Shall we start things off by making the call? Do we state the obvious just to get it out of the way? Very well, then.
SHENANIGANS. At a near critical mass. Shenanigans and all-around fuckery so blatant that it nearly capsized the entire episode (if not the entire season). While we can’t say we fully support any of the choices the producers and judges made throughout this episode, we sort of get why they made them. Once again, we remind folks that it’s always best to remember that RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t a legitimate competition. It’s a drag revue variety show with cash prizes. The point has always been the entertainment, not the competition. It’s why you can win acting challenges by giving a terrible performance or dancing challenges by “being brave” or some such nonsense. It’s less about the quality of the performance and more about whether it makes for entertaining drag. The only area where the judging remains consistent and uses identifiable criteria is when it comes to judging the looks on the main stage – and even then (as we saw this week), they can be arbitrary if not downright contradictory in their judgments. So it’s a variety show with cash prizes and judges who openly play favorites. It was ever thus. At this point, it’s kinda what you’re signing on for when you tune in to another season or another franchise of the show.
EVEN SO. This episode was so shaky in terms of justifying its decisions that it almost felt like some sort of drastic reshuffling of the show’s trajectory; as if the producers/judges felt like the season wasn’t working (which: okay, true) so they needed to really fuck around with the format a little. And we’re not solely referring to Art Simone’s incredibly suspicious return.
There was no reason given for it; no explanation as to why she (as opposed to the two queens of color who were eliminated, for instance) was given this opportunity. We might even have accepted some sort of bit from Ru about how she was really bothered by her decision to eliminate Art and made some sort of brave stand to bring her back. If they wanted to, they could have easily turned it into some sort of bit, but they just announced her return and that was the end of it. Weird. Shady as hell.
We think it’s clear one of the biggest reasons for bringing her back was because of the nature of this crop of queens. As we noted earlier in the season, the Aussie and Kiwi queens can be downright brutal with each other when it comes to being shady. For the most part, they all tend to take it in stride – or at the very least, take it as part of the life. But we suspect every one of them understands the producers’ increasing reliance on shady showdowns in the Werk Room, so rather than getting angry at Art for her return, all of the girls really leaned into the sniping and bitchery.
We even think there was a bit of a showy side to Electra’s anger this episode, although she was clearly annoyed with the judges’ feedback from last challenge, not to mention the constant needling coming from Etcetera (who really doesn’t have much standing to be getting shady with underperforming queens) and Scarlet. But all of the teasing and the over-reactions to said teasing started feeling a little performative. We suppose that’s why Ru decided to come into the Werk Room and squirt some gasoline on the embers.
There was no good reason for Ru to take the unusual step of asking a winning queen to give her assessment of an underperforming queen right in front of her like that. It’s not as if Ru actually gives a shit what Scarlet thinks of Elektra. We suppose Ru would argue that this was some form of tough love or something, but let’s face it: It was pure shit-stirring. It seems like the queens all picked up on what Ru was throwing down and delivered the kind of shady-as-hell scenes the judges were looking for. Having said that, we think it’s clear Elektra really is angry and seems to have an inability to let slights go (which is a fatal personality trait on Drag Race). On the other hand, Scarlet and Etcetera really were being bitches.
Producer-induced drama aside, the challenge was straightforward (which is probably why there was producer-induced drama): a Ru-cycle DIY drag challenge. Most of the queens seemed up to the task, although Karen From Finance, apparently reeling from Art’s return, really seemed to veer off the tracks when it came to her concept and Anita really struggled with her design. Elektra quite smartly picked up on everything Ru was throwing at her and course-corrected sharply away from her original (and eyeroll-inducing) kangaroo hunter concept.
Kita and Elektra were both judged to be safe; the latter of which we agree with. How Kita’s crafty-looking frock got waved through while the judges harangued Etcetera and Anita for theirs is complete fuckery. It makes absolutely no sense. We suppose we can see why they’d want to put Etcetera in her place after getting so cocky, but it puzzles us that they didn’t consider pitting Kita against Anita in the lip sync. It would have made more sense and it would have been dramatic as hell, given their offscreen professional partnership.
Art’s was great. He came damn close to winning it and we suppose he justified his return by producing one of the strongest looks on the main stage. It’s a total concept and a well-designed character, from wig to pumps. Etcetera’s entry might be considered a little weak from a conceptual perspective, but it’s insane to us that the judges dragged this so hard, knowing it was literally made from trash. Maxi’s look is spectacular and we think she’s showing herself to be one of the strongest queens there. Let all the skinny girls fight amongst themselves, Maxi’s here to work.
We hate to just repeat what the judges say, but Michelle nailed it when it came to Karen’s look. It was costume party, not drag. For some reason, Karen got hung up on creating this character when the challenge was clearly about creating as sickening a look as possible. The more we look at Anita, the crazier we think her assessments were. Sure, it’s not the most original idea in the world, but it’s really well-executed drag. It seems to us that obvious bottom two should have been Karen and Kita.
She’s a bitch, but we can’t deny she earned this win. We might have been more inclined to give it to Maxi, but Scarlett’s tailoring was amazing and making this into a romper was an unexpectedly stylish choice.
We promised ourselves we would limit the number of times we made reference to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert recapping this show (because no current Aussie or Kiwi queen should be saddled with comparisons to a thirty year old film), but we can’t help thinking it’s ironic that the Down Under girls have so far failed to produce any notable lip sync moments, given that Priscilla almost single-handedly put drag lip-syncing in the mainstream. Come on, girls. There’s a tradition to maintain here. Every single one of the showdowns this season has been underwhelming and fairly difficult to judge. Having said that, we thought Anita was much more interesting to look at than Karen during the song.
But we think Karen is a little more in line with the traditional drag Ru, Michelle, and the Drag Race franchise tends to reward. They were very clear in their assessments that they thought Anita was a little crazy and unusual (which honestly should be celebrated, rather than given the side-eye), but like we said: Shenanigans. They want Art and Karen in the competition and they’ll reshuffle any of the pieces on the board to make that happen. Sorry, Anita.
Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
[Photo Credit: WOW via Tom and Lorenzo]
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