Ever since Ru introduced the All Stars rules, there’s been an ongoing debate over whether the winning queens should eliminate bottom girls on the basis of merit or strategy. We saw it just last week with Manila.
However, the real question is: What constitutes merit? Is it based on what the judges say? Is it based on just this week’s challenge or performance in the competition overall? What about their work outside the competition or legacy?
It’s the perfect reality TV mechanic, because, unless you’re Bendelacreme, even if you’re trying to do the right thing, people are going to think you’re wrong.
That was the case this week when we witnessed what will surely be the gag of the season. I am truly gooped, America.
Last night’s shocking elimination came following a theatrical improv challenge pitting three teams of queens in an episode of Jersey Justice. The daytime courtroom comedy featured the one and only First Lady of New Jersey, Michelle Visage, presiding and Stacy Layne Matthews playing court stenographer. The queens portrayed both parties in three whackadoo cases fresh from the Garden State.
The first team, Manila and Naomi, filed a dispute about a makeover gone wrong in an episode titled, “You Made Me Look Like a Bitch, Bitch!” Manila stole the show as the plaintiff, sporting a poddle-esque pile of curly hair. Her Jersey accent was strong and consistent, and she made expert choices for her character, including slipping in a little bark. Naomi, as the mobile dog groomer who did Manila dirty, was more servicebale in her role. She gave us gruff, Jersey, carton-a-day smoker in full guidette regalia. A solid opening that kept the funny coming without devolving into screaming slapstick.
Next up, Latrice, Monique and Monet hit the courtroom for “How ‘Bout Them Cakes?” It didn’t take long to go off the rails. As the plaintiff, Monique played the part of a wronged bride who didn’t get the cake she ordered from Ana Mae (Latrice). Monet entered the scene later as Latrice’s daughter and the story started to unravel. Monique raced away with the scene as Latrice faded into the background and Monet just really did Monet. The whole thing came crashing down in cake throwing and making out, and I guess this is comedy?
Finally, Trinity and Valentina litigated the case of “Snookered by Snooki.” It’s a rough start. Trinity forgot her own character’s name for what felt like an eternity. (The answer? Fisha Pice. O … k?) Valentina came in late, looking frazzled and giving us what I can only imagine an alien would believe a person from New Jersey looked, sounded and acted like. It’s delightful, but also absurd. Trinity seemed so focused on keeping a consistent narrative and hitting pre-written jokes, the whole scene never got enough room to really breathe.
This week’s runway features “Curves and Swerves” (as well as one of my most favorite Ru looks of all term, herny). It was certainly open to a wide variety of interpretations, some hits and some misses. (We’ll discuss the lewks deeper in the rankings below.)
As expected, Manila is praised for her performance, landing in the top two alongside Monique. Trinity skated by thanks to a stunning runway presentation, and she’s safe with partner Valentina. The judges liked what Valentina did, but guest judge Erica Ash came so hard for her runway look, it would’ve been insulting to put her in the top crowd. Naomi was also safe, serving a solid B+ in the challenge and an A on the runway.
That left Monet in the bottom with Latrice Royale. The queens had been anticipating Latrice’s place in the bottom two. Trinity, concerned she’d be joining her, had even spoken to Valentina about the possibility before the runway. Valentina told her plainly if it was between the two of them, she would send home her friend, Trinity. Latrice is just too beloved and respected to risk running afoul of the Drag Race faithful.
With Monet joining Latrice in the bottom, it seemed like an easy decision. Manila, immediately breaking down into tears, made it clear from the jump she would not send home her bestie, Latrice. But even Monique seemed pretty resigned to sending Monet home when she spoke with her backstage.
One look at Monique and Manila’s wigs, and it became immediately clear this week’s lip sync would be to Miss Tina Turn-ter. The two turned it out to her cover of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back.” For someone out there fighting for her friend’s survival, Manila’s performance never felt like it got out of neutral, as Monique hit the floor hard (and kept her wig on the whole time!).
Monique was awarded the win, and, after a few self-indulgent words, chose to eliminate … LATRICE.
