Did y’all enjoy that design challenge RuPaul’s Drag Race had just two episodes ago? No? Well too bad, because this week, we’re doing it all again!
The good news is, this episode’s task is not a full ball. Instead, the top nine queens of Season 11 — amusing, frustrating, perplexing Season 11 — are made to design one look out of farm-friendly materials. This ranges from denim to burlap to straight-up corn shucks. Project Runway’s Austin Scarlett would be proud.
RuPaul explains in the workroom that he’s giving the queens a design challenge to give them yet another chance to show their personality. How this challenge helps them show their personalities more than, say, a singing challenge, or a commercial challenge, or a talk show challenge is beyond me. But hey, another chance for Yvie Oddly, Brooke Lynn Hytes and Plastique Tiara to be the top three.
Plastique comes into this week determined to finally beat Brooke Lynn. Both have been in the top of the past two design challenges, and Plastique has clearly fashioned a rivalry in her head between them. What’s interesting is that, for a queen who is known for fashion and excelling in runway tasks, Plastique isn’t giving us much variance in her looks. Silky Nutmeg Ganache clocks this in the episode’s intro: Plastique always wears a corset, and while Vanessa Vanjie Mateo is getting read week in and week out for presenting the same silhouette, Plastique is dodging critique.
What plagues Plastique is the judges’ persistent knock that she isn’t showing her personality. I admit I agree with them: Plastique reads wooden on the show, so different from her presence on social media. Her lack of confessionals is part of the problem, but she’s also just very blank on the runway, even while wearing gorgeous corset after gorgeous corset.
So Plastique picks a great time to open up in conversation with Ru, telling the queen mother that a lot of her introversion comes from the feeling of being rejected by her family. Coming from a traditional Vietnamese family, the young queen’s desire to do drag has been rejected, to the point where her parents don’t even know she’s on Drag Race. It’s a familiar backstory, most notably shared with Season 8 queen Kim Chi. But what makes it special coming from Plastique is how long she’s waited to open up about this. It comes out organically (or, as organically as you can imagine on reality TV) in a conversation with Ru, instead of being spouted at the makeup mirror or on the runway to get some camera time. Moreover, Plastique’s emotional reaction is clearly genuine, as she’s positively overcome with tears upon telling the story.
Which makes it all the more abhorrent that Ra’Jah Davenport O’Hara immediately questions the authenticity of it.
162. Ra’jah O’Hara vs. Scarlet Envy – Last Dance pic.twitter.com/PVamFiAjz2
— ‘ (@lgbtvelour) April 5, 2019
Ra’Jah is at the point of full delusion this week. She talks herself up like nobody’s business in the intro, all the while saying that Scarlet Envy was too confident and needed to be humble. The projection is real, girls. Ra’Jah should be on her hands and knees thanking Ru for saving her despite clearly losing the lip sync to Scarlet last week.
Speaking of Ra’Jah lip syncing, there seems to be some revisionist history happening in the edit. Brooke Lynn says in a confessional that Ra’Jah has lip-synced twice, when anyone who can count knows that she’s lip-synced thrice: in the six-way to “Waiting for Tonight,” against Mercedes Iman Diamond to “Living in America,” and last week to “Last Dance.” At first, I thought the show might be downplaying her participation in the six-way as a real appearance in the bottom. But Brooke Lynn doesn’t say she’s been in the bottom twice, she specifically says she’s “already lip synced twice.” I smell a stunt, to quote a special guest from this episode.
Ra’Jah seems to know how many times she’s lip-synced, though, as she rather brazenly declares herself the lip sync assassin of the season. That’s not really a title you give yourself; for example, Shea Coulee dubbed Peppermint the assassin back in Season 9. There’s confidence, and then there’s ego, and I’d say Ra’Jah’s got ego in spades. I really wish the show wasn’t indulging her as much as it is — as I’ve said before, I think she’s a terrible villain. But she’s the chosen villain nonetheless.
Anyway, if you’ve been watching this season, you can probably guess what happens: Ra’Jah declares herself a terrific designer of garments using unconventional materials, overhypes herself and then flops when it comes to the challenge. Her idea isn’t terrible — making pants while almost everyone else does skirts and dresses (though she really overstates the difficulty factor in making pants out of burlap) — but she fails in execution. Her pants literally rip apart on the runway. Combined with her repeated trips to the bottom two, it’s not enough to save her.
In browsing Drag Race fan communities to get a sense of how people feel about this season, I’ve noticed quite a bit of enthusiasm for Ra’Jah’s bland villainy. Certainly there are different strokes for different folks, but this is one stroke I personally find baffling. She has one of the worst Drag Race track records of all time, so she’s a villain who can’t back up her big talk (unlike a greater villain like Tyra Sanchez from Season 2 or Roxxxy Andrews from Season 5).
Moreover, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Ra’Jah’s one-liners always sound like she’s thinking through them on the spot, and they all feel born of insecurity. That’s why her attempt to read Plastique comes across so nasty and venomous: she seems jealous that Plastique is getting camera time with Ru and has to put her down instead of appreciating her sister opening up.
A great queen can spout off a genius line effortlessly. She’s so confident in herself that she can speak and the world laughs. She’s a queen who knows she’s great and doesn’t have to attack others out of a place of insecurity. She’s a queen just like Alyssa Edwards.
