This week we were treated to a rare glimpse of what it’s like behind the scenes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In place of a typical episode, series host RuPaul Charles narrated a special documentary-style episode of the series to show how they managed to film during the pandemic. The cast of queens sit down to tell us about their experience filming and we’re shown exclusive footage of them and the crew as production rolled.
Below, check out our minute-by-minute “RuPaul’s Drag Race” recap of this special episode to see the process of filming season 13. After following along with our live updating blog, be sure to sound off in the comments section with your reactions to VH1’s reality TV show and then resume discussing who you think will ultimately join the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winners list.
8:01 p.m. – In voiceover, Ru announces that “this is the story of how thirteen queen defied the odds during a global pandemic and looked damn fine doing it.” Over the course of the next hour we’ll see backstage footage and hear from the queens themselves for a closer look at how the cast and crew of the Emmy-winning series managed to make filming werk.
8:02 p.m. – Coming to film the show gave the queens mixed emotions. LaLa Ri arrived excited to become a part of herstory on a season that would have to go to such great lengths just to film. Tina Burner, on the other hand, was frightened, but knew that it was her chance at last and she’d “risk her life to do it.”
8:03 p.m. – Beginning in January of 2020, the queens share their hopes and expectations that they remember feeling as the year began. Olivia Lux had just been named Miss Paradise in a pageant and LaLa was working the drag circuit of Atlanta doing gigs at bars. During this time they were also submitting their audition videos, like Denali figure skating and Rosé performing with her girl band (alongside Jan).
8:04 p.m. – Having just gone through cancer treatment, Tamisha Iman knew as soon as news of the outbreak came out that she’d be in a high risk category if it continued to spread. Kahmora Hall recalled the time when Covid-19 first hit the States that there were reports of people of Asian descent being discriminated against because of the virus’ relation to China. By March 13th, all of the queens were still out in the nightlife scene despite knowing that the virus was spreading and with rumors of the country going into lockdown. That weekend the lockdowns began to happen and Utica Queen spoke to the fear they would have as queens whose careers depended on being among crowds and making money through performing for them.
8:13 p.m. – On March 23, New York drag queen Mona Foot died, showing all of the queens how vulnerable they were in their professions and Kandy Muse opens up about testing positive for coronavirus around that time. Olivia remembered being sick in the early weeks of March and though she was never tested she had all of the hallmark symptoms of the virus.
8:15 p.m. – As the weeks went on, because Rosé’s boyfriend was working in hospitals they made the choice to separate out of an abundance of caution. On her own and faced with no performing opportunities, Rosé, as well as every other queen in the country, turned to the social media landscape as an outlet. As creative people, the queens filmed footage in drag for their followers. This was also around the time that the season 12 finale aired, showing the queens that the series would remain committed to filming even if it meant a reunion episode on Zoom. This was just the blink of hope they all needed to believe that their own season of Drag Race might actually happen.
8:17 p.m. – With the May 25 death of George Floyd the queens turned their eyes toward the nationwide movements for Black Lives Matter. For Symone it reinvigorated her need to be on the show so that she’d have the privilege of having the platform to “make the world better.” Olivia also recognized the opportunity to use television for its platform as a queer brown person.
8:18 p.m. – On June 12, the queens started receiving their calls from production with the update that they’d begin filming. They all described a British woman’s voice telling them that they’d be a “Ru girl” and them basically losing their minds with excitement. Utica called it a “gift” to be swept out of the world of being at home and transitioning to filming a TV show.
8:23 p.m. – Once they found out they’d be on the show, the queens had to figure out preparation for the show. That meant finding supplies for garments in a time where fabric stores were closed, online delivery was taking forever, and the nation was seeing a wig shortage — yes, wigs sold out everywhere. Rosé ordered 10 pairs of the same shoe and painted them different colors, Gottmik went to some stores in a make-shift hazmat suit, and Utica turned things she already had into new outfits.
