“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Recap Realness: Take Out Your Rulers

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Now that Jaymes is gone, everyone is quick to point out that she seemed scared and unsure of herself. They were also quick to point that out while she was still here, though no one seems to connect how a roomful of strangers making pointed observations about your skills and personality might lead to feelings of insecurity. Go fig! Which is not to say that the ladies ALWAYS share their opinions: when Kimora says that she was surprised to be in the bottom two, there’s an almost deafening lack of response. As they dedrag, Trinity seethes about the praise Valentina continues to receive (Alexis is going to have to start issuing trigger warnings before she compliments someone) and vows to knock the blushing bride off her pedestal. It’s pretty rare for a queen to win on the main stage two weeks in a row, so it’s likely that Valentina won’t be on top for long regardless, but if you need to cling to that jealous rage, then go right ahead.

s9e03 01The next morning opens with an unannounced “Schtickiest Workroom Entrance” challenge: Alexis and Charlie deliver a short scene, Aja and Sasha do a synchronized jumping heel click, Valentina hits high notes, and whoever is behind her is probably also doing something but the editors forgot that there are other contestants to feature. Luckily, Ru still pays the bills around here, so she manages to steal back some of the spotlight. After her animated video message, she emerges in person to hint to the girls that there might be a hidden camera in the wax figure in the corner. Everyone’s like, A) the wax figure itself is far creepier than the concept of covert surveillance, and B) there’s a full-scale film crew in the room; everyone came here specifically to be on camera. At first I thought this was going to be the setup to a joke, but the whole topic is abandoned before anyone can get to something resembling a punchline, so who knows? Let’s hope it never comes up again, because a plotline where Ru is “secretly” watching the contestants will be not-so-secretly insulting to the intelligence of the viewing audience.

Anyhow, this week’s main challenge will demand a lot of creativity: everyone will come up with a fairy tale princess, write her back story, design a look for her, and portray an animated sidekick who narrates her appearance on the runway. It’s the kind of assignment that presents the opportunity for unique, entertaining successes, but also dull, disappointing failures. After all, we’ve got shallow-ass queens like Kimora, who would be offended by this sentence because she thinks I’m saying she has a flat butt. For starters, she complains that Eureka’s Sewer Princess concept is something she’s never heard of, failing to realize that that is the literal definition of an innovative idea. The poor thing is lost without the ability to pay someone to create her look for her. More alarming still: she’s getting grammar lessons from Cynthia, who replaces one word in every sentence with “cucu” like she’s a fucking smurf.

s9e03 02Farrah is similarly at sea, both figuratively and literally: she’s one of several queens sticking to an aquatic theme, while even gluing cloth to a bra threatens to sink her. If only she had been asked to HIGHLIGHT a dress! And it’s not as though she doesn’t have assistance; Eureka does everything but physically carry Ms. Moan down the runway. (She’d make an adorable accessory, to be fair.) Thankfully, there are some more confident characters elsewhere. Aja, for instance, likes it uncut. (Meaning fabric, you whore. She makes her own costumes.) Speaking of costumes, Valentina does her interview with Ru in a turban and oversized sunglasses. It’s to avoid looking “completely crazy,” she says with the manic-yet-dead-eyed grin of someone assuring the cops that there are no body parts buried in her backyard.

The next day, Cynthia continues educating Kimora (a project that could easily consume her entire life if she’s not careful) by explaining the genesis of her… I’d say catchphrase, but it’s only one word. Elsewhere, Alexis brazenly asks if fans will be disappointed in how Aja looks without Facetune. It’s a downright rude question and I live for it. (But also, she thinks it doesn’t make that much of a difference? Girl. Please welcome to the runway Princess Delusion and her sidekick, Lies.) And speaking of rude: the extended segment on Pulse feels exploitative, so while I’m truly sorry for the losses our community suffered, I’m not here for grief porn.

