For the longest time, I’ve considered the Shakespearean group acting challenge from season seven to be the single worst performance in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory.
To call one team’s performance in Thursday night’s challenge a car crash would actually be disrespectful to car crashes. I’ve seen more elegant multi-car pileups on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. I needed an extra day to even process the whole ordeal.
The Drag Race theatrical oeuvre has never been anything one might confuse with the works of the Algonquin Roundtable, but there’s a certain degree of gamesmanship one expects from the queens that at least keeps the final result on par with a lesser Chuck Lorre sitcom.
Boy, that was not the case last night. Let’s rewind.
Our mini-challenge tonight focuses on the gals tossing on their quick drag and doing their best to sweet talk their way backstage at a Seduction concert at the height of the girl group’s popularity — a super specific time period if there ever was one. Most of the girls are forgettable, but Nina West makes an impression with an awkward oversized tween trying to hunt down her long lost mother, Michelle. No surprise, Silky makes me laugh the hardest when she nearly bulldozes the the whole set down. And yet, Nina and Ra’Jah are declared the winners.
Each gets to pick their team for this week’s maxi challenge. The gals are tasked with producing their own warped take on a Christian TV, except designed to worship divas. They get to pick their divas, do a musical number and a live exorcism/conversion.
Nina West’s team is immediately off to the races. One of last week’s winners, Yvie, is right there with her helping shepherd the weaker players (like Mercedes) with ideas and joke pitches. Brooke and Ariel are looking to redeem themselves after last week’s performances. Ariel even leaps at the chance to collaborate with Silky in a savvy move to smooth things over. They’re worshipping Britney — a pop star ripe for (good-natured) ridicule — and they take off with ideas.
Team Ra’Jah is less successful. They struggle to settle on a diva they all share enough knowledge on, eventually landing on Mariah Carey. Now, Mimi can be cartoony, but there are far easier stars to lampoon. (Madonna, Gaga and Cher all leap to mind.) Kids today.
Ru visits, and their lack of reference is glaring. They don’t know her fans are called lambs, and it only gets worse from there. Ru even abandons his typical Tim Gunn cool-headed guidance to essentially yell at them to get their acts together. And yet? They double down. This is gonna be bad.
On set, Nina and company are electric. As hosts, Nina and Brooke are perfect. They keep the show moving at a great clip, they sprinkle in the perfect amount of jokes and they banter so naturally. Nina is doing slightly more of the heavy lifting, and, even if she didn’t get the most laughs, she was the star around which everyone else orbited. Brava!
The greatest gag was Vanjie. It’s hard to even describe the absolute magic she’s capable of on camera. Some of the most hilarious moments are definitely not intentional, but a lot of them are! She’s smart and funny. She gives us a real intense Britney pastor that whips her hairography around with sickening precision. Yvie is note-perfect as a mall-goth suburban teen who isn’t interested in Britney, leading to a circa 2007 head shaving moment and miraculous conversion. Mercedes’ character … well, the less said the better. She wasn’t good, but she wasn’t terrible enough to derail the scene. Silky and Ariel bring the sketch to a close strong with a musical performance that is just the right blend of melisma and mockery.
Then we get Ra’Jah’s team. Ho boy. Truly from start to finish a disaster. Irredeemable in every single way. As a host, Scarlet makes bizarre choices to trill and titter and roll her eyes back. Her look makes no sense. It’s tough to watch. Shuga Cain is not much better as her co-host. She’s less outwardly offensive to watch, but she’s not charming either. Neither of them really adds any jokes or interest to the proceedings.
Plastique takes over conversion duty, and it’s also a mess. She at least makes A CHOICE about her character to play her mostly sickly sweet, with these flashes of demonic possession at key phrases. It doesn’t work, for sure, but at least she’s going for something. Her target is A’Keria, playing, I guess, some kind of Ariana Grande fan? It doesn’t really track. Most egregiously, they call her failed film SPARKLE instead of Glitter, and it is bone-chilling.
To cap it all off, Honey and Ra’Jah perform what I guess is technically called music, but it is baaaaaad. I’m pretty sure at one point Ra’Jah calls Mimi’s ex-husband “Timmy Mottola.” It is shocking.
Even the often nauseatingly sweet Ross can barely hide his disdain at the end, warning Team Ra’Jah they better bring it on the runway.
Turns out, even that’s not enough to save them. After Nina’s team is given the win and dismissed (Nina took top honors, with Vanjie and Ariel getting praised), things get ugly. “I have three words for you,” Ru warns, “Stink. Stank. Stunk.”
That about sums it up. Ru goes down the line demanding an explanation from each queen as to why this went so incredibly wrong. Even guest judges Guillermo Diaz and Troye Sivan lay into the gals with the same savage insights as the other judges. Plastique tries to tell the judges she is new to pop culture, and the rest of the girls practically trip over one another to share responsibility for choosing a diva none of them apparently knew a single thing about.
RuPaul makes the unprecedented decision to have all the girls on the team lip sync for their lives at once. It’s a much cooler idea in theory than execution. The crowded stage makes it difficult for any of the queens to stretch their legs — literally — so stunting is at an absolute minimum. It’s difficult to even tell what’s happening most of the time.
