Although I still feel like I’m adjusting to the U.K. edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I continue to be delighted. This week was a briskly-paced iteration of what’s become an early-season standard: the group acting challenge.
Beside the sort of low-budget charm, RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. also benefits from a smaller starting cast. The difference between starting with 10 queens versus starting with 15 feels massive.
With any more queens, it would have been impossible to rank the competitors this early in the competition. (Though that certainly hasn’t stopped ME before.) In lieu of a mini-challenge, Ru misses a golden opportunity to make an “LGBT-Queue” pun when she asks The Vivienne to line up all the queens according to who she believes is the biggest threat.
She stacks the front end of the line with all the older queens, while Scaredy is left at the end. Ru has a twist. The front of the line (Viv obviously put herself first) and the back of the line (Scaredy) get to be this week’s captains for a Downton Abbey-themed team acting challenge.
Vivienne selects West End actor Vinegar Strokes, the hilarious Baga Chipz and Sum Ting Wong. Scaredy rounds up the younger queens like Blu and Cheryl along with Crystal and Divina.
The scene prep is fairly drama-free. Parts seemed to be selected with minimal drama. Both Crystal and Sum Ting Wong are worried about doing accents. Scaredy displays a refreshing frankness when she admits she assigned her role because it would be the easiest for her to execute. Finally! I’m so tired of the mental gymnastics we’ve been accustomed to on other competitive reality shows where the team captain is convinced they need to pick the most challenging part to impress the judges even though they KNOW they can’t pull it off. Sometimes the best strategy is also the simplest.
(She does go on to then explain how the other team “thinks they’re going to f**king win, and, therefore, are to be like fully sure they’re going to win. So we need to win.” I mean, yes, that is literally how team competition works, so maybe she’s not, like, a mastermind.)
Both teams film with director Michelle Visage. Vivienne’s team is obviously seasoned performers. Vivienne and Vinegar deliver competent, if not unremarkable, performances. Sum Ting struggles with her Mariah Carey-influenced Lady Carey, but the writing here is just as much to blame as Sum Ting’s bizarre Southern accent.
Luckily for Sum, Baga Chipz erupts onto the scene and steals every moment — even when the camera isn’t on. I swear I could’ve watched a real-time live-stream of all of Baga’s takes. She’s an effortless star in the mold of Alyssa Edwards. I could see a slippery slide into Silky territory if she gets too into herself, but she was an utter star this week.
Team Scaredy could’ve used such a powerhouse performer. The closest they have is Divina, playing a similarly crone-ish figure to Baga’s role. Scaredy opts to lean into her character’s immature whining, and it’s grating. Cheryl struggles with lines and Crystal can’t connect.
On the runway, Ru has the gals dress up as Bond Girls, and it’s a real mixed bag. We’ll hash it out in our rankings below, because the judging focused way more heavily on the acting performances.
Thanks in large part to Baga’s undeniable star power, Team Vivienne wins the day and are all safe. Baga is awarded the RuPeter badge for her well-deserved win.
The bottom team remains for critiques from Ru, Michelle, Graham Norton and guest judge Maisie Williams. Crystal and Cheryl failed to stand out. Blu under-delivered. Scaredy failed to give her character layers.
Divina receives near universal praise, and yet erupts into a weird self-flagellating routine about how it wasn’t good enough or something. She’s hard on herself, obviously, but she nailed the challenge. It was a well-received statement from the judges, but it just felt sort of forced at this point to me.
During the typically Untucked portion of the show, a backstage Cheryl seizes the spotlight, as she has developed a reputation for doing. (Vivienne’s excellent “Who put 50 pence in Cheryl?” quip should permanently enter the gay lexicon.) It’s already rubbed The Vivienne the wrong way, and the other queens don’t feel like they truly know her. She strikes me as the Laganja of this crew; a young person relying on a pastiche of drag cliches in place of a developed personality. Hopefully this moment inspires Cheryl to drop some of the theatrics for some authenticity.
