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Nina West on strategy, cliques, and being underestimated by her All Stars sisters

Nina West on strategy, cliques, and being underestimated by her 'All Stars' sisters

Nina West
Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for MTV

Sleep on Nina at your own risk! This queen knows exactly what she’s doing.

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Nina West is one of the most beloved queens to have walked into the Drag RaceWerk Room, first on season 11 and returning in All Stars 9, and we couldn’t be more delighted to have her back in our living rooms.

Not that she hasn’t kept very busy in the interim, including putting out a children’s book The You Kind of Kind, her continued activism, and, of course, wrapping up a national tour of Hairspray.

This season, she’s brought her patented brand of camp, joy, and political messages and has proven to be one to watch in the competition. PRIDE sat down with Nina to talk about her strategy, her close relationship with her castmates, what she hopes her community and our allies are focused on this month — and so much more.

Nina West

Courtesy of Paramount+

PRIDE: I want to start with congratulations on being a part of an amazing cast for season nine. As a fellow Disney adult, I have always felt a kinship with you. So, I have been like getting my life seeing you back on my TV.

NINA WEST: I’m not going to give away any spoilers but there have been a lot of winks to Disney in some of the stuff that I’ve done and there’s a lot more to come. There’s a lot of easter eggs I was intentional with, for my Disney people, because we all speak a language that other people just don’t get, you know what I mean? Like finding all of that hidden stuff in scenes when you pause it or like, ‘Oh my is that Elsa’s [parents] in Tarzan?’

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I know exactly what you mean. I’m so ready to go down a Disney conspiracy theory spiral with you! But OK, so let’s start with something that I love about the show, which is of course the wonderful friendships and sisterhoods we see forming in the Werk Room. Who were you most excited to get to know better this season?

Roxxxy and I have been friends for years, I’ve known Roxxxy since forever. I knew Roxxxy’s drag mother. We grew up gay together in a way, in the pageant world, Roxxxy did Continental Plus I did Entertainer of the Year, and we just circled around each other a lot. She came to Columbus a lot to perform. I’ve been to Orlando a lot to perform, so I felt immediately safe.

When you go back into that environment, it’s very, it’s just a different thing. Some people are really good for reality TV, and I think I’m one of those people, but ... I’m really sensitive. Everything can be overwhelming and so, seeing Roxxxy was kind of like, ‘Oh, there’s my security blanket. Okay, I’m good. We can do this.’ But then Vanjie and I became very, very good friends on season 11. We have a bond that I don’t have with anybody else in my life. I can’t explain it. But Vanj, she’s a ride-or-die for me. I can’t tell you how many times [Vanjie] has been there for me as a friend. So, when I walked into the [Werk Room] and saw Vanjie, I felt comfort.

We’ve called it RuPaul’s Best Friend Race a lot ... but it’s kind of true. Whether or not we all got along all the time, I think we all really respected each other. At the core, that was I think informing everything else, even the competition

Nina West

Courtesy of Paramount+

I think we’ve seen that but also in this episode, we’re seeing strategy and ‘cliques’ coming to the fore a bit more, even with you giving Roxxxy a badge.

What’s crazy is Gottmik texted me [after] the preview for the next week for episode four and she goes, ‘Why don’t we give them to each other?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know!’

That’s what I said! I was like criss-cross!

When it came to making the decision — what I love about this season — it also made me a nervous wreck was how much gameplay there is. You’ve got the Ruby Snipper, you’ve got the badges, you’ve got badges that you give away. When we were filming, we could do all these things and I think we all got in our own way of like, ‘Oh my gosh, they could do this thing. They could do this with the badges. What if this happened?’ We were all thinking about complexities and how they could make the game even bigger. So, I was trying to be really focused in the moment of how can I play like I’m on Survivor. How can I give strategy and make this more of a reality competition show than we’re used to?

Some of the fans are gonna hate it ... but at the end of the day, it’s just gameplay, these aren’t like moral referendums on our characters. Because we’re all there for charity. We’re all there to do the work of raising awareness for these incredible organizations. And that’s what brought me back into the Werk Room. It’s what brought Shannel back into the Werk Room. We all came because we had an opportunity to play for charities that meant something to us.

Nina West

Courtesy of Paramount+

Speaking of strategy, the word of the week was ‘cliques.’ Now you made it VERY clear that you were not involved in any alliances. But what’s the real tea?

Everyone’s like, ‘There’s no cliques. There’s no cliques. There’s no cliques.’ My best friend watched the episode, and she said, ‘Girl, there are cliques!’ I was like, ‘I know.’ I mean, it’s like everyone’s paired off.

It’s interesting with eight people how that just organically happened. We all very much love and respect one another. Vanjie is close with Mik, Plastique and Rox, me and Shannel, Jorge and Ang. I think it naturally felt that way. And I don’t know if those are cliques or just friendships. So it’s who we were gravitating towards, in the moment. And who we’re sitting next to plays a huge part in all of this too... even something as small as that informs a lot of the competition.

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Nina West

Courtesy of Paramount+

I agree that the social game is such a big part of it — and whatever you’re doing appears to be working, because at least at this point, we have not seen you get the chop. So what do you think about that — and that Jorgeous made it very clear that you are her number one target?

I was like, ‘I can’t believe Jorgeous thinks I’m a threat,’ which I thought was adorable. But she was right. None of us thought that the Snatch Game was going to be as early as it was. So I think that’s what allowed me to not be snipped. We hadn’t had an acting challenge up to this point, so everyone thought an acting challenge was happening, but not Snatch Game. So I think that’s what ultimately saved me.

I actually think you are a threat in pretty much all of the challenges. Do you feel like your sisters are sleeping on you?

Did you see what I sewed?

Well, ok. But for instance, in the girl group challenge you showed up you showed out and I think that they’re sleeping on your multi-hyphenate talent on that one.

Thank you for that. It’s nice to hear that because I’m like, I wonder how that’s gonna look. [Laughs]

Nina West

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for MTV

I think you were great. You sang and sounded incredible. Your lyrics were amazing. And there was a moment in the Werk Room where you were like, ‘Do you guys not think that I’m a contender?’ and they were quiet and I was like, ‘Y’all are sleeping on the competition here. Do you not know what she has been doing in the interim?’

In general camp drag is not taken as seriously — even in this competition. So, I think people are like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever, but this is like a dancing girl group challenge. We’re gonna be hot, we’re gonna be fierce. And that’s a big dude over there.’ Which is yes, yes, yes, and yes. But big dudes can be sexy in drag, too, okay?

One of the things that I recognize that comes with me being on the show is that I feel like I have a responsibility to the big male presenting dudes who do drag are so many people around this country, and around the world who are these old school queens. I’m just representing them, you know, big girls representing for the big girl, representing for the tall girl. Who [some people are] like, ‘Oh, but that’s just not my kind of feminine drag queen.’ Well, I mean, femininity is on a spectrum. What drag does is celebrates all of the wonderful, beautiful, fabulousness of what it is to be female and male and, and queer.

It was like my crutch, I was so insecure with it for so long. Even in this moment I’m recognizing, like, ‘Oh, wait, but that’s one of the things that I do well, is just being me and I’m a big dude, I’m happy with that.’ I like dressing up and I like performing as Nina. So, I think they’re sleeping on me, long story short.

Nina West

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for MTV

I love that, and I think that’s your power, that joy just radiates out of you no matter what the challenge is. So, it’s Pride Month, what do you want to see from our community and from the allies right now?

From our allies, I want them to understand how vitally important it is that we remember how important it is that we have this ability to celebrate Pride, and for them to show up and be there for us. To learn by watching and participating and standing with us. Also, our allies, specifically showing up to vote in November. And that’s not just for the presidential election, that starts with local elections and works all the way up to the federal level. That’s the conversation that I want allies to hear.

Pride is this time to remind ourselves of how vital and important and beautiful and incredible and wonderful we are as a community, but we’ve got to stand by one another. We’ve got to speak for one another. There’s a drag artist in Salt Lake City, Utah, who does drag queen story hours Her name is Tara Lipsyncki. She is someone who has been under attack for doing drag story hours in Salt Lake to the point where she and her husband have to sell their home.

So that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. We need to make sure that these people who are doing this really difficult work on the front lines are being protected and defended, and we’re speaking their names and using our voices. In other ways, too — to the Black and Brown trans women who are being murdered. Where are these talking points? Why aren’t we talking about these things? And why aren’t we encouraging our legislators to say that these are vital issues that are important to us? My children and my community matter just as much as yours to my LGBTQI+ friends who have kids, their rights matter just as much as my cisgender parents’ rights do.

Yes, I want people to celebrate and I want people to embrace Pride. But in doing that and celebrating, remember all of the difficult work and the fight that it took for so many for us to be able to stand in this moment. But also keep in mind the future of what’s ahead if we do not vote and we do not vote for progressive values that stand up towards the LGBTQIA+ community. We saw the women’s rights fold and when we saw the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, we will lose Obergefell and we will lose our rights to marriage. These are things that are on the table. So when we’re having these celebrations, we need to be talking about what’s also really at stake.

Nina West

Courtesy of Paramount+

Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Ok, let’s end with a fun one! If there were ever a true RuPaul’s Best Friend Race season where you competed alongside another queen, who would want it to be?

I would say Roxxxy Andrews. I would say Ginger Minj. I love Ginger. I would say Shannel. But I also need to plan accordingly because I’m not a good seamstress. So I should probably put that strategy in my back pocket and go back and stick with Roxxxy.

I love it!

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.