Why Can’t ‘Drag Race’ Fit Inside an Hour Time Frame?

The announcement of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s upcoming 10th season brought up a lot of questions. Who would be the tenth queen? Who would win? Why isn’t there a break between the end of All Stars 3 and Drag Race season 10?

But, there’s at least one question that reality television lovers might have had when they peeped that each episode of season 10 will be 90 minutes long: Why the change?

Sure, 90 minutes of Drag Race sounds like a godsend. But, whether or not you think it’s a great deal or too much of a good thing, the reality is that Drag Race is a competition reality show like any other that has a story to tell. Theoretically, it should be able to tell that story in hourly installments.

For those who watch Drag Race, they know that the way the show structures each episode has changed dramatically since the show’s earlier season. In season nine, the show largely did away with “mini challenges” at the beginning of the episode, even as they continued to call the show’s main competitions “maxi challenges.” Why is Drag Race unable to do in one hour what so many other shows are able to?

To figure out where there might be some time to cut or re-edit, we took a look at two similar episodes from other shows that follow a similar reality competition format: America’s Next Top Model and Top Chef. We compared those episodes to an episode of Drag Race’s most recent season. For the comparisons, we chose episodes that: have seven contestants (and thus seven narratives to juggle), as well as an episode from the same season: season nine. For good measure, we also included an episode (with seven contestants!) from Drag Race season six, for an earlier perspective on the show.

Here’s each episode’s breakdown:

Note: Times might jump around a bit due to commercial breaks, “previously on” segments, etc.

Top Chef, Season 9 Episode 11, “Fit for an Evil Queen,” 43 minutes total

1:12 3:28: Contestants discuss last week’s elimination, wrapping up loose ends from the previous episode.

3:28 14:15: Quickfire Challenge. Teams must prepare meals for guest judge Eric Ripert. Each team is assigned a dish with three specific ingredients, which are put on a fast-moving conveyor belt and disappear for a time, making the challenge harder.

14:15 31:50: Elimination Challenge. In this Top Chef episode, Charlize Theron stops by on her promotional tour for Snow White and the Huntsman and, in line with the movie’s dark take on the Snow White mythology, challenges the chefs to make a “gothic feast.” While the show dedicates a full 16 minutes to its main challenge, that includes a bunch of smaller beats, including shopping for the ingredients at Whole Foods, some discussion among themselves at home preparing for the next day, and an emotional phone call home. The 16 minutes also includes the cooking and presentation of the dishes to judges.

32:06 32:40: Remember when Bravo would do those weird, meaningless 30-second clips so they could get more commercials during the show? This was that. The chefs tried to form a band using kitchen-based instruments.

32:43 36:24: Judges critique all seven contestants.

36:24 39:52: Judges choose the bottom three and offer extra critique to these individuals. Also includes some backstage moments with safe contestants.

39:52 41:03: Judges deliberation.

41:03 42:30: Elimination.

42:30 43:14: Eliminated contestant, Beverly, gets to speak about her elimination.

Overall, Top Chef spends about two minutes on setup, 11 minutes on the mini “quickfire” challenge, 17.5 minutes on the elimination challenge, 30 seconds on a meaningless clip, three-and-a-half minutes on judges’ critiques, three-and-a-half minutes on bottom three critiques, one minute deliberating, one-and-a-half minutes eliminating the contestant, and less than a minute on contestants’ goodbyes.

America’s Next Top Model, Season 9 Episode 9, “The Girl Who Starts to Lose Her Cool,” 42 minutes

1:20 2:40: Contestants discuss last week’s elimination, loose ends, etc.

2:40 15:05: Mini challenge. In the mini challenge, the girls meet up with fashion design students and each one gets to be a student’s “muse.” Each designer crafts each model a dress based on the same pale blue frock. The dress is supposed to be a mixture of the designer and models’ personalities. The challenge is a two-day challenge and the almost 13 minutes dedicated to the mini challenge include time back at the models’ house, where Bianca talks shit on Heather, who is living with Asperger’s.

15:05 16:20: After Saleisha wins the challenge, she gets to go on her reward photoshoot and brings Lisa and Bianca. While they get their pictures taken, other girls react to the loss. (A really tight minute-and-15-seconds!)

16:20 19:01: Back at the house drama! Heather is annoyed because she called shower privileges when they got home from the fashion show and Lisa and Saleisha take the shower first.

19:01 25:02: The photo shoot. Each of the girls takes a photo by a car that is on fire in the desert. Sounds nice and cold.

25:02 27:01: The girls have drama again.

27:01 34:40: The judges look at the girls’ pictures and offer critiques. This particular judging is when Tyra tells the girls they’re going to China. A Chinese dragon, which Tyra calls a lion, delivers the news.

34:44 37:14: Judges deliberate,

37:14 38:53: Tyra does the ceremonial picture portion of the show. Bianca gets top photo.

38:53 40:52: Tyra does the “bottom two” speeches and sends Ambreal home.

40:52 41:30: Ambreal’s exit moment and she disappears from the photo.

