Ever get the feeling you been cheated, henny? A whole lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race fans can say “amen” to that after watching MTV’s edit of the just-launched Season 15. In order to make room on the schedule for a “national crisis” called The Real Friends of WeHo, MTV cut Drag Race’s runtime from 90 minutes to 60 minutes (that’s with commercials; 60 to 40 without). That’s ironic because Season 15 was billed as the biggest in Drag Race herstory. Along with the jump from VH1 to MTV, the season got a double-sized premiere, a cast of sixteen queens, and a $200,000 cash prize. But because it’s losing a third of its runtime, Season 15 is actually going to be the shortestseason since Season 9, back in 2017. Fans are not exactly thrilled either. This is why Season 15’s third episode, “All Queens Go to Heaven,” caused such a stir on social media. There’s even a Change.org petition to not only get our 90 minute episodes back, but to also give Real Friends of WeHo the chop. It currently has over 25,000 signatures.
Those 25,000 Drag Race fans (and/or Real Friends enemies) aren’t wrong. Drag Race loses a whole lot when it loses a half hour. The shortened episode felt downright brisk, especially after five seasons of 90-minute episodes (and that’s not counting All Stars and the international seasons). But where exactly were the cuts? Where did the Drag Race editors find a full 20 minutes of content to cut from these episodes? And what do these edits sacrifice in order to give the Real Friends™ airtime?
To find out, I mapped out S15.E3, “All Queens Go to Heaven” against S14.E4, “She’s a Super Tease.” Both episodes are acting challenges and both episodes feature a huge cast of queens (the S14 episode stars 13 queens while the S15 ep has 15). Fortunately for our study, RuPaul’s Drag Race is incredibly formulaic — and that’s not a read. The episodes are broken down into the following sections, with rough estimates of how long these segments previously lasted:
- The Recap: Literally the “previously on” package designed to refresh your memory about last week’s ep if you haven’t listened to at least two recap podcasts yet. (01:00)
- The Couch Chat: The queens come in, read the eliminated queen’s mirror message, and then talk about last week’s challenge, results, and drama over on the couches. (03:30)
- The Theme: Start your engines, may the best drag queen win. (00:30)
- The Table Chat: The queens enter the Werk Room and continue to talk about drama/personal stuff that will definitely be tested in this episode. (02:30)
- Enter: RuPaul: RuPaul enters the Werk Room and ruveals the Maxi Challenge, and maybe there’s a Mini Challenge, or maybe queens have to pick teams, etc. (03:00)
- Maxi Challenge Prep: The queens prep, plot, and plan while getting in drag, and sometimes Ru stirs the pot a little. (06:00)
- The Maxi Challenge: The meat of the episode. (08:30)
- In these specific episodes, the Maxi Challenge continues after the Runway segment with a Viewing where the queens watch their completed sketches. (5:30)
- Mirror Chats: The queens get into drag for the runway and usually cry. (06:00)
- Judge Intros: RuPaul walks the runway and then trades one-liners with the judges. (01:30)
- The Runway: The, uh, more meat of the episode. (05:30)
- Judging w/ the Girls: The queens get read to their faces… (07:00)
- Judging w/o the Girls: The queens get read behind their backs. (03:00)
- Bring Back My Girls/The Lip Sync: We find out who won the Maxi Challenge and which queens are battling it out. (04:30)
- The Elimination/The Mirror Message/Sign-Off: That’s all, folks.(02:30)
So, how does this Season 14 episode compare with this Season 15 episode? Let’s go to the chart!
That’s a difference of 21 minutes — essentially the length of any modern sitcom episode. As for where episodes were nipped and tucked, I found more than a few areas with noticeable edits (meaning they lost over 15 seconds). That doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember: time moves differently onscreen. Like, most epic superhero fights in blockbuster movies last, on average, 90 seconds. A lot of memorable and memeable things can happen in 15 seconds (just ask TikTok icons Sugar and Spice).
In order to cut out a third of an episode’s runtime, two whole segments have essentially been lifted out: the Table Chat and the Judging w/o the Girls. The former is part of the overall problem of the hourlong episode: we don’t get enough time with the queens being themselves. This cuts a lot of personality from the episode. For instance, the Season 14 Table Chat I watched was Kornbread teaching Jasmine Kennedie how to not talk over people, one of the season’s more memorable moments.
Furthermore, cuts have been made to the Maxi Challenge Prep portion, which — like the Mirror Chats in the second half of the episode — is where we really get to know who these queens are as individuals and a group. With this shortened runtime, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll get much banter like Kerri Colby talking about “bird-watching” (let alone toucan-watching). Or if a queen eats a dragonfly in Season 15, will there be time to show it?!
As for nixing the Judging w/o the Girls portion? Sure. The judges rarely say something to each other that they haven’t already said to the queens. But without this segment, the episode goes directly from judging the queens to Ru having made her decisions. RuPaul doesn’t get to say “bring back my girls” — which is a pretty big f’ing deal! That’s one of the series’ signature catchphrases! It’s the name of both a song and a web series! How can you just remove that from the show?! Whether or not it’s gone for good remains TBD, but S15.E3 might be the first episode in the entire series to not feature some variation of that phrase (that is, after Ru spent a season or two nailing down that perfect wording and cadence).
The other major, perhaps inexcusable, edits have been made to the Runway segment. Nearly two minutes have been cut out of what many fans — perhaps every fan? — considers the most show-stopping moment of every episode. And remember: two more queens walked the runway in the Season 15 episode and the entire segment is two minutes shorter. By comparison, each Season 14 queen got, on average, 26 seconds to stomp the runway. The Season 15 queens got 15 seconds. These queens get nearly half the time to show off looks that they probably spent somewhere between $500 to $1,000 of their own money on — and that’s a conservative estimate.
All of these cuts, small and large, add up to episodes that do the queens a disservice. We see less of them as individuals, we see less of the unlikely bonds that form between unlikely sisters, and we see a lot less of their drag. This might not seem like a big deal on any other reality competition show, but Drag Race fans tend to be incredibly aware of the blood, sweat, and rhinestones that these queens put into getting on this show. Viewers all know that these queens spent a lot of money to compete, and we also know that getting a bad edit on Drag Race can be detrimental to a queen’s career and even mental health. The Season 15 queens aren’t getting enough time to show off their drag and to show off themselves.
The irony is that all of this was — as far as we know — done in service to The Real Friends of WeHo, a reality show built around frivolous and inconsequential “drama” between gay men who are not even real friends. We’re losing out on the authentic queer relationships that Drag Race excels at just so we can watch an Instagram influencer act like a lack of RSVP etiquette is the worst crisis facing the gay community right now. And why? To build a “night” around queer entertainment? VH1 has proven for the last five years that Drag Race is the night. A 90-minute episode followed by RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked. There’s your two-hour block, and that lineup doesn’t need to leave room for Todrick and his WeHo frenemies between Drag Race and Untucked.
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s that we know that the Drag Race editors can essentially re-edit an entire season week-to-week and get an Emmy-winning result. That really seems like the best way out of this whole fiasco, and it’s a route that takes a detour around WeHo. To paraphrase the RuPaul of previous seasons: “Bring back our minutes.”
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