RuPaul's Drag Race
6 min

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 11 Episode 9 recap: A solid improv challenge? Yes, and!

More than anything else, Season 11 deserves praise for its thoughtfully considered competitor arcs

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11. Credit: Courtesy VH1

After an episode like last week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, which culminated in one of the most epic Lip Sync for Your Life battles of all time, anything would feel like a return to normalcy. Give “L.A.D.P.,” the ninth episode of Season 11, a lot of credit, then; if this is the new normal, it’s a great place to be.

Yvie Oddly and Brooke Lynn Hytes are shaken but ultimately confident after their “Sorry Not Sorry” lip sync success. However, statistics queen Shuga Cain is here to rain on the parade a little bit. “With the exception of Tyra [Sanchez] and Trixie [Mattel], everyone who has won Drag Race has placed in the top of Snatch Game,” she declares in the cold open. (She does forget Violet Chachki, who was merely safe in the Season 7 Snatch Game.) Theoretically, this leaves the competition wide-open for a new frontrunner.

Who will step up to the plate? By the end of the hour and a half, we’ll have a pretty good idea who — though at least one of the lip sync survivors will make her case that she’s still very much at the top of the heap.

After an utterly disastrous Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge — which we’ll get into in the final thoughts — RuPaul gives the girls their latest assignment: act in an improv challenge called L.A.D.P. (Los Angeles Drag Patrol, natch). The show refers to COPS as the inspiration for the concept, but I personally think it has far more in common with the late, great Reno 911! (which, of course, was also a parody of COPS).

Credit: Courtesy VH1

In pairs, the queens take on different sketch concepts, from Silky Nutmeg Ganache selling Shuga Cain illegal butt pads, to Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Plastique Tiara as feuding cats. If that sounds batshit insane to you, don’t worry, it absolutely is. The range of ideas here is wild, but it does generate a few great performances. Of particular note is Silky as a smooth-talking saleswoman, Brooke Lynn Hytes as a nudist sunbather and A’keria Chanel Davenport as an old (but passionate!) twerker.

Vanjie and Plastique, on the other hand, turn in terrible performances, landing them in the bottom two. (Shuga just avoids the bottom, likely at least partially thanks to her runway.) They give no depth to their performances, instead starting at a 10 and shrieking their way through. Compared to a lot of much better work this week, it’s a major letdown.

It’s a bit of a shock to see two hyped queens fall into the lip sync, but frankly, that’s going to be what almost every battle is from here on out. Sure, Shuga is a dark horse in this competition, and Silky isn’t the fan favourite she thinks she is. But beyond them, losing anyone at this point will hurt. We’ve fully blown through the chaff and are sitting in pure wheat.

Credit: Courtesy VH1

The runway is an interesting one this week, as the queens dress up in facekinis — masks that completely obscure all but the eyes and lips. Silky takes this opportunity to only do her lips, not the rest of her face, and comes out in an insectoid look. Michelle Visage clocks the lack of makeup immediately, turning her positive edit this episode into a mixed bag. Shuga fares much better in a gorgeous period gown, as does Brooke Lynn in a stunning horse facekini. (It looks much better than it sounds.)

Vanjie and Plastique both get knocked for their looks, with Michelle reading Vanjie’s strange pant silhouette extra hard. There’s a moment in Michelle’s critique where I think Vanjie is toast this week; the head judge’s notes have gotten so harsh that it’s hard to imagine her ever winning her way back in with the panel. As long as Michelle is right next to Ru, she’ll be there to heavily criticize Vanjie every step of the way.

But it’s actually Plastique who pays the price this week. Her facekini wasn’t really a facekini at all, leaving a ton of her face unobscured. Combined with a good-but-not-enough lip sync to Fantasia’s “Hood Boy,” it’s curtains for Alyssa Edwards’ youngest drag daughter. I’ll have a lot more to say about her in the power ranking tomorrow, but suffice it to say, I think Plastique will be more than fine.

