Aquaria vs. Asia O’Hara Is the Battle ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Needs to Have

During the second top six episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 — the one that came after RuPaul chose to save both Eureka and Kameron Michaels from elimination — Asia O’Hara shut Aquaria down. The young New York City queen was furious about the double save, insisting that she always hates non-eliminations, and would prefer they just roll on to the top five. Asia couldn’t understand why Aquaria was taking a positive moment for two of her competitors and making it all about her, and thus called Aquaria out.

That moment was flashed back to during this week’s Untucked, and Aquaria cited it to both her fellow queens and the judges as her lowest moment in the competition. She thanked Asia for calling her out, and all was well. But there’s one criticism Asia lobbed at Aquaria during the argument that hasn’t been brought up since — one that I think the upcoming finale (filming later today in downtown Los Angeles) centers on.

“I feel like your perception of drag is limited to what you have seen on Drag Race,” Asia told Aquaria. The latter quickly insisted that’s not true, and to be frank, it’s a little too broad a generalization. Aquaria is well-known in the New York drag scene; her perception goes beyond Drag Race. But the core truth of it tracks: Aquaria is a child of Drag Race, one whose interest in drag started by watching the show, and still in many ways uses the show to shape her work.

Asia O’Hara’s drag could not be further from Aquaria’s. Though they’re both fashionable queens, their looks come from entirely different aesthetics and reference points. They’re both talented performers, but Aquaria’s skills were honed in New York clubs, while Asia’s Texas roots are evident in her style. The queens even discussed these differences in a deleted scene.

But what really separates the two is their relationship to drag. Asia has, at many points this season, spoken about the importance of sisterly bonds. She helped her competitors finish their garments during the ball episode, but didn’t receive any help back, and criticized them for not helping her. (This moment is also brought up this week, as Asia’s worst moment in the competition. Funny how these small story beats are taking on more resonance now!)

To Asia, drag is collaborative. That’s why she was so shook by Aquaria’s me-first mindset: Aquaria’s competitiveness is so at odds with Asia’s approach. Sure, there are winners of pageants, but those winners are parts of houses (Asia herself is part of the legendary House of O’Hara). That house works collaboratively to advance the whole. And even if one queen wins one pageant, another will win the next. There’s more of a give-and-take.

Put simply, Drag Race is about the individual, while pageant drag is about a collective. Aquaria and Asia represent those opposites at their extremes. They illustrate a theme that’s been looped through the whole season, as my colleague Mathew Rodriguez has pointed out. If things progress as they have been so far, it’s likely we’ll be looking at an Asia/Aquaria showdown in the finals. But said showdown will be about more than just the two of them. It will be a referendum on the show’s direction going forward.

RuPaul’s Drag Race loves this kind of final battle. Sharon Needles won over Chad Michaels in season four, a clear win for Sharon’s self-declared brand of “the future of drag.” Violet Chachki beat Ginger Minj in season seven after branding herself “the past, present, and future of drag.” It’s perhaps the most repetitive theme of the whole series, with Ru almost always choosing the new and exciting over the staid and traditional. In fact, the only time Drag Race clearly chose the past over the future was when New York legend Bianca Del Rio beat out young-and-hungry Adore Delano in season six — and that was likely more about Bianca’s dominance in the season than anything else.

 

Aquaria vs. Asia represents another such battle. Aquaria is the essence of the young, edgy queen, one who learned her trade primarily from the very show on which she competes now. Asia represents what drag has been: houses, pageants, etc. Considering how often Drag Race has chosen the future over the past, it seems obvious that Aquaria will win this showdown.

 

If she does, though, it will send a message to future contestants that knowing drag from Drag Race is more important than having your own experiences. (Which, again, is somewhat unfair to Aquaria, who has had her own journey in NYC. But we’re talking in broad strokes here.) Considering Ru herself came up in the clubs, she might be more inclined to reward someone who represents the by-your-bootstraps way of building your drag. She also clearly respects Asia, so it’s possible she could pull a Bianca-style win.

Whoever does take the crown, though (and I’m almost certain it will be one of them, with apologies to Kameron and Eureka), their win will resonate far beyond the finale. This season has been a formative one for Drag Race, a reboot of sorts that likely saved the franchise from irreparable harm post-All Stars 3. It follows that the ending would affect the very progress of the series from here on out. Is knowing Drag Race the most important thing, or is bringing your own set of ideas and experiences the key?

Come June 28, when the finale airs on VH1, we’ll know what Ru thinks.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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