and Shannel’s showdown with Santino Rice (also iconic). If you haven’t watched season one yet, whether it’s the lack of budget or grainy filter, sort yourself out: this reunion is one of Drag Race’s most iconic moments.
Season 2: Here Comes the Bride
“I don’t think you’re seeing that Tyra is a complete bitch,” is one of many unfiltered moments from the second season, which is arguably where the show came into its own thanks to the bombastic personalities and introduction of Drag Race’s staple challenge, Snatch Game. This shady and instantly iconic moment from Tatianna materialised after weeks of hostility against Tyra Sanchez, who riled up the other contestants with her “America’s Sweetheart” persona and lack of respect for the vocal stylings of Beyoncé’s Halo, resulting in the most severe bust-up on the main stage to date. With Tyra winning the episode, a bridal-theme sewing challenge, and Morgan McMichaels’ jaw-dropping lip-sync showdown against the late Sahara Davenport, this truly is a perfect episode of Drag Race.
Season 3: Totally Leotarded
This one was difficult, because season three is absolutely stellar. What sets this episode apart from Ru Ha Ha! (home of Manila Luzon’s Macarthur Park) and Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Style (BAM!), however, is the batshit lip-sync, which proved that drag is, in fact, not a contact sport as Mimi Imfurst catapulted India Ferrah over her shoulders to the beat of Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way. The challenge itself was hilarious, too, with the queens starring in the first-ever drag fitness workout video: shoutout to Yara Sofia, who Echa Pa’lante-d her way to virality, and Stacy Layne Matthews, who defied harmful cultural stereotypes when she proved that you can, in fact, workout with fried chicken in hand.
Season 4: Frenemies
The tumultuous feud between Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O’Hara came to an equally tumultuous head in Frenemies, which saw the two rivals stretch their vocals for a live duet in campy devil and angel attire (apt). While all the contestants demolished the challenge, the “Party City” alum and “Tired Ass Showgirl” were placed in the bottom – because, storyline – and the desperation to defeat one another after weeks of conflict was evident in Sharon’s maniacal facial expressions and Phi Phi’s unhinged, un-wig-friendly choreography. RuPaul denied us of a winner, however, when she chose to boot Willam from the competition for violating her contract, minutes after she won the maxi-challenge and puked on the main stage. This! Is! Peak! Drag Race!
Season 5: Can I Get An Amen?
From Coco Montrese losing “all hope (today)” as a result of her faulty car to Alyssa Edwards’ earth-shattering and genre-defying vocals, as well as Roxxxy Andrews’ mispronunciation of “sequins” (what is the truth?), Can I Get An Amen? is the funniest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Everything aligned perfectly with this cast in particular as a result of Coco and Alyssa’s hilarious Miss Gay America quarrel and Roxxxy’s resentment of Jinkx – her vacant expression as the narcoleptic winner belts the track is severely underrated. The episode perfectly culminated in a lip-sync to The Pointer Sisters’ classic I’m So Excited between Coco and Jade Jolie, the latter of which chose to wear this on the runway? Confusing, but iconic.
Season 6: Oh No, She Betta Don’t!
“Big girl walkin’ down the dirty street, walkin’ down eh-all this dirty feet,” may not have won any major awards (no Grammy!), which is sacrilege (not even Songwriter of the Year?!), but Darienne Lake’s revolutionary rap-verse cements this episode as season six’s greatest. Oh No, She Betta Don’t! memorably saw the cast deliver a rap battle in two teams: Bianca Del Rio’s wit was on full display as she called out the “bitches” who can’t handle her “sassy ass mouth”; Adore Delano launched her bid for the Drag Race crown; and Milk was – profound lyric incoming – in the “preggers mood”. Trinity K Bonet also cemented her status as one of the franchise’s supreme lip-syncers when she effortlessly took down Milk to Salt N Pepa and En Vogue’s Whatta Man. Whatta’n episode, huh?
Season 7: Snatch Game
Fashion powerhouses dominated season seven, so it was slightly mind-boggling when the producers decided to make it a scripted comedy challenge-heavy season. Snatch Game, however, was killer. Kennedy Davenport flexed her comedic chops with a gut-busting impersonation of Little Richard, while Ginger Minj proved that she could have a successful stint on the road as an Adele tribute act. Deservedly, the two made herstory as the first joint winners of the fan-favourite challenge, although Pearl also deserves to be lauded for her Big Ang homage – to this day, “I had a rough childhood, okay? I wasn’t watching fucking Batman and Robin” remains one of the challenge’s greatest comebacks. It is controversial to say that – besides All Stars seasons – this is the best Snatch Game of all time?
Season 8: RuCo’s Empire
Best frenemies Bob the Drag Queen and Thorgy Thor memorably went head-to-head in season eight’s outrageous homage to Empire and Taraji P. Henson’s career-defining role as the Fox’s drama’s queen bee Cookie Lyons. Bob eerily embodied how Cookie effortlessly breathes power as she tortured her teammates – including strong gay woooman Cynthia Lee Fontaine – and Thorgy’s hunger to conquer over her NYC sister resulted in an equally ferocious yet menacing tribute. A worthy second runner-up, Kim Chi also deserves her flowers for her side-splitting performance as ‘Vanilla Wafer’ that simultaneously proved that she could serve comedy and glamour. RuCo’s Empire: The Sequel, when?
Season 9: Grand Finale
Drag Race’s final episode was, for a long time, a cutesy, love-dovey affair that saw the cast reflect on their respective seasons, with a rather predictable outcome. (The winners of season one through eight weren’t that shocking, in hindsight.) Season nine defied all the rules, however, when the four contestants competed in three sudden-death lip-sync smackdowns for the crown. Trinity the Tuck and Peppermint deployed a plethora of tricks and ruveals to Britney Spears’ Stronger, with the latter winning, although no-one expected the next showdown to – high drama statement incoming – change the course of herstory. Shea Couleé, widely considered the one to beat as a result of her four challenge wins, was kicked out of the running by her Best Judy, the bald-headed gender-bender Sasha Velour, who rudefined ruveals (on the show, anyway) with her rose-petal extravaganza. Finales have never been the same.
Season 10: 10s Across the Board
In 2018, the Oxford Dictionary updated their definition of “camp” after Bionic songstress Christina Aguilera stormed down the Drag Race runway in full glitzy pink glam as her mentor, benefactor and second-cousin Farrah Moan. (Some of that might need fact checking.) That, plus the introduction of 13 new queens, as well as the return of Eureka O’Hara and a potential new rivalry storyline in NYC twinsies Miz Cracker and Aquaria is enough reason for this to be ranked season 10’s best episode. We all know why we’re here though, right? Miss Vaaa – scrap that, watch Andrew Garfield do it instead.
Season 11: Reunited
This reunion had everything. While it doesn’t quite stack up to season one and nine, which are, well, art, there was a lot of goopery for the season 11 cast’s first reunion as Yvie Oddly settled her tumultuous feuds with Ra’Jah O’Hara and Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Brooke Lynn Hytes and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo revisited Drag Race’s first-ever showmance and Ariel Versace finally settled wig-gate. NEWSFLASH: Drag queens arguing over $500 wigs is reality television. Also, Brooke vs Scarlet Envy? “I just didn’t care for you on the show.” Erm… unexpected but also living?
Season 12: Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical
We don’t know a better Rusical, honestly. The queens of season 12 had their gap-tooths ready for the season 12 production, which paid homage to Madonna and various iconic eras throughout her pop-defining 40-year career. Jaida Essence Hall’s status as trade of the season was in full force as she posed and disrobed as Sex Madonna, Crystal Methyd channelled her wackiness (ness… ness) through Enlightened Madonna and Gigi Goode flipped and kicked her way to galore as Unapologetic Madonna. And while Jan delivered a Tony Award-worthy performance as the Queen of Pop at the outset of her career – those vocals?! – she was usurped by Gigi, with her ‘safe’ placement gifting fans with the most innovative, avant-garde and trendsetting stank-face in herstory.
Season 13: The Pork Chop
Imagine dreaming of a spot on Drag Race for years, then hearing RuPaul’s signature call-to-get-the-fuck-out minutes – seconds, even (we know this isn’t how reality TV works, let us be dramatic) – after entering the werkroom? Cruel? Yes! Great TV? Yes! The season 13 premiere introduced a huge switcheroo, with the contestants tasked in teams of two – and one group of three – to showcase their lip-sync prowess on the main stage. The budget was there. Instead of supplying RuPaul’s library with a few more streams, the queens faced off to tunes from Janet Jackson, Carly Rae Jepsen and – we still can’t believe this happened – Lindsay Lohan. While they didn’t anticipate lip-syncing in their entrance ensembles, Symone, LaLa Ri, Denali, Olivia Lux and Rosé all delivered. Season 13 gets a bad rap, but you can’t deny the power of this premiere.
Season 14: The Daytona Wind
The Daytona Wind is so iconic, nobody went home. The Daytona Wind is so iconic, it became the first acting challenge to be greenlit for a shequel. The Daytona Wind is so iconic we can’t finish this sentence without screami – “MAAAAXINE!” One of the greatest displays of acting in the herstory of cinema, the episode saw the season 14 queens overact in a melodramatic 80s soap opera parody. Little did the queens know, RuPaul – flatulence humour mastermind – added wet fart sound effects to the final product. Immature? Maybe. Fartpop? That’s right. To top it all off, Lady Camden gagatrona’d viewers – and the panel – with one of, if not the best ruveal since Sasha Velour’s rose petals when she stacked it on the main stage, unveiling a Freddie Mercury ‘tache to compliment her Chaps on the Runway look.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15, along with Untucked, air weekly and exclusively on the streamer of all things drag, WOW Presents Plus, in the UK and internationally on Saturdays at 2:00am.
All episodes of Seasons 1-10 and 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Untucked are also available exclusively on the platform.