s9e03 03On the main stage, Category Is: Underwhelming. The theme even extends to guest judges Todrick Hall and Cheyenne Jackson, who bring neither insight nor wit to a role requiring solely those two qualities. The one contestant to grab my attention is Sasha Velour, who creates a compelling, conceptual look and a rich mythology to support it, explained by a well-acted and well-differentiated companion. She’s safe. Peppermint’s piece makes it to the top because Ru can smell tragedy from a mile away and is biologically hardwired to make people relive their childhood traumas. The hunger in her eyes as she hears about the burning kitchen is unsettling, and I’m sure they edited out at least 20 minutes of probing questions aimed at wringing a tear or two out of the situation. It’s unclear why Valentina made it to the top for wearing a tulle-embellished bathing suit; maybe her Enzyte commercial smile gives her hypnotic mind control over others? I’m similarly suspicious of Trinity’s win, which seems as motivated by plot arc as it does by skill level. (Like, at the beginning of the episode, she said she wanted to win, and now she won. I guess the editors think I’ll find that fulfilling.)

s9e03 04The bottom three make sense, I suppose, but the bottom two do not. I do agree that Kimora should absolutely be lip syncing. The one-note joke of a princess who likes big bananas is so lame that even calling it a joke makes me feel complicit in something unsavory. Obviously she’s never put her spoiled girl money toward hired a writing teacher or an acting coach. And when Ru and Michelle couldn’t stop themselves from openly mocking her harrowing saga of appearing on the main stage without hip pads, it was clear she was in dire trouble. But she should have been up against Farrah: I think it’s better to sew something bad than to sew nothing at all. Aja’s look may have been suspect, but at least she worked instead of whined! But after last week’s B-52 bombers, Ru couldn’t allow another dull showdown, and Aja is known for her high-energy performances. The volcano princess may not have had a coherent fairy tale, but she comes through in the end by showing us what an eruption looks like, setting the night ablaze with her jump splits and death drops. The latest fashion trend: Blac is OUT this season.

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“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Recap Realness: Give Me an N! Give Me an O!

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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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“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Recap Realness: The Edge of Snore-y

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First off: I’m glad Drag Race is back and I think the ninth season is going to be phenomenal. That said: this premiere was a fucking dud.

s9e01 02To get it out of the way: I have at least met all four NYC girls, and I’m slightly biased. That doesn’t mean the NYC girls aren’t all great. Peppermint is a legend, and her oceans of talent will help her even if her constant aura of radiant joy makes her an iffy fit for a VH1 reality show. Aja is a high-energy performer, a seamstress, and the master of shade: she’ll read you to your face in a way that has you laughing so hard you throw up, and then she’ll read you for puking all over yourself. The Broadway pageant style isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but I have immense respect for Alexis Michelle and what she does. (Also she’s sweet as pie and Reddit collectively has a three-mile-long boner for her as a boy.) My money’s on Sasha Velour, though: she’s a real weirdo and a true original.

Which is not to say that there aren’t other early standouts. Shea Coulee immediately leaps to mind: she has the drive and confidence of someone whose psychic told her that she makes the top 3. I’m also into Eureka O’Hara, who has so much look and personality that the producers had to confiscate her last name. (Or maybe after All Stars 2, she was worried about the cosmic taint of a Phi Phi association?) Charlie Hides doesn’t necessarily wear her age with pride, but she’s worth watching, because experience matters in the world of drag. And even though Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s paint job makes me feel like I need new contact lenses, I’m impressed with her unique perspective. It’s amazing that she and Tammie Brown aren’t from the same drag family, because they’re definitely both from another planet.

s9e01 01Then there’s the crop of skinny, vapid girls. Their queen is Valentina, who speaks like a robot programmed by the most ardent musical theater fan in a midwestern high school. She sounds like she’s spent three years rehearsing every word she says, and yet she still couldn’t convince me that she only started drag ten months ago. Sure, Jan. The fact that she wears a beret and black turtleneck for her confessionals tells you everything you need to know, because that is a literal costume. Farrah Moan and Kimora Blac are both young, pretty Vegas queens, and there was absolutely no need to cast both of them on the same season. In fact, with each passing moment, I’m becoming more convinced that casting even one of them was an iffy concept. And then there’s Trinity Taylor. Her assertion that there’s “astigmatism” about her drag might not have been a mistake: you’d have to have vision problems to be that proud of plastic surgery that questionable.

