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47 min

The nine most notable Snatch Games performances on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

From the truly inspired to the utterly disastrous

Across 15 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its All Stars variant, we’ve seen 13 different incarnations of the show’s signature celebrity impersonation challenge, Snatch Game. Some were truly terrific. Some were utter disasters. And a lot of them, well, fall somewhere in the middle.

With so many Snatch Game impersonations in Drag Race herstory — 111 individual performances to be exact — it can be hard to remember which ones truly matter. So to tide us over while we wait as new seasons of Drag Race are being filmed this summer, let’s take a look back at nine of the most noteworthy Snatch Game performances ever. We’ll start with the master classes, and some surprising great impressions before we examine three of the all-time worsts.

Home Runs

Chad Michaels’ Cher, Season 4

Often cited as the absolute best Snatch Game performance ever, Chad Michaels’ Cher elevated what we had seen the previous two seasons and made this challenge truly professional. Her jokes were on point, and her gimmick with switching Cher’s wigs was the kind of visual gag bound to pay off. But what Chad brought most was a perfect understanding of the character. Chad has a reverence for Cher that doesn’t prevent her from poking fun at the music icon. We’ve seen performers who are too respectful of their character flop — think Asia O’Hara’s Beyoncé in Season 10 or Detox’s Kesha in Season 5. Chad combines her respect with a deep understanding and a sense of humour. By the time she got to complaining about being booked for “chickenshit gigs,” she had the win in the bag.

Jinkx Monsoon’s Little Edie, Season 5

Due respect to Chad’s Cher, but Jinkx’s Little Edie is my personal favourite Snatch Game performance. While Jinkx understood Little Edie well, what really made her performance stand out was her perfect comic timing. Snatch Game’s difficulty comes in trying to get as many jokes in as you can without coming on too strong. You have to dominate the game, but not overwhelm the game. Comic timing is key for this; as Jinkx proved in her performance, it’s all about picking up the beads that other performers leave for you. When Ivy Winters as Marilyn Monroe whiffed on a Jack Kennedy punchline, Jinkx used Little Edie’s connection to Jackie O to tell a joke of her own, getting RuPaul howling.

Alaska’s Mae West, All Stars Season 2

One of two Snatch Game winners in All Stars Season 2, Alaska’s Mae West took home the crown alongside Katya’s fun-and-quirky, if a bit too derivative from Kristen Wiig, Björk. What stands out in memory about Alaska’s performance is what a whole impersonation it was. Like just about everything Alaska did in All Stars, her Mae West was so excellent as a result of her perfect preparation. She had prepared for just about every eventuality, ready to riff with both RuPaul and her fellow contestants. She had fun twists on Mae West’s signature catchphrases (“Why don’t you come up and fuck me in the ass sometime?”) to avoid simply repeating them wholesale. And the look was just stunning. Snatch Game is a war, and Alaska’s performance proves the best weapon is preparation.

Big Surprises

Sharon Needles’ Michelle Visage, Season 4

Season 4’s is the rare Snatch Game with two utterly terrific performances: Chad’s Cher, and eventual season winner Sharon Needles’ Michelle Visage. This was a big risk, and it paid off. As a close friend of RuPaul’s, a good Michelle impression could get bigger laughs out of her by relying on inside jokes and their relationship. But a bad Michelle impression would be insulting, both to Ru, at the moment, and Michelle later on the panel. Sharon gambled hard here and trusted her talent. Luckily, she came through in a big way, delivering a performance that wasn’t precise in its impersonation, but instead so big in its comedy that Ru was left cackling.

Kennedy Davenport’s Little Richard, Season 7

Another massive risk: performing in Snatch Game as a man. Most impressively, the one to take that risk was Season 7 pageant queen Kennedy Davenport. I’d put good money on Kennedy taking a safe route out of Snatch Game, but she instead decided to rock the boat and show that drag is not solely about gender — it’s about persona, performance and extravagance. Little Richard was the perfect type of character for Snatch Game: vocal effects, an odd appearance, lots of room for riffing. Except, of course, that he’s male. But Kennedy pushed through and made it work. By doing something we had never seen on Snatch Game before, Kennedy brought a new idea to the proceedings. We’ve seen a couple of male performances since — most impressively BenDeLaCreme’s Paul Lynde in All Stars Season 3 — but Kennedy gets the credit for innovating.

Pearl’s Big Ang, Season 7

Full disclosure: Season 7’s is my absolute favourite Snatch Game. You could make the argument for three performances as winners, and one of those came from the least expected source: Pearl, who took on Mob Wives star Big Ang. What Pearl showed us with this impersonation was a hidden depth to her drag. Yes, there was her hilariously exaggerated appearance, with overdrawn lips and breasts so large she called them a “medical mystery.” But what impressed most was just how quick Pearl was with her jokes. She had solid answers for the Snatch Game questions and killed every single follow-up joke she delivered. I still giggle when I remember her saying she wasn’t watching “fuckin’ Batman and Robin” because of her “fucked-up childhood.” We continue to stan.

Utter Disasters

Alyssa Edwards’ Katy Perry, Season 5

I mean, duh. When you think about truly terrible Snatch Game performances, Alyssa’s Katy Perry — which RuPaul actually made her apologize for on Twitter — is bound to come to mind. Unfortunately for Alyssa, this was a total failure of impression. There’s no nuanced reason why it didn’t work; it was just utterly awful. The look was okay, in that she had a blue wig on, but it wasn’t even Katy’s usual shade of blue or shape of wig. There was no voice, no change in persona, and no understanding of the character. She totally whiffed when Ru set up the simplest “I Kissed a Girl” punchline. Alyssa was lucky she had immunity because this performance should’ve disqualified her from winning Drag Race immediately.

Max’s Sharon Needles, Season 7

Max’s Snatch Game performance came as something of a shock to the system. At this point in the competition, the theatre queen had two wins, both for challenges heavily involving performance and comedy. Flopping Snatch Game, especially in a crop of queens who had underwhelmed as performers on the whole so far, felt like an impossibility for Max. Yet flop he did, turning in the unquestionably worst performance of the set as her personality-challenged competitors suddenly stepped their pussies up in a major way. In contrast, where Max really fouled up was in the failure of her idea. Doing a former Drag Race queen isn’t a terrible concept — Violet Chachki’s Alyssa Edwards the same season and Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s Jasmine Masters two years later were both terrific — but Max’s Sharon had nothing to do with the real Sharon. Her jokes fell flat, and the hollow laugh she kept using was distinctly bizarre.

Trixie Mattel’s RuPaul, All Stars Season 3

On a pure hype level, Trixie’s Ru may be the biggest letdown in Snatch Game herstory. This was a rare case where the main failure was a failure of expectation. There were two main factors at fault here: one, Trixie didn’t get to do Snatch Game in her season. Being eliminated before Season 7’s Snatch Game, and not returning to the competition until after it, Trixie missed the task seemingly suited to her comic strengths. Two, Trixie had been doing her RuPaul impersonation online for years. And in that solitary, rehearsed format, it played impressively! Sadly, Trixie couldn’t take her pre-written material and make it work in the chaotic Snatch Game format, and thus a disaster was born. Bottom line: there’s such a thing as too much preparation, since the expectations can come back to bite you in the ass.