Credit: Courtesy VH1

I’ve left the most important queen of the week for last because I think she deserves our time and attention. On the back of a tremendous performance in the challenge, and a creative whole-body facekini that makes her look like a post-plastic surgery patient, A’keria takes the win this week. Her performance reminds me a lot of her sister Kennedy Davenport’s in All Stars 3’s improv challenge “The Bitchelor”: committed to a bit no matter what, loose in a way we rarely see pageant girls get and just goddamn fun. She and partner Yvie Oddly run the gamut of emotions, from pure hilarity as rival twerkers to emotionally reuniting as mother and daughter.

It’s a terrific performance, but more interesting to me is the rapturous reception A’keria gets when she wins the challenge. The other girls fully cheer for her, not merely politely clap as they’ve done for others. Judging just by this, it seems like A’keria is everyone’s favourite — and that’s no small thing.

While I do think Brooke Lynn is probably still the frontrunner to win the season (her comeback narrative is strong this week), I’ve started to wonder about A’keria. I think she needs to do more; she tends to fade into the background if she’s not the winner of the challenge. But a win for A’keria would be a win for a famous, Drag Race-beloved pageant house. It would be crowning a Black winner for the first time on the flagship series since Season 8 (and, before that, Season 2). It would also avoid giving a win to a white queen, or a queen fans don’t like in Silky.

Maybe all this time, when we’ve been thinking we’ve been living in the Age of Aquaria, it’s actually been the Age of A’keria. Who knows? Well, RuPaul does — and she’ll let us know soon enough.

💋 Oh my god, the reading challenge. What a disaster. When the winner, Brooke Lynn Hytes, wins after recycling a joke that Mimi Imfurst used in a cruise roast of Michelle Visage, you know it’s bad. Vanjie, Silky, Plastique, Shuga and Nina all bomb. Yvie and Brooke Lynn are solid. Honestly, I think A’keria is robbed; she not only delivers a couple of strong reads, but she also reads her competitors back when they fail to properly read her.

💋 In one of her reads, Silky spits a Japanese word at Plastique, who responds in bafflement that she’s not Japanese. The clip has already started to make the rounds, with people calling the joke racist. It’s hard to disagree with them, to say the least. I personally think it’s part and parcel of the Silky experience, one that started this season with an Islamophobic joke that I was told more than once wasn’t really Islamophobic. What’s the saying? When people show you who they are, believe them?

💋 Watching A’keria cry and twerk simultaneously is one of the true joys of my life.

💋 Yvie mostly settles for the background this episode, letting Brooke Lynn have the major redemption narrative. While this may seem unwise at the moment, I think she’s smart to not compete for the same screen time as another queen. Plenty of time for her own moment.

💋 As part of her prize for winning the mini-challenge, Brooke Lynn gets to pair up the teams. Vanjie seems upset that Brooke Lynn does not choose to work with her, but as the Canadian queen says, it’s a competition. Vanjie only does Vanjie. I admire her brutal honesty!

💋 Improv challenges sit below design and stand-up challenges, but far above Rusicals and scripted acting challenges, for me. So I was happy to have one this episode. Also, it’s truly a thrill to see the queens outside! That has become increasingly rare in modern seasons, as production grows more spoiler-phobic by the year.

💋 Nina West channels Leigh Bowery for her runway look. Somewhere, Mimi Imfurst is shaking with glee. (Fun fact: I’ve said Mimi’s name more than Nina’s in this recap!)

💋 I know I said last week that Drag Race PR told me Carson Kressley was set to appear in later episodes this season, but neither he nor Ross Mathews is in this episode (for the second time this season, after “Draglympics”). And there are only three competitive episodes left this season before the reunion and finale. So, if Carson’s gonna’ show, he only has a little bit of time left to do so!

💋 Well, let’s make do with what we have and talk about our guest judges. Fortune Feimster, returning as a guest judge after Season 9, has upped her game in the criticism department and is a kick in the challenge. She and fellow returning Season 9 judge Cheyenne Jackson, who is just okay on the panel, act as the officers in L.A.D.P., and mostly just have fun with the girls. Natasha Lyonne is spirited on the panel but can’t help but feel a little divorced from the proceedings since she wasn’t in the challenge.

💋 “Twerking is a blessing!” Goddamn, A’keria truly deserves this win. Good for her.