Half the fun of watching a competition series like RuPaul’s Drag Race is passionately disagreeing with the judges. Whether you think Michelle Visage’s critiques are too nit-picky, RuPaul plays favorites too much, or Ross Mathews and Carson Kressley’s one-liners have overstayed their welcome, every Drag Race fan thinks they’re their opinion is the right one. While that’s obviously not always true, there are several points that most of the fandom can agree to disagree with the judges on. You can see many eliminations coming from a mile away, but there are a handful that truly sent shockwaves throughout the fandom — these are the most controversial Drag Race eliminations ever.
Before we dive in, some ground rules on how we’ll be defining a “controversial elimination.” The franchise has given us several different types of gaggy sashay away moments, from unexpected crash-and-burns in the lip sync, to an incorrect lip sync winner being chosen, to the wrong queen ending up in the bottom two. Heck, even crowning an unexpected winner can be considered a controversial elimination. Since all these instances fall under the “controversial eliminations” umbrella, they will all be considered in this list.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s hit the main stage and look back at the eliminations that had every Drag Race fan gagging.
23. Shea Couleé (Drag Race Season 9)
There’s no question Shea lost her lip sync against Sasha Velour in the Season 9 finale — Sasha’s lip sync is considered one of the show’s best ever, for heaven’s sake! — but her elimination was still controversial since she was the season’s clear frontrunner and heavily predicted to take the crown. By the time the finale rolled around, Shea had handily won the most challenges throughout the season, and probably would have been the crowned queen if it wasn’t for the newly introduced lip sync smackdown twist. Luckily, Shea got her rightful crown three years later by winning All Stars 5.
22. Charity Kase (Drag Race UK Season 3)
Drag Race fans were elated to learn Charity Kase was cast on Season 3 of Drag Race UK, only for the fan-fave to be eliminated much earlier than expected. Charity brought an alternative, horror-inspired drag that felt refreshing, since it is so rarely featured on Drag Race, which is part of why her elimination in week five was so disappointing. Pretty much everyone sucked in the Draglexa acting challenge, so it was a bit off when Charity was singled out to be in the bottom against Scarlett Harlett. Plus, many viewers thought Charity already beat Scarlett in the lip sync a week earlier — even her fellow contestants noted that it looked like Scarlett was throwing in the towel (literally) during the performance — but Ru decided to make it a double shantay.
21. Ginny Lemon (Drag Race UK Season 2)
A kooky standout, Ginny Lemon was an immediate fan favorite on UK Season 2 and made her mark as one of the few queens to self-eliminate. Thrown into the bottom with Sister Sister after the daytime talk show acting challenge, Ginny simply walked off the stage as "You Keep Me Hangin' On" started playing. The moment was truly shocking, and split the fandom as some argued she would have made it further if she tried while others respected the punk move.
20. Asia O’Hara (Drag Race Season 10)
A true all-around talent who could sew, dance, and keep the whole room laughing, Asia O’Hara was poised to win it all in Season 10. Although Aquaria put up an incredible fight, Asia was the favorite to win the season until tragedy struck in the finale. The Texas queen had planned a stunt that would have been truly gag-worthy, but when she opened the receptacles in her bracelets and dress, the butterflies she hid fell to the ground rather than fly out in a spectacular fashion. The blunder cost her the lip sync to Kameron Michaels, leaving her with a totally unexpected fourth-place finish.
19. Alyssa Edwards (All Stars 2)
Alyssa Edwards is probably the number one fan-favorite queen of the whole Drag Race franchise, so of course her elimination is going to rile people up. Her elimination in Season 5 felt fair enough, but All Stars 2 was a different story. The new elimination twist meant she couldn’t lip sync for her life (which is what she does best) to save herself when in the bottom, and although her first elimination after the acting challenge made sense, after she fought her way back into the game, Detox shocked everyone by sending Alyssa packing instead of her bestie Roxxxy Andrews. Since Roxxxy had an infamously rocky run on All Stars 2, winding up in the bottom nearly every single week, fans were upset Detox saved her instead of Alyssa.
18. Bimini Bon Boulash (Drag Race UK Season 2)
This is not to take away from Lawrence Chaney’s well deserved crown, but it’s impossible to ignore the Bimini fever that swept over the whole Drag Race fandom in 2021. Bimini didn’t stand out much in the first half of the season, but after returning from the midseason lockdown break, she dominated. Not only did she win nearly every single challenge leading up to the finale, but her infectious “UK Hun?” lyrics and nonstop high-fashion looks seemed to make her a lock for the crown. So when Ru announced Lawrence as the season’s winner, Bimini-hive was pretty shocked.
17. Pandora Boxx (All Stars 1)
As Latrice Royale once famously said, “We don't talk about All Stars 1 because that was a shoddy situation.” Well, sorry Latrice, but I’ve got to bring up the cursed Drag Race season, because nobody had a more unfair elimination than Pandora Boxx. The widely despised teams twist shackled Pandora to the queen nobody wanted to partner up with: Mimi Imfurst. Naturally, Mimi completely dominated the supposed partnership, with a clearly disheartened Pandora feebly going along for the ride. At least it was a mercifully short ride, as Pandora and Mimi were eliminated right away, without Pandora really getting to showcase anything at all.
16. Dovima Nurmi (Drag Race España Season 1)
Dovima has the honor of delivering not one, but two of the most uniquely bizarre lip syncs of all time. The fashion queen lip synced solo after Inti quit the show, and the next time she landed in the bottom, Dovima stood stone-faced throughout the entire song, refusing to even budge. While Dovima wasn’t doing particularly well in the competition, she had proven she could lip sync and definitely had potential to go further had she not thrown the lip sync for her friend Sagittaria.
15. A’Keria C. Davenport (All Stars 6)
A’Keria slayed Season 11, so when she returned for All Stars 6, she was an even fiercer contender for the crown. The pageant queen had majorly stepped up her wardrobe, delivering some of the most sickening looks to ever hit the runway. However, the judges seemed particularly harsh on her, putting her in the bottom for what was actually a pretty great Prince impression and not giving her the win for her emotional and open “Pink Table Talk” conversation. She was eliminated due to the American Horror Story-inspired acting challenge, which honestly sucked for everyone, but the real shocker was that she declined to return for a shot at reentering the competition in the Lip Sync Rudemption Smackdown.
14. BenDeLaCreme (All Stars 3)
It’s perhaps the most unforgettable Drag Race elimination ever, and for good reason. BenDeLaCreme surprised not only fans, but RuPaul herself when she pulled out a lipstick with her own name scrawled on it after absolutely dominating the competition in All Stars 3. Having been in the top almost every week up to that point, Ben was the clear frontrunner to take the crown, but instead chose to give the other queens a shot. If only she never found that fateful Wite-Out in the Werk Room, All Stars 3 would have ended very differently.
13. Miss Gimhuay (Drag Race Thailand Season 2)
Drag Race Thailand Season 2 was a rollercoaster, and Miss Gimhuay’s disqualification was one of the first unexpected turns. Gimhuay had been consistently performing well in challenges and runways, up until Mocha Diva chose to bring her down along with her when she was eliminated. On Mocha’s way out, she told the judges Gimhuay broke the competition’s rules by using materials she had not brought with her to craft her winning runway look from the previous week. The dramatic reveal split the cast and judges, but finally they conceded that Gimhuay had to be disqualified.
12. Keta Minaj (Drag Race Holland Season 2)
The first season of Drag Race Holland crowned a clear winner who absolutely smashed all the challenges, but that wasn’t true in Season 2. Keta Minaj was the definite frontrunner with three challenge wins and no bottom placements up until the Top 4, so it was a total shock when she was eliminated. What made it even more shocking was who sent her home. Vivaldi had left a mark on the runway, but once it was revealed she snuck a phone into the competition against the show’s rules, many fans as well as her fellow contestants said she should have been eliminated. Strangely, host Fred let her off with a slap on the wrist, and the very next episode, Fred chose to eliminate Keta instead of her.
11. Ivy-Elyse (Drag Race Holland Season 2)
Ivy-Elyse’s elimination was just as controversial as Keta Minaj’s, but for an entirely different reason. Ivy actually had a terrible track record going into her lip sync with The Countess, but there was absolutely no doubt that she slayed “Free Your Mind” by En Vogue, while The Countess gave one of the most lackluster performances in the franchise’s history, merely walking around the stage without emoting or dancing at all. Even Fred had to admit Ivy was only being eliminated for her track record, which angered most fans since it devalued what the Lip Sync For Your Life is supposed to stand for.
10. Valentina (Drag Race Season 9)
Valentina was an early favorite to win Season 9, but it all came crashing down when she uttered seven gasp-inducing words to RuPaul: “I’d like to keep it on, please.” For the first time ever, Ru had to stop a lip sync due to Valentina inexplicably wear a face mask during her performance. When Ru refused Valentina’s request to complete the mask on, it became clear Valentina didn’t know the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy,” and the fan-favorite queen was sent packing much earlier than expected.
