The untold truth of RuPaul's Drag Race

Since its first season aired on Logo TV in 2009, groundbreaking reality competition RuPaul's Drag Race has gained a massive following, blazed trails by offering an unfiltered portrait of drag culture on television, and received 23 Emmy nominations (winning four) to date. With its cast of diverse and memorable contestants in every season, its iconic and outspoken host RuPaul, and a rotating panel of celebrity guest judges, the series has also generated a huge amount of press and spawned several international versions. 

As The New York Times described in an in-depth 2018 profile of RuPaul, Drag Race has been a pioneer in bringing drag culture to mainstream America and "has evolved to reflect America's changing relationship to queer rights and acceptance." Along with all the drama that plays out on screen between the show's contestants, there's plenty to learn about what's gone on behind-the-scenes and plenty of controversies that have exploded in the media. Shantay you stay … and read on learn the untold truth of RuPaul's Drag Race

RuPaul's stance on transgender contestants caused a frenzy

Despite the show's open stance on sexuality and gender expression, RuPaul's comments during a March 2018 interview with The Guardian revealed what many perceived as a less-than-accepting attitude toward transgender women. 

When asked if he would consider a transgender contestant for RuPaul's Drag Race, the host responded, "Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you're transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we're doing."

Critics and fans were quick to react, especially considering those comments came on the heels of an earlier interview with Marc Maron in which RuPaul defended the controversial term "tranny." RuPaul went a step further after his comments to The Guardian, tweeting, "You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics." Former contestants on the show quickly chimed in, including Courtney Act, who tweeted, "The revolution is intersectional and so is drag."

RuPaul apologized shortly thereafter, writing to his Twitter followers, "I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers."

The show has been accused of transphobia

Even before RuPaul's comments in 2018, the show caught some slack for a segment in which he outlined the week's challenge to contestants in this way: "You've got she-mail!" (a play on "Tyra Mail" from America's Next Top Model). In 2014, critics also took issue with a bit in which contestants were asked to look at cropped photos of either a cisgender woman or a former contestant, and judge if it depicted a "Female or She-male," reported The Huffington Post

In response, Logo TV released a statement announcing that it had nixed the challenge, pulled the episode, and eliminated the "You've got she-mail" language from future episodes. When asked about the decision to ban "she-mail" from the show, RuPaul told Vulture in 2016, "I don't know. You know, I didn't do that. The network did that … the intention is not to be hateful at all. But if you are trigger-happy and you're looking for a reason to reinforce your own victimhood, your own perception of yourself as a victim, you'll look for anything that will reinforce that."

A former contestant was allegedly banned for shading RuPaul

Season 7 contestant Pearl appeared on YouTube show Hey Qween in August 2018 to dish the dirt on Drag Race and RuPaul. According to Jezebel, Pearl allegedly told RuPaul, "It's such an honor to be here, such a pleasure to meet you," to which the host supposedly responded, "Nothing you say matters unless that camera is rolling." According to Pearl, the terse retort "broke [her] spirit … it was so heartbreaking because I idolized her, I worshiped her, and I felt like it was so disrespectful."

Several other former contestants chimed in to corroborate Pearl's feelings about RuPaul to Into, and then Pearl released a follow-up YouTube video. saying, "If something like [RuPaul's behavior] were to happen in any normal work environment where there was a mutual respect or professionalism to be had, there would be some major, major, major repercussions for the way that she mistreats the people on the set." 

Pearl claimed a show producer called after the first interview aired "and guaranteed me that I will never come back and do All Stars" – a spin-off that features fan favorites from seasons past. "To openly punish me for being honest about a situation that happened with me after four years of silence is disgusting and shameful," Pearl said.

The moment that sparked a million memes wasn't planned

Contestant Miss Vanjie was the first drag queen eliminated in Season 10, and let's just say she went out memorably. After receiving the bad news on the Drag Race runway, she triumphantly announced: "Miss Vanjie… Miss Vanjie… Miss… Vanjie..." much to the judges' amusement and confusion, before sashaying away. 

The moment quickly spread like wildfire across the internet and sparked some epic memes. According to Miss Vanjie, that infamous moment arose spontaneously. "Hell no, there was no f**ing meaning … I didn't anticipate getting kicked off first, so I didn't plan my exit, I didn't plan what to say," Vanjie told Billboard. "I turned around and saw RuPaul and saw [guest judge] Christina [Aguilera] and saw everyone was looking just at the judges, I decided to give them my name, and I said 'F**k it.' Might as well have these b**ches remember me."

Mission accomplished.

It's possible to self-eliminate. Just ask BenDeLaCreme

All Stars contestant BenDeLaCreme made Drag Race history when she effectively kicked herself off the show in Season 3, even after winning five of that season's challenges and setting herself up as the front-runner. Judges and fellow contestants were shocked when she elected to send herself home and bring back contestant Morgan McMichaels, who'd been eliminated in the season's first episode. 

In an interview with Vulture, BenDeLaCreme explained that she'd had enough of the backstage bickering between contestants. "I'm not here for the drama," she said. "I literally did not go on the show because of that aspect of it. I went on the show because I love drag and I love performing … I was definitely more focused on just doing drag than I was on the interpersonal stuff, and I think that's reflected in my leaving."