The judges put Scaredy and Blu in the bottom. The two young queens lip-sync to Bananarama, and it’s … fine. Scaredy, in her first ever drag performance, at least manages to stay in character the whole time. It’s not that she can’t get away with this janky, gangly cartoon schtick in a lip-sync, it just felt like none of her choices were at all connected to the music.
Blu definitely put the work in, and she planned some sharp spots within the number, but it was overall not nearly as strong as what we’re used to on Drag Race on this side of the pond. At one point, she braced for a big leap, and I had assumed she’d land in some sort of split or death drop or SHABLAM, but she just sort of landed on her hands and knees? Like, OK? I guess that’s a move!
If we learned anything from Monet X Change, it’s that those who can’t, shouldn’t.
Still, it’s enough for the judges to keep her around. Blu is safe, and Scaredy sashays away. But not before one last great line: “Not bad for a first gig.”
Where does that leave our remaining queens? Let’s queue ’em up in our own set of weekly rankings below.
- Baga Chipz soared this week. She was gut-bustingly funny on- and off-camera. She single-handedly saved her team. Her runway character, Lazer Minnelli, was a note-perfect homage to the Cabaret star while tailoring it to fit the challenge. The bowler hat nod to Odd Job was the cherry on top. Baga could run away with this whole thing.
- The Vivienne had another strong week. She was a decent Dowager, but her runway was one of my favorites. It was a little futuristic, but still sexy and a little menacing. A great, Grace Jones-inspired gag.
- The vibes I get from Divina are like Robbie Turner and Acid Betty — not a good sign! I wish her cook character felt less like costume makeup and more like DRAG costume makeup. (See: Baga’s beat.) Divina has the drive, the experience and the skills to win this whole thing, but will she be a shocking early exit instead?
- OK, so acting isn’t exactly Crystal‘s thing. She did a fine job as Lady Kylie. It wasn’t memorable, but it wasn’t a disaster either. Depending on the balance of acting/design challenges, Crystal’s shortcomings could either end her run or allow her to squeak by on the strength of her visuals.
- Even though Sum Ting had a strong first week, she settled in the middle of the pack on the second ep. I’m not sure why she gave Mariah Carey a Southern accent, but the whole thing was very silly, and it’s probably best not to think about it too much. I liked the idea of her futuristic Bond girl, May Ting, but I wish she pushed it further.
- Cheryl had a little reckoning this week, and we’ll see if it makes her rise or crumble moving forward. Does she even know HOW to be authentic without all the tongue-popping, etc.? Cheryl was lacking on the runway for me, which was the bigger sin. She can’t be that flat of an actress AND phone it in on the main stage.
- What does everyone else see in Vinegar? She’s the most experienced actress on the cast, and that was her best performance? It was OK, at best. Serviceable. Now, her outfit on the runway was unforgivable. Mrs. F. Tits was dressed exactly, EXACTLY like Snooki. It was awful. I know we have to adjust our expectations in terms of rhinestone couture gowns, but she can’t be walking the runway in this Maxxinista real-estate agent putting HERSELF back on the market dress for less mess.
- Blu struggled during her scene, no doubt, but there was some creativity to her bosomy Bond girl. Why did she have three boobs? Who cares! It was a fully-realized vision, even if the vision makes no sense. I get the sense Blu needs a bit more time to develop and mature, so I don’t anticipate her sticking around too long.
- So long, Scaredy, you were very strange. It was interesting to see Ru and company expanding the cast beyond mostly cis gay males and trans women. Overall, I get the sense Scaredy is more of a performance artist than a drag queen as we understand them (and especially as they are understood on this show). It’s a distinction that has nothing to do with the performer’s sexuality, and everything to do with tone and taste. It’s like a figure skater in a speed skating race. Sure they could do it, but it’s just not the kind of thing they do best.
Disagree? Of course you do! Leave your rankings in the comments!