Last night’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race brought us one of the most epic meltdowns in the history of the show, confirming some of my suspicions about a certain queen from last week.
It also sported a challenging runway where only half the queens scored a solid hit, but it also yielded some truly memorable looks.
What does that mean for the rankings? It’s another shake-up, that sees one queen in particular making a strong case for the finale while another hopes to crash the finale four party by blowing past next week’s challenge.
Before we get to that, a word on this week’s departed queen.
Despite her crash and burn in the lip sync, to me Valentina will go down in history as the first Drag Race contestant who truly “cracked the code.”
She came prepared for every kind of challenge. I have the distinct impression that – while she was likely a talented individual to begin with – she put herself through personal drag bootcamp to ensure she’d be ready for anything the show could throw at her. She also had a relatively unflappable demeanor right up until the end.
It’s not really surprising to me that we saw her suddenly stall out on this sitcom challenge. I’ve always said that it’s these high-concept, multi-skill challenges that are the hardest to prepare for – this one had memorization, acting, comedy, writing, costuming, and time management. Even someone who cracked the code can be overwhelmed by that.
If there is a downside to Valentina’s success, it’s that I fear we could be looking at a lot of imitator “A-Student Drag” in the coming seasons from girls who are more interested in cracking the code of a reality show than representing the drag community part of an existing scene and culture.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it has the risk of making both the show and the culture reductive.
It’s like when on later seasons of American Idol there started being auditioners who only really knew to belt out the songs they had heard on Idol before. They still could be the most talented singer that year! However, they weren’t adding anything new to the show or bringing as much outside experience to it. American Idol had been their concept of being talented since they were kids. Now they were learning on the show, and that made it a different show.
Valentina is not that. She clearly respects everything about the art, and she’s going to get bigger and bigger with time. Yet, I do think she could be a harbinger of what’s to come in Season 10 and beyond.
And now, on to the rankings – now with a single decimal place of average ranking now that the race has tightened up!
1. Trinity Taylor
Average: 3.6; was 11, 6, 2, 3, 2, 2, 1, 4
As they say on Fashion Photo RuView: “Clap for this hooker!”
Trinity Taylor is delivering a Drag Race performance for the ages, and this week is one of her most-memorable in a strong run.
On the runway, Trinity’s Club Kid look could be described as “insane chlamydia posse” (or, as she called it, “alien robotic venereal disease realness”) – an askew metallic clown look with a herky-jerky zombie-like runway walk that definitely evoked the personality of a sexually transmitted disease.
Aside from Peppermint’s living embodiment of hard candy, it was by far the best look of the week, although you had to see her walk to get the full impact.
In the challenge, Trinity showed once again that she can hang with the best of Drag Race’s comedy queens with a delightfully madcap turn as an unhinged nun, Sister Mary Koont (apparently a character she had developed previously on YouTube).
She straight-up channeled Dana Carvey’s Church Lady during her most bawdy, high energy moments. And, on the runway she managed to swat down Alexis’s “I was the producer” inanity with the tact and grace of a saint.
I truly think that Trinity’s team won the week in the challenge, but that would have forced Ru to deliver a solo win to Trinity or Peppermint, both of which would have seriously derailed Shea’s progress and wiped Sasha from finale contention.
Yet, even without a win here, there’s no way we won’t see Trinity Taylor in the finale. Now the question becomes if she can continue making a case for defeating Shea Couleé.
2. Shea Couleé
Average: 2.3; was 6, 1, 3, 1, 1, 3, 3, 1
Shea Couleé was neck and neck with Trinity for best of all the acting performances with what was effectively her version of Misty Knight: Fashion Police, but another swimsuit look on the runway really calls into question if she deserves to become America’s next drag super star.
Granted, that runway look was entirely on-theme and meticulously accessorized. Her royal gold jacket and festooned glam Deadpool mask cribbed details directly from classic Club Kid looks without being an exact copy. Taken on its own, it wou ld be a stellar, memorable runway.
