It’s appropriate that I started last week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 recap with an extended comparison to Project Runway, because Canada’s Drag Race is also making it work this week. After a season-opening solo design challenge, the queens are once again sent to their sewing machines and glue guns for another round of couture creation. Unfortunately for those who might prefer to work alone—or those who like working with fabrics, for that matter—this is not your typical design challenge.
This task puts together two of Project Runway’s favourite challenge types: the unconventional materials challenge, and the team challenge. Working in groups of three, the dolls must design and create a cohesive collection of looks made out of recyclable materials: paper for one group, plastic for another and metal for the last. It’s a big ask, and frustrates those who are once again being asked to walk in on-the-spot drag instead of the expensive clothes they brought from home. But as much as this challenge feels Project Runway-inspired (and having Project Runway Canada winner Evan Biddell as guest host only amplifies that feeling), this kind of task is quintessential Drag Race.
While the most commonly cited inspiration for RuPaul’s Drag Race is America’s Next Top Model, the show owes quite a bit to Project Runway as well. From RuPaul out of drag walking the workroom as a mentor à la Tim Gunn to the critique system that saw only the best and the worst of the week receive notes (very different from Top Model’s individual call-out system), Drag Race is a hybrid of the two formats. In fact, it wasn’t until Season 1’s third episode that the queens actually walked the runway in their own drag!
So while I’m sympathetic to those who want to walk the runway in the carefully prepared looks they’ve brought from home—Ilona Verley and Scarlett Bobo are most vocal about it, but others seem similarly displeased—a challenge like this is very true to the original spirit of Drag Race. It’s all the more impressive If you can work a look you make on the spot, and is a sign that you may have what it takes to be Canada’s Next Drag Superstar.
This episode also provides Stacey McKenzie with her first chance to shine as a workroom mentor. I’ve been most into Stacey so far out of the judges, mostly for her onstage critiques. But judging by the comments we received during last week’s Kiki with Kevin live broadcast, fans haven’t exactly fallen in love with her yet. She’s a lot of fun in the mini-challenge when actually talking to the girls (more on that in the final thoughts). She also comes into the workroom in a gag-worthy look (in my opinion, she’s been the fashion plate of the panel so far this season, though Brooke Lynn Hytes is giving her a run for her money). But her delivery of pre-written lines can come across as stilted, so I get why fans are hesitant about her.
Where Stacey comes alive is during her mentoring. That makes sense with her expertise: She’s not a host, she’s a judge and runway coach. So when she gets the chance, she gives great, specific tips to each queen on their walks, and excitedly celebrates their improvements. The queens positively gush about her throughout the coaching segment (which Drag Race should have on every season—get Raja back to do one for the American version!), and it’s plain to see why. When she says “Damn, I’m good!” at the end, it’s not braggadocio. She sees how much the girls improve, and she’s thrilled to have been able to help.
Something I like about this week’s judging: While the bulk of the critiques are about the looks, the judges also provide plenty of comments about how the queens have sold the garments. This isn’t used to excuse shoddy construction the way it was with BOA in the first episode, but instead to check in on how well the queens have retained what they learned just the day before. Lemon, for instance, is critiqued for an underwhelming presentation of her otherwise impressive garment, with the walk cited as a particular issue. Conversely, Priyanka is celebrated for a stunning walk, leaving the judges a skosh more in love with her garment than I am.
But while Stacey brings Top Model to the main stage, this is still a design challenge. Lemon, Priyanka and BOA make up Team Metal, a.k.a. the House of Rust. BOA and Priyanka’s looks go together, rendered in silver, but Lemon’s rose gold look (made of unfurled pot scrubbers) feels like it belongs in a different collection. Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, in his best critique of the episode (potentially best of the season so far?), notes that had the team introduced a rose gold element in BOA and Priyanka’s looks, and a silver touch in Lemon’s, they would have looked like a true collection. They’re critiqued, but ultimately all declared safe.
Cohesion is what wins the day for La Maison Boraga, the team named for Scarlett Bobo, Kiara and Rita Baga, who slay in plastic couture. (That name gives me Rolaskatox vibes, but their work is good enough for me to give it a pass.) Rita wins the day, and it’s the right call—her look is remarkably striking, with an orange netting shawl around her Club Kids-painted mug. But what impresses most is their work as a team: The three looks work together to create a powerful impact. For a second, I wonder if they might get a team win, à la Frock Destroyers from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Scarlett’s look is simpler, but striking enough to merit contention for the win. And while Kiara’s isn’t my favourite, the silhouette is maybe the most interesting on the runway. But Rita is our sole winner, picking up her second victory of the season.
I imagine there will be some consternation around this choice, for two reasons. One, Rita dubiously won the first design challenge of the season over Jimbo, despite a cheap-looking dress under her gorgeous coat. Her choice to reveal the dress mystified many fans at the time. Two, Jimbo once again turns out a killer outfit this week, but loses because her team is in the bottom. She goes for a floral queen look, complete with a spiky belt and Marie Antoinette-style makeup.