Judge Michelle Visage would later tell Vulture that she didn't know what to think of BenDeLaCreme's decision. "The producers did not tell Ru. It was a shock … I never would've done that, but that's me. I respect her decision … I don't know if it's manipulation or martyrdom."

A contestant faked a car accident

Fans and followers were shocked on April 15, 2018, when Season 8 contestant Robbie Turner posted a series of tweets that alleged she'd been involved in a car accident. "I just woke up. I've been in a car accident. I didn't recollect it. I'm not certain what happened. My driver did not survive," Turner tweeted (via People), later adding, "Last night on my way home my Uber was struck by a drunk driver. I closed my eyes briefly & it happened. I heard it, but hit my head & it was over. They ran tests at the hospital, but outside of my shoulder feeling jammed & my right eye hurting, I only have a bruise."

Seattle newspaper The Stranger quickly pointed out inconsistencies in Turner's story, noting that Uber had no record of the incident. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Turner changed her tune, claiming she might have been drugged, slipped in her shower, and dreamed about the car accident. "I had this vivid dream and thought it was 100 percent real," she said, acknowledging that she'd undergone psychiatric evaluation and realized that she was in need of professional treatment. 

RuPaul's mixed feelings on TV might surprise you

RuPaul might have two Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding host for a reality-competition program, but that doesn't mean he's always been a fan of mainstream television

In March 2016, he told Vulture pre-Emmy, "Any time I've had yearnings to go, 'Aw, gee, I wish I could be invited to the Emmys,' I say, Ru, Ru, remember the pact you made. You never wanted to be a part of that bulls**t. In fact, I'd rather have an enema than have an Emmy." During his 2016 acceptance speech, he quipped, "Earlier this year I was quoted as saying I'd rather have an enema than an Emmy. But thanks to the Television Academy, I can have both!"

He also told Vulture that he'd never been invited on a late night talk show, "Because it makes those hosts feel very, very uncomfortable, especially if we really talked. It would be the opposite of what they're used to." Cut to the present day, however, and RuPaul has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

In a 2017 Entertainment Weekly interview with Michelle Visage, RuPaul noted that he's still operating on the fringe but was pleased about his Emmy awards, saying, "[Drag Race] is the culmination of years and years of work, and really the kind of work that doesn't require the validation, but it is absolutely lovely to get it."

RuPaul accused Jimmy Fallon of stealing gay culture

In Drag Race, a dueling lip sync performance between two remaining drag queens often decides who shantay stays and who sashays away. The performances are, in a word, amazing. But, if you've watched both RuPaul's Drag Race and Lip Sync Battle (an offshoot of a popular segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in which celebs lip sync to popular song), it's easy to spot similarities between the two. RuPaul has certainly noticed. 

When Vulture asked RuPaul what he thought of Fallon's "Lip Sync Battle" shtick, he replied, "Oh, I don't think of it. It's a poor ripoff of our show … Regular, straight pop culture has liberally lifted things from gay culture as long as I can remember. And that's fine, because guess what? We have so much more where that comes from." Slate critic Katie Walsh agreed with RuPaul's assessment in a 2017 piece, writing that Lip Sync Battle "is at best a lightly modified copy of RuPaul's Drag Race … it's time to sashay away."

Contestants don't know who wins until the show airs

It's easy to be cynical and assume that most reality competition show endings are manipulated by producers and clever editing. However, evidence suggests that the surprise contestants and fans express when a Drag Race winner is named is truly authentic. 

In 2012, Entertainment Weekly journalist Tanner Stransky attended the taping of the Season 4 Drag Race finale and discovered that the live audience was required to sit patiently and offer enthusiastic reactions as all three finalists were crowned the winner. According to Stransky, the switcheroo "was designed to stop leaks," meaning nobody in attendance or the finalists would know who actually won the season until the finale aired. "Sources tell me that only a handful of need-to-know folks will be privy to what ending — and thus, which queen wins — makes the cut in the episode, which will not be put on tape but, instead, will be uploaded directly to a satellite in the sky," Stransky wrote. (Sharon Needles ultimately took the crown that season.) 

Michelle Visage and RuPaul are pals IRL

In addition to being co-judges on Drag Race since the show's third season, RuPaul and Michelle Visage enjoy a deep friendship that goes way back. According to an interview with Spin, Visage reconnected with RuPaul in 1992 after years of seeing him on the New York City "club scene" in the 1980s. Soon after, they were working together on a radio show then appearing together on The RuPaul Show on VH1. "Anything he does, he always brings me with him," Visage said. Along with Drag Race, the pair co-host a podcast called What's the Tee? 

Though both Visage and RuPaul are happily married to other people, there is certainly a deep bond between these two. "Ru's my soulmate as a best friend, we complete each other in many ways," she told Yahoo in 2015. Those feelings are mutual. In the foreword to Visage's 2015 book, The Diva Rules, RuPaul writes: "She's my friend, my business partner and she is someone I admire very much. I love this woman…"