Reality TV Lessons Week: What RuPaul’s Drag Race Can Teach Us About Evaluation by Rhodri Dierst-Davies

Hi, my name is Rhodri Dierst-Davies and I am a senior manager with Deloitte Consulting. As a leader in our Program Evaluation Center of Excellence we help our clients solve their most challenging problems. 

I have been a fan of Ru Paul’s Drag Race show since it began back in 2009. For those who may not know about it, the show is a mixture of Survivor and a Miss America competition for drag queens. Each week contestants (“queens”) compete in a series of pagent-like challenges culminating in a final, judged runway competition where outfits are based on a chosen theme. In addition to a weekly winner being crowned, the bottom two queens must, as the host RuPaul says, “lip sync for your life,” and then told, “…and remember, don’t f%&k it up,” with the loser being sent home. The overall goal is to be crowned, “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” 

Creativity Within Limits

Besides having some of the best catchphrases I’ve ever heard on TV, the show is surprisingly formulaic in approach. This reminds me of one of the most fundamental lessons in the field of evaluation, or any other research endeavor: know the rules of the road first, and THEN get creative. 

Contestants who understand the fundamentals of the challenges and listen to judges’ critiques alway do better week over week. These queens understand that you can be creative while also addressing the fundamentals of what is expected. As evaluators we are constantly thinking up creative ways of addressing monitoring, data collection, and measurement issues. Oftentimes  these goals must be balanced by requirements from our clients and contracts which can seem limiting. In my experience the best evaluators are the ones that find the balance between creativity in execution while still being semi-forumalic in approach. 

Be Prepared for what you know is coming

Another lesson of the show: never forget to be prepared for what you know is coming. Every season there are challenges where contestants must sew, a fact that has not changed since the shows inception. Despite this, some queens arrive in the dressing room not having this fundamental skill, and it always ends badly for them (watch LaLa Ri lip sync for her life after hot gluing gift bags to a corset). 

This is no different in the field of evaluation, where failing to do pre-planning leads to chaos, miscommunications, and poor outcomes. Evaluators should always expect to understand the project scope and stated needs so we can better identify theoretical frameworks/theories that are most relevant to the work and bring the critical skills to the table on day one.

Hot Tips:

  • Being creative within the limits is challenging but rewarding. 
  • Preparing for what’s coming is key to success.

Rad Resources:

This week, AEA365 is hosting Reality TV Lessons Week where contributing authors share lessons learned from their guilty pleasure favorite TV shows. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

4 thoughts on “Reality TV Lessons Week: What RuPaul’s Drag Race Can Teach Us About Evaluation by Rhodri Dierst-Davies”

  1. Jesseca Thomas

    Hello, I really enjoyed reading your blog. The way you compared the show to evaluation was spot on. Being prepared for what you know is coming is very important. I always wonder do people watch the show for a while before they go on there to compete because I feel like you should already know what is expected of you. Although it may make the competition easier, as least you can be prepare for what is to come. Being able to take criticism to better yourself is always important. Great post!

  2. Catalina R Devarona

    Hello Rhodi,
    I love how you connected Rupaul’s drag race to program evaluation. I have watched the show in its entirety, and I agree coming in without sewing skills never goes well for the queen. As a college student just being introduced to the concept of program evaluation, your post has made me better understand the evaluator’s position in the job field. I imagine trying to work within the parameters of an evaluation and still use creativity is difficult but can be done with the right mindset and experience. Thank you for your post. It certainly has helped me connect the dots for certain aspects of my class.

  3. Hello! Rhodri, I too have watched the show before and I find it odd as well that almost all contestants who come on the show have watched before so should know of certain events that always happen such as the sewing part yet people still come on the show not knowing how to. I feel that they knew and had plenty of time to prepare so when they have melt downs on the show I don’t feel sympathy for them. I love that the limits and rules are upfront, but the creativity can always make you stand out and can help you pick up in areas that you may slack in. I feel that people in the show still come unprepared to sometimes act a part to get the underdog sympathy card. This show also shows that one thing can change your life forever.

  4. Here’s another resource: The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey (son of Stephen R. Covey). My copy has post-its, highlighting, and writing in the margins throughout. I purchased it in 2009 during an initially challenging project where the federal client wanted to check everything, significantly slowing down their timeline. We realized that the issue was trust and this book helped tremendously. The four core principles (integrity, intent, capabilities, and results) matter in all interactions.

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