The strongest season of RuPaul's Drag Race continued tonight with some expertly set up mischief, a dramatic backfire, touching moments, and a lip sync for the ages that ended in a shock elimination, all right before the eyes of pop-country high queen Shania Twain, of all people. What more, frankly, could you want? Oh, right, an accidentally pointed reclamation of the once necessary but now outdated representation that trashy tabloid talk shows provided to queer people in the '90s.
But before we get into this episode, the show starts as always with the queens cleaning up leftover business from last week. Asia is still upset that she wound up in the bottom despite helping out every single other contestant with their Mars couture. The others tell her to get over it and to get used to the hard-edged nature of the show. It's a competition after all. Asia replies with a surprisingly profound retort that cuts to the often uneasy nature of the show.
“I can’t accept that," she says about advice to cut the tears and switch into cut-throat competitor mode. "Everybody started this because they’re was something inside of them that needed to be close to other people, and to share your art and all of that with the world, so I refuse to believe that all of us have evolved into these fierce queens and that person inside of us is completely gone.”
The show may dismisses this as delusional bitterness, but, you know what? We feel it, Asia. We can't accept that, and refuse to believe it too!
With that aside, Ru comes out and announces the mini-challenge: creating quick drag out of scraps of military-themed material. The challenge seems like it was oddly pegged to Donald Trump's decision to reinstate the military's ban on Trans* troops, which reads quite awkward on a show whose own admission policy for Trans recruits remains very unclear. We're awaiting the think pieces or Tweet threads that will appear on the matter in the morning.
As for the actual results of the assignment, Aquaria turns out a look that wouldn't be out of place on the runway in earlier seasons, while the Vixen sells her presentation with body movement that perfectly illustrates her narration. We thought for sure it was between those two until Kameron came out looking every bit a butch military queen straight out of a video game. Hello, Miss Sonya Blade. We were almost sure Ru would use it as an excuse to finally throw a bone to Kameron. Alas, Vixen's choreography actually takes the day.
We soon find out why: Her prize is pairing each queen up for the main challenge, and the Vixen seems primed to stir things up. She choses Asia for herself (Asia had won the Dating App commercial challenge after all), and seemingly picks the other teams at random before pairing Aquaria and Eureka at the end in a way she seems to think is the ultimate shade. It may have felt good in the moment, but it ultimately didn't make sense as a way to really screw either. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and what not, and there's no bad beef between Aquaria and Eureka. As we find out, they work relatively well together.
The challenge is something of an interesting callback to queer representation on national television a few decades ago: a rehash of the trashy tabloid talk shows of the '90s in the guise of an improv comedy exercise on The Bossy Rossy Show (something we'd watch, if any execs at King Syndication happens to be reading). Ru herself mentions that in her early days she was a guest with other New York club kids on a classic episode of Geraldo. Not mentioned is the fact that she once appeared on The Ricki Lake Show in an episode in which she judged a drag queen competition that almost served as an accidental pilot episode for Drag Race itself (spoiler: She chose Shequida Hall, who is still a top queen in Manhattan to this day).
The relationship between queer people and these trashy shows goes further than just Ru. In the '90s, programs like Ricki, Leeza, Jenny Jones, and Sally Jesse Raphael were the only place you could regularly see actual queer people on TV. To be sure, these shows were meant to be sensational and somewhat exploitive, but most hosts (especially the female ones) usually tried to mainstream some sort of respect for their guests. Often, the segments were scripted and the guests themselves were in on the scheme. Indeed, before they were Drag Race alum, Pandora Boxx and Darienne Lake appeared on a Ricki episode called "You're Too Fat to Be a Drag Queen."
There are entire academic books about the mixed queer-representation legacy of these kinds of shows, so it was interesting to see Drag Race reclaim the genre. Of course, we'll get into the performances below in the power rankings.
In the workroom, Mayhem brokers something of a peace treaty between the Vixen and Eureka, and each explains to the other why they are the way they are, and while there's no breakthrough to genuine friendship, the pair agree to something of a ceasefire.
On the runway, we get a "denim and diamonds" runway theme in honor of Miss Twain, but the results mostly sort of bleed together, and there's really nothing on display that's going into any of those "25 Best Drag Race Looks of All Time" videos you find on YouTube.
Now, on to our power rankings, which, as always, are a bit tongue in cheek and take into account the full season so far.
1. Miz Cracker
It feels somewhat weird to keep Miz Cracker here. She hasn't outright won a single challenge yet, and if you look back at Drag Race herstory, every past winner had at least one main-challenge win to their name by Episode 5. Yet so far this season, Cracker is the only queen who has been singled out among the top in four out of the five episodes. In such a topsy-turvy season where queens' fortunes ebb and flow, that's not for nothing.
