Having devoted an entire chapter to the Snatch Game and all its references and importance to queer culture generally in (ahem) our book, it’s safe to say it’s always been one of our favorite Drag Race traditions, but it’s also an indicator of how Snatch Game episodes can sometimes uncover hidden drama or unearth hard questions. No, really.
We don’t think it’s a coincidence that the shenanigans reached epic levels this week, with one of the queens leveling a pretty devastating (in the context of Drag Race, if not necessarily the real world) accusation against another. Sure, India’s last-second Hail Mary smacked of a perpetual bottom queen playing her final, most desperate card, but we tend to think the heightened stakes that Snatch Game always presents to the competition tends to result in the queens suddenly getting more cutthroat with each other – especially in an All-Stars season.
Through the history of the show, queen after queen has mentioned the Snatch Game as one of the hardest challenges in Drag Race. Every queen has to come in with a game plan and execute it while playing off Ru, the guest judges, and the other queens. Every impersonation must have comedy built into the portrayal (as Ru mentions over and over again to the queens during the Werk Room walkthrough) while also remaining recognizably the celebrity being impersonated. On top of all that, there’s the always-present danger that some queen will start crashing so hard that she desperately grabs onto some other queen to try and pull her out of her mess, potentially derailing the whole sketch.
And in every season, during every Snatch Game, multiple queens somehow have to relearn the lesson that you can’t just show up with a good wig and one line at the ready. It’s actually kind of astonishing to hear All-Star queens realize they have no jokes for the one challenge they should have had completely scripted and ready to go from Day One.
Two things of interest about this season’s efforts. Jujubee’s Eartha Kitt and Shea’s Flavor Flav brought up two questions that constantly recur when Snatch Game is the subject at hand. With Jujubee, it was the risk of playing someone who had already been portrayed several times by notable queens to varying results. One of the … we won’t say “issues,” but we’ll try to be neutral and use “results” – that arise when a show like Drag Race becomes so successful for so long with such a large and committed fanbase: it moves away from referencing queer culture and history and tends to reference itself and its own “mythology” more and more. So Jujubee’s Eartha Kitt impersonation was judged on its merits in skewering and capturing Eartha Kitt as much as its ability to outdo previous portrayals of Eartha Kitt on Drag Race. She nailed it, of course. She was hilarious.
With Shea’s winning Flavor Flav, Snatch Game once again returns to the question of rewarding drag queens for impersonating cisgender men. What’s interesting is how this question has evolved over the course of the show. In early seasons, there was a lot of pushback from the judges when queens impersonated men, wore pants, wore their hair short, didn’t wear shapers, or other offenses that came under the oft-used heading “boy in a dress.” These critiques occasionally still come up, but never with the vehemence they once did. Drag Race’s definition of drag has always been restrictive and is most closely associated with the criteria used for drag pageants, which have traditionally and historically required glamour, female impersonation, poise and conservative femininity – and often has or had rules against trans contestants or even surgical modification of any kind. This is why Ru and the show have come in for so much criticism regarding the inclusion of transgender women competing, with Ru infamously comparing it to Olympic athletes using steroids.
Michelle making a point of the show’s … difficulty accepting cishet male-impersonation as drag only serves to highlight how much Drag Race is diverging from our modern understanding of drag and gender identity. The question of whether Shea Coulee’s Flavor Flav represents drag is answered simply by pointing out that Shea identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns in her non-drag life. Of course it’s drag. Shea is a non-binary, female-performing drag queen impersonating a cishet celebrity man and portraying him as pansexual. And because they happened to be the funniest and absolutely the most polished and clearly rehearsed impersonation this week, Shea was the clear winner. This muddles the show’s understanding of gender and drag performing considerably, because if a non-binary, female-performing drag queen wins by impersonating a cishet man, then why the hell can’t the show include trans women, drag kings or AFAB queens? Especially when so many of the challenges have the queens doing absurd things like designing hotel rooms, which have nothing to do with female-impersonating drag?
