This story about “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
There’s a lot crammed into each 30-minute episode of “Untucked.” The companion show to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” captures the moments after the contestants learn whether they are safe from elimination or will lip sync for their life (and for the chance to stay another week in the drag queen competition). But “Untucked” also serves as a group therapy session, a place where they can “turn off” their drag and competitive personas and just be themselves, a rare respite in a competition where they must be constantly “on.”
“It is the moment where the queens are no longer their characters,” “Untucked” executive producer Kenneth Leslie said. “They’re with their sisters celebrating, crying, laughing. They’re going through every emotion as a human being, not as a character.”
“It’s a very compressed period of time where there’s a lot of stakes,” added executive producer Mandy Salangsang.
This was exemplified in the fourth episode of Season 15, when the queens engaged in a seemingly ordinary conversation about families. When contestant Anetra was asked if her siblings knew about her drag, she paused before answering, “I don’t know. I don’t speak to my family.”
Her response elicited gasps. Fighting back tears, Anetra explained how she “watched her siblings grow up from afar” after being kicked out of her home when her mom discovered her drag. The discussion then pivoted to “chosen family” —how queer people ostracized from their biological families find another family that supports their sexuality, gender identity and/or expression.
“You have to let those moments live, you have to let them breathe,” Leslie said. “That’s what to me ‘Untucked’ is about. It’s about hearing these human beings and how their lives have gotten them to where they are now.”
While “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been nominated for Outstanding Reality Competition Program for seven years in a row, winning four times, Untucked has its own streak of seven straight noms in the Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program category, with one win. “With ‘Untucked,’ it’s really a documentary,” executive producer Tom Campbell said. “It’s more of a fly-on-the-wall experience… Fly-on-the-wall until they walk away from the wall and we have to run after them.”
One such moment came when contestant Salina EsTitties became dkistre after learning she was likely in the bottom 2. “It hurts,” EsTitties told fellow Los Angeles drag queen and friend Sasha Colby in a private conversation away from the others. “It’s challenging everything I’ve worked so hard for. It’s wild.”
“Just let that go,” Colby reassured EsTitties. “You got this,” she said, calming her down. “You got this.”
In the end, EsTitties did have to lip sync against Amethyst with the latter having to “sashay away.” Filming every eliminated queen packing up her drag and leaving the show serves as closure to each queen’s story arc. “The pack-up, honestly, is one of my favorite parts of the show to put together,” Leslie said.” “It’s a love letter to that queen. From the moment they walk off that stage to the moment they get in that van and drive away, it is a celebration. It’s about hearing their personal journeys while they were here, the journeys that led them to get here and where they’re gonna go from here.”
“It’s my favorite part of the show as well,” Salangsang agreed. “The packing up, the talking, the reading the letters, the saying their goodbyes. It’s cathartic for them. It’s a moment of closure.”
“Untucked” producers strive to show that arc. “There’s still a limited amount of LGBTQ+ programming,” Campbell said. “This half-hour documentary with a bunch of queens sitting around talking about life is a bit of a miracle. I don’t take anything for granted, especially in today’s political climate, where (things) that we take for granted are so controversial. It’s corny, but it’s true. The more you know someone, the harder it is to hate them. Once you know people individually and have formed a relationship, it’s hard to hate them as a group. And I think ‘Untucked,’ in many ways, does a lot of that work.”
Read more from the Comedy/Variety/Reality/Nonfiction issue here.