RuPaul’s Drag Race is at its best when it’s surprising us. If you think about some of the most iconic moments in the show’s herstory, they’ve been when either the show itself or (in most cases) the queens threw us a curveball. For example, Sharon Needles’ blood-soaked runway presentation in the Season 4 premiere, Roxxxy Andrews revealing a wig under a wig in Season 5, Alaska’s deeply un-Alaska meltdown in All Stars 2and the mother of all good surprises came when the show changed the format of the finale to a Lip Sync for the Crown tournament in Season 9. It shook up the track-records-trump-all approach to choosing a winner and gave us Sasha Velour’s innovative, shocking, and utterly fantastic “So Emotional” lip sync.
So while I’ve appreciated a lot about Season 12 so far, including good drama and some terrific performances (Gigi Goode and Jackie Cox in Snatch Game; Widow Von’Du in the season-opening dance challenge), I haven’t been able to fully invest in this season’s competitive storyline. There have been too many repeating beats: We haven’t seen a lip sync without Nicky Doll or Brita since week two, while prodigy Gigi Goode and disqualified queen Sherry Pie have won every single challenge since the split premiere—and made the top two in those episodes, too. The challenges may have been different, but the results were consistently the same.
If this were a weak crop of queens with only a couple of standouts, I would understand that! But it was frustrating watching the same two queens win over and over again as queens like Jackie, Jaida Essence Hall, Crystal Methyd, and Heidi N. Closet consistently impressed and won us over. The fanbase seemed to largely agree after last week, as there were near-riots—or, whatever you’d call an outcry on Twitter as we’re all stuck in our homes—over Jan not winning the challenge. Even those who agreed with Gigi’s win seemed to acknowledge the monotony of the season so far.
So it’s with utter delight that I report that all four of those queens I just mentioned were at the top this week. Jackie, Jaida, Crystal, and Heidi all shine both in a commercial challenge for products that parody Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop (here called, naturally, “Droop”) and on a Black Wedding runway that draws some of the best fashions of the season out of the cast. Moreover, frontrunners Gigi and Sherry both fall into the bottom four, as Gigi, in particular, gets shaken up by finally receiving negative feedback.
It all amounts to my favourite episode of the season, one just as entertaining as last week’s terrific Madonna Rusical, but with some genuinely surprising challenge results as well. Finally, Season 12 feels like a real race.
For their Droop commercials, the eight queens must come up with high-end products to advertise, making this much like the All Stars 2 commercial challenge that Alaska and Katya won. Jackie and Crystal both go with bizarre hair products, as Jackie sells merkins and Crystal finally leans into Ru’s obsessive love of her hair with a Magic Mullet. Crystal’s manic ad is reminiscent of Katya’s winning effort, or even more recently, Divina de Campo’s strong-if-complicated water bottle advertisement from Drag Race UK. Jackie goes with 60s I Dream of Jeannie–inspired ad, and while it takes the Pit Crew and director Bob Harper a minute to get on board with her idea, they finally understand her vision.
Jaida goes a very different direction, as she embraces the Gwyneth of it all with a celebrity-branded product. She gets one of the biggest laughs of the episode by introducing herself as a “terrible actress from Gay’s Anatomy,” which shows a heretofore unseen self-deprecating side that looks great on her. Jaida, like both Jackie and Crystal, stuns on the runway—but I’d be repeating myself if I said that for everyone. Seriously, this is one of the best runways in Drag Race herstory, every look is so strong.
But all three fall just short of the win, as a new queen rises to the top. Yes, the one to finally break Gigi and Sherry’s stranglehold on the wins this season—the queen to finally surprise us and give us someone new in the winner’s circle—is none other than Heidi N. Closet. That sound you can hear out your window is the scores of Heidi fans celebrating this day. I will be among the loudest, I promise you; I let out a shriek of joy as Ru declared her the winner. The Closet Monsters are being fed tonight, girls!
While the others all do well, Heidi’s is a decisive win. Her advertisement is killer, as she promotes a hydrating serum made of her own tears. Her comic timing finally shines through in the challenge, thanks to an immensely helpful tip from Bob Harper as he advises her to be her normally funny self instead of trying to perform while shooting the ad. I’ve compared Heidi to Alyssa Edwards in the past, and I think this note only furthers that comparison: They’re both funniest when they’re being themselves, not trying to adhere to a tight script. Combined with Heidi’s best runway look yet, and it all makes for a decisive win for Madame Closet.
As mentioned, Gigi and Sherry both find themselves in the bottom group this week, but neither ever feels like a major consideration to go home. Instead, the question is left between Jan and Widow Von’Du, who both have pretty terrible weeks front-to-back. Jan sobs throughout the cold open of the episode, insisting that her tears are for departed best friend Brita, but the other queens cast aspersions on that. I’ll admit I’m Team Other Queens on this one, especially after Jan tries once more to insist she was crying for Brita during the makeup mirror segment. Methinks she doth protest too much; it’s perfectly legitimate for her to be upset over losing the Rusical since that is her favourite challenge. I’d rather she own her emotion instead of unconvincingly downplaying it.
Jan packs everything you can possibly imagine into her advertisement—in Untucked, she rightfully notes she found room for everything but the kitchen sink. There’s comedy! There’s her in multiple looks! There’s a death drop! And this is all for…a spray. One that barely gets featured, mind you, since the ad is really all about Jan being Jan. Bob Harper repeatedly advises Jan to calm down and be less intense, but I don’t think such a thing is possible. Going 110 miles per hour is Jan’s thing, and it translates pretty terribly in this challenge.
Widow, on the other hand, does far too little in her ad, coming across as both solemn and devoid of her usual personality. She gets shaken up by Ru during his workroom walk when the elder queen notes that Widow has mostly been safe since her win way back in the season premiere. (Never mind that she likely would’ve been top three for the Gay’s Anatomy challenge were it not arbitrarily judged as a top six. But I digress.) Once she hears that the guest judge is the legendary Chaka Khan—someone Widow is an absolutely massive fan of—Widow is overcome by nerves. She admits later in Untucked that she lost the spirit of fun after week one, and isn’t sure she can regain her nerve.
We get the dreaded “Who should go home tonight and why?” question from Ru during critiques, which would be more dramatic if a) he hadn’t already asked once this season, and b) everyone didn’t hastily agree on Widow. Hell, Widow’s so disappointed in herself, it looks like she wants to say Widow. (She instead says Jan, saying that Jan’s is the only ad as bad as hers.)
One particularly brutal moment comes when Heidi realizes she must also say Widow, but can’t bring herself to say that of her close friend. “Say it,” Widow implores, just wanting to get the pain over with. It’s certainly an affecting segment but doesn’t bring the sparks either on the main stage or in Untucked like producers must have wanted. Widow doesn’t blame the other queens at all. She knows she screwed up.
The lip sync is to Chaka’s “This Is My Night,” somehow only the legend’s second song to be featured in a Lip Sync for Your Life. While Widow feels bad for failing in front of her hero, she makes the hell up for it (and more!) in her lip sync. She tears into every word, and as Jackie notes from the back of the stage, she channels Chaka’s spirit into the song. Jan puts up one hell of a fight, but her flips, tricks and reveals can’t help but look a little shallow and tonally mismatched next to Widow’s soulful performance.
So it’s with a heavy heart that we send Jan packing. I know just how badly she wanted this, and I know how many fans rooted for her this season. I can’t ultimately prescribe to the commonly held belief that Jan was slept on by the judges; other than last week, which was very much a tossup between her and Gigi. I don’t think Jan was really robbed of any challenges. (I’d probably have put her in the top two over Sherry in their premiere, but Jaida would still be my clear winner that week.) I do think she’s an incredibly spirited, likable queen, but that unfortunately just isn’t enough to thrive in modern Drag Race. Regardless, the scores of fans she’s earned this season, plus her heavily meme-d moments like her reaction to losing last week means she can walk away from this competition knowing she made a real impact.
Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the last few weeks of the Gigi-Sherry stalemate, I have to give the Drag Race production team props: The reversal of fortune and Heidi win this week wouldn’t be nearly as wildly satisfying if not for the repetitiveness of the first half of this season. If we can continue to see the underdog queens thrive, I think we could be in for a thrilling final month of Season 12. To quote Ru from his Season 6 speech to Trinity K. Bonet—another underdog who grew to thrive—“I’m so proud to see it.”
✨I talked about this a bit on Twitter, but I honestly don’t get the heavy reliance on the “Who should go home tonight?” question in modern Drag Race. It has inspired a few iconic moments over the years, but not nearly enough to justify its heavy rotation. I can think of exactly one iconic moment (Scarlet Envy noting Ra’jah Davenport O’Hara’s terrible track record) it’s produced since Season 9. And it’s been used a lot since! I’d prefer it to go back to a once-a-season feature, timed to a particularly heated moment in the narrative. That way, it can pack the maximum heat.
✨Interesting that in Untucked, the queens largely agree that Gigi, Jaida, and Sherry are the top contenders. (Perhaps because, other than Widow, they were the only ones to win a challenge before Heidi?) I’d remove Sherry from that list—for, uh, obvious reasons—and throw Crystal in instead. She may not have won the challenge, but her underdog narrative is strong.
✨The cutest part of Heidi’s commercial is her liberal use of the gap in her teeth to whistle through “S” sounds. She’s using the gifts God gave her!
✨The queens briefly imitate each other in the workroom in a very funny moment, as most go for Jan’s high-pitched cheer and Crystal’s intense vocal fry. Perhaps my favourite: Jaida imitating Aiden by suddenly becoming a silent statue!
✨I didn’t mention the mini-challenge, but that’s because I found it pretty underwhelming. The queens are paired up and asked to shade each other while presenting each other with Fab Fit Fun boxed gifts. I’m worried it’s replacing the annual reading challenge, which would be a real disappointment; this sponsored challenge is not up to Reading Is Fundamental’s calibre.
✨Really good work by Bob Harper as the director in the challenge. Nearly every bit of advice he offers to the queens is smart, and he shows great taste in what he finds funny. Between him and Jamal Sims’ expert choreography work last week, the coaches are stepping up their game this season!
✨Jackie imploring Bryce from the Pit Crew to quickly help her with moving props as she sits frozen is one of the funniest visual gags of the episode.
✨Dahlia Sin sitting in the P of the “Droop” logo in her broccoli costume…she continues to win.
✨Ross Mathews is back! As I predicted last week, the “Next Time On” that I didn’t get to see before broadcast did indeed promote his return. Glad to see my favourite Drag Race judge back. His critiques this week were remarkably insightful and sharp, too.
✨Chaka Khan is a terrific guest judge, so game and fun on the main stage and so lovely in Untucked. Hearing her talk to the queens as peers in art, and celebrate the work that they do, all while lifting Widow up and giving her the inspiration to kill it in the lip sync? Absolutely incredible. Great season for guest judges in Untucked (if you take the truly terrible Mean Girls guys’ trip back out of the equation).
✨We made it through an entire episode of Season 12 without an El DeBarge reference or “Rhythm of the Night” sample. We did it, my sisters.