Lastly, there’s poor lost lamb Jaymes Mansfield, who honestly should consider herself a winner if she makes it out of the competition alive.

The final contestant isn’t a contestant at all: guest judge Lady Gaga slinks into the workroom as if she’s the last queen, only to send the ladies into a frenzy when she reveals her true identity. Half of them are crying because she’s their lord and savior, but the other half are cheering because they’re certain that if she joined the competition, they could send her home.

s9e01 03To add to the fevered snapping and finger waving, Ru descends the stairs to make another reveal: no one will be sent home this week. It’s an interesting tactic that gives us more time to get to know everyone, but also a ridiculous one that removes every bit of tension from the episode and denies us the joy of a final lip sync. The two-part main challenge is similarly double-edged: on the one hand, we get to see everyone’s creativity (or lack thereof) when they serve hometown-styled looks, but on the other hand we’ll be bored to tears watching everyone recreate outfits Lady Gaga has already worn.

And even the good  half of the pageant has its share of missteps. Disproving the notion that New York is an artistic hub, Peppermint and Aja both serve lackluster takes on Lady Liberty, and Alexis features the statue on her shoddy creation. Trinity’s graffiti pinwheel is clearly the product of hours and hours of wasted effort. And Grandma Charlie botches the tearaway on her pilgrim presentation, but even with a seamless reveal, that look should have been buried under a rock. I’m assuming Jaymes has a terminal illness and is here because someone at the Make-A-Wish foundation pulled a few strings.

s9e01 04Kimora claims to be the youngest, hottest, skinniest queen in Vegas, somehow forgetting that she’s not even the youngest, hottest, skinniest Vegas queen in the cast. She and Farrah both look fine in their feathered headgear, though they both seem to have more money than taste. The best hat of the night is Shea’s hotdog masterpiece, followed closely by Valentina’s interpretation of the dudes on the subway who play Guantanamera on the accordion when you just want to get home from work in peace. Sasha’s need to explain the concept of art by carrying a bunch of art comes off as overeager, while Eureka’s garbage explosion suggests that she would rather the judges kept a healthy distance.

I’m not even acknowledging the second half of the pageant because verbatim recreations of someone else’s work hold literally zero interest for me. It reduces everyone to a clothes hanger. Instead, let’s jump ahead: after a montage of critiques that seem entirely disconnected from the eventual results, the win goes to Nina’s peach. She talks about the paint job as though she invented paper, so I want to congratulate her on her ingenuity while lightly reminding her that she isn’t exactly the first drag queen to get resourceful because of budgetary constraints. The victory earns her a cheap sash and ten seconds of celebration before a secret 14th hopeful is introduced… from behind. (Though if you’ve been reading the Reddit spoilers, you know that a behind is enough to identify this individual.)

s9e01 05It’s at this moment that Ru says the competition truly begins. Really? Now?! If that’s the case, then why did I watch the whole last hour? Next year, can we start the competition right from the beginning so we don’t waste everyone’s time? Just a thought.

Anyhow, next week I look forward to assignments that demand more than just a big budget, consequences for people’s epic failures, and an immediate four-way elimination of the people we know for sure aren’t going to take the crown. It’d be a mercy to the queens, to the audience, and to the production team that would no longer have to schedule around Jaymes and Farrah’s early bedtimes.

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All T All Shade All Stars: (W)rap It Up

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I’m writing this through a cloud of crippling depression because I can’t believe that this season is over. It was the best television I’ve ever watched, and I’m not sure what to do with myself now that it’s gone.

Speaking of over, Alyssa’s time in this competition has ended, and literally no one is happy out it. Even Detox cried, and it’s her fault! Hell, at this point, I’m surprised Roxxxy didn’t just volunteer to pack her shit. You know what helps her keep the weight off? The calories she burns by maintaining boundless optimism in the face of repeated, decisive failure. If she says she’s still here to win one more time, she’s going to collapse from exhaustion. And speaking of exhausting, the only thing more aggravating than seeing Alaska win every week is hearing her explain that she threw that tantrum because she’s so used to winning. Like, it’s hard for her to be in the bottom two because she’s really good at this and she wants to win. I realize that this isn’t RuPaul’s Best Friend Race, but GIRL. Girl. Girl.

