We all know are queer people are magic, right? I don’t mean to generalize, but having heightened empathy, creative aptitude, connection to nature and enduring spirit does make me believe that queer people are basically witches. (Every time we take our PrEP with vodka-soda we grow stronger!)
That’s why I’m surprised it’s taken RuPaul’s Drag Race so long to do a straight-up magic show. Really, the line between a magic show and a drag show is already razor thin. It’s a great medium to test the gals’ showmanship, humor and discipline. Although last night’s ep wasn’t one of the series’ strongest, the challenge was a perfect framework for the show.
Gather round top hats and bottom hats alike, and let’s abra cadabra ourselves back to the beginning of the episode for our recap.
Fresh off last week’s runway (lol remember Plastique?), Nina is a little salty that she was such a generous partner for Brooke, but Brooke didn’t even attempt to share the glory. It’s not a story that goes particularly anywhere. #fakenews
For this week’s mini-challenge, the queens had to do a dirty Double Dare-esque physical challenge pressing balls between themselves and the Pit Crew to drop in a basket. The highlight for me was Silky picking up Shawn Morales in a fireman’s carry, but it’s Vanjie that snags a much-needed win and the ability to split the queens into two teams.
This is where things go south. Vanjie puts herself alongside big personalities Silky, Yvie and A’Keria. I get the thinking here, but this is a team of charming entertainers whose oversized presences carry them through most of the time. These are not joke writers, and, unlike last week, this isn’t technically an improv challenge.
Conversely, the team of Nina, Brooke and Shuga immediately click in and obviously understand the challenge. They quickly get to work strategizing, almost to a fault.
Rehearsals with an actual magician somehow demonstrate both how involved this challenge is and also how easily executable magic is? Maybe they edited A LOT of rehearsal out, or maybe I too could swallow a whole super long balloon if I just BELIEVED.
(Though, just between us squirrels, I have a sneaking suspicion I’d do just fine at that particular trick, athankyouverymuch.)
Team Nina comes prepared with bits, and they seem totally ready to slay. The other team though is hoping to improv their way through it. Y’all. Come on. You gotta know by now that “winging it” is not gonna fly-fly-fly-fly, uh oh, uh uh oh.
There’s a sort of unclear development overnight where Team Vanjie had to last minute change their show, because it was too hot for VH1. Weird.
Regardless, it would be tough to best Nina, Brooke and Shuga as The Mighty Tucks. From start to finish, this is a delight. It feels like a real magic show and a real drag show and a real comedy show. Nina is 100 percent the star, and she gives her strongest performance yet. Brooke is once again excellent. She’s silly and sexy, and she lights up the stage. Shuga is fine! There isn’t a moment during their whole act when all three ladies aren’t giving us SOMETHING. They’re even mugging and dancing in the background. Tour this show, please! I’d order two ticket today.
Team Black Magic isn’t a disaster by any stretch. It’s just a lot of Silky being Silky, A’Keria being A’Keria, Yvie being Yvie and especially Vanjie being Vanjie. Everything feels half a beat off, and it feels much more like four separate performance happening in sequence rather than a cohesive team performance.
The runway theme calls for caftans-tans-tans across the board, and the ladies mostly nail it. A’Keria’s pantsuit with butterfly wings is not a caftan, per se, and Shuga’s overly-ambitious double reveal merely uncovered increasingly disappointing lewks, like some kind of Russian doll from T.J. Maxx.
The judges clearly favored The Mighty Tucks over the Team Black Magic. Silky gets dinged for some unflattering choices for her body, and Ross is unrelenting in his disapproval of A’Keria’s non-caftan. Although the judges (and Michelle in particular) love Vanjie’s caftan, all they got in the challenge was more Miss Vanjie. They want more character development.
The Mighty Tucks receive nearly universal praise, save for Shuga. The judges feel Shuga didn’t rise to meet Nina and Brooke at their level, and her second and third caftans were misses.
Nina rightfully earns the win here. Vanjie lands in the bottom two, as does Shuga. It’s a surprise, because she was not one of the two weakest players in this challenge, but she is the remaining queen with the most middling performances overall for the season.
The lip sync is to the classic Mary J. Blige anthem, “No More Drama.” Numbers like this are tough for a sync, because they don’t lend themselves to stunts, tricks, deathdrops, shablams, etc. It’s all about emotion, and, boy does Vanjie deliver. She removes jewelry piece by dramatic piece. She tosses her head around with abandon. She sells every single beat. Shuga is no slouch, but the judges and cameras can’t take their eyes off Vanjie. Shantay she stays, and Shuga sashays away.
Where does that leave us? Check out our rankings below, and leave yours in the comments.
1. Standing strong again this week is Brooke. She is really just crushing this competition to such an extent, it is shocking she came so unprepapred for Snatch Game, one of the few challenges you always know is coming. Her runways are flawless, and she’s so far ahead, I can’t imagine how she could fumble it this close to the net, or whatever. (Look, I recap Drag Race for a living, go get your sports metaphors from Bleacher Report if you need them right.)
2. Yvie was a real stinker in the main challenge this week. While the rest of her team compensated for a lack of preparation with an abundance of confidence, Yvie seemed the most tentative in her every moment. Luckily, the ripped-up yellow caftan gave me sort of Grizabella glam, which I am incredibly here for. Her runway story put a spiritual spin on the theme, and her backward prayer hands were quite memorable.
3. A’Keria got the best trick of the night, and she sold it well. I’m afraid she squandered whatever goodwill she got from the judges last week when she ignored this week’s runway requirements. Anyone would agree that was NOT a caftan. She should know better.
4. Silky is very good at what she does … and she doesn’t care to try anything else. Personally, I love her big, loud presence, but I do NOT love her dismissive attitude toward anything outside her comfort zone. Her hair-ball wig was a refreshing, artsy edge to her typical pageant glam, but the whole lewk just felt slightly off. In the magic show, Silky commanded the stage and kept the crowd on her side, even when she didn’t have much content to offer. Compared to beautiful Brooke, innovative Yvie and A’Keria’s edge, though, Silky needs to serve more to prove she’s a superstar.
5. Man, I love Nina West. She’s adorable, hilarious and seems genuinely sweet. This was her week to shine, and she was incredible. I could watch her magic show for hours. I sincerely hope she integrates some of this into her regular routine. Her caftan was also her best runway thus far. Unfortunately, I don’t think her best is going to be enough to best the frontrunners.
6. Watching Vanjie has been heartbreaking. She knows she’s beat. She only has swimsuits in that workroom, and she knows it. She only has Vanjie inside her, and she knows it. She’s on borrowed time, and she knows it. The good news is she’s primed to be a breakout on All Stars 5, and regardless of ever snatching a crown, she’s got legions of new Fanjies (™️?) all over the world.
7. It’s a little bittersweet to see Shuga go this week. Not because she wasn’t the least likely winner remaining (she was), but because she really wasn’t bad in this challenge. I’d even go so far as to say this was her BEST week in terms of challenge performances. I think the runway really hurt her, but, regardless, if it wasn’t this week, it’d be next week or the week after, let’s be honest.
How would you rank the queens?