After years of mediocre makeup episodes that largely focused on ordinary figures like straight jocks and gay veterans, RuPaul’s Drag Race had a revelation circa Season 7. What if, instead of making over randoms, the queens made over people with whom they had some sort of personal connection?
In that season, it was eliminated queens; in other seasons, the show brought in members of Drag Race’s film crew, moms, sisters and best friends. This change-in-casting MO turned the makeover from one of the show’s reliably dullest challenges to one of its most enthralling. So it’s little surprise that, for Season 11, Drag Race returns to that Season 7 formula, bringing back six eliminated queens for the top six to make over.
How does this episode compare to Season 7’s quite excellent “Conjoined Queens”? To be blunt, it’s very much a mixed bag. A couple of the makeovers are really great! But the lows are painfully low, and the winner is a truly dubious pick for the top prize. And then there’s the yelling.
RuPaul’s Drag Race loves using returning queens as an impetus for drama. The idea is that girls with nothing to lose walk into the room, throwing shade with abandon, and the remaining girls are left to pick up the pieces.
That is . . . not quite what happens this season. Yes, Ariel Versace comes in talking big about wanting all the wigs the other girls took from her back — a long story we’ll get into in Final Thoughts — but eventually, she simmers down. Same goes for Scarlet Envy, who confidently says she’s surprised Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo are still in the competition but crumbles when confronted.
Because hoo boy, is there confrontation! Vanjie keeps her shots directed at Scarlet (describing her style as “tit for tat” in confessional), while Silky rants at anyone who even looks at her funny. Yvie Oddly, Scarlet’s partner for the makeover, tries to stick up for her and explain what might be informing Scarlet’s criticism — that Silky has had help from her friends and a friendly judging panel all season — only to get shouted down. The whole segment is just a lot of screaming and not a lot of “clearing the air,” as A’keria C Davenport says she wanted to do.
Honestly, I’m not interested in the drama. It’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, and even RuPaul’s regular round of “Who should go home tonight?” on the runway after critiques can’t produce much worthwhile. (I’m saying this without seeing Untucked, though, so perhaps the drama manifests there.) Ultimately, this is a crew that’s best when the drama is organic and reactive to what’s currently happening.
So let’s spend no more time on the drama. Let’s instead shift focus to the challenge itself: the makeovers. The clear standouts are Vanjie and A’keria, who both make their partners look stunning — seriously, A’keria should always do Honey Davenport’s makeup — and like real twins. Vanjie’s is the most successful here; she totally transforms Ariel into a Haus of Mateo member. It’s easily her best performance of the season and should have garnered her an easy win.
Only Vanjie does not win — Brooke Lynn Hytes does. And if you’re looking to me for a good explanation as to why, trust that you will not find it. Her presentation with Plastique Tiara, while fun, is not that interesting, and a distant third to both Vanjie and A’keria.
If I had to hazard a guess, it’s that Ru seems head-over-heels for Brooke Lynn and is unable to see others’ great work any time she succeeds. Only a couple of times this season has Brooke Lynn been in the top without winning, and in a couple of cases — the farm design challenge, the L.A.D.P. improv challenge — it seemed like Ru was almost disappointed to not give her the win. Sometimes, Ru just grows so enamoured with a queen there’s no breaking the spell.
You’d think Ru’s love of Vanjie could do it, but somehow it’s not enough. At least Brooke Lynn agrees to take Vanjie on the trip to Aruba that she wins. That’s a consolation, right? Maybe not. Poor Vanjie. I’d give her extra points for pulling out an excellent Season 2 reference by shouting out “Disco Extra Greasy Shortening.”
Elsewhere this week, Yvie and Scarlet get tripped up when Yvie makes the fatal mistake of giving her partner the worse outfit (really should’ve known better on this one), while Nina West’s political makeover of Shuga Cain earns her nothing but brownie points. The idea of dressing up as the Gay Pride flag and Trans Pride flag isn’t a terrible one, but unfortunately for Nina, the outfits themselves are terrible.
No one is worse, however, than Silky. Her makeover of Soju — admittedly a difficult partner thanks to her inability to walk in heels and lack of natural family resemblance — is tragic. The way Silky paints her face is . . . abominable? Is that too harsh? I don’t think that’s too harsh! Soju’s kind of a mess on her own, as evidenced by her complaints in the workroom. But Silky makes everything worse, using permanent marker for her eyebrows (which looks awful on Soju’s skin) and putting her in a sad Cher-lite wig.