01But by the following morning, everyone has forgotten that there were ever more than four girls in the competition. Only two things matter anymore. One: that they do well in the final challenge, and Two: that Michelle survives her careful walk down the stairs to explain it to them. This is why Ru visits the workroom in flats. Once Mama Face has made it back to sea level, she informs the ferocious finalists that they’ll be doing a performance marathon: each queen will write and record a rap verse, then they will then learn group choreography and perform the full song together on stage. In addition, they’ll be interviewed for the What’s the T? podcast, serve a final runway look, and share a speech explaining why they should take the crown. We know immediately that Detox will not win because, no matter how well she does, she must be punished for denying us the opportunity to see Alyssa Edwards go full lunatic on this assignment. Years from now, I’ll find myself lying awake at night with a weight in the pit of my stomach, still frustrated at how close we came to experiencing such true greatness.

Rather than track the episode chronologically, I’m just going to look at each contestant individually. It’s too choppy otherwise. Handle it.

We’ll start with Roxxxy, because the fact that she’s going home is just plain not a spoiler. Like: come on. She insists, while recording her verse, that we shouldn’t tell her she’s not Nicki Minaj. Normally I’d disobey, but her mental state must be exceptionally fragile right now, so you know what? You are, girl. You just are. Anyway, Nicki’s podcast interview is all about whether she was edited to look bad on her season; it’s basically a series of questions designed to papercut Phi Phi O’Hara to death. Ms. Minaj doesn’t embarrass herself in the final performance, but looking great in a jeweled bodysuit and a fan can’t hide the fact that she established permanent residence in the bottom two.

03Detox (who is also not winning; see above) demolishes the rap. Even AB Soto says so, and you know you can trust him because he’s completely unknown except for previous appearances on this show. (Though that low-cut sequin nightmare suit he’s wearing suggests that he’s exceptionally eager to get noticed more.) Continuing the season-long tradition of giving her no story arc whatsoever, she is asked only about her clothes during the interview. And while she was shaky on the chairs during rehearsal, she tears the group performance up. I can’t pinpoint why her chances of being crowned are so low, because she’s totally great, but there really is no way it’s happening for her.

Katya, on the other hand, has a real shot. Her rap is funny and allows her to use the Russian character that is only intermittently present during challenges. Since she’s the only person in the competition who’s not a member of Rolaskatox, she’s the only one who doesn’t have to waste time in her interview talking about Rolaskatox. And her supernatural flexibility, which puts the fear of God in her costars during rehearsal, allows her to give perhaps the most spectacular visuals of the group number.

06As for Alaska, she has a lot to deal with emotionally right now. It somehow just dawned on her that Rolaskatox has reunited, even though she has been asked about it literally every week. “Is Roxxxy here because of Rolaskatox?” “No, of course not, we’re just three best friends who have decided not to send each other home… fuck.” Yup, you “accidentally” formed an alliance. The best part is that she takes her suitcase to the other side of the room as if she can somehow change things on the last day of the game. That’s like burning a house down and then hoping you can undo it by blowing out the match. Of course, you can’t deny the strength of her delivery across the challenge: she’s good at recording, she’s good at talking, and she’s good at performing. It’s entirely possible that she’ll make it to the Hall of Fame. (Though with only two portraits hanging, it might just as well be a Closet of Fame.)

08

We should talk about the backlash against Alaska. Up until last episode, everyone was positive she was going to win. And I think that was the intention. Then, at the last minute, the producers were like, “Oh, it’s really obvious who’s going to win. We should spice it up by making it look like Katya might take it.” Only they swung the pendulum too far and overemphasized Alaska’s tantrums and negative attitude, and it backfired horribly, to the point where no one wanted her to even exist on the TV anymore. Her weakness is best illustrated by the speech she gave to the judging panel at the end. While her three competitors showed genuine emotion, becoming overwhelmed and struggling to get the words out and hesitating and generally being human, Alaska was a robot succubus: perfectly polished, impeccably rehearsed, and totally cold. If her tantrum had been counterbalanced with humility and gratitude and warmth, she would have been redeemed in the eyes of the audience. Unfortunately, she is cursed with a voice that sounds like a particularly insincere door being slowly opened, and her every word conveys the subtext that we can’t sit with her and her friends.