9. Max (Drag Race Season 7)
Max is an interesting case in this topic. She definitely bombed the Snatch Game and lost her lip sync to Jaidynn Diore Fierce, but the show’s overall mistreatment of her still has fans upset about her exit. For one thing, many fans feel Miss Fame should have been in the bottom instead of Jaidynn, which would have given Max a much better chance at surviving. Plus, in terms of track record, Max was on top at that point as the only queen with two wins, while Jaidynn (and Fame) had only had safes. The real controversy was Max’s edit — she revealed in a post-show interview her seemingly random singing on the runway floor was something Ru suggested she to do to take her mind off the pain of her corset. Michelle’s insistence that Max change her signature gray hair also left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
8. Farida Kant (Drag Race Italia Season 1)
Going into the first Drag Race Italia finale, it felt like a done deal that Farida Kant would be walking away with the crown. She had easily dominated the competition as the only queen with two wins, and had no bottom placements on top of that. That’s why it was a surprise when Elecktra Bionic won instead of her. No queen in Drag Race history had ever won with no challenge wins before Elecktra, so to say it was a gag would be an understatement.
7. Willam (Drag Race Season 4)
Season 4 was the season of drama, and nothing left fans more shocked and confused than Willam’s disqualification. The show kept the reason for Ru telling Willam she had broken the competition rules very vague, and although they teased to reveal the truth in the reunion, that never happened. Willam has since clarified that he had multiple issues with production and felt the need to stand up for herself and her fellow queens behind the scenes. But the sudden exit remains one of the show’s biggest surprises, especially since it happened on an episode in which Willam won the main challenge.
6. Jimbo (UK vs the World)
In terms of unexpected eliminations, Drag Race’s first international All Stars season is the king. After her stellar run on Canada’s Drag Race, Jimbo stepped it up even more in UK vs the World, decidedly winning the first two challenges and turning jaw-dropping runway looks. However, it only takes one stumble to lose it all, and that’s what happened when Pangina Heals chose to send Jimbo home over the slightly worse-performing Janey Jacké.
5. Ongina (Drag Race Season 1)
Let’s take it all the way back for what it probably the show’s first elimination to cause a real stir in the fandom. Ongina had the best track record in the game up until her elimination, and also delivered one of the most emotional early-Drag Race moments when she revealed her HIV status on the runway. Even Ru had a difficult time with her elimination at the hands of the eventual winner Bebe Zahara Benet, needing to walk away from the judges panel to contemplate after the lip sync. Adding to the fandom’s confusion, viewers saw Ongina making it to the end over Top 3 finalist Rebecca Glasscock, who was generally perceived as an underwhelming contestant.
4. Tormai (Drag Race Thailand Season 2)
Drag Race Thailand is known for doing things unlike any other iteration of the show, and that was never more evident than in Tormai’s elimination in Season 2. For the first time ever, a main challenge winner was sent home due to her lackluster runway look. Tormai should have rightfully felt totally safe after the judges announced she won Snatch Game, but Art Arya and Pangina Heals shocked everyone but putting her in the bottom because they disliked her runway. This was pretty major for Drag Race, considering the show is often accused of not even caring about runways anymore and focusing solely on challenge performance for placements.
3. Manila Luzon (All Stars 4)
You knew this one was coming. Many Drag Race fans consider Manila Luzon’s elimination in All Stars 4 to be one of the most notable robberies of the franchise. The fan-favorite fashion queen from Season 3 finally returned years later to prove she’s still a force to be reckoned with. However, with All Stars rules in full effect, it wasn’t up to Ru to save or eliminate her, but her fellow queens. When Naomi Smalls had to opportunity to get rid of her competition, she took it, kicking Manila out before uttering her now infamous line, “Life’s not fair.”
2. Pangina Heals (UK vs the World)
Jimbo’s elimination in UK vs the World may have come as a surprise, but Pangina Heals’ exit was straight-up devastation. There was no denying Pangina was ahead of everyone else in the game, which was especially uplifting considering she was representing Drag Race Thailand, which is unjustly not given the same mainstream attention as Drag Race’s English-speaking spinoffs. But All Stars seasons are especially cutthroat, so when Pangina finally wound up in the bottom for the first time after Snatch Game, Blu Hydrangea secured the crown for herself by sending her biggest competition home. The tragedy of the moment was heightened by Pangina’s tearful wails still being heard after she left the runway.
1. Shangela (All Stars 3)
There was no other choice for the number one spot. After BenDelaCreme self-evicted, Shangela seemed to have the clear claim on the All Stars 3 crown... until one of the most controversial finale twists ever reared its ugly head. Instead of Ru choosing the winner as she always had, this season ended in the eliminated queens casting votes for the Top 2. Apparently, Shangela didn’t have a lot of fans among her fellow contestants, so despite having the best track record in the game, she was shut out of the Top 2 and lost out on the crown for a third time.