However, it’s not taken on its own. It’s Shea’s third one-piece out of ten runway looks.
The question becomes: does that matter?
Not every Drag Race winner has been a couture queen. Jinkx got mercilessly raked over the coals by Michelle for her fashion sense.
Bob The Drag Queen wore seemingly off-the-rack outfits for much of the show.
And, even Bianca del Rio – for all of her seamstress skills – showed up in a similarly silhouetted dress nearly every week despite having a killer pair of legs she could have been showing off.
It’s obvious Shea has the front-runner edit at this point. She’s leading Trinity by over an entire point in the average ranking and when it comes to Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent she’s got top marks across the board. However, it would be definitely strange to see a queen win without ever once coming out in a truly stunning, memorable outfit – something even Bob managed to accomplish once or twice (recall that Bob kicked things off with some gorgeous construction).
Average 4.2; was 2, 3, 5, 6, 6, 7, 4, 2
Peppermint hangs in the top three for a second week in a row with a fine challenge performance while also delivering what was unquestionably the best look of the week – if not one of the best runway looks of all time.
I disagreed with the judges on the acting challenge. They thought Alexis Michelle was overshadowed, but I felt Peppermint was forgettable compared to Trinity’s madness and Alexis’s perfectly-prim bougie bitch. Yet, even if she was acting in the shadow of her castmates, her acting was solid. She and Trinity complete redeemed themselves for botching the morning show together earlier in the season.
As for Peppermint’s runway… what can you even say? She was like a hard peppermint candy crossed with Pennywise the Clown from It. I was living for the sneering horror of her whiteface with black lipstick – it was such an awesome move to not play this outfit as a cheerful blast of Candyland.
I will say: the black accents (bow, corset, and gloves) were a bit wearying and dragged the look down for me. I would have preferred silver or even clear cellophane to complete the hard candy fantasy.
Could Peppermint edge Sasha out of the finale, as hinted by her slight advantage in average ranking? Despite Sasha’s co-win in this challenge, when it comes to momentum it really feels like Peppermint is the queen who is more in favor at the moment.
Here we would have Valentina, with her average of 3 – that’s a pretty shocking ouster! More on that below.
4. Sasha Velour
Average: 4.6; was 3, 8, 8, 4, 5, 1, 5,
Despite my growing obsession with Sasha I really don’t think she deserved a co-win this week.
She delivered another super safe performance that just wasn’t that funny alongside a weirdly lumpy runway look that was easily trumped by both Trinity and Peppermint.
That said, Shea and Sasha’s show wouldn’t have been what it was without Sasha’s brainy, academic sense of humor in the mix with Shea’s more off-the-wall comedy. It’s hard to tell where the jokes from one of them and and the other begin.
Yet, I got the distinct sense that this was merely a commercial for a show full of hilarious punchlines, rather than an actual TV pilot concept, as delivered by the three-queen team. Why do these women know each other? Why are they policing fashion? Their pilot was so packed with jokes that played up Sasha and Shea’s chemistry that it was pretty short on plot.
Sasha did need this co-win to help make the case for her trip to the final four, and her runway wasn’t strong enough to merit her winning solo (as she should have for Snatch Game).
I can’t help but leave Sasha one step out of the final three after this strong showing purely due to Peppermint’s surging plotline in the past two weeks. Sasha feels a little bit more vulnerable to an upset by Alexis of the two, and unless she wins again in the next two episodes it doesn’t feel like she will be in realistic competition for the crown even if she makes it to the finale.
5. Alexis Michelle
Average: 6.2; was 5, 7, 6, 8, 8, 5, 6, 6
For the second time this season Alexis fucked up what could have been a sure challenge win with a seriously lacking editorial sense on the runway and a refusal to own her own performance. While her whiteface and bodysuit tonight wasn’t as regrettable as her “worse looks of all time” candidate from Reality Stars: The Musical, she displayed the same inability to maturely stand up for her own decisions when she received low marks from the judges for her performance.
