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This episode opens with a question that has tormented scientists and philosophers alike for centuries: are we ready for her cucu… again? Finally, we know the answer: we never could be. Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s return to the competition is more gloriously joyful and thoroughly nonsensical than we could have dreamed. She speaks in a shout that is at once guttural and shrill. It is the sound of our language’s grammar and syntax being run through a gay garbage disposal. It is the exact opposite of an ASMR video. But it is also auditory heroin: you don’t listen because it feels good, but because you need more with every molecule of your body.

s9e02 01The consensus among the contestants is that they’re glad Cynthia didn’t die, but not particularly excited that she’s here. Shea pointedly asks whether this is a joke or for real, not realizing that it is obviously both. Her concern that our returning queen has foreknowledge of the show is unfounded, however, because this is not a woman who knows things in the conventional sense of the word. Like, she’s a strong person who has excelled in her career and beaten cancer, but she is also a shaved meerkat with ass injections. Speaking of which: Kimora is positively desperate to compare butts with the newest contestant, perhaps under the mistaken impression that the winner will be chosen by a horny baboon in search of the roundest, reddest hind quarters. (Oh, y’all wanted a twist?!)

Even if she sits in the corner and picks her nose for the rest of the season, Cynthia will have justified her place in this race by starting her first full day with the world’s greatest quote: “I didn’t know this cucu was happening today.” It’s a Zen koan. Like, did she mean to throw shade at Robbie? Did she mean anything at all? Is it possible for the words coming from her mouth to ever have meaning? Did she literally not know that her ass would be joining her? Does she look behind her every time she walks through a door, just to be sure it’s still there? This is why we need her around, people. She should be the cohost of every reality TV show. If you don’t want to watch her and Mary Berry politely judge some Scottish grandmother’s meat pie, then you are outright wrong.

s9e02 02After an equally meaningless video message from Ru, we are teased with an all-too-brief visit from Lisa Kudrow. If you haven’t watched The Comeback, then you should; I have LOTS to say about that show, but we’re talking about this show right now. Anyhow, the girls have to divide into teams for a cheerleading challenge. Nina gets to be a captain for winning; Cynthia gets to be a captain for existing. Their choices end up having almost no effect, since the girls will all be judged individually anyway, but it gives us a chance to shade the people who get picked near the end. In this case, it’s “underdog” Jaymes Mansfield (those quotes were to indicate the fact that it was actually said, not to suggest that she isn’t an underdog), self-identified AARP member Charlie, and dead-last Valentina. Eureka thinks Valentina fell lowest in the pecking order because she’s only been doing drag for ten months, but I think it’s because she seems fake and unbearable. When she says she’s a superstar, she does so with the knowing cuteness of a girl who’s too old to still be doing children’s pageants, and it triggers my gag reflex.

As with any challenge where roles are assigned, we have to go through the pretend drama of recasting. It’s almost as if these people only met three days ago and haven’t yet figured out each other’s strengths! In this case, it’s Jaymes and Alexis waffling over who’s Snoozy and who’s the Floozy, though it quickly becomes clear that Ms. Mansfield is doomed to flounder regardless of which part she reads. Other than that, we don’t see a lot of conflict or struggle in rehearsal, presumably because there aren’t that many lines to learn, but also because the most difficult part of the task is yet to come.

s9e02 03You know that an assignment is tough when not one queen takes a moment to comment on the gaggle of handsome, leanly muscled young men with whom they’re about to get physical. While everyone assumed that this performance would be all rah-rahs and pom-poms, Ru is demanding lifts and tumbles. Charlie worries that she’s too old for this kind of shit, but pretty much everyone is feeling closer to death by the time their training is complete. Back in the workroom, however, Kimora adds to her list of grievances: in addition to cartwheels, she also hates wearing undergarments and stoning things and being a pleasant addition to the conversation. It’s unclear to her why people wouldn’t be impressed that she is too rich and pretty to have to demean herself with manual labor.

As always, the process of putting on make-up drives the queens to discuss their past tragedies. It’s just something in the air in the workroom. (Possibly the sound of producers’ voices.) First up, Peppermint segues from her cheerleading background into a story about how she was assaulted by a classmate. It’s not funny and I won’t try to make it funny. On the other side of the room, Trinity is desperately trying to make her questions about cancer sound as natural and unprompted as possible, but she couldn’t be less comfortable if someone was making her talk by shoving a hand up her ass like a Muppet. Cynthia rolls with it, however, because Muppet is her mother tongue. Oh, and Valentina gets a storyline about how weird it is that she’s praying to her Virgen de Guadalupe candle as if there aren’t a literal billion Catholics in the world.

s9e02 04When it comes time to suit up and throw down, there’s plenty of team spirit on display. Shea looks like a woman who could tackle an athletic challenge, but she’s matched pound for pound and then some by an impressively limber Eureka (whose aside about a popped knee is hopefully not foreshadowing about an impending medical problem). Valentina kills it at the acting, probably because she’s always acting. I feel like Aja probably also slayed this one, but she’s being given the Kandy Ho edit for some reason. On the lower end of the spectrum, Jaymes and Charlie earn themselves participation trophies, some rug burn, and little else.

After the why-it-gotta-be-white runway (which I won’t recap in its entirety because there are like 30 girls this season), the panel (including guest judges the B-52s) narrows the field to six finalists. Trinity is ostensibly one of the top performers, but other than being on top of the pyramid at the end, she doesn’t earn extensive praise. Shea is a powerhouse whether flipping through the fields or stomping across the stage, but it’s Valentina’s high-octane smile and blushing bridal realness that take the win. Another Zen koan to ponder: do the Catholic saints answer prayers about winning a cross-dressing queerbag competition that encourages greed, envy, jealousy, pride, and wrath?

s9e02 05Despite tumbling badly even for a drunk woman, Charlie skates by on her icy costume, leaving Kimora (who committed to neither her character nor the all-white theme) and Jaymes (who has been drowning on dry land since the cameras started rolling) to settle things the old-fashioned way. Though “Love Shack” is a high-energy camp-fast, neither competitor embraces the goofy-bordering-on-stupid vibe, and a double elimination seems like the best possible outcome. But She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Stoned ends up holding on by being marginally less atrocious, and she sends Ms. Mansfield to clomp away on her ever-present lazy two-inch heels. Ru says that we were all rooting for her, which is correct only in the sense that we’ve all had her pegged as the first to go home since the cast was announced. Hopefully she’ll cling to the memory of that time she said “I came in first” on her way out the door, which she can always look back on as her one success during her short time on the show.

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