This week on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the cast flashes back 27 years to parody a TV show from before some of them were born!
That’s right, it’s time for one of Drag Race‘s acting challenges.
If you aren’t familiar with them from past seasons, the scripts are “skit from your high school English class that still makes you wince whenever you think about it” realness. The challenges tend to be less about acting or memorization and more about delivering nonsense lines or surviving characters obviously meant to send a queen to the bottom two (generally, any character you’d describe as “butch”).
Yet, this group of queens is so solid that the only person who turns in a real clunker of a performance does so entirely due to her own inner saboteur – and continues her downward slide in the rankings as a result.
Meanwhile, a vague runway theme of “Big Hair” doesn’t help queens like Alexis Michelle, who do better with a little more guidance like they had on last week’s Madonna runway.
Meanwhile, it seems like the season’s top three is starting to really solidify, with a pair of queens sparring for the fourth spot in the last episode before the finals. Can all four girls hold off the competition from the other three remaining queen?
All it takes is a single misstep to sashay away.
1. Trinity Taylor
Average: 4; was 11, 6, 2, 3, 2, 2
Trinity is back on top of the competition with a knockout double-tap of a memorable acting performance and a perfectly trashy Big Hair runway outfit.
At this point, Trinity has completely won me over, both with her performances, her frank talk in the workroom when the conversation turns to difficult subjects, and her offhanded bitchiness that is somehow savage but never very mean.
There is seemingly nothing this queen can’t do. Yes, she hit the bottom two in week three, but it was for a barely-bad talk show performance, and she was seemingly dispensed to the bottom two at no risk to herself specifically to assassinate Charlie Hides (a task that, in retrospect, did not really require Trinity’s level of skill.)
Keen-eyed viewers and readers of AnalRPDR (It’s totally SFW; it’s about analysis. Get your mind out of the gutter.) know that Trinity hasn’t been building a social media audience at the same speed of the other top queens (which puzzles me, because she is hilarious on social media). Is that a risk to her front-runner status? After all, the finale does involve a fan vote.
It’s hard to say. RuPaul didn’t seem to care about Kim Chi’s monster social media lead over Bob in crowning her, but it’s not like no one voted for Bob they way that Courtney’s finale vote cratered compared to Bianca and Adore despite her comparative popularity. However, if Trinity and Shea stay this well-matched down the line, it could really turn into a popularity contest in the race to the finish.
Average 3; was 7, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4
Should it surprise any of us one bit that a consummate character like Valentina aced her acting challenge?
No, ma’am. Valentina’s picked the perfect 9021HO role in the naive virgin who boozes it up at the prom given the fact that her natural state seems to be an effervescent bubbliness that leaves the other girls bordering on sugar shock. It was probably her best challenge performance so far this season, and I wouldn’t have been shocked to see her win the night
On the runway, her Diana Ross-inspired pants suit was pleasant but underwhelming. I loved the color and fit plus her massive cloud of billowing black hair, but the look was missing a certain something. I’m not saying the suit itself needed more of the flower appliqué, but a belt in a contrasting color or some bigger, bolder accessories would have put it over the top for me. Also, her butt-padding was a little suspicious.
If Valentina is going to be the first ingenue to win Drag Race since Tyra (because Violet wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet), she needs to nail down those little touches of thoughtful detail, which have been her weak spot since week one. There’s no doubt that Valentina is well-studied A student, and in some past seasons that would be a sure ticket to the finals. Drag Race tends to reward smart, canny contestants who don’t overthink it – in fact, that pretty much describes each winner since Tyra.
However, this season she’s competing against a group of very smart girls. The remaining cast feels like it could be the Drag Race College Bowl Team. (Well, except for Farrah. She can be first alternate.)
Bottom line, cut and dry: Just being smart and pretty isn’t enough this season.
3. Shea Couleé
Average: 3; was 6, 1, 3, 1, 1, 3
I might have been the only one not living for Shea this week. Her one-note granny was a caricature rather than a character, and her basic banjee bathing suit placed her near the bottom on a strong week of runway.
Yet, this isn’t Krisis’s Discerning Tastes Race, it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s clear RuPaul and the other judges are living for just about everything that Shea is delivering.
I can’t blame them. Shea is magnetic. Her acting may have not been of the Bob & Thorgy caliber we saw last season, but it was still confident, consistence, and a choice – not a happy accident.
Shea’s runway look was also a choice. She’s served us some drama in the season so far, but when it comes down to it we’ve seen her in a bathing suit or a mini-dress in four out of six episodes thus far. Furthermore, her two dress looks were failures – she had one of the weakest Gaga runways with her imitation version of the living dress, and her Steven Universe-esque princess dress barely made it down the runway!
It makes me think of a past killer performer who had early heat – Ben de la Creme, perhaps my favorite contestant of all time! Her track record was incredible, but she got tagged for wearing a repetitive showgirl look after having been a mother-tucking INSECT on the runway. AN INSECT. So don’t think these judges won’t come for Shea if she struts out one more time in a bathing suit.
Shea really is like a cross between her ridiculous city sister Trixie and the highly conceptual Ms. Creme (if you’re nasty), and I’m afraid that she might experience the same sort of premature burnout as both of those girls if we get another performance like tonight.
Average 5; was 2, 3, 5, 6, 6, 7
Real talk: Peppermint was actually Trinity’s chief competition this week. Peppermint slayed her peppy, cutesy teenage character in the show and looked her best yet on the runway. I wouldn’t have been sad at all if she had been a co-winner with Trinity or even took the prize over her.
I think Ru and the panel knew it too, which is why Peppermint had to be in the safe group. Had she been remaining on stage afterward, the glowing praise for her acting would have made it obvious she deserved the win. Her hair-tossing good girl felt like the one real 90210 character on this knockoff show within a show. It was a grounded, seamless performance which still stood up to the hammy work from all three girls above her.
In past weeks we could count on Peppermint to sabotage that sort of performance with some manner of ill-fitted pink skirt. Not this week. Perhaps feeling the heat of being in the bottom two in Snatch Game last week, Peppermint pulled out a stunning floor length, skin-tight, faux alligator-skin gown while serving major Chaka Khan hair and make-up.
She was completely on point. This is the Peppermint I’ve been waiting to see after the unexpected shock of her David Bowie look. The question is if she has enough time to make up for hovering in the middle of the pack for so long with more stunning performances like this one so that she can crack the top three. Because, as it stands, if we head into this final four it’s Peppermint who is going to sashay before the finale.
5. Sasha Velour
Average: 5; was 3, 8, 8, 4, 5, 1
Sasha was far out in front of the pack last week, but this week she let another chance to shine slip through her fingers.
Sasha’s boozy waitress was the skimpiest part in the show. It didn’t help that she played it with a simmering restraint. She joked on the runway that “maybe it didn’t need the Meryl Streep treatment,” and it was such a deadpan line that it’s easy to miss how true it was. Sasha was so invested in finding an inner life in the lunch lady that she forgot to give her a big outer life – the kind that could compete against Trinity’s boozy mom character, who the lunch lady was clearly meant to balance.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t as in love with Sasha’s liberty spiked punk rock runway as the judges. It was more gender-bending borderline-boy look from her. I’m all for genderfuck as a style of drag, but on Drag Race you better bring some glamour from time to time – and Sasha’s only real attempt that wasn’t boyish was her somewhat regrettable princess look. This had a little too much in common with Kimora’s busted Gaga at the airport getup.
Thus, Sasha plummets from the top spot back to being out of contention for the finals. I am so rooting for her, but I think she falls into the “smart girls who overthink it” category, and those ladies don’t have the best track record.
6. Alexis Michelle
Average: 6; was 5, 7, 6, 8, 8, 5
Alexis Michelle’s self-defeating self-confidence was on proud display this week as she gobbled up a bit part that could have felled most of the other girls and wore a hair-covered runway outfit that was a hair away from being totally busted.
Neither effort was a complete fail, but some minor changes could have given Alexis a second win in a row and vaulted her into the top three!
In 9021HO, Alexis probably could have done more with Aja, Shea, or Nina’s parts, though I think she would have been similarly subtle in Sasha’s. She was great, but to garner a win with what was effectively a cameo she needed to be wig and shoulders above the other girls on the runway – as Shea did in the Kardashians musical.
Yeah… that didn’t happen.
Alexis’s runway look featured a dramatically beautiful mug, but that’s getting to be expected. She looked pretty and fierce, even with her eyes seeming melting into puddles of X-Files black goo down her cheeks. That kind of makeup effect can go bad so easily, but she made it pop with a somewhat puzzling white cloud around her eyes, which just drew attention to her slightly uneven brows.
Oo, girl, we’re not even up to the dress yet.
A lot of girls have worn these hair-on-a-corset looks over the years, and I think the biggest problem is they all treat the hair like a bunch of leather fringe. Fringe just droops. Hair can be styled. Imagine if Alexis’s skirt was teased into Sasha’s liberty spikes, or if the peaks of Alexis’s two breast-toupees (I don’t know what else to call them!) were slicked up dramatically in a V or an Elvis pompadour instead of drooping over her chest.
It’s these little moments of “if you had changed one thing” that are keeping Alexis safe in this competition, and I get the feeling she’s going to be safe right up until she’s not as she faces someone like Trinity or Shea in a lip sync.
7. Farrah Moan
Average 11; was 10, 12, 12, 11, 10, 8
Farrah… wasn’t bad?
I was sure a scripted acting challenge would write Farrah off the show, but she played to her strengths by picking a character that was basically herself. She had to be cute, blonde, whiney, and spout punchlines. It didn’t hurt that she got to play off of the insane brilliance of Trinity while she did it.
As for Farrah’s runway, the giant asymmetrical hair was a nice differentiating touch, but this is another showgirl piece with cut-out hip windows! Didn’t this girl bring any couture with her from Vegas other than that Madonna look?
This slight bump in rank is a case of falling up rather than of climbing the ranks. Farrah has the lowest average of all the contestants. With next week being a RuPaul Roast, I doubt this whiney little fish is going to make it out unscathed.
8. Nina Bo’nina Brown
Average: 5; was 1, 3, 7, 5, 4, 6
I’m ready to bid this messy queen adieu, especially after she wrongfully offed Aja when Aja’s performance was bounds better than Nina’s in the show, the runway, and the lip sync.
And I don’t even like Aja!
For Ru, the decision came down to which one-note queen might deliver a tiny bit more range if kept around. Aja has a lot of energy to offer, but it’s hard to foresee a challenge she’d be topping – even as she hit a season high-point with her runway fashion.
On the flip, there’s an obvious spark in Nina that we’ve seen in multiple challenges. Every week there’s a chance she’s going to break through the black clouds hovering around her to wipe the runway with the other girls. Yet, she also might possess the worst inner saboteur of all of the many interior terrorists we’ve seen on the show to date.
At the point that your internal naysayer is making Tori Spelling scared of you, you are playing host to some dark darkness, girl.
As much as I’ve been rooting for Nina, I just can’t feel great about.