07This is made further apparent in the slow, sincere lip sync that follows. After Ru dismisses Roxxxy (since apparently nobody fucking else was going to), she challenges her girls to dip into the bountiful well of Gladys Knight’s longing on “If I Were Your Woman.” As usual, Detox does everything right and still can’t catch a break. Katya is similarly wonderful, but after stepping on a witch’s toe at a meet-and-greet, she was cursed to lose lip sync battles for the rest of her days. Alaska smears her make-up and thinks to herself, “is that what feelings are?” She legitimately might not know.

And then it’s time to crown a winner. And sure, Alaska refuses to give us access to her actual inner self. And sure, she’s the predictable choice. And sure, we were manipulated into thinking that Katya might take it because she has an arc and her deeply addled sense of humor makes her seem like someone else who got dismissed from the Cool Kids’ table. But in the end none of that matters because a) I’m pretty sure that this entire season was staged just to make sure that Alaska would win it, and b) she kicked this season’s ass. Her track record is outstanding, the diversity of her skill is unreal, and the drive and focus she displayed were borderline concerning. Let her have this one. Katya will be just fine.

09

Thanks for joining me all season, guys. I’ll be back in Season 9 to throw more shade than a solar eclipse. xoxo, Ariel Italic

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All T All Shade All Stars: Genetic Makeup Lesson

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01In the wake of Tatianna’s dismissal, Alaska works very hard to let everyone know that friendship had nothing to do with the fact that her friend is still in the competition. Sure, Katya would have sent Roxxxy home. Sure, Roxxxy was ready to go home. And sure, we’re acting as though lending someone a shirt is both an exceedingly kind act and a criterion for success in this competition. (Side note: why does the patron saint of thick-and-juiciness have a tacky bedazzled crop top that fits Alaska’s gaunt frame? Did she think they’d be giving makeovers to middle schoolers?) This suspicious line of reasoning leads into a discussion of how many wins each contestant has had (and in Detox’s case, how viable those previous wins were, because obviously a talking trash can is the best idea in the world and any judging panel that can’t see that should be fed into a singing garbage disposal). After the tally, the real reason for last week’s elimination becomes clear: no one has more than two wins and Alaska has four, so she can do whatever the Thunderfuck 5000 she wants.

The following day, Alyssa looks positively shook at Ru’s entry into the workroom. I hope they lifted this shot out of context, because if not, then we have to give her a lot more credit as a competitor. She forgets the format of the show every night when she goes to sleep, or maybe doesn’t recognize patterns and lacks predictive abilities, and still kills it despite this handicap! Clap for that Memento-ass hooker. Anyway, our surprise-even-though-her-name-is-in-the-title-of-the-show host is here to let the girls know that each of them has a family member visiting, and the maxi challenge will be putting them into drag.

03Katya and her mom are literally the only pair that do not share a tear-moistened moment during this episode, and let me tell you, it’s a downer. Alaska’s family escapes with only the barest minimum of sincerity; other than Mama Pam’s briefly misty thankfulness that Alaska is no longer involved with doing drugs or sharing needles, they’re mostly just mentally spending that $100,000. Even Roxxxy and the super-adorable grandmother who raised her bring the waterworks mainly in bus-related flashbacks. But, in a moment of deadly synchronicity that the editors must have thrown themselves a party over, both Detox and Alyssa are circling the anniversary of the death of a parent, and both of them have plenty of sibling-on-sibling sobbing to do. I’m not gonna lie: in addition to dampening the mood, it makes my job as a recapper really hard. There’s simply nothing humorous about this situation.

As a palate cleanser before the mainstage, Ru invites in Anastasia Soara, who I guess only agreed to provide this season’s make-up if she could be shown on screen applying her product to select members of the over-tweezed masses. The brow tutorial she offers is too brief to be useful to the viewers at home, too subtle to help the queens in the competition, and too bougie for the Texan and Bostonian on whom she demonstrates. I accept the inclusion of this sequence (no Roxxxy, the other sequence) only because for a few minutes no one is weeping.

