The long-awaited Philippine installment of “Drag Race” finally dropped its first two episodes on Aug. 17. I was able to catch the pilot episode a day before at a special viewing party at Xylo, BGC, and meet the queens, judges (Jiggly!!! Kaladkaren!!!), and host Paolo Ballesteros, now christened Mamwa Pao. Not much tea was spilled that day, other than that we should get ready for all the drama.
“Untucked” episodes are also dropping today, giving much-needed context to the episodes. It’s the first international franchise to get an “Untucked,” because, in Jiggly’s own words at the viewing party: “We are dramatic as f*ck.” More on that later.
Episode 1 – TITE
The queens start entering the werq room one by one, and more and more goosebumps prickle my skin. The queens went all out on their entrance looks, except for Viñas de Luxe, who came in wearing a towel, to Eva Le Queen’s ire. “I have spent weeks trying to design my outfit, and she walks in a fucking towel.” It’s extremely camp and reminiscent of both “Drag Race” 14 winner Willow Pill’s all-white entrance look and the way most boys’ first attempts at drag is wearing a towel as a dress, which I’m not sure was intentional but is a strong homage nevertheless. I also want to point out Xilhouete’s entrance. She comes in like a video game boss and gives an opening line that sounds not unlike the “hi loser” meme. In the words of Trinity the Tuck, I live.
We learn more of the queen’s intrapersonal relationships and get the first inklings of drama. Most of the queens are Manila-based performers who were mainstays at O Bar and Nectar, with Eva, Marina Summers, and Prince being the co-founders of Drag Playhouse, Minty Fresh being Xilhouete’s drag daughter, and Precious Paula Nicole, Brigiding, and Viñas Deluxe forming the Divine Divas triumvirate. Gigi Era and Lady Morgana also know each other as they’re both Davaoeñas. Through the confessionals, we learn that Minty and Marina had boy-related issues and Marina and Xilhouete have bad blood on account of Marina formerly being part of House of Xilhouete. It’s a little bit like we’re getting multiple Alyssas and Cocos circa season five.
Corazon is one of the main narrators of the episode, and she’s a real gem. She’s a huge fan of the other girls and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her confessionals are my favorite so far—so funny and shady, which she’s self aware about. “Ayoko na lang mag-talk,” she says. She’s the only pageant queen this season, a point that will later on become belabored, and she’s a strong rep for the scene.
RuPaul shows up on screen to give the “she done already done had herses” call, to which everyone at the watch party screamed at. I fully wasn’t expecting her to do it. She’s a little disconnected, but just her being there lends more credence to the show, so it’s a nice gesture.
Paolo Ballesteros, the show’s host, then walks in and announces the first ever mini-challenge: A Darna-inspired photoshoot where the queens are hoisted by cables and pose mid-air as their “Drag-na” alter egos. It’s a great mini-challenge to start with, not just because it takes cues from other iconic premiere mini-challenges like season five’s underwater photoshoot, but because it’s also a cue to just how Filipino the show is going to be. Darna, the first Filipino superhero who is a girl that transforms into an alien superwoman by swallowing a rock, is the best concept for the show to start with. Also, how great is the “Darna”-“Drag Race PH” synchronicity? The former dropped just two days prior.
Marina wins the mini-challenge—photographer and rotating judge BJ Pascual called her “the most fluid”—and she gets a P20,000 cash tip.
Paolo then announces the maxi challenge: TITE. (This is the point where Preen photographer and videographer Neal Alday whispered into my ear, “This show is so good.”) TITE stands for Total Impressive Talent Extravaganza, a.k.a. it’s a talent show. Some queens are excited for it, others not so much, and you can see them trying to figure out how to make their talent be unique.
Paolo takes the Nectar queens for a quick chitchat, which goes south pretty quickly. When asked who’s the most “ma-atitude” of her drag daughters (we love a pot-stirring host), Xilhouete brings up her issues with Marina. It’s kinda fun looking at the faces of the queens who aren’t involved in the drama. “Hindi naman konektado sa ‘Drag Race’ yung pinag-uusapan nila,” says Viñas in her confessional. Paolo—he was there during the whole exchange—ends it by saying that he hopes “Drag Race” can be an avenue for their family to mend. Who said “Drag Race” wasn’t a family show?
Before the talent show starts, we see Paolo walk the runway and introduce the other judges: KaladKaren, Jiggly, BJ Pascual, and the week’s guest judge Pops Fernandez, whose reactions to the queens was a treat to watch. She was having so much fun.
Some queens went for more untraditional talents like Lady Morgana’s newscasting, Brigiding’s magic act, and Eva’s sexy spoken word, while others went more conventional. Both of the fashion queens (Marina and Minty) plus Gigi Era danced to their own songs. Turing, meanwhile, did a contemporary dance in honor of the people who passed during the pandemic, and it’s pretty touching. Prince looks stunning during her burlesque number—though as BJ points out, there’s not enough burlesque in her act. I wish she did full on burlesque the whole way through instead of the fabric trick she ended on.
The episode’s runway challenge is “terno she betta don’t,” which, I live. Notable looks are Viñas’ sunflower-sleeved terno and Minty’s Bakunawa-inspired terno by Santi Obcena. Prince comes in a very chic futuristic take on terno that’s a little Juno Birch-ish, a little Chanel, but is docked points because of the details. “THE SHOES,” Mamwa Pao exclaims in horror. Xilhouete, meanwhile, pays homage to historic Filipino drag queens Paper Dolls with her terno.
