Cut the Schmaltzy Music: Representations of Disability in Reality Competition Shows (Roundtable)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Women's and Gender Studies

Lindsay Bryde (SUNY Empire State College)

In a post-finale interview, RuPaul's Drag Race season 14 winner, Willow Pill, reflected on her history-making run as the first trans woman and second person with a chronic health condition to win a season of the mothership. "What's important to me is that I'm representing people who are disabled and chronically ill. That's not something we see on television — especially not on reality television, because people who are ill and disabled are amazing, fun, nasty, and catty" (Nolfi). She recognizes how rare an opportunity she was given to represent a community. Pill's diagnosis and history struggling with cystinosis was a major part of her narrative throughout the competition. There were a number of scenes that depicted how Pill struggled to complete challenges without assistance from the production team, and how the other contestants reacted to her efforts to stay in the game. The same can be said of season 11 winner Yvie Oddly (who is returning for All Stars 7) and her experience with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
In reality-competition series, there is a history of competitors being marginalized and/or put at distinct disadvantages to their peers as a result of a disability. As Pill noted, this is a community that can use their experiences to their benefit in competition if casting directors are willing. Yet, will they be allowed to shine, or be forced into a negative/harmful narrative?

This session seeks papers that look at how disability is depicted in reality competition series. Participants will be encouraged to consider the edit that the contestant(s) received and whether accommodations were provided during the competition. How are contestants asked to represent, and educate audiences of, a diverse community that includes those with invisible and/or silent disabilities?

Works Cited
Nolfi, Joey. "RuPaul's Drag Race winner Willow Pill plans to 'get more disgusting and dirty' — and fun," Entertainment Weekly, 2002, Apr. 23. https://ew.com/tv/rupauls-drag-race-season-14-winner-willow-pill-interview/




This session seeks papers that look at how disability is depicted in reality competition series. Participants are encouraged to consider the edit that the contestant(s) received and whether accommodations were provided during the competition. How are contestants asked to represent, and educate audiences of, a diverse community that includes those with invisible and/or silent disabilities?