We need to talk about Vanjie. Specifically, we need to talk about what Drag Race’s accelerated milking of a meme for every last drop its worth says about this season’s competition as a whole. When Vanessa Vanjie Mateo became the first eliminated queen, she claimed a few extra seconds on stage before asserting her worth in the only way she knew how: by dropping her own name thrice with the wounded delicacy of a Tennessee Williams heroine—“Miss Vanjie…Miss Vanjie…Miss…Vanjie…”—before then retreating backward up the runway while glaring directly at the judge’s table.
The moment was fierce and doleful—a fertile field for camp deification. The space Vanjie cleared around herself in that moment was instantly recognized by RuPaul and the producers; a behind-the-scenes clip showing Michelle Visage bringing Ru to tears by merely invoking Vanjie’s name was included right off the top of the second episode. And from that point on, the ghost of Vanjie never truly left the show. From the workroom to the judges’ critiques to deliberations to Untucked, echoes of “Vanjie” have never been few and far between, like some gay offshoot of the game Marco Polo.