After the queens are all asked for their thoughts on who should go home (and I do mean all; in a baffling decision, Ru even asks the eliminated queens), seven say Silky and five say Yvie. So, naturally, it’s Silky and Nina in the lip sync. I don’t know, I’ve given up trying to figure out the decisions this season. I’m glad to see the show is willing to make Silky lip sync, at least.
Sadly, the lip sync, to TLC’s “No Scrubs,” is low-energy and too static. Neither queen makes off well, but ultimately Ru decides to save Silky and send Nina packing. It’s an anticlimactic ending for a contestant who has been such a joy to watch all season. I’d much rather have more time with her in this competition than Silky. Alas, Ru has his favourites, and Silky is one of them.
The back half of Season 11 has been much stronger than its front half, but you can feel these queens getting tired. When someone who looked like a dead drag queen walking just last week turns out the best performance of the night, you know something’s off. Luckily, this season is rapidly coming to a close; in fact, the finale films this coming Monday! So if you’re spoiler-averse, beware social media — it’s entirely possible diehard fans will know who the top two are very, very soon.
💋 The slapping mini-challenge returns from Season 10, with a twist: instead of Ru slapping the queens, they slap each other. That’s a bit messy, to be honest, as it’s unclear exactly what the structure was for who slapped whom. But I’ll say this: the queens’ reads of each other in this challenge were far better than they were in the actual reading challenge. Maybe it’s time to replace the latter with the former?
💋 Let’s talk about the wigs: In a previous Untucked, the queens debated what happened to several of Ariel’s wigs that she left behind on accident. Plastique insisted at the time that, because she and Ariel were so close, she felt the wigs were left for her. (Ariel makes clear this episode that, while she does like Plastique, that was not the case.) A few other queens, including Silky and A’keria, took wigs as well. Plastique skates accountability, which is an interesting shade of shady on her, but Ariel’s ultimately too afraid to make it a big confrontation. Though if you’ve seen social media in recent weeks, you likely know the story is hardly over — and this episode will likely only fan the flames
💋 Holy shit, the Haus of West has 17 members! Let’s get more of them on, huh? I need more of Nina’s sisters and children on this show.
💋 I’m guessing, judging by the number of disco-inspired looks, that disco was one of the prompts given to the queens on the list of outfits to bring. This happens more than you’d expect: queens trying to find other runway categories to fit an outfit because they like what they brought for a discarded theme. See also: last year’s evil twin challenge, in which three of the queens deployed prehistoric drag for an ultimately unused prompt.
💋 I don’t totally get why we needed the cliffhanger of “are the eliminated queens coming back?” only to immediately shoot that idea down after the commercial. Not the dumbest cliffhanger I’ve ever seen on this show, though. Remember the rock-paper-scissors game from All Stars 4?
💋 This season was shot before I suggested it, so I can in no way take credit, but let me say for the record that I love how there was no dumb team dance routine in this makeover challenge.
💋 Interesting to see who was chosen to return for this challenge. I knew Soju would show — Drag Race couldn’t resist the cyst storyline — but I’m surprised that 9th-placer Ra’Jah Davenport O’Hara Bo’Nina Brown isn’t there. Mercedes Iman Diamond and Kahanna Montrese (remember her?) are also absent.
💋 Soju’s response to Silky wanting to put her in Sharpie eyebrows: “You know, not every family looks the same!” I’ll admit, watching them work together in the workroom was comedy gold.
💋 Guest judge Lena Waithe saying “heyo!” is a mood. She and Wanda Sykes are both fun, but I don’t think they were a great fit for a makeover challenge. Their critiques are a little shallow. Still great to see them, though.
💋 I have a crucial update for you all on the Where in the World Is Carson Kressley? situation. By chance, I was in the same bar as him in Palm Springs, California, over the weekend, and got to ask him directly where he’s been. Indeed, as many suggested to me on Twitter, he was busy shooting his Bravo show during this season’s filming. But! He confirmed to me that he will be on the last two episodes of this season. So that’s lovely.
💋 At this point, I think the path for the remainder of the season is crystal clear. Vanjie and Brooke Lynn will lip sync next week, and whichever survives (almost certainly Brooke Lynn, considering her track record) will join Yvie, A’keria, and Silky in the final four. I like that this season has had such a strong story throughout, but with Nina gone, it makes it fairly easy to predict the finalists. Of those, I think the Canadian queen has the best shot at the win — but I’d be lying if I said my heart isn’t with A’keria at this point. We’ll get deeper into that question in tomorrow’s power rankings.