RuPaul’s Drag Race’s relationship to the pageant scene has always been fraught. Plenty of pageant queens have come through the doors of the show, and are often some of its most compelling characters—remember when Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese spun a season’s worth of drama out of a pageant dispute? But only two pageant queens have actually entered the winners’ circle: Tyra Sanchez, granddaughter of pageant royalty Stasha Sanchez, and reigning champion Jaida Essence Hall. (If you count All Stars, Trinity the Tuck is the third pageant queen to win.)
The category of “pageant” has often been wielded as a weapon to pigeonhole certain contestants. How often have we seen pageant queens defensive about their experience in drag, eager to prove they’re not just that? How many times have they lost to quirky queens? Most strikingly, the show has never featured an actual pageant challenge; though the Season 9 premiere challenge was called the “Miss Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent” pageant, it was really just a double runway.
All of this to say that while it’s nice to see the Canadian version of Drag Race finally feature a pageant challenge, you can colour me disappointed it’s actually just an improv task set at a small town beauty pageant. Yes, the “Miss Loose Jaw Pageant” does have Talent, Swimsuit and Interview categories. But these are all just individual chances for the queens to get laughs from the judges—the regulars as well as an on-scene panel made up of legendary Canadian queen Michelle DuBerry, Canada’s Squirrel Friend Traci Melchor and Degrassi’s Stefan Brogren.
Maybe a full pageant challenge wouldn’t work on Drag Race, but it’s a shame that the purported first one winds up making fun of pageants. There has to be a better way to incorporate this rich corner of the drag world—the same way the show finds room for ball challenges, celebrity impersonations, lip-syncing and so on. Alas, this improv challenge is what we have for now. And despite its shortcomings, it does provide a few queens a chance to stand out. But others may have preferred a traditional pageant format in the long run.
As the winner of last week’s challenge, Rita Baga gets to assign the top six queens their pageant girl characters, personas ranging from the bratty Miss Fits (Lemon), the dour Miss Erable (Ilona Verley) and the horny Miss Behavin’ (a delighted Jimbo). Scarlett Bobo gets Miss Informed, a know-it-all who is not her first choice—she wanted Miss Behavin’. But after missing out on what seemed like a surefire win last week, she’s got a fire under her ass. She’s pissed, and she wants to win.
She may not be the funniest, but Scarlett’s Miss Informed is one of the more fully-formed characters. Props to Scarlett for really committing to this one: She makes Miss Informed a persnickety know-it-all, and every single one of her answers fits this personality. She has a great bit playing the bongos, at first tracing the tops of them with her fingers à la Sandra Bullock playing the water glasses in Miss Congeniality. (Speaking of which, take a shot every time you hear a Miss Congeniality reference in this episode. It won’t fuck you up quite as bad as the “sissy” drinking game would have last week, but you’ll be feeling it!)
Two others really impress—one for being the funniest, and one for coming up with the best character. Jimbo is an absolute riot as Miss Behavin’, sexing up everything and even deep-throating the microphone during her interview portion. (This easily gets the biggest laugh out of me.) Lemon builds the best character as Miss Fits, making her a multi-time pageant loser who is convinced this is the time for her.
Jimbo gets huge praise for her performance, but her runway is so roundly criticized—more on that in a second, because I have opinions—that she’s out of the running for the win. It’s between Lemon and Scarlett, and the edit is really working overtime to set up a Scarlett win. (Guest host Allie X says that maybe this will finally be her time after so many occasions not winning.) Scarlett gets the most focus all episode, angry about her lack of win so far and taking it out on others (particularly Ilona). Combined with her stunning pageant runway presentation, this feels like a sign that this could be Scarlett’s win.
Then Stacey McKenzie declares Lemon the champion, giving her a second maxi-challenge win. It’s deserved: Lemon aces the challenge and the runway in a child pageant look that is hilarious and well-executed. She takes a very intellectual approach this week that pays off big; her use of miming as Miss Fits’ talent is genius, since a pageant queen’s real talent is pageantry. I’m nowhere near as annoyed as I was last week with Rita’s third win, as this is just Lemon’s second. But it’s hard not to feel for Scarlett as she quietly and sadly says in her confessional, “Nobody sees me.”
I’m disappointed for Scarlett, but ultimately feel the judges make a defensible call. I also think they’re on base when it comes to the bottom two: Priyanka and Ilona are one-note as Miss Demeanor and Miss Erable, respectively. They don’t do enough to vary their characters to make them funny. It’s a bummer to see Priyanka in the bottom two again for yet another improv challenge, but it’s hard to argue she doesn’t deserve to be there. Ilona, meanwhile, has seemed like an inevitable boot for a couple of weeks now. Considering Priyanka’s lip-syncing skills, the result is all but certain.
