This episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race set the stakes right from the beginning. Fresh off her win in last week’s 90210 affair, Trinity brags about the fact she’s the only queen to top two challenges without having to share a win—a dig at Shea and Sasha’s duel morning show challenge win. Ms. Coulee quickly snaps back by pointing out that unlike Trinity, she’s never been in the bottom before. The queens themselves are certainly starting to take stock of where they are in the competition.
At the same time, the room suddenly realizes that Farrah Moan and Peppermint are the only remaining queens that haven’t received a “condragulations, my dear” on the main stage. It’s obvious the show is setting up the episode as a test for both. The message seems clear: if you want to make it to the top half of this season’s pack you better have a win under your belt to get there.
Of course, the fact that the episode turns out to be the season’s biggest challenge of comedic skills isn’t great news for either Pepper or Farrah. These are the two queens who couldn’t produce a single laugh on Snatch Game after all.
We start by opening the workroom’s hallowed library. Yes, it’s the reading challenge! We’re not sure how many of these reads we’ll end up stealing to use on our own friends, but the concept is always a delight. It’s our usually sweet natured Valentina who scores the win by managing to shock with some down and dirty wins. Nina Bo’nina Brown seemed like she was getting off to a strong win-worthy performance, but then dashed her hopes by delivering a near word-for-word repeat of a read Latrice Royale memorably delivered in season 4 (a fact the show didn’t call attention to, but it’s likely super fans didn’t need any reminder).
On the other end, Farrah probably delivered the weakest reads, but its Alexis Michelle who is most shaken up by the mini challenge. You know, there’s probably a thinkpiece somewhere comparing both the show’s editing and fellow queens’ reaction to Eureka inadvertently offending skinnier queens earlier this season and the way that Alexis’s hurt over her weight being called out in the reading challenge was handled, isn’t there? It seemed tone deaf to handle one end of the body image struggle spectrum with such sensitivity while breezing past the other with little more than “C’mon, take a joke, will ya?”
The only defense: Well, this episode is all about taking jokes. It’s the revival of RuPaul’s roast from Season 5, except this time our queens set their sights on Michelle Visage. We’ll handle individual performances down in the rankings, but it was interesting to see how many queens decided to attack the challenge by adapting the guise of characters. Truly Coco Montrese’s influence.
And now our subjective power rankings, our weekly approximation of where each queen seems to stand in the competition:
1. Shea Coulee
You know, Shea’s boy drag in the reading challenge was more interesting than some of the things we’ve seen other queens wear on the main stage, and she delivers another set of confident performances here in both the reading and roast. This season may be amping up the angle of a true competition, and yet it sometimes sure seems like Shea has already won.
We have no idea what exactly Valentina was attempting with her bizarro roast performance, but the worst reaction to get in a comedy challenge is none at all. Whatever she did might not have demonstrated mastering of the roasting arts, but it certainly wasn’t boring.
3. Sasha Velour
For whatever reason, producers decided to recycle the “You’re a smart queen…so how can you be funny?” storyline they already tried with Snatch Game, and we get the same results here. As it turns out, being smart and funny aren’t mutually exclusive. Perhaps they’re even related? Who knows! But Sasha did give the most traditional roasting here, and she even manages to handle one of her jokes bombing like a true comedian would. Kudos as well for getting ultra specific by teasing freestyle fandom queen Michelle with a Lisa Lisa reference.
4. Nina Bo’nina Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen For The Row Brown
Oh boy, these ranking were really not made for a queen like Nina. Sometimes she seems on the verge of imploding and packing up her bags Adore-style. Other times it seems like maybe it’ll all snap together and she’ll burst back into our top three. Her grandmother drag was certainly the best of the all the queens who adopted characters. The edit she got this week was one befitting of a safe queen, but sometimes it seemed like there was probably more going on.
Also, despite the fact she was sharing the stage with a queen who painted her self green for a single joke, the fact Nina decided to paint her old lady glasses on instead of just wearing a pair was the most extra thing of this episode, if not season.
The show has used “club queen” as an insult in the past, but Peppermint is certainly a legendary club queen. You don’t get to the top of Manhattan’s drag heap without a whole lot of talent. Yet, she seems a bit uncomfortable when challenges take her too far out of the club, but she benefits here because, well, working a mic and sending out some barbed jokes is a well-worn duty of all club queens. She might have an edge on the win for storyline reasons, but we’re not going to argue that she didn’t deserve it.
6. Trinity Taylor
Trinity continues her roller coaster ride through the competition by delivering a dud. She’ll probably end up in the top 3 again next week somehow.
7. Alexis Michelle
Well, at the very least, we got the weird sight of Glenda the Good Witch facing off against Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West to a Dolly Parton song.
8. Farrah Moan
Farrah was an adorable little creature wasn’t she? Like someone who should be voicing an Adventure Time character who cries when the world isn’t full of glitter and unicorns all the time, or, perhaps a Muppet. Yet, while she was given more slack than some of the other previously cut queens, she never really managed to make any case that she was seriously in the hunt for the crown.
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