‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Is Mimicking Marvel’s Superhero Formula

Drag Race UK may have made ‘herstory,’ but the stakes are about to get higher,” said RuPaul in the intro for RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs The World. “Now, I want a global superstar!”

In the new BBC series, Drag Race is breaking new ground as a franchise. After six successful “all stars” seasons in the U.S., the format is going international. Never before have former contestants from the Drag Race shows across the world competed against one another. On this season, the premise is simple: three “all star” queens from the U.K. (Baga Chipz, Blu Hydrangea, Cheryl Hole) are battling it out against former contestants from Canada (Lemon, Jimbo), the U.S. (Jujubee, Mo Heart), Holland (Janey Jacké), and Drag Race Thailand co-host Pangina Heals.

The first international season feels like an attempt to stop Drag Race’s well-oiled machine from becoming predictable. Throughout All Stars 6, the most recent U.S. season, fans grumbled that critiques and eliminations felt anticlimactic and pre-determined. With a shortage of new U.S.-based queens and more international franchises appearing every year, a crossover season was inevitable. The U.K. was the first non-U.S. show to feature RuPaul and Michelle Visage as judges, so it’s the natural host nationand where else can you watch an English drag queen explain the meaning of slang like “minger,” “slapper,” and “the dog’s bollocks” to the world?

Drag Race is part of a long line of reality shows that have branched out into “all stars” formats. Bravo’s Top Chef and Project Runway aired their first all stars seasons in 2011 and 2012. There’s also been all stars seasons of Dancing with the Stars (2012), Celebrity Apprentice (2013), dating show Ex on the Beach (2016), Hell’s Kitchen (2017), and Survivor.

Some all stars shows have a chaotic legacy. America’s Next Top Model—Tyra Banks’s ludicrously problematic show that partly inspired Drag Race—aired an all stars cycle in 2011. Finalist Angelea Preston ended up suing the show, claiming that she won the competition but was disqualified because she had previously worked as an escort. Preston said she told producers about her year of escorting beforehand, but the crown was still taken from her and the finale was re-shot. She later said: “I have days when I still cry about it because I lay in my bed and I wonder what my life would have been like if they had just let it be?” Lisa D’Amato, the eventual winner, also accused the show of mistreating her.

There have been several all stars seasons of Big Brother U.K. and U.S. over the years. The British version has been particularly controversial. In 2007, former housemate Jade Goody disastrously returned for Celebrity Big Brother 5 as an all star. She was accused of racially bullying Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, prompting international outcry. In its first full all stars season (2010’s ‘Ultimate Big Brother’) rapper Coolio was dramatically removed after several aggressive confrontations with Nadia Almada, a trans woman who won her original series in a landslide public vote. But this time fans turned against Nadia. She was evicted early to a chorus of boos and, a week later, was reportedly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Other BBUK scandals include the show being investigated in 2015 after one “all star” said another (a Black man) looked like a “rapist” and a “murderer,” while its final “all stars” season in 2017 received complaints after a contestant was removed by security during a late-night argument.

These controversies go to the heart of what worksand what doesn’tabout “all stars” as a format. Fans want to see more of the people they love, but sometimes reality stars aren’t the same when they return, or the drama goes too far. There can be a high price to be paid for a second stint in front of the cameras, where personalities are often exaggerated by reality stars themselves, in the editing room, or by twists that are designed to create conflict.

Drag Race hasn’t entirely avoided moments like this. All Stars 2 was criticized by fans for allegedly editing Phi Phi O’Hara to appear as a villain. O’Hara said that All Stars had left her “broken” and made her look like a “backstabbing manipulative monster,” which was surprising because her original season arc was one of redemption.

Generally, though, there isn’t a widespread trend for Drag Race queens to be drastically less popular or suddenly hated when they return for All Stars. This might be because, as Vulture’s resident Drag Race recapper Paul McCallion wrote, the show works best when it is “showcasing the talents of queens we already stan and enabling triumphant redemptions of queens who never reached their full potential.” So the pressure on fan favorites to be over-the-top is lessened by the presence of the unsung hero queens, who often prove that they were overlooked the first time around.

Striking the right balance between drama that is compelling, without feeling exploitative, is a key part of why Drag Race has outlived so many of its “all stars” contemporaries. (After all, reality TV that feels overly exploitative eventually turns people off, even if it takes a while).