More notable is how she got there. While other queens went for instant jokes in their "Bossy Rossy" segment, Cracker and Mayhem executed a joke with legs that really paid off. Meanwhile, her runway look, basically Pippi Longstocking's Alabama cousin, wasn't much in and of itself, but Cracker continues to sell her questionable oddball choices with visionary oddball runway walks that seal the story.
In many ways, she's unlike anything we've seen on the show before, and when gunning for the crown that often comes in handy.
2. Eureka O'Hara
In what is technically her 10th episode of the show over two seasons, Eureka gets her first challenge win with a brava and fully committed performance as a demented sexy baby. In many ways, her and Eureka's choices were the biggest risks of the challenge, and they both paid of. She also seemed to deal head on with her tendency to be, well, sort of annoying in the workroom.
Her denim jumpsuit was what it was, but the patterned inserts helped it stand out amid a runway that started to feel very samey-samey until the burst of pink that came at the end.
Aquaria is now officially the only queen to have actually won a challenge who has yet to fall into the bottom three, and while she was merely safe for this one, the fact that she wasn't completely overshadowed by her partner Eureka was a feat in and of itself. We just wish she would have kept the baby voice in tact throughout the entire segment.
4. Blair St. Claire
Blair is just a hair away from Cracker's record so far: She's been high three times and has never fallen into the bottom. But while her personality continues to bloom in the workroom, she hasn't had quite a total breakout moment for the Drag Race ages either. How many Blair .GIFs are you seeing on your timelines, you know? She's still doing well, but unless she really makes her case as something other than a reliable and competent young queen, soon we could see her being the victim of another shock early exit.
This is also the second time she's cast herself as a character with good Christian morals who, secretly, is a little horn dog underneath all of it. Maybe she should take that character and run with it all the way.
5. Monique Heart
All of us the next time we're at a farm: “Oh, Brown Cow! Stunning!”
Monique finally gets the top three placement she has arguably deserved in previous episodes, and hopefully that predicts future success. She certainly had the stock trashy talk show character of the unapologetic other woman down pat. We're rooting for her.
6. Asia O'Hara
It almost seemed like Asia was being set up for some sort of major redemption story line here, but ultimately she just ends up barely missing the bottom three. We assume her promise to start going hard in the competition will play out at a later date.
7. Kameron Michaels
Kameron surprisingly slayed in the challenge, but her actual personality out of drag remains perhaps the biggest mystery of the season so far. Well, that and whether or not she'll get axed in a week or so, or surprisingly stick around till near the end.
8. The Vixen
Well, the bear done poked herself tonight.
9. Monét X. Change
No one wants to do it, but here we are. Monét has been in the bottom twice in a row and is skating on ice thinner than anyone else in this competition. This despite a challenge that she should have dominated with her wit and comedy skills, only to be overshadowed by Kameron Michaels! Of all queens!
Monét's biggest problem? If you didn't catch the patter, the first queen to come on during the talk show segment was the "straight man" (if such a term still applies on a show about gay men dressing up as women), while the second queen was supposed to come on as the bigger, larger-than-life character. From what we saw in the workroom, Monét was totally in charge of the creative planning in her team. She just cast herself incorrectly here for the second time.
As long as we're looking back on Drag Race history, we should point out that in Season 2, Raven faltered twice early on and expertly lip synced her way out of it before going on to end up the show's most celebrated runner-up. That could happen for Monét, but perhaps her more realistic path is slaying on the road now (you know she'll pack the clubs with those performances), give some serious work to her wardrobe (no one needs to say anything more about those chaps), and hope for an All Stars redemption.
10. Mayhem Miller
Consider this the first true gag of an elimination of the season. Mayhem is the first previous challenge winner to get eliminated so far, and she's gone quite early in the season. That's not unprecedented. It just hasn't happened in a long, long time. She joins the ranks of queens like Lineysha Sparks, Madame LaQueer, Stacey Layne Matthews, and her Mickey's WeHo sister Morgan McMichaels in the hall of queens who conquered an early challenge but were gone before the midpoint of the season.
I'm sure producers had no joy in kicking her off, and in many ways it feels a bit unfair. Her performance was fine, and it needed to exist to service Miz Cracker's Dr. Dill. Still, there were a lot of strong overall performances here with nothing that was a total stinker. Someone had to go, and it had become apparent that Mayhem didn't quite have what it took to go all the way.
Lets take solace in the fact that Mayhem is well positioned for a shining post-Race career. She's sisters with some of the show's most legendary queens, and the fact that she already lives in L.A. means we'll likely see her pop up on WoW's various YouTube shows all the time. Subbing in on an episode of Fashion Photo RuView is almost a certainty at this point, and a future gig on All Stars doesn't seem impossible either. Drag Race diehards certainly won't be seeing the last of her, whatever happens.
Plus, brokering a cease-fire between the Vixen and Eureka was something of an achievement in and of itself, and no one can take that away from her.