But where the judging goes off the rails is when it comes to Rita and Jimbo. I’ve written a few times that the elevated focus on runway in this version of the show is leading to some screwy results—and the problem gets bad this week. Jimbo nails the challenge, while Rita’s character is a boring mess. (You think it’d be hard to be both messy and uninteresting, and yet!) On the runway, however, Jimbo gets absolutely crushed by criticisms. Brooke Lynn Hytes hates her outfit, and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman thinks it’s not glamorous.
That last note sends Jimbo off in Mini-Untucked, producing a rant that many a JBC critic will likely delight in: “Jeffrey said I don’t look glamorous at all. It’s one thing to say, I think you should be more glamorous, or my version of glamour. But to say that I’m not glamorous at all—that’s like saying ‘always never.’ I think he maybe needs to look up the word glamour. You question my taste level? I question your knowledge of the English language.”
It’s true that Jeffrey’s critiques have been markedly undescriptive—like his overuse of the term “basic.” But I think Jimbo’s rant is less about his use of the term “glamour” in particular and more a release of season-long resentments. Jeffrey has been dismissive of Jimbo, chiding her time management and then welcoming her to the competition after she won a challenge. I’m not surprised that Jimbo has had enough. I don’t think her runway this week is worthy of such hefty critique, and it certainly shouldn’t have been enough to score her below Rita.
That is what happens, though, as Rita gets called safe before Jimbo despite her poor performance in the challenge. Her runway boosts her score, and it’s absolutely gorgeous—but she gets knocked for her wig, which you’d think would be enough to keep her firmly in the low-scoring group. Jimbo instead takes her slot.
I think the focus on runway has been detrimental to Canada’s Drag Race. If the panel had consistently good taste, sure, that could work. But when the runway criticism is so arbitrary, using it as a major part of scoring is bound to create baffling results, as seen this week. Rita and Jimbo are the middle scorers, so it doesn’t affect the results much. But it’s enough to once again call the judging on this show into question.
One truly unquestionable decision: Priyanka beats Ilona in the lip sync to Allie X’s “Hello.” Ilona is fine, but Priyanka is a laugh riot. She takes a distinctly comedic spin on the song without losing her actual lip sync in the process. This shows her competence across multiple lip sync styles, considering the “I Drove All Night” lip sync was all drama. Priyanka becomes the latest lip sync assassin of the season, and in terms of variable performance styles, stands out as a superior performer.
All of a sudden, we have a final five! Just two weeks left of competitive play before the finale. Can Scarlett finally win a challenge? Will Jimbo get into a main stage brawl with Jeffrey? Will Rita sail to victory? Will Priyanka have to lip sync her way to the end? And will anyone doubt Lemon again after she shut up her critics? All that and more to come on Canada’s Drag Race!
✨Ilona really goes in on Rita in her first confessional, calling her old: “At the end of the day, Rita’s still a senior citizen and I’m not!” But that’s nothing compared to the tongue-lashing Jimbo gives Rita after she offers her opinion on Jimbo’s runway look. I get that Jimbo is just taking her frustrations out on Rita, but hearing her say “That hair is disgusting” in retribution after she offered a constructive critique is wild.
✨Lemon is so naturally funny in her confessionals (“It’s a new day in the workroom and all these bitches hate me!”), but I don’t love her directly quoting Trixie Mattel’s “That’s a lot of emotion for safe” from All Stars 3 in reference to Scarlett. For one, she’s funnier on her own; for another, Trixie was referring to Milk’s emotional outburst after just two episodes. Scarlett is seven episodes in, several high placements deep and the only one of the final five without a win. Not really comparable situations!
✨Interesting that Priyanka actually notes the show is skipping the mini-challenge this week. I’m not sure RuPaul’s Drag Race has ever noted a skip like that.
✨Keep an eye out to see if the vulnerability thing that Rita and Brooke Lynn talk about in the workroom comes back. If Rita’s not destined to win this season, we could see that used against her in the last few weeks. (Funny enough, that’s exactly what happened to Brooke Lynn in Season 11.)
✨I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Michelle DuBarry. But I love that the show not only teaches us about her during the mirror moments, it also gives her so much spotlight as a judge. She’s an absolute hoot—“Is that it? I’m going home”—and although it seems like there’s some dispute over who exactly is the oldest-living drag queen (apparently Guinness revoked the title from her and gave it to American queen Darcelle XV in 2016), the fact that she’s worked in drag for decades is undeniable. What a legend to have on the show, and I’m eager to learn even more about her now.
✨While his judging remains questionable, I will say I enjoyed Jeffrey as the pageant host. Getting to play a character seems to help him, which sheds some light on why he plays things up when reading his hosting dialogue. Unfortunately, that character doesn’t work nearly as well.
✨That said, I have to assume the clip of Jeffrey saying, “I have no idea what’s going on right now” will get substantial use on Twitter. It’s ready-made to be memed.
The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race premieres Thursday, August 20, at 9 p.m. EST on Crave in Canada and on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. If you’re watching Canada’s Drag Race on Logo, you can catch Episode 5 on Monday, August 10, at 8 p.m. EST, then read our recap and power ranking of that episode.