While I do think that Rita’s first win was silly, this one is deserved. I wish Jimbo had won the first to cut down on potential controversy over this decision. But while Jimbo’s is the most technically on-point garment of the week, this challenge is explicitly about working as a team. And it would be unfair to give one member of another team the win, when one team clearly does the best work collectively this week.
What is irritating, however, is that instead of giving Jimbo a glowing critique with a caveat (“You did great, but your team didn’t do as well collectively”), the judges zero in on Jimbo’s hair and makeup as a potential outfit-ruining problem. While Evan notes her white hair and contacts don’t go well with her white mug, Jeffrey knocks Jimbo for not matching her arm and hand skin tone to the white of her face and chest. While I almost understand the critique (it didn’t take me out of the look, but it is an oversight), Jeffrey’s response to Jimbo citing time constraints is: “Everyone gets the same amount of time. Use it better, maybe.”
There are countless examples of queens on Drag Race getting positive critiques while not being on a winning team. It’s okay to still praise them! Not everything has to be turned into a chance for harsh rebuke.
Jimbo is ultimately declared safe, but her Maison Papier teammates Ilona and Tynomi Banks aren’t so lucky. While they go for knight-esque looks to complement Jimbo’s queen, this only earns them ire from Brooke Lynn. She tells them to stop being so “Canadian” and fight to look their best, not let their competitors outshine them. Ilona melts down over her poor critiques in Mini-Untucked, and snaps at Jimbo for complaining about how cold it is in the workroom. (What is up with the temperature control this week? Jimbo and BOA shiver like mad on the runway as they await the judges’ decisions.) Her fury comes from potentially being eliminated in a dress she made out of garbage, when she’s got so much left to show. Ilona can be obnoxious and self-centered, but I will admit that she’s iconic: “I wanted to come here and represent for my culture,” she says through tears. “I wanted to come here and represent for fucking trans people and non-binary people. And all I’m representing for right now is fucking dumpster divers.”
That last bit gets a great laugh out of Tynomi, who unfortunately winds up in the bottom for a third time in a row. I’m glad she gets to laugh, because she’s so defeated otherwise during Mini-Untucked. I feel for Tynomi, who seems to be getting judged for her pre-season work more than what she’s actually doing. No argument that she’s disappointed, but her critiques are all about not living up to the legend of Tynomi. Her look isn’t disastrous—I probably would’ve put BOA in the bottom two next to Ilona instead—but her performance in the competition so far falls below expectations to the point that it’s her time to go.
This is honestly a bit of a problem. The judges have a previous idea of this queen, so when Tynomi doesn’t hit this sky-high bar, she’s penalized. Queens without the same reputation might not have been hammered as hard. Casting queens that Brooke Lynn has worked with leads to an unequal judging approach. That said, there are notable examples of a similar thing happening on Drag Race U.S. (think of Aja disappointing in Season 9 despite her reputation in New York City), so it’s not an issue exclusive to Canada’s Drag Race.
At first, it looks like Ilona might not lip sync against Tynomi, but Brooke Lynn and the other girls encourage her to fight. Even Tynomi tells her to fight! When the queen whose place in the competition depends on you losing wants you to get through it, that’s when you know you gotta get it together and perform. To Ilona’s credit, she does—and in a big way. Her and Tynomi’s battle to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” is an absolute blast. Both queens bring it, but Ilona does a better job of embodying the attitude of the song. Tynomi sashays away, sadly not the right fit for this competition, but undoubtedly one hell of an entertainer.
✨Evan Biddell walks out in a baggy jumpsuit, yanking it off into a full suit reveal. Jeffrey and Stacey are gagged by this, while Brooke Lynn sits stone-faced. It’s hilarious.
✨The mini-challenge is a Drag Race favourite: The underwear memory game! Can the queens remember and match the different pairs of underwear on the Pit Crew members? I’ll tell you what, this may well be the horniest version of this game ever. Stacey is thirsty enough on her own, while Priyanka looks positively paralyzed by all the skin in front of her. (“There’s no inner saboteur! The sabotage is in front of my face.”) Lemon congratulates the Crew on their, ahem, work ethic: “I think the Pit Crew is doing God’s work. It is so beautiful to see people care so much about their jobs.” But it’s Jimbo who ultimately takes the win.
✨“This is like all the boys who blocked me on Grindr. Good. This is an intervention.” That Priyanka line gets Stacey positively cackling. Again, Stacey is best when directly interacting with the girls. More of this, please!
✨Anastarzia Anaquway not leaving a lipstick message is a genuine earthquake in the Drag Race world. She’s the first not to do it since Shangela started the tradition in Season 2, Episode 1 of the American version of the show. Good for her, honestly—I love a shake-up.
✨“That looks like some ARTPOP bullshit, Jimbo.” Ilona is decidedly not in the #Justice4ARTPOP camp.
✨Interesting that Brooke Lynn’s warning to Tynomi wasn’t shown last episode. It really gives the feeling that Tynomi needed to win this week, or else she was going home.
✨“It’s a new day in the workroom and I’m feeling subtitled.” Rita, you are worming your way into my heart.
The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race premieres Thursday, July 30 at 9 p.m. EST on Crave in Canada and on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S.