Tonight's season finale of RuPaul's Drag Race will crown a champion from among its top three contestants — hilariously cutting Bianca del Rio, compellingly ragged Adore Delano, and beautiful void Courtney Act — but the finale episode is near-guaranteed to be the worst episode of the season. This is seemingly by design.
This season of Drag Race, the show's sixth, will be the third with a "live finale," a momentum-obliterating occurrence that takes what is reliably TV's most fun, unpredictable hour and ends it in the most disappointing way imaginable. It's like every season Drag Race slays the lip-synch, only to snatch its own wig off and ruin everything. The bulk of the season is Ornacia. The finale is Vivacious not being able to unzip her jacket. The bulk of the season is Ben de la Creme's Maggie Smith. The finale is Laganja Estranja's Rachel Zoe. The bulk of the season is Khloe Kardashian when she guest-judged the first time and talked about how her "p*ssy [was] large and in charge." The finale is Khloe Kardashian when she guest-judged the second time and mistook a sailor-inspired outfit for a personality. The bulk of the season is Michelle Visage. The finale is Santino Rice.
It's not the live-ness of the finale that's so disastrous. It's a complex cocktail of 1) a week in between the final episode of the season and the finale, usually occupied by a clip show; 2) a fan-vote that the show says will be taken into account by RuPaul, whether you actually believe that or not; and 3) a "live" "finale" that is both pre-taped and not so much a finale as a reunion.
TV shows generally do not take a week off between their penultimate and final episodes, mostly because by that point you've built up a good deal of anticipation, and it's good practice to pay off anticipation in a timely manner. Drag Race could probably get away with the bye week before the finale if not for the deadly combo of the fan vote and "live" finale. Because even though the finale is not strictly speaking live, it is taped after the season has aired. Thus, RuPaul and the show's producers know exactly who the fanbase wants to win, and the fanbase knows they know. Overwhelming fan-favorite Sharon Needles took the crown in season 4, and overwhelming fan-favorite Jinkx Monsoon took the crown in season 5. If you think RuPaul (or her interns) are sitting there counting fan votes on Facebook, you're crazier than Laganja Estranja in the gold bar, but Ru also knows which way the wind is blowing, and she's not about to send her fans home unhappy. Is there a chance Adore Delano, another incredibly well-liked queen, will end up victorious? Perhaps. But odds are that the wildly popular Bianca del Rio will be the third massive fan-fave to take an utterly predictable (if completely well-deserved) win.
In the days before live finales, we had suspense, even if that suspense meant the possibility that a less-popular queen might win. Sure, it's easy to see Bianca as the best now, after three months' worth of a TV show has made the case for her. But there's no telling how the judges' might have viewed things from the bubble of a TV shoot. They might well have gotten caught up in Courtney Act's fishy business during filming, and had the winner been declared then, fans might have legitimate cause to worry that her peppy Aussie perfection might have won the day. Or at least we viewers at home would be left with the reasonable doubt that they might have been. A Courtney win wouldn't be right, but it would be surprising, and it would certainly help the finale to feel less like a foregone conclusion. And who's to say a "bad" winner ruins a season anyway? Tyra Sanchez is probably the least popular winner in Drag Race history, but is anybody complaining that season two wasn't flawless?
The live finale came into being because season three's winner, Raja, was widely spoiled before the finale aired, and the show was worried the same would happen in season four. To help combat spoilers, three separate endings were recorded for the s4 finale, so that not even Sharon Needles knew she won until the show aired. Of course, the result of that particular gambit is that Needles' reaction to winning wasn't even a real reaction to winning. It was the put-on of what a reaction to winning would look like, just in case. (The same three-endings tape was carried out for season five.)
Maybe this kind of unrepentant fakery is the only way to end a season of RuPaul's Drag Race. In some ways, it's one more layer of drag, pretending to be a real TV show but fooling you all the while. But drag is supposed to be a fun, crowd-pleasing spectacle. That's what Drag Race is for every other episode their air all season. Why go out of your way to rob the finale of all spontaneity and suspense, just to avoid some spoilers? Feels like the one area in which the show consistently fucks it up.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.