Do you know what would have been a better defense against those low marks? First, not trying to take credit for “producing” her pilot. (WTF?). Second, putting on anything remotely Club Kid-esque for the runway. Her face and hair screamed Star Wars intergalactic culture more than many other queens who have claimed sci-fi as a reference. All she needed to do was dress that up with something ornate on her body for the look to land. Instead, we got a tired old Fifth Element Leeloo riff, which queens constantly re-use (we’ve already seen it from Shea this season, and from Detox on All Stars 2.)
Early in the season I really thought Alexis Michelle had what it took to go all the way, and when it comes to her talents I still think she’s one of the most all-around well-prepared queens we’ve seen in the past few seasons. Yet, it’s clear she’s in a different tier than all four of the queens that rank above her.
Is there any chance for Alexis to at least squeak into the final four to be dismissed before the finale? Maybe. Next week is a makeover challenge, and beyond Ru being ready to give Nina the chop there is no disputing that Michelle gives the best face of all the remaining queens save for perhaps Sasha.
That should automatically enroll Alexis in the Top 5, which is almost definitely the ball challenge, with Top 4 being “Best Drag.” In that construction-base challenged, there’s a serious chance that her experience as a seamstress keeps her out of the bottom, giving Sasha or Peppermint the axe.
(All that said: this would be so much more interesting if we still had Eureka rather than Alexis.)
7. Nina Bo’nina Brown
Average: 5.2; was 1, 3, 7, 5, 4, 6, 8, 7, 7
Nina Bo’nina Brown delivered an awful performance this week with an unplanned, unfunny pilot and a lazy, off-theme runway look.
Nina is a rare case of a queen who obvious has the skills to win the competition but not the will. That’s a different mix on the “inner saboteur” plot we’ve seen in past seasons. We’ve seen girls lack preparation, and lack motivation, but never just be unable to bring themselves to care.
I mean, just look at this low-effort runway. She’s not wearing anything. She barely painted a rib cage onto her chest, and even if she had it would scream “Day of the Dead” more than it would “Club Kid.” Given Nina’s makeup talents, it feels like she could have done a more fantastical face job to nail the theme and stand out against the other queens – something more along the lines of her week one peach look.
While there have been many occasions where Ru has seemed less than enthusiastic about keeping the winner of a lip sync around. I don’t know if there’s ever been another instance where Ru plainly indicated she was hoping to ditch one queen in favor of another if not for an utter lip sync disaster.
Indeed, this was our second lip sync disaster of titanic proportions this season. While Nina delivered an absolute killer of a sync, her underwhelming sitcom performance in the episode would have been easy been bested by Valentina doing even the bare minimum in the lip sync.
In the 24 hours following the show, fans have made a lot of Valentina’s not knowing the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy.” We only see a brief passage of that, but it could be a trick of editing – she might have been stalled on words for verses at a time.
(That alone boggles my mind, because this Arianna Grande tune is easy to fake your way through – as are most of her songs, because the girl does not pronounce her consonants.)
The bigger issue is Valentina had nothing to add to her weak sync skills. I know her nerves got the best of her, but it honestly seemed as though she didn’t really have a single dance move, which checks out against all of the post-show performances I’ve seen of her online. If we were getting an Aja or Trinity quality of performance with some dropped words, Ru would probably keep Valentina with a stern word of warning.
It’s like when they say to any stage performer, “You’re only as good as your worst rehearsal.”
When you are having a challenging, distracting moment on stage, you fall back to “worst rehearsal” quality if you don’t have coping mechanisms to get through it. It takes living through those challenging, potentially negative experiences live on stage to (l)earn coping mechanisms for the future – both mentally and in performance.
With only 10 months performing professionally, I don’t think Valentina has had enough truly awful, cringe-y experiences to pull from to get through a terrible moment like this one. On the plus side, now she has the most awful of awful experiences to anchor her in the future!
As for Nina, can she live up to her average and slip past Alexis next week? It could be a photo finish – Alexis might beat the best womanly mug onto a masculine face, but Nina is the most talented special FX painter in the season.