Surely, this decision will be a controversial one. Latrice was not great this week. Worse than Monet? Maybe! But between those two queens, who do you think would be more likely to win this whole thing? Is that based on this week or the whole competition? Are you considering their previous body of work?
See? Not so simple.
We’ll see the effects of this choice play out next week. Until then, let’s assess our remaining queens. I gotta say, in my eight seasons of recapping Drag Race, this was the hardest rankings to do. Not only because I disagree with who went home tonight, but also because the remaining queens are so neck-and-neck. I could see almost all of them (sorry, Monet, love you, mean it) win this whole thing. So, take the following with a big ol’ grain of salt, and see if you can do better in the comments.
1. Trinity didn’t give the strongest performance, and she likely just missed the bottom two this week. However, she made up for it on the runway. The swervy, curvy bodysuit and Lichtenstein-esque wig were knockouts. Trinity has dominated the first few weeks here, but she got too in her head this week. She can certainly bounce back, but other queens are nipping at her heels.
2. Let the record show, this was a challenge tailor-made for Manila Luzon. No other queen has the camp sensibility to fulfill the sort of silly, low-brow humor Ru loves. (The only other true comedy queen, Monet, is better in a stand-up or roast situation … more on that shortly.) In Jersey Justice, Manila was clearly the strongest competitor. When it comes to her runways though, I’m routinely disappointed. The quilted Chanel homage was … fine … but nothing memorable.
3. Each passing week, I’m more and more convinced Naomi Smalls will be here until the very end. Much like her season nine performance, expect to see Naomi fly under the radar right to the finale. The judges’ criticism of her performance boiled down to just not “matching Manila.” That’s a tall order for anyone! She regularly CRUSHES the runway, including this week’s brilliant, beautiful, burnt-pie housewife. She’s got all the talent it takes. She just needs to come out swinging and prove she is every bit the star as her competitors.
4. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Valentina‘s performance in the challenge as the judges were, but it felt like slim pickings for the top performers this week. I applaud how transparent Valentina has been with her fellow queens, especially when she flat-out told Trinity she would send her home over Latrice. I loved her runway look, but curves and swerves, it was not. If Valentina can keep tuning her weirdo energy to the same frequency as the challenges, she’s a real contender. But there’s always a chance her oddball antics will sink her faster than you can say “TELEPORT US TO MARS!”
5. It took until this week to clock exactly what it is about Latrice‘s runway lewks that never quite sits right me. She doesn’t cinch! Pulling in that waist took her glamorous gown to a whole other level. She was clearly in the bottom this week, but I agreed with everyone’s assessment that she was far too beloved to send home so soon. (It did feel a little gross to hear HER say it about herself so much, though.) This was not her week to go, but I do not believe this is the last we’ve seen of chunky, yet funky queen. Expect her to reappear when the eliminated queens usually make a return at the midpoint of the season.
6. Monique slayed this week, no doubt. So why so low on the list? Just looking over all these queens, she doesn’t seems as ready for the Hall of the Fame. I think Monique is a great queen … just not as great as SHE thinks she is. Her confidence feels like it could lead to some unforced errors (like her struggles in the group singing challenge). Yes, her increased profile has enabled her to transcend her thriftier, craftier roots, but she doesn’t seem to know how to wield that power responsibly just yet. I appreciated the bold swing she took on the runway, but, gurl, the brown cow stuff is exhausting now. Also, she made the dramatic lipstick reveal so about herself (and her catchphrases), it made an already controversial moment feel even more icky and self-serving.
7. It was bizarre to hear Monet try to argue that it would be wrong to send her home this week. Her performance in the challenge was at least as bad as Latrice’s, and her Kim K runway looked like it was right out of a Party City bag. Michelle was dead-on about her challenge performance, too. That was just Monet in a blonde wig. All this is not to say Monet isn’t fierce as hell, and she should be on all drag fans’ bucket lists of queens to see, but in the confines of this competition this should have been her time. I just cannot imagine Monet coming out of this and making it to the finale the way Latrice seemed poised to do. Sue me.
How would you rank the queens?