Timing influenced the success of Drag Race: All Stars, too. Tom Campbell, producer of the show at World of Wonder, told The Daily Beast that as the standard format grew in popularity, it became obvious that there was a “unique relationship” developing between the audience and the stars of the show. “We’ve always felt that there were no losers in Drag Race and, watching the queens’ careers explode, it became clear to us that there was a strong appetite for more,” he says. “Drag Race All Stars was created to satisfy the audience’s appetite and to continue to contribute to the amazing career trajectory of super talented artists.”

After all, reality TV that feels overly exploitative eventually turns people off, even if it takes a while.

The key word here is “appetite.” When Drag Race’s first season dropped in 2012 and was won by Chad Michaels, the “regular” show had only aired four seasons. Drag Race was yet to peak in terms of ratings or cultural relevance. At a time when the appetite was still growing, All Stars gave the franchise more visibility and a bigger, blockbuster feel. It was the first step toward the packed Drag Race calendar of today. Shows like Top Model and Big Brother UK, on the other hand, were fast becoming irrelevant when they branched out into the all stars format. Teetering on the edge of cancellation, they hoped that controversy would translate into ratings. While it’s understandable for reality franchises to wait until they’re able to assemble a truly “all star” cast, if it gets to the point where the audience’s appetite is waning, then all stars will be a temporary ratings bump at bestrather than the genuine growth of the franchise that we’ve seen Drag Race prove is possible.

Real Housewives is another reality TV franchise that has recently branched out into all stars. Since long before Aviva Drescher threw her prosthetic leg across a New York cocktail party, devoted Housewives fans have been debating what their dream all stars lineup would be. So there was widespread glee in Nov. 2021, when Bravo aired a special “vacation” show featuring a group of ‘wives from NYC, Beverly Hills, Atlanta and New Jersey holidaying in Turks and Caicos together. It went by the name Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip, but that didn’t stop fans (and the cast themselves) from calling it “all stars.”

Back in 2016, Cohen was asked about the possibility of an all stars season. He responded that Bravo would make this happenbut only when the franchise was “just about out of gas.” So is he right?

Brian Moylan, founder of Vulture’s “Real Housewives Institute” and author of The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives, was initially concerned about this very thing when all stars was announced. But he told The Daily Beast that the Housewives audience is still pretty strong. “Ratings have been declining, but at a rate that corresponds with general cable television ratings erosion,” he says. “They’ve just brought back the Real Housewives of Miami on Peacock too, so I don’t think they’d be doing that if the franchise was dying.”

Real Housewives All Stars


Ratings aside, it feels like we are experiencing a golden era of Housewives right now. The newer shows based in Salt Lake City and Potomac, plus the Miami reboot, have breathed new life into the franchise, while the legal scandal engulfing Tom and Erika Girardi transformed Real Housewives of Beverly Hills into a captivating spectacle, reminiscent of its early seasons.

Ultimate Girls Trip offered something different. The “fourth wall,” which is increasingly shaky in most Housewives shows nowadays, was deliberately broken completely. Most of the plotlines revolved around the experience of being on reality TV and how Housewives had changed the cast’s lives. This was a smart choice, because it made the showwhich was filmed in an obviously artificial setting, with a cast that didn’t know each other very wellfeel instantly more authentic.

There are early indications that Bravo will use Ultimate Girls Trip as a springboard to expand the Housewives world, just like we’ve seen Drag Race do. Fans clearly have an appetite for more, and Bravo has more than enough former and current cast members to assemble multiple all-star lineups. A second Girls Trip season has already been filmed, with a line-up of former cast members such as Tamra Barney, Vicki Gunvalson, and Taylor Armstrong, hosted by the queen of “making it nice” Dorinda Medley in her Berkshires manor. Different mixes of women in new scenarios will surely follow, which will likely act as a testing ground to decide whether some “all stars” should return to the “regular” shows.

Ultimate Girls Trip arrives at a TV landscapeand a wider cultural environmentthat is fixated on familiarity. Reboots are everywhere across film and TV, from Gossip Girl to Charlie’s Angels, Sex and the City and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Franchises like Marvel and Star Wars are resurrecting heroes and villains from the dead at a rapid pace, satisfying the fan demand for characters they already know. There are obvious commercial benefits to this: studios own intellectual property and want to get the most out of it, without taking too many risks. Advertising-wise, giving the audience something (or someone) they already know is an easy win in a crowded market.

