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Visage joined the show at the start of season 3, while Mathews and Kressley joined at the start of season 7, and each joins Ru Paul and Visage on alternate episodes.Past fixtures on the panel include Merle Ginsberg, who was a regular judge in the first two seasons, and Santino Rice, who held his position from the first season until the conclusion of the sixth.

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Prior to the grande finale, the three main judges are joined by two celebrity guest judges each week.In the mini challenge, each contestant is asked to perform a different task with varying requirements and time limitations.Certain mini challenges are repeated from season to season.Each episode (with the exception of the casting special, "recap" episode, and reunion special) follows a format consisting of a mini challenge, a main challenge, a runway walk (where the contestants model fashion on a runway, usually with a theme based on the main challenge), the judging panel, and the elimination of a contestant.There have been some exceptions to episodes, including double-elimination episodes, no-elimination episodes, disqualifications of a contestant, and the removal of a contestant due to an injury.Sonique, a season two contestant, became the first openly transgender contestant; she came out as transgender during the Season 2 reunion special.

Other transgender contestants have begun transitioning after their elimination.

The requirements of the main challenge vary across each episode, and can be individual or group challenges, and initially grant immunity to the winner in the next challenge (until Ru Paul announces the discontinuation of that policy mid-season).

However, as of season 6, immunity is no longer granted to challenge winners.

Applications of any sexual orientation or gender identity are accepted, although most contestants to date have been gay men.

Transgender women are eligible to compete and have become more common as seasons have progressed.

Carmen Carrera, a season three contestant, announced her transition during an episode of ABC's Primetime: What Would You Do? USA Today's Lifeline explains: "Ru Paul the drag queen will be the final word in judging and eliminations, while Ru Paul the man will offer guidance to contestants for each challenge." Ru Paul's Drag Race uses progressive elimination to reduce the number of drag queens in the competition from the initial field of fourteen contestants (the maximum a season has started with) down to the final three or four, who will compete in the final challenge.