Santino Rice was one of the original judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race on the first six seasons of the show. Since parting ways with the franchise Rice is now mostly known for his controversial presence on social media…
By Bianca Guzzo
During the first six seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race Santino Rice had a permanent seat on the judging panel, but now he’s become another piece of Drag Race lore. Aside from an appearance as a guest judge in the show’s seventh season, Rice has kept out of the spotlight and the Drag Race cinematic universe for the last eight years. Many fans of the show consider Santino to be integral to the foundations of the franchise, but others will remember him for his divisive critiques of the queens regarding their fashion choices on the main stage. Now that the fifteenth season of the show has wrapped, Rice is nothing but a memory from the first few seasons and sometimes a punchline to a quick joke on the series, so what ever happened to Santino Rice?
After attending fashion school in Los Angeles, Rice worked in film and television before becoming a contestant on the second season of Project Runway where he won a couple of challenges, but overall, produced enough winning looks to finish the competition in third place. He was remembered as being the villain of his season due to his sharp and sometimes harsh delivery. After Project Runway, Rice served as a judge for the Miss Universe pageant in 2006 and continued to design clothing before joining the judging panel on a new show called RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009.
As a judge on Drag Race, Santino’s critiques of the queen’s fashion choices during the runway segment of each episode was just as well received as he was during his time on Project Runway. While some comments on what the queens had chosen to walk the runway in were valid, fans also thought that he would go against the consensus of the other judges just for the hell of it. Rice served as a main judge from the show’s inception through to the end of the sixth season. According to screenrant.com, at that point, the show was becoming less about fashion and more about drag as an art form. Though he could argue at length about fashion and fabrics, he wasn’t as well versed in all things drag. It’s highly speculated that he and the Drag Race family parted ways as new judges ushered in a new era of the series that eventually became the cultural phenomena it currently is, though it’s important to note that the real reason for his departure from the series has never been verified by reps from either Rice or the show.
Tammie Brown, a season one queen, stated contestants got Rice fired after too many harsh critiques on the runway in a Drag Queen Interviews with Matt on YouTube in a February 2023 interview. Referring to all of the season one judges Tammie said “You know…how can you talk to us like this?” She continues, “You have Santino up here saying these rude things to us. Who the hell is he anyways? In fact, we got him fired is what happened” Brown states. She goes on to say that once the queens had started talking amongst themselves about the mistreatment they felt from the judges, Rice began to feel threatened, and three years later he was let go from the series. “It was awful. It was like, how dare you talk to us like this?” she said. In May 2023 on the same YouTube series, season two queen Pandora Boxx called Rice “an asshole” and said his critiques of her looks were mean without any constructive or helpful information. “He was terrible and he made me feel horrible and did not relent. Maybe said a couple of nice things but, yeah I’m glad he’s not a judge anymore.” She stated.
Rice is still living and working in Hollywood, but since his time on Drag Race, the attention he’s gained from fans of the show and the general public haven’t exactly been in his favor. Scrolling through Rice’s Tweets will leave you scratching your head. It’s a mix of his personal takes on health, videos of former U.S President Donald Trump, anti-vaccine rhetoric, and links to controversial media, for example a recent tweet is a link to a Jordan Peterson podcast. It’s a stark contrast from the content we’re used to seeing from others in the Drag Race family. Instead of messages of togetherness and unity, Rice spends the majority of his time online posting about his dislike of President Joe Biden, often critiquing him using buzzwords and phrases popular with the alt-right.
Rice’s final appearance on the show was as a guest judge in season seven. Since then, he’s appeared in an episode of the daytime television talk show The Doctors in 2017 to talk about his controversial 111 day fast. While some supported his endeavor to strengthen his immune system by surviving off of liquids for prolonged periods of time, others argued that it promoted unsafe disordered eating. On the show Rice claimed (on day 109 of his fast) that he had never felt better or more energized. He also stated that his original reasons for starting this diet was an alternative to combat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and celiac disease instead of taking prescribed medications from doctors that he “didn’t want to sign up for”. One of the hosts jokingly suggested that the reason he was having symptom flare-ups prior to the juice fast was because his diet wasn’t as balanced as he claimed it was.
Reddit is filled with fan theories and tea on the former judge, some factual and some speculative. A fan posted a conspiracy theory as a joke in 2019 that season eight queen Acid Betty was actually Rice in drag. Others have started threads on the site discussing whether Rice was the most sensitive judge that has ever been on the Drag Race panel. He is unanimously disliked by fans on the show who find new ways to talk about all of the ways they despise him on social media and at length in forums online. Rice is still fairly active on Twitter despite being temporarily suspended from the site in 2022, he still regularly tweets mostly about his personal health views and distrust of the current American government which really ramped up during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
Since his time on the show, Drag Race has certainly gone through a rebrand (which some fans attribute to a theory that RuPaul likes to shake things up every seven years or so). He’s long been replaced by judges Ross Matthews and Carson Kressley, who provide the current queens with valid critiques that are also constructive and uplifting. Whether you love him, or love to hate him, Santino Rice will forever be intertwined with the humble beginnings of the Drag Race franchise and for his professional critiques and spats with the first queens that ultimately made the show what it is today.