All stars shows give them an “Avengers, assemble!” moment, scratching the nostalgia itch while providing new plots and scenarios.

The rise of “all stars” reality shows suggests that, despite being a much newer medium, reality TV is suffering from similar pressures and anxieties as blockbuster films and scripted TV dramas. Just like Marvel Studios, reality franchises are figuring out the best way to harness the power of familiarity and give fans more of what they enjoy. To reality TV super-fans, their favorite stars are like the heroes and villains of the MCU. All stars shows give them an “Avengers, assemble!” moment, scratching the nostalgia itch while providing new plots and scenarios.

Like Drag Race, Housewives is a franchise that feels very like the MCU, with its huge web of main characters, villains, niche references, subplots, spin-offs and age-old rivalries. (Bethenny vs Ramona is pretty much Thor vs. Loki, battling it out on the Brooklyn Bridge).

In the “Real Housewives Cinematic Universe,” fans have more input than ever before. In April, Anna Peele wrote for Vulture about how a year of national reckonings on race and inequality has tested the Housewives world. She reported that Bravo carefully analyzes the data on the viewership for each show, including political beliefs. The network has been quick to respond to social media backlash against its shows: a major reboot is reportedly on the horizon for the NYC show, after viewers panned the latest season amid racism allegations, while the Dallas show has been placed on indefinite hiatus after fan backlash. “We want the audience to be engaged, but we don’t want them to be outraged,” producer Alex Baskin told Peele.

Conor Behan, host of the Housewives and Me podcast, tells me that the firing of Kelly Dodd from The Real Housewives of Orange County—a polarizing figure who was subject to fan boycotts because of her Trump-like statementsmakes it feel like fans are executive producing via their smartphones. “The social media world around the show extends to so many meme pages and fan accounts, that I’m sure it provides a real-time focus group for Bravo, who are following their lead more clearly in certain cases,” he says. Behan can visualize a situation where there’s more fan involvement in casting future all stars seasons too. “More Housewives-adjacent shows are bound to be on the way, and I think the fans should be listened to on who they want to seeto a point,” he says.

The delicate balance for reality TV networks is deciding where that “point” is. Giving fans too much of what they want, or too many things that are popular in a way that isn’t challenging or surprising, can eventually lead to franchise fatigue.

Drag Race has discovered this. All Stars arrived at a time when fans were gagging for more, but after six seasons one of their biggest complaints is how often it’s on TV. All Stars airing every year also means that new U.S.-based queens are in increasingly short supply. In fact, three of the queens vying for the AS6 crownYara Sofia, Pandora Boxx and Ginger Minjhad already competed in a previous All Stars season. Jujubee, who we now see on Drag Race UK Versus the World, has competed on U.S. All Stars twice, plus the 10th season of the regular show, making the BBC show her fourth time on Drag Race. These casting choices might be a win for short-term gratification, but don’t exactly help the feelings of exhaustion when looking with a wider lens.


Drag Race All Stars going international and Real Housewives branching out into all stars for the first time are significant moments, for both franchises and the wider all stars canon. In the past, we’ve seen that all stars reality shows have embraced chaos and exaggeration, with some crossing ethical lines in a bid to provide ever more explosive drama. But it’s no longer the case that all stars seasons are a definite sign that a franchise is “out of gas.” In fact, reality shows looking to their past for inspiration (now that they’re old enough to have one) is part of the medium’s transition from new-kid-on-the-block to a type of TV that has become as normalized in our lives as blockbuster films.

As the reality genre comes of age, shows that strike a balance between their “greatest hits” and new material will be the most successful. Viewers might say they want “real” drama, yet the rise of all stars formats suggest many don’t mind turning a blind eye to artificiality in order to see the stars they love, in a slightly reassembled context. There still needs to be space for authentic and unpredictable situations, though, because relying too much on nostalgic faces and contrived settings might start to wear on viewers. Just like Marvel and Star Wars, reality franchises need to avoid getting stuck in a rut by going for too many easy wins and giving fans too much of what they want.

But until that moment (or a better idea) comes along, all hail the era of the all star.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/rupauls-drag-race-is-mimicking-marvels-superhero-formula?source=articles&via=rss ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Is Mimicking Marvel’s Superhero Formula

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: russellfalcon@interreviewed.com.

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