Moving on to the less interesting attempts:
Humorless and generic. Cracker is starting to seem extremely limited to us.
Walter Mercado is a perfect choice for Alexis (the show typically minds less when drag queens portray flamboyantly queer or gender non-conforming men who wear a lot of makeup) and while she got a couple good quips in, we didn’t feel like she went as big as she could have. More flamboyant, more makeup, and a more outrageous accent would have pushed this impersonation into consideration.
First off, that is a TERRIBLE attempt at Jeffree Star’s face. What kind of drag queen can’t pull off Jeffree Star makeup? Second, how do you not have ONE joke?
Blair had the character down and worked in one or two good lines, but the performance went nowhere. She’s a vastly improved queen and she’s been doing a good job of proving that every week, even if she’s not serving wins.
In other news:
Thank you for blessing us with cute, stylish guest judges this week.
Also: it’s always a joy and a bit of a relief to see Mama serving us the Good Drag. She’s still there, but sometimes you’ve got to pull it out of her, it seems.
Giving these gals a prom-themed runway category resulted in some surprisingly broad interpretations of the theme.
As the judges noted, Cracker’s pimple queen was a good idea, but the dress didn’t read prom at all. Alexis’ quinceañera take seemed like a no-brainer, but the look felt too mature. She could have played up the more frou-frou, doll-like aesthetic associated with it a bit more. India’s really didn’t read as prom at all.
Blair’s was clever and striking, even if didn’t really read as prom so much as a costume designer’s interpretation of prom tropes. We hope this doesn’t come off backhanded, but we’re really starting to re-appreciate Jujubee’s somewhat low-key drag amidst all the costume design and statement-making these queens tend to wield. Her Eartha Kitt was just good drag using very basic tools and techniques and keeping the look simple so the performance stood out. Her prom look is fun, cute, hits the theme right on the head, and looks kind of refreshing standing between the two somewhat overwrought takes on either side of her.
Shea opted to take the prom theme and make it about her own personal pain at being bested by Sasha Velour, which felt more than a bit forced and strategic, but we’ve gotta sit back and applaud the girl’s play. In the wrong hands, a message like “Not winning a crown and a hundred thousand dollars when I felt it was owed to me is my personal cross to bear and pain to work through” could come off hilariously self-absorbed and entitled, but Shea is very, very good at playing the game. Not that she didn’t deserve the win this week, but we’ve met and interviewed a ton of reality competitors over the years and you know what sentence practically every single one of them said to us at one time or another about their time in front of the cameras? “I handed them a storyline.”
We’re just saying. Snatch Game causes these queens to up the drama, up the stakes, and up their strategy considerably.
Love ya, Vanjie, but there was no way in hell you were snatching this win from Shea. She’s a better lip-syncer and the producers had to recognize the potential for future drama by letting her make the call as to who was lying to her.
We tend to think Alexis has a point when she noted that a strategy to get rid of Shea would have needed more than one or two people. And it’s hard not to see India’s position as the more desperate one, with an agenda to prove herself much, much greater than Alexis.
We think Shea made the right choice, regardless of whether India was lying. The fact remained that she’d been in the bottom way too many times to be saved now and by keeping her nemesis Alexis in the competition, Shea did what we tend to think Shea is very, very good at doing. She handed them a storyline.
“Our book Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life is on sale now!
The Los Angeles Times called it “a nuanced exploration of the gender-bending figures, insider lingo and significant milestones in queer history to which the show owes its existence.” The Washington Post said it “arrives at just the right time … because the world needs authenticity in its stories. Fitzgerald and Marquez deliver that, giving readers an insight into the important but overlooked people who made our current moment possible.” Paper Magazine said to “think of it as the queer education you didn’t get in public school” and The Associated Press said it was “delightful and important” and “a history well told, one that is approachable and enjoyable for all.”
[Stills: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]