Alyssa’s guest appearance as runway coach is the true highlight of this episode. I loved Alyssa’s stint as choreographer in Season 10, and she provides the same joy this week. (Also joyful: the continued reference to Alyssa as “Drag Race royalty.” Truer words never spoken.)
Alyssa is my all-time favourite Drag Race queen, and she proves why with aplomb this episode. There’s the adoring stage mom treatment she gives her drag daughter Plastique (“Before I got my tubes tied after Laganja, I said, I’m gonna do one more,” she jokes). There’s her reference to America’s Next Top Model runway coach Miss J as she offers a similar lesson to the contestants. There’s how great that lesson actually is, as she instantly makes every one of the queens’ runway walks better. And the one-liners, which roll off her tongue with poise. My personal favourite: “All right, Yvie! Gumby’s sister!”
You can instantly see Alyssa’s work during the main stage presentation. Brooke Lynn is sexy and sultry presenting her look, including a flash of her ass as she walks away that clearly delights guest judges Kandi Burruss and Amber Valletta. Yvie’s is a smart, colourful number that gives the flash of glam that the judges needed to see. Plastique’s is good, although maybe a bit too similar to her previous silhouettes for me to give it the win, as Ru does. I think Plastique wins for showing more personality and for sharing her emotional side this week, and I understand that.
On the lesser side of the coin, A’keria Chanel Davenport’s look is an odd, shapeless denim number that even she seems to realize is a whiff. She joins Ra’Jah in the bottom two, where they battle to Sheena Easton’s “Strut.” Though it’s not an all-time great lip sync, A’keria’s movement and energy give her the edge, and she wins the final battle of the Davenports. Ra’Jah goes home, and honestly? Good riddance.
I’ll say this, though: Vanessa should count her blessings that she avoided the bottom two this week. She clearly gets graded on a curve for showing a different silhouette, but the look she presents is a too-short, poorly made mess. While I’d have hated seeing her last another week, if Ra’Jah’s look hadn’t ripped apart, I’d have supported keeping her out of the bottom two in favour of Miss Vanjie.
But Ra’Jah has to go now to give us a truly dynamic final 8 — or, final 7 plus Shuga Cain. (I wanted to love her for so long, but there’s just no defending her continued existence in the competition.) What we’re left with is a remarkable number of allegiances and rivalries. You’ve got Silky, Vanjie, and A’keria as the Dreamgirls clique. You’ve got Vanjie and Brooke Lynn, the lovers. You’ve got A’keria and Brooke Lynn, rivals after A’keria named the Canadian queen as her biggest competition this week. And you’ve got Yvie versus the world, particularly Silky.
I can’t support everything Yvie does — she’s such a teacher’s pet sometimes, it’s aggravating — but I’ll admit, I like how she stirs shit up. Whether it’s calling Silky out for saying Yvie should go home because of her injury, or clocking girls’ excuses for their poor performance, she’s the kind of Sharon Needles-esque talented instigator that the show needs. Yvie is truly giving you a complex villain whose bite matches her bark. Time will tell if she can be a likable enough character to break the villain’s curse on Drag Race.
💋 The mini-challenge, a breast-heavy burlap sack “race,” is fully insane, which is fun. But I don’t know how I feel about such high-dollar prizes for mini challenges, when the winners always seem to be arbitrarily chosen. Nina and Shuga won a cool $2,500 for this ridiculosity. Save that firepower for the main challenges, or choose mini winners a little more purposefully!
💋 Similarly, the line-dancing segment is harmless and fun, but I don’t love the judges citing it in their critiques. I know Drag Race sometimes has to find ways to fill the hour-and-a-half, but something so clearly half-assed shouldn’t be considered seriously. It’s the same issue that I have with the makeover challenge song-and-dance routines.
💋 Love that Vanjie notes the corn connection between Nina and Shangela. Corn is a bad omen on the Drag Race main stage!
💋 Lots of sturm und drang this week about Brooke Lynn not being very personable off-stage, but I don’t think that’s really an issue? It’s a drag competition; better she has a big persona in drag than out of it.
💋 Provided she doesn’t win this season, A’keria definitely lands herself an All Stars slot, by telling RuPaul she wants to take out stiff competition. That’s what the Lip Sync for Your Legacy is made for.
💋 So this is the Brooke Shields 1984 Vanity Fair cover that Ru references when talking about Plastique’s look. I . . . don’t get the comparison.
💋 I get why Vanjie prefers the bodysuit silhouette: she lost on Season 10 because she presented a look with no shape. That said, she should know better than to ignore judges’ criticisms, especially considering it looks like her charm is wearing off on RuPaul. Their workroom conversation is frostier than I expected. (Although considering her look this week, maybe Vanjie would be better off going back to the bodysuit well again.)
💋 “This bitch has got to get to the bus stop! Let’s don’t say that, rewind back. I don’t want Roxxxy sending me a tweet.” Love you always and forever, Alyssa Edwards.
💋 I’m just giving up on the search for Carson Kressley. Calling him a main judge this season is plainly incorrect, unless he shows up in almost every single episode from here until the end. Miss you, Carson.
💋 So there’s no way Silky doesn’t just absolutely bomb the first time she has to lip sync after all this bragging that she’s ready to lip sync for her life, right? This has to be a bit with a good payoff.
💋 Finally, next week is Snatch Game (albeit “Snatch Game at Sea,” whatever that means). I have high hopes for Nina West, and big worries for Shuga Cain and Plastique Tiara — but we’ll have to wait and see how things go.