Honey takes some … chances … and none pay off. She’s trying, I don’t know what, honestly. But it involves rolling off the stage, basically. In her weird latex outfit, the whole thing feels like a bad idea that was cut from Gaga’s artRAVE tour. She just looks so sad and defeated already, it throws the whole thing into this weird other place. In the end, she’s the one eliminated.
(Though, truly we could’ve shed a few extra queens here to both move things along and give this more impact, but whatever.)
OK, so where does that leave us? Check out our totally subjective rankings below, and leave yours in the comments.
- I am throwing all my support behind Miss Vanjie. She looks incredible on the runway, she slays every challenge and she has the best confessionals this season. She’s a perfect Drag Race gal. I am just waiting for Michelle to ask to see her NOT in red, but other than that, she’s really standing out in this crowded field.
- I’m not sure she’ll stay up here, but Yvie is riding a wave of momentum. She has interesting ideas that are surprisingly well executed. Sometimes it feels just barely a step up from crafty, but it’s ambitious and creative and delightful. I didn’t need the extended penis painting segment, but the result was cool. Again, she was a great actress, and I do like that she had a lot of ideas to SHARE. That sort of creative generosity speaks well of her character, even if her behavior on Untucked screams I’M A MESSY BITCH WHO LOVES DRAMA.
- I still love Silky. Y’all tired of that already? I thought she was robbed of the mini challenge win, and I liked her fine in the Britney worship segment. I wasn’t completely wild about the big blue runway, but it wasn’t a mess. Definitely on the safe side this week. I don’t always consider Untucked canon in terms of these recaps, but it is starting to feel like the other girls’ harsher opinions of her are starting to weigh on her a bit. That could drive her to success or grind her into failure.
- This was not a good week for Plastique. Much like tax law, ignorance is not an excuse. If she didn’t know Mariah, she should’ve been in her sisters’ ears asking 100 questions, or at the very least remembering it’s GLITTER. C’mon. She looked great while doing the conversion and on the runway. Her mini challenge ditzy Asian character was fruit so low-hanging it was practically subterranean, but, again, that’s kind of the tone of this show in general. She still has a lot of potential to succeed.
- I wouldn’t call it a triumphant comeback for Brooke this week, but she was strong in the challenge and looked incredible on the runway. She’s still a stand-out, but with folks like Vanjie and Yvie building momentum, she risks getting left in the dust.
- This was wholly Nina West‘s week. She was by far the best in the mini challenge, and her role in the show was crucial. I adored the fringe look she rocked down the runway. When I think of former campy queens that have been successful, though — think Bianca and Jinkx — there’s an extra level of refinement and creativity that we’ve only glimpsed from Nina so far. Maybe she was just off to a rocky start, but I’m still hesitant to believe she’s going to rocket to the top.
- A’Keria is lucky her runaways are so good, because I haven’t been impressed with much else. Tonight’s fringey headpiece was a showstopper on par with her wigs-on-wigs-on-wigs-on-wigs-on-wigs runway. I’m trying to think of what her standout talent will be. Maybe she’s a great dancer? I hope there’s something else in her arsenal.
- What happened, dear Scarlet? You were so good last week, and just a manic, twitching, non-stop shimmying mess this week. The hair and outfit were awful in the challenge, but I did love what she showed on the runway. Methinks last week’s success made her a touch overconfident. Hopefully this humbling brings her back to Earth next week.
- Ariel is not just an Instagram girl by nature of her career, she’s an Instagram girl by the very nature of her personality. Obviously, that’s not a compliment. She was good this week, and I’m intrigued, but I’m honestly more worried about her attitude than her aptitude at this point.
- Shuga betta step up. That runway had a lot of impact, but I wonder how it translates to skills for future outfits. It just seems like it was her heaviest weapon that maybe she pulled after this very rough challenge performance. I loved her personality when she first arrived in the work room, but I have some serious doubts after this week. Where was all the charm she arrived with?
- As team captain, Ra’jah should have been more on the hook than she was. I guess we can chalk it up to Honey’s bizarre lip sync, but Ra’Jah really got off easy here. She tried to blame her struggles in the challenge on Honey bending the notes, but the musicology of their set was the least of their worries. Even her runway was a letdown. I’m officially putting Ra’jah on notice: Ya got another week or two to sort this out or you’re going home.
- Mercedes is so lucky she landed on the team she did. She was the obvious weak link. I get the sense she’s incredibly good at what she does outside this competition, but here she doesn’t fully embody the challenges behind the challenges, you know? She’s likely a great queen, but maybe this isn’t the right place to showcase what she does best.
- I didn’t expect Honey to make such a sudden and dramatic exit. She mostly flew under the radar for me the last few weeks, but she flamed out in spectacular fashion. Her song with Ra’Jah was AWFUL, but even that’s not a dealbreaker. Her runway lewk was right, but it still felt wrong? That desperate lip sync while wearing the latex headpiece just felt sad. She is clearly so passionate about this art-form, and she has a lot of talent. I just feel like she needs a bit more time to mature.
How would you rank the queens?