02Speaking of people who don’t make me weep: Aubrey Plaza’s decision to introduce herself with a really dark quip about her impending suicide instantly cements her as one of my favorite judges of all time. That one sentence secures her a ranking that Carson Kressley hasn’t earned over multiple full seasons. It’s a shame that she has to be subjected to the full performance of five “vogue” numbers that Ru made the girls choreograph at the last minute. They must have been really dull, because we only see about ten seconds of each, even though they were important enough at the time of filming to merit a god damned costume change (which is no small thing when you have to find or make a second coordinating outfit for a partner of dissimilar size).

The actual runway presentations vary greatly. Surprising no one (except perhaps herself, since she doesn’t understand how a repeating sequence works… different sequence, Roxxxy), Alyssa is both critiqued and applauded for piling garbage on top of garbage until her body is vaguely covered and then calling it an outfit. If Phi Phi had worn even one of the many pseudo-garments the Edwards family has trotted out, Ru would have gotten out from behind the sweatpants-hiding table to slap her silly. Alaska is given her first harsh critique of the competition for looking like a mother and daughter who thought it would be cute to go out as drag queens for Halloween. Detox receives a great deal of praise for a family resemblance that exists largely because of genetics and her bold decision to leave her nose as her one surgically unaltered feature, but the looks she serves are indeed on point. And Roxxxy’s grandma is the cutest person ever to stomp this runway, but there’s no stopping the derailed train of Katya and her peasant babushka: their combined comedic storytelling talents leave the rest of the crew out in the bitter Russian cold.

05

The choice of Detox and Katya as winners is a no-brainer, but Ru’s edict that all of the remaining three are possible losers makes the backstage deliberations a little more complicated. Alaska was empirically the worst, but has by far the best track record. Alyssa has been solid the entire time. WOXXXY IS MY FWEND. How can anyone be asked to pick who deserves to goes home? It’s obviously impossible, and not made any easier when Thunderfuck the Victorious “jokingly” offers to pay $10,000 for a spot in the finale. Note to future contestants: I will accept $10,000 to say only nice things about you for an entire season of recaps. Want me to spin your backstage temper tantrum as a genius move or call your thirsty wig avant garde? I’ll do it.

06Having selected their lipsticks, the top two return to the stage for their lip sync battle to Ru’s new single. Huh, what a weird coincidence. Anyway, the showdown looks pretty close to me, and at this point I feel like Katya deserves the top spot just as a courtesy. The host and executive producer (whoever they are… probably the same boobs who pick the lip sync songs) give Detox the doulas and allow her to evict one she-clown from the premises. And wouldn’t you know it? She doesn’t pick Roxxxy or Alaska! Not even Alyssa, She of the Hindered Foresight, is surprised by this one. Ever the pageant queen, Ms. Edwards of Texas makes her exit with grace, dignity, and the hint of otherworldly mania that we love her for. Next week is the finale, and it will be worse without her for sure.

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All T All Shade All Stars: Sell the Gum

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The return to the workroom this week leaves everyone with a lightness in their step, as if they’ve just removed a fake pregnancy belly made of insecurity-fueled rage. When Alyssa says that the decision was “unanimous,” she isn’t just talking about the fact that she and Tatianna agreed: she means that everyone watching at home was frantically reaching for the White-Out to scrawl “Phi Phi” on the nearest tube of lipstick. And it worked! Just like The Craft taught us: if you and your friends all want the same thing at the same time, then your wish comes true. Unfortunate side effect: one of you might turn heel and make some villainous choices. Let’s hope none of our girls is susceptible to the draw of the Dark Side…

002By the next day, though, no one seems to have gone ‘90s goth (not that I would challenge that shift from a fashion perspective). In fact, the only retro element of the process is the reintroduction of the long-lost mini-challenge. Mama Ru has sponsors to please, so we’re treated to a lightning-fast edit of a ridiculous golf game that probably felt interminable in real time, all so that Andrew Christian can remind the viewing audience (half of whom are already wearing his neon, assless creations) to buy expensive-yet-barely-there go-go boy underