The Oct. 28 episode of RuPaul's Drag Race UK was one for the record books. Fans became outraged over the double elimination of fan favorites River Medway and Choriza May.
Both queens told Shadow and Act that they were focused on just powering through a tough lip sync.
"I was just thinking, 'Get through it, get through it,'" said May. "'Shout' is a song that is very intense--it starts at a hundred and ends at a hundred. I was just thinking, 'Get through it this--this wig is going to fall at some point, just make sure it doesn't."
"I don't really remember the lip sync to be honest," said Medway. "I remember so many details of Drag Race, but for that lip sync, I remember the beginning bit. I remember looking to the side and Choriza was like, bald, changing her wig. I remember being upside down all of a sudden doing cartwheels. I really just don't remember it. I mean, it's a fun song. I love the song. Lulu enjoyed it too, so we had fun doing it, it was silly. That's drag--that's UK drag right there."
Medway's statement about UK drag highlights one of the fandom's complaints about Americans RuPaul and Michelle Visage judging UK drag queens by American metrics. For many fans, the "Americanization" of UK drag limits audiences' willingness to understand and accept different forms of drag outside of Instagram-worthy makeup skills and modelesque personas.
"I think there is, especially when it comes to image," said May. "I think they look for a very specific style that we UK girls know about and choose to ignore it. It's a choice. It's not that we don't want to look a certain way, you know what I mean? [It's not] an accident. No, we choose to ignore those standards and it's a shame that some people, not just the judges, can't seem to enjoy drag if a presentation doesn't meet those standards."
"[It's] so interesting because we're so vocal about being ourselves, staying true to ourselves and being so authentic, but then it comes to drag and it doesn't fit a certain mold, or if it doesn't fit a certain aesthetic or certain whatever, it's like, 'Oh, I don't like that,'" added Medway. "It's like, you're basically saying that [about] somebody's identity. My drag represents me."
"If we wanted to…we can dress a certain way, you know what I mean? You can paint a certain way, but we don't want to because we are being ourselves and ourselves is whatever we do. That is us. So how can you not like that?" she continued. "I think sometimes, yeah, it does get a little bit lost because I think British drag is a lot more internal and a lot more about connections and about real people and emotions and having fun and…I think American drag, especially because of Drag Race having been on for so long, it is so much more an external thing…Me and Choriza really show our identity through our drag, I'd like to think."
Medway said she never realized how much of herself is in her drag until she watched herself onscreen along with everyone else.
"We represent ourselves through our drag, but I never saw that for myself at all until I watched myself on the show adn I think there's so much of me in my drag," she said. "It's not a shield or armor; it's just letting see what is inside of me…and Choriza is exactly the same, and I really love that. I think sometimes people don't see that because they just see an image and that's it, and it's so much deeper than that, I think."
The conversation about biases towards certain styles of drag certainly brought to mind Charity Kase, another fan favorite whose artistry was constantly getting pushed into the (pink, furry) box the show expects most drag queens to conform to. May and Medway both felt the critiques Kase would get were in conflict with the show's message of individuality.
"Charity is being Charity. It might be different to what you think is normal, but to Charity, she's not being different. To [her], that is just Charity. The same way I am just River and Choriza is being Choriza and Kitty is being Kitty," said Medway. "It's only alternative if you give yourself a stance for what 'normal' is, but that's the issue because there is no normal. There is popular drag and things like that that have come from America, which has made that normal standard, which is a blessing and a curse, which is the reason why, unfortunately, queens like Charity can suffer a bit on the show…I think it's ridiculous."
"I think Charity has one of the best minds ever seen on Drag Race and her creativity and her drag is out of this world," she continued. "I will always sing her praises until the cows come home because I think she's so amazing. I think she really lost herself on the show because of the sort of reception she was getting. We all love her, she's such a sweetheart and [has] amazing drag. I'm so glad she got to show it, and I wish she showed more."
The challenge that sent Medway and May home, the Snatch Game, was also a moment fans had frustration with. The judging seemed inconsistent, particularly with Scarlett Harlett doing what many fans felt was a one-note impersonation of Macauley Culkin, a suggestion given to her by RuPaul herself during pre-challenge walkthroughs. Also confusing was RuPaul's insistence to most of the queens to change their Snatch Game characters, sometimes to stars or characters they didn't prepare material for. Similar to how Scarlett had to develop a routine for Culkin within the time frame, RuPaul also asked May to play a Spanish version of Cher instead of her prepared routine for singer Margarita Pracatan. Both Medway and May decided to stick with their original characters, and as far as fans online were concerned, were wrongly punished for it.
"I know that I didn't have like funniest, smartest Snatch Game. And I knew I was always going to struggle with being smart and funny because stuff like that is really easy to overthink," said Medway about her performance as The Only Way is Essex reality star Amy Childs. "And I think with me, like, I can overthink things a lot and a situation like that, it is better if you don't and if you just have an empty head and just do whatever, and I really over-thought it. I don't think any of us did bad. I think we all had good impersonations. I think we all had some good answers. Obviously they don't all make the cut, unfortunately. But you know, Ella [Vaday] and Kitty [Scott-Claus] were so great and so, so good. They were just amazing."
"There was no question they were going to be in the top. I think the question was going to be who was going to be in the bottom because there were two people who have really peaked [and] the rest are sitting there waiting to see what's happening--the cookie could crumble either way," said May. "But I was very proud of what I did, to be honest. I got a character that I wanted, that character that I love, a character the represents me, and a character I had fun doing, to be honest."
'"I think I did a good job--I laughed watching my Snatch Game," she continued. "They showed Ru laughing as well. I had good jokes, I had a good look. Was it the strongest? Absolutely not. But it wasn't the weakest, absolutely not. Did it land me in the bottom? It is what it is. It's the drama of the show and I'm here for it. I love watching the show as a fan, and now I'm part of it and I'm enjoying it as well."
On Harlett's performance, May insinuated that there are inconsistencies that occur with judging various queens' performances.
"[The critiques are] the same way that in Season 2, Ellie Diamond was praised for being a seagull, but this season Charity Kase has been critiqued for being animals as well. There's always this difference of opinion on the same thing, and it's all right," she said. "I think the other girls were clever to change their options and please with what RuPaul wants [them] to do. Yes, you have to stay true to yourself, and I'm very proud of me and [sticking to myself], but obviously it didn't work."
"I don't either of us would change our option, but it worked for the other girls," she continued. "I'm proud of that as well, that they could do that [in the] competition. Scarlett really wasn't sure about changing to Macauley, and she did it in the end because RuPaul really laughed, and it worked in her favor, and I think we all agreed we are happy for her."
One of the most touching moments of the season came from Medway, who addressed what it's been like to lose her mother to COVID-19 before being cast on Drag Race UK. Her experience with grief has taught her how to grow around the feelings surrounding her loss.
"Well, the one, the one thing I've taken from this whole thing is like, When you, when you go through grief, you never have to move on. It's not about moving on but it's about growing with that still. Going through that and still being able to grow. It just becomes another part of you that you have to grow with," she said. "And it's been so amazing to see that people can connect with me because I just told my truth to be honest. Like, I don't think I did anything out of the ordinary, but the fact that there are people who can connect with me and see that, you know, when, you know, in your darkest days, it really is never the end of the world, and that's the most important thing, really. No matter what happens, you've always got more fight in you and life's too short to not take every single opportunity."
Despite the shocking eliminations, both are happy to now have the platform to turn drag into careers of longevity.
"I think for me, it's having the platform to do what I want and being able to do this full time," said May. "I think Drag Race has given Choriza May as a character context and help people understand who I am, what my art [is] and where I come from and allow for people to enjoy [my drag] more. I think with fame comes lots of great things. It's just the medium, not the goal. I think now thanks to the show, I've been offered amazing opportunities and it's not what you do on the show, it's what you do from here, and I have so many exciting plans coming soon. [I'm going to] use the platform to the best [I can] and use this year to cement ourselves in the UK British culture so we can work for many, many years."
"I think one thing I've learned would be to stick with your gut, love yourself, do whatever you want to do and just enjoy your life," said Medway. "It's as simple as that."
RuPaul's Drag Race UK airs Thursdays on WOW Presents Plus.