The tops are Marina, Viñas, and Minty, with Minty taking the win (and bringing home P80,000). The bottoms are Xilhouete, Lady Morgana, and Prince, with the latter two doing the lip sync.
How I know that this show is made by the Filipino gays for the Filipino gays is that the first ever Lip Sync for Your Life is to Sarah Geronimo’s “Tala.” When I tell you that people screamed at the watch party, mama. It made the lip sync more emotional than it already would be. Prince ends up sashaying away, and I start wishing the show followed “All Stars All Winners” rules and not let anyone leave.
Paolo ends the show with “Remember, ang tunay na ikaw ay ipakita sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa. Puso, puso, at puso pa rin. Can I get an eme up in here?” It’s a cute spin on Ru’s “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else. Can I get an amen?”
Episode 2 – Sagala
The queens take in Prince’s elimination and Minty Fresh’s win. In her talking head, Minty says she wasn’t expecting it, and notes that she’ll have to start being more strategic moving forward. At the werk room, Corazon asks Viñas how she felt about not getting the win. Viñas answers congenially, saying that she wasn’t expecting “nang bongga” and that she knows at least that she’s almost there.
When the queens return to the werk room the next day, we see that tensions are boiling between Corazon and Turing. Things apparently went down during “Untucked,” and we see snippets of the confrontation here and there. This fully takes me by surprise, as I wasn’t expecting it to be them that went at it on episode one of “Untucked.”
The genesis of the issue seems to be Turing making a joke about praying that Corazon, the only pageant queen, leaves (I told you her being a pageant queen was going to be a plot point), which may be a misunderstanding brought about by the otherwise sanguine Precious Paula Nicole? I’m not sure, and “Untucked” still hasn’t dropped as of writing. In any case, the tension is there, and we see Corazon making jokes and Turing fully not feeling it.
The week’s mini-challenge is a game of palo-sebo. The pit crew makes their debut here, serving as assistants to the queens. The game lets us see how unserious these queens are. They’re so loud and scream at everything, it’s great. The winner is Corazon, who’s given an advantage on the main challenge.
It’s a design episode, babes, and the queens have to make a Sagala-inspired floral outfit only using the materials given to them. Corazon, as the winner, gets to pick the materials ahead of everyone, and bizarrely does not use it to get as many flowers as she can, opting instead to hoard sewing supplies.
Rajo Laurel, another rotating judge, pops in this episode to give the queens some much-needed advice—some of these look very shaky. He tells many of the girls that “glue gun is your best friend,” which is very good advice for the challenge.
Viñas, at this point, is mostly draping leaves on her garment, which the rest of the queens eye skeptically and liken to a funeral wreath. We also learn that Turing sews in an ominous confessional by Minty.
While preparing for the main stage, the girls start talking about their coming out stories. Viñas shares that because of intense bullying from both students and teachers, she tried her best to pretend to be straight. She also said that when it got too much, she ended up coming out to her sister, whose reply was less than stellar. That led her to going off on her own and supporting herself eventually with her drag—and now her family is super supportive of her.
Gigi gets emotional while overhearing Viñas story. She shares that she had an abusive family growing up and she would be left “bugbog sarado” because she was gay. In tears, she says that she wishes no gay kids would get beaten up for being who they are. It’s a reminder of why this show, a celebration of queer culture, is so important.
This week’s guest judge is Pokwang, who we also find out is Paolo’s neighbor. Speaking of Mamwa Pao, she’s wearing a stunning butterfly gown by Ehrran Montoya this episode.
The queens make their runways. Viñas is able to pull off her look: instead of looking like a funeral wreath, she looks like a mix of Poison Ivy and a Las Vegas showgirl. It’s very well done and well-crafted. She trips a bit but her garment stays put, so the judges commend it for being “pulido.” She deservedly wins the challenge, getting both the P80,000 and a custom couture gown from House of Laurel.
Things get tense when it comes to Corazon and Turing’s looks. Judges praise Turing for being body positive, but her outfit just isn’t it. Meanwhile, Corazon’s look is messy and not in theme. Jiggly, who acknowledges that design challenges are famously not her thing, also points out that there’s an element of cheating as well, since Corazon wears a dress she did not make that day underneath her garment.
Mamwa Pao asks both queens who they would like to lip sync with should they land in the bottom two, and they both point to each other. It’s so dramatic and it’s just episode two. Their wishes are granted (it’s reality TV after all, and this is high drama), and the two lip sync to Chona Cruz’s “I’m Feeling Sexy Tonight.”
I want to tell all the Reddit snobs who were worried that “Drag Race PH” was going to be “too Filipino” that their fears came true and that’s what makes it good. There was not a single attempt to make the show cater to the international fans and that’s great. It’s so uniquely Filipino and celebrates bakla culture so well.
This was such a good premiere. Not a good premiere for a Filipino show (ugh) or a good premiere for an international “Drag Race” franchise (also ugh), but a good premiere, period.
“This is the moment we take up space,” KaladKaren said at the watch party. It really does feel like that, with “Drag Race PH” showing off just how good and talented and multifaceted and complex Filipino queens are. It’s less about getting a stamp of approval from Ru, but about the queens stamping out their identity centerstage.
What a (gay) week. With “Sleep With Me” and “Darna” premiering last Monday and Blackpink releasing “Pink Venom” today, this week may be the gayest week in recent Philippine history. At our latest meeting to plan out the week, my coworkers and I took a look at the week’s events and simultaneously blurted out, “Happy Pride!”