8:26 p.m. – Upon arrival in LA, the queens were driven from the airport in a “hazmat van” to a hotel where they were quarantined alone for a few weeks before they could be on set. In their hotel rooms, Kandy said she lost her mind the first day, LaLa watched a ton of HGTV, Symone read RuPaul’s book, Joey Jay watched porn, and they all stared longingly at the door for the red envelope that would be slipped under it with a food menu.
8:28 p.m. – Production officially began on July 20 with an expanded werk room in order to socially distance the cast as they filmed. The new room included the Untucked set, which was typically filmed in a separate backstage area, and a mini stage for them. Tina and Elliott with 2 Ts described their first entrances for the show and how awkward it instinctually felt to not want to be close to another human being after so much isolation. The experience that was supposed to be exhilarating to them also came with a sense of fear.
8:34 p.m. – At the same time, the queens also experienced the joy of what it felt like to finally come together with other queens and to ultimately go through an intimate experience with other people again. Symone and Rosé described that as a very special thing for them this season because it bonds them in a way that other casts wouldn’t have had.
8:35 p.m. – On the set, production had taken all the necessary precautions, including 5000 masks, sanitizer stands all over, temperature checks and three tests a week. In all, production administered 2,591 tests. During actual filming, the crew remains 6 feet apart from each other and separated by plexiglass, while also being 10 feet away from the cast who were the only ones not wearing masks or face shields while cameras rolled. The queens described that as making them feel special because it was such a stark difference between being unmasked and masked. As we’ve already noticed, the judges also used plastic dividers while on the dais, an “aesthetic choice” Gottmik wasn’t too fond of.
8:38 p.m. – One of the big questions for the queens was how all of the challenges would be adapted with the restrictions. They recalled the RuPaulmark challenge and having to film with a prince that wasn’t actually on the green screen set with them. They only later found out that Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman was going to be ‘shopped in as the prince. Another change this season was the ability to have a large cast of celebrity guest judges. Instead of a huge rolodex, the series used celebrities trusted because of their proximity and prior relationship to the show. One of the best adaptations of the season was when Anne Hathaway visited them via video, the only way she could.
8:41 p.m. – When filming was done for the day the queens would return to isolation in the hotel rooms without access to their phones or contacting friends and family. The only access to the outside world that they had was the television news, something that increased anxiety for them knowing that they had no clue how their families back home were taking care of themselves.
8:47 p.m. – Ru was also isolated during this time, but knowing that just made the queens more excited to see her during walk-throughs for each episode. With no expectation of how close they could even get to her, they were surprised that Ru seemed just as excited to see them as they were her. Ru apparently was pretty chatty with the queens as if she was just excited to be speaking to anyone.
8:49 p.m. – One of the oddest experiences they had was filming their confessional moments, which were filmed via iPad rather than a storyline producer in front of you asking question. Rosé was weirded out by having emotional moments “with a computer” and LaLa remembered technological difficulties in the middle of what she thought were great moments in what she was saying.
8:50 p.m. – When going from the main stage to the werk room stage, the queens would travel outside between the sets where production staff was lining the street each time, congratulating them as if in a parade. Moments like that showed the family feeling of the whole production and how supportive everyone was on set.
8:54 p.m. – For the queens, the show was and remains an escape for them and for the audience at home. As has always been true of drag, it shows the human ability to take serious and often traumatic experiences and turning it around into things to be enjoyed. After filming, Rosé returned to NYC and her boyfriend, Kandy was dismayed by the return to the “reality of life,” and Symone described how weird it was to not know how the world was treating the virus and if it’d be as safe as it felt on set. A few months after her return, Tamisha tested positive with no symptoms, reminding her how serious the threat was. They’re all hopeful for a 2021 where they can finally return to performance spaces to engage with fans again and also to use their platform for political, social and personal good.
NEXT WEEK: It’s time for the queens to impersonate someone else with their “Snatch Game” performances!