Overall, ANTM spends just over a minute on setup, 12.5 minutes on a mini challenge, one minute on post-challenge reward, two-and-a-half minutes solely on drama, six minutes on the photo shoot, another solid two minutes of interpersonal drama, seven-and-a-half minutes on judges’ critiques, two-and-a-half minutes on judges’ deliberation, one-and-a-half minutes on calling out the girls in order, two minutes on the bottom two speeches and sending a girl home, and less than a minute on her goodbye.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 6 Episode 9, “Queens of Talk,” 41 minutes

00:47 2:26: The queens discuss Laganja Estranja’s exit and Joslyn Fox.

2:52 7:07: “Hungman” Mini Challenge.

7:07 15:34: The queens learn about their main challenge from RuPaul. Then, they begin to prepare to host their talk show. RuPaul visits each of them in the workroom as they prepare.

15:55 23:25: The girls record their talk shows with Chaz Bono and Georgia Holt.

23:40 27:30: Ru introduces the runway and the girls show their animal-themed couture.

27:30 31:53: Judges critiques,

31:53 35:15: The judges deliberate.

35:15 39:30: RuPaul announces the tops and bottoms of the week. Ru introduces the lip sync and Adore Delano and Trinity K. Bonet lip sync to Paula Abdul’s “Vibeology.”

39:30 40:53: Trinity K. Bonet is eliminated and gives her farewell. The girls dance.

Overall, Drag Race season six spent one-and-a-half minutes on setup, four minutes on a mini challenge, eight-and-a-half minutes prepping for the main challenge, seven-and-a-half minutes recording their talk shows, just under four minutes on the runway, four minutes of judges’ critiques, three-and-a-half minutes of deliberation, two minutes announcing placements, two-and-a-half minutes of lip syncing, and one minute sending off the eliminated contestant.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 9 Episode 7, “Your Pilot’s on Fire!” 41 minutes

1:02 3:01: Contestants discuss Farrah Moan’s elimination; Nina Bo’Nina Brown has some drama.

3:24 5:40: Some more minor drama and Ru tells the contestants about the “Maxi” challenge, which will be about them making TV pilots.

5:40 9:36: The girls prepare their pilot ideas and then apply makeup for the challenge.

9:36 16:04: The girls shoot their pilots.

16:04 18:59: The girls prepare for the club kid runway.

18:59 23:04: RuPaul welcomes us to the drag race stage and introduces the week’s guest judges, Lisa Robertson and Noah Galvin. The girls walk the runway!

23:15 28:05: Watching the pilots.

28:22 33:23: The judges’ critiques.

33:23 35:10: The judges deliberate.

35:10 39:56: RuPaul names the bottom two, Nina Bo’Nina Brown and Valentina. They lip sync for their lives. This lip sync is a little longer because, infamously, RuPaul must reset the lip sync because Valentina wears a mask to hide the fact that she didn’t learn the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy.”

39:56 40:46: Valentina’s goodbye.

Overall, Drag Race season 9 spent two minutes on setup, two minutes on drama and setting up the maxi challenge, four minutes prepping for their pilots, six-and-a-half minutes shooting their pilots, three minutes prepping for the runway, four minutes on the runway, five minutes watching the pilots, five minutes on judges’ critique, two minutes on judges’ deliberation, four-and-a-half minutes on calling out order and the lip sync, and one minute on Valentina’s goodbye.

Sure, each show has parts that are unique to each brand. Top Model would not exist without Tyra’s calling out ceremony and dramatic bottom two speeches, while Drag Race always leads up to a lip sync. But, when you break down how each show uses its time, they each have roughly the same amount of minutes except Top Chef, which is about three precious minutes longer than Top Model or Drag Race to accomplish the same task. They all have to send someone home.

It’s interesting that Drag Race has eliminated mini challenges when they were such an ingrained part of the formula, but when stacked up against mini challenges in Top Model and Top Chef, were comparatively paltry. The others spent between 11 and 12 minutes on the mini challenge, while Drag Race only used 4. Top Model seems to make the most of its hour. Aside from sending someone home, the show is able to devote a full 5 minutes of screen time solely to house drama and another minute to showing someone getting their challenge reward.

So, where did Drag Race lose time for a mini challenge? And why does it need an extra half hour?

In season six, the girls did not have screen time between the challenge and the runway. In season nine, the show devoted three minutes (7.5% of the total show) to prepping for the runway in between their pilots and the runway. Given the nature of this particular episode, Drag Race needed time to air the pilots, which took up a full give minutes of viewers’ time.

It will be interesting to see how Drag Race uses its extra 30 minutes, as it seems like right now, the show only needs one of two things: about five more minutes, or some tighter editing. Of course, expanding the show and airing Untucked after is definitely a much more lucrative move, with more commercial airtime up for grabs.


Mathew Rodriguez

Mathew is a staff writer at INTO. His work has appeared in Mic, Slate and Complex. He loves "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Flannery O'Connor and female rappers and is working on a memoir.

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