If there’s one thing we’ve said about Drag Race more often than anything else (aside from possibly “Buy our book!“), it’s that it’s always best to view the show as a drag revue variety show with cash prizes rather than as a true competition. But an episode like this one makes a good reminder that the old girl can still pull together a pretty damn good hour of reality television when the right elements are in place.
We groaned a little when the “Snatch Game” challenge was announced, figuring that it was not only too early in the season for this normally game-changing challenge, but that it was too early in the Down Under franchise because, like all Drag Race franchises, the first-season queens are either rough or, if we want to be kinder about it, don’t have their reality TV sea legs yet.
But this group of queens, unlike a lot of other first-season Drag Race casts, have unusually lengthy and impressive resumes, so when they fail – and a whole lot of them did this episode – they tend to fail in somewhat interesting ways.
Right off the bat, you can tell these queens are slick and savvy. Knowing that the show provides its queens an international English-speaking audience (and that the judges deciding their fates are American), four of them chose to play Americans, one played a Canadian and one played the most famous English woman in the world. Of the three who chose Australians to play, two of them are among the most recognizable or infamous Australians of all time. It seems very few of them wanted to risk being misunderstood. But it also seems like quite a few of them went into the Snatch Game feeling very cocky about their chances, which is kind of interesting, because at this point “Don’t get cocky when it comes to the Snatch Game” is like one of the Ten Commandments of Drag Race. Again, we think this comes down to the notably high professionalism of this inaugural gaggle of Down Under queens.
Karen From Finance came off pretty full of herself this episode. She’s got a win under her belt but that doesn’t make her a frontrunner yet. As far as Snatch Game stumbles go, this one was pretty shocking. Dolly Parton is such a distinctive and iconic figure that it makes us wonder about the skillset of any queen who thinks she can be reduced down to nothing more than a generic southern American woman. This might as well have been Paula Deen or Tammy Faye. Imagine trying to do Cher and getting the wig, makeup, voice and catchphrases wrong. Imagine doing Cher and making her BASIC. This was a drag mortal sin and we honestly think she deserved way more criticism for it.
But when it comes to the sin of being cocky about her chances, no one sinned harder than Art Simone, who clearly thought making Ru laugh in the Werk Room was going to be all the work she needed to do. Worse, she didn’t even realize that she’d done badly, even though she never once landed a joke or made anyone laugh. She came back to that Werk Room bragging about how well she did.
Coco’s Lizzo was, much like some of the other snatches, somewhat unrecognizable because she rendered her as a generic figure instead of tapping into her particular energy. We honestly think her acknowledgment of her failure was what ultimately saved her.
Anita scored a win by taking a figure who’s been imitated a million times and not trying too hard to do anything new with it. She just landed jokes, one after another. It wasn’t an original take and as far as drag impersonation goes, it’s not even a very good Betty, but the character work was solid and the jokes popped. Snatch Game isn’t always about mimicry. That’s part of it, but there have been plenty of instances where queens wound up acing the challenge by choosing funny over perfect.
We give Scarlet a lot of credit for her mimicry of Jennifer Coolidge. She had the voice down, which surprised us. And she landed some good lines, but as the judges noted, they were all Jennifer Coolidge lines. The drag itself was pretty bad. It would be really difficult to make Scarlet’s angular features look like Coolidge’s fuller and rounder face, but if you can’t pull it off with some drag trickery and techniques, maybe it’s not the one you should be doing. The skin mismatch on that breastplate is egregiously bad.
There was no part of Electra’s performance that could rightly be called a Catherine O’Hara impersonation. He just dressed up like Moira Rose and spoke in an unintelligible accent. To be fair, that’s a good starting point and he did manage to make Ru laugh a few times. Like so many of the other queens, he didn’t seem to have much of a handle on who he was playing and figured a few broad strokes were enough to get by. It’s amazing how collectively delusional they all were. We haven’t seen this many queens derail during a Snatch Game in a long time. What makes this episode so interesting is that none of them were true train wrecks; just puzzlingly unprepared.
We aren’t familiar enough with Magda Szubanski to render an opinion on Maxi’s take, so we’ll let the lady herself weigh in:
Omg!!! Wait what?!! This looks faaaaabulous!! Haven’t watched but will do so ASAP. But from what I can see… you frickin NAILED IT!! 🙌💕🤗👏 https://t.co/uzCFl1zQsD
— Magda Szubanski AO (@MagdaSzubanski) May 8, 2021
Looks like Maxi nailed this one.
Karen was a total Karen and sniffed a bit at the poor taste of Etcetera’s Lindy Chamberlain and if we wanted to be total bitches about it we’d suggest that her distaste is partially due to her preference for playing generic white women. Having said that, it was definitely an example of the “I’m going to hell for laughing at this” school of comedy drag. Ru loves politically incorrect and borderline offensive drag (sometimes), so it doesn’t surprise us that she wasn’t put off by this. Yes, it was tasteless, but it was a good drag bit and she was fully committed to it.
Literally no idea what’s going on here or why he decided to do this.
The category was “Sea-sickening” and these girls did not come to play. While it seems clear that some of them are showing up with expensive costumes in the Drag Race tradition, it seems to us that some are also putting their own looks together and doing a pretty decent job of it. We’re not talking tens across the board here, but for a first-season crop, these girls are pretty high level.
Only Kita and Etcetera were called safe. The former’s look was just okay, but the latter’s was bad enough that we think she should’ve been called out for it. Except for the hair and makeup, there’s little about her look that comes off like drag. At the very least, glitter that helmet the fuck up.
Anita was immediately declared the winner and we can’t argue with that choice. Her Queen Elizabeth was the smoothest snatch, her confession about her estrangement from her father was heartbreaking, and her final runway look was one of the best ones there. She’s clearly way more than a wacky, overly performative queen.
Art Simone looked pretty great, although we suspect the color of her gown doesn’t work well in studio lighting. She posted a shot of it on twitter last night that reveals how dramatic the gown really was. Coco’s wig was great, but her gown was underwhelming. On the flipside, Maxi’s gown was great, but her hair and makeup were too ladylike and not drag enough.
Electra served good face and pretty hair, but that looks like an off-the-rack wedding gown. Ru must’ve been really charmed by her Moira Rose if she didn’t put this look in the bottom. Karen’s concept is fun, but we think the shape is awkward and the mouth doesn’t really come off like a mouth. Scarlet’s look was probably the best of the lot.
By putting Art Simone in the bottom and making her lip sync (after telling six of the queens that any one of them could wind up there), Ru and Michelle are making it clear from the jump that resumes, slickness and popularity aren’t going to mean anything here if you can’t back them up with good drag. We think Ru might’ve assumed that Art was going to pull out some jaw-dropping lip sync to save herself, but to our surprise, that just didn’t happen. We don’t know if she felt defeated or if she really thought she was meeting Coco’s energy, but she just wasn’t bringing it like she should have.
It’s genuinely surprising to see her go and her clear shock in the moment made for some pretty arresting reality TV. If we felt the judgment had been unfair, we might have been outraged, but this was just a tragic tale of a drag queen flying too close to the sun and getting her wings clipped for being cocky about it. It’ll be interesting to see how the other girls react to this turn of events. They should all consider themselves put on notice.
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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