The reunion episode of RuPaul's Drag Race sparked an emotional debate between its host and one of its contestants.
The moment, which aired Thursday, happened after one of this season's competitors, the Vixen, was confronted about a prior argument she had with a fellow contestant, Eureka O'Hara, during the filming of Untucked, a behind-the-scenes segment of Drag Race.
As moderator of the reunion, RuPaul was "poking the bear" by asking whether the Vixen was partially to blame for responding with fire to O'Hara's provocation. RuPaul then questioned why she was "stirring the pot" between two other competitors, Aquaria and Miz Cracker, in a separate exchange. The Vixen, feeling cornered, thanked her fans and left the room.
Her departure sparked a moment of empathy from another competitor, Asia O'Hara. "She walked out of the room because she does not know what else to do. And it is our job as people to try and help her through a situation that is clear that she's struggling through," said Asia O'Hara.
RuPaul did not agree.
"As a community, we do have a responsibility to each other. But each of us, we are all adults. At one point, you gotta say, there is nothing else I can do. Each of us have had people in our lives who you realize, I can't do anything for this person unless they want to meet me halfway."
But a tearful Asia O'Hara, in an emotional exchange, pushed back against the host's argument to cut off those who walk away.
"It's ridiculous that our thought process about people is so self-centered that, 'It's hard to help somebody? Just let them struggle,'" O'Hara said. "We're not just drag queens, we're people. And now we've got one of our people outside. Here we are filming during Pride season, and we let one of our sisters walk out of the fucking room, cause no one wanted to fucking help her. And we are the first people... to say people aren't treating us right."
"It's not about what we say, it's about what we do," O'Hara said, in response to RuPaul asking what else could have been said to convince the Vixen to stay. Any of the contestants could have followed Vixen to stop her from leaving, she argued. But they chose to remain seated.
RuPaul was given the last word in the debate. In a heated sermon, the drag performer evoked his own life story as a contrast to their behavior. "I come from the same fucking place she comes from," RuPaul said. "Do you see me walking out? Let me tell you something: I have been discriminated against by white people for being black, by black people for being gay and by gay people for being too femme. Did I let that stop me from getting to this chair? You can't just make excuses for bad behavior or inconsiderate behavior."
The Drag Race host was visibly upset about the Vixen's departure, exhibiting a rare moment of passion in front of the cameras that has been compared to another famous moment from reality television. "I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you!" Tyra Banks once famously yelled at an America's Next Top Model contestant who failed to rise to the occasion and seize the opportunities before her.
Yet the Drag Race moment was no mere case of a contestant who failed expectations. The argument between RuPaul and O'Hara presented a litmus test to viewers on their own political views. Those who side with RuPaul align with a more conservative mindset, in which it is the responsibility of individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. O'Hara presented a liberal viewpoint, where it falls on a community to help one of its members in need.
Moreover, all three members of this debate -- RuPaul, O'Hara, and the Vixen -- are queer black men, and their responses during the Drag Race reunion speak to different mindsets on how to navigate the challenges that can arise from holding intersectional marginalized identities. When confronted with adversity, does one stay or go? Smile or fight? Support struggling members of your community, or let them find their own path?
There is also the question of whether a viewer believes it the Vixen who is in need of "help" or the show itself. RuPaul, and presumably producers, chose to confront the Vixen with an argument that was instigated by a white competitor -- and then put the onus on the Vixen for her reaction. The Vixen said she was provoked in her explosive reaction to O'Hara and therefore did not need to apologize."Isn't that a little 'eat the cake, Anna Mae?" said RuPaul, an Ike and Tina Turner reference that was not immediately grasped by the contestant. Miz Cracker, as interpreter, said the Vixen may have had a choice over whether or not to be "goaded" by the goader -- a problematic argument for any marginalized person weighing how to respond to an act of abuse, aggression, or microaggression.
In the reunion, producers chose not to select a more challenging clip of the Vixen explaining in another scene of Untucked how Drag Race was a complicated field of competition for drag queens of color, who are up against racist tropes on reality TV. "You say something, I say something, you start crying," Vixen explained to Aquaria in the episode of how an exchange would play to viewers. "You have created the narrative that I am an angry black woman who has scared off the little white girl." This narrative of the "angry black woman" is one the Vixen struggled to resist throughout the season. And as she predicted, it came back to haunt her in the season reunion.
"I wasn't the problem in the room. The room was the problem," the Vixen explained afterward in an interview with Into. "I didn't leave the room because I was the problem. I left the room because I was the target."
RuPaul might call this argument an excuse for "inconsiderate behavior" or a case of being "sabotaged by your inner saboteur." But for viewers, it also presents another option to consider. Does one, like RuPaul, let the Vixen go? Does one follow the Vixen and convince her to stay? Or does one, sensing the cards have been stacked, follow her out the door?