Did y’all feel that? At about 8:55 p.m. Eastern last night there was a rush of air as the country was engulfed in a collective gay gasp. RuPaul’s Drag Race delivered the strongest episode of the season with a shocking ending.
Part of the reason this episode felt so strong was because it seemed we were finally free from a lot of also-rans taking up too much screentime. Any of these top seven could believably be a top contender for the crown.
That heightened competition is also bringing out some juicy drama. The tension between Nina and Shea carried over from last week’s Untucked. Nina has a paranoid delusion that Shea’s been talking smack, which is unfortunate. Shea has been one of Nina’s biggest defenders, and we’ve seen her support Nina on several occasions.
When Ru announces it’s going to be a pick-your-own-team challenge, you know Shea wanted to get as far away from Nina as possible. She wisely makes a bee line to Sasha; Alexis, Peppermint and Trinity form another team; and Nina and Valentina are left to pair up.
Each team will be creating a trailer for an original pilot, including coming up with the idea, the script, the voiceover, etc. They get to use the Pit Crew, a green screen and whatever collection of garbage they picked up at some Palm Springs estate sale.
Team Sasha and Shea crush it with a blaxploitation buddy cop parody “Teets & Asky.” Shea is the Pam Grier ass kicker, while Sasha is a Soviet spy. Together they put together a sincerely promising pilot that I would 100 percent support if it were a webseries on Indiegogo. Every joke lands, and there are plenty of them to enjoy.
Peppermint, Alexis and Trinity pay homage to guest judge Noah Galvin’s recently-canceled sitcom The Real O’Neals with a sitcom that skewers religious institutions. The humor is broad and bawdy, with Peppermint and Trinity leaning in to the ridiculousness, and Alexis fading a bit in the background.
Then there’s Valentina and Nina. Oof. They barely prep before filming, which is always a sure sign of struggle in front of the judges. They wring some laughs out of their flailing just by nature of their personalities, but it’s a mess. Their concept is something about former prostitutes that discover Drag Race in a sparkly folder in prison, or something? Honestly, I have no idea.
This week’s runway challenge is Club Kid Couture, and the gals all bring it. Even those that didn’t quite stick it (Alexis and Valentina) still made bold choices that popped. Plus, seeing everyone in their wackiest wear made everything seem a little sillier. Like when Alexis tried in vain to cover up how badly she was throwing shade at her teammates when the judges put them on blast. It was her, dressed like some background actor in The Fifth Element, repeatedly saying that they all did all the same amount of work, but she did the most work and came up with all the funny ideas. Not cute. Peppermint and Trinity don’t let Alexis get away with that, and I cannot wait to see how that plays out on Untucked.
Sasha and Shea win, of course, and Nina and Valentina are our bottom two, leading to the most shocking lip sync in Drag Race herstory.
Valentina begins the lip sync wearing the bejeweled mask from her club kid ensemble. As the song starts, Michelle, Ru, Noah Galvin, Lisa Robertson, Trinity, me, James Comey all wonder if she’s really going to try to do this lip sync while covering her mouth.
Then, in an unprecedented move, RuPaul HALTS the lip sync mid-Ariana Grande and tells Valentina to take off her mask. She does so, begrudgingly, and then it becomes clear she doesn’t know these words. It’s heartbreaking. She knows she’s done for, but she has to finish this lip sync. Nina, meanwhile, is not only slaying the song, but doing so in hot pink skeleton makeup, which, if I weren’t so distraught over Valentina, I’d be gagging over.
The song ends and Valentina is sent sashaying away. Given how it went down, it was the right call, but I’m still shook to see her go before Alexis and Nina at the very least.
So, how do the gals measure up now? I’ll share my rankings here, and I want to hear yours in the comments.
1. I want to continue saying Shea is an obvious frontrunner, but after last night’s episode, can you really count on anything? Shea delivered another knockout performance in her pilot. She was even more funny than she had to be to be successful. Like Bob before her, she has such a keen comedic point of view. It’s her small choices that really shine. (“Espadrilles” are so much more funny than, say, “loafers” or “boat shoes.”) She also feels much more natural on camera. Her runway this week was a total bullseye.
2. Sasha is at her best with Shea. She’s a smart queen, but can be a little wooden. A partner like Shea can take Sasha’s elevated humor and add a little bit more levity. Again, Sasha wisely chose a character that made her stiffness part of the schtick. This week’s runway look was right in her wheelhouse, so I wasn’t surprised to see her nail it. Given this week’s shakeup, Sasha could sail into the finals, but I could also easily see her get in her head and totally bomb an upcoming challenge.
3. I came into this season so skeptical of Valentina, but she quickly won me over with her quirky personality and absolutely sickening style. Week after week, she murdered the runway and charmed the judges. Despite her lack of experience (and my own early feelings about her lackluster lip sync skills), I had become convinced she was a lock for the top three, at least. Did she deserve to be in the bottom two last night? Absolutely. Her pilot was a huge miss and her runway look barely qualified as club kid couture. However, all she had to do was a halfway decent lip sync to send Nina packing. The bar was so low. And it was a pretty current Ariana Grande song! This wasn’t some CeCe Peniston B-side. I find it hard to believe that this adorable, LA gay boy wasn’t feeling all of his oats last summer to that entire Ariana Grande album! Come on! For once, I really don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of Valentina. Despite this huge misstep, I still think she’s a bigger star than some of these other remaining queens.
4. It feels like Peppermint really started showing up these last few weeks. After that killer lip sync, she turned up the heat on all her performances. In her group’s pilot, I think she was a bigger presence than even Trinity. (Where were all these neck rolls — neck rolls?! — when she was serving NeNe in Snatch Game?)
5. Trinity has never looked better than she did on this week’s runway. Not only did she deliver the aesthetic, but her whole performance on the runway was spot-on. Maybe there’s more to this gal than even she seems to realize. I thought her work in the pilot was good by Drag Race acting challenge standards, but I didn’t really laugh at anything she did.
6. Ugh, Alexis. I’m sorry you’re getting the villain edit this season, but you’re not really making it any easier on yourself. You can swear up and down that you’re not throwing anyone under a bus, but when you’re holding a Greyhound over your head and you’ve got Miss Frizzle on speed dial, it becomes a little suspect. It’s like saying “No offense” when you’re absolutely about to say something offensive. I’ve got nothing more to add on Alexis’ performance or runway look the judges haven’t said already.
7. Nina is a very lucky gal. Very lucky. Whatever charm she came in with has all but disappeared at this point. That pilot was terrible (and she knew it), and I’m less and less impressed with her makeup. This isn’t Skin Wars, girl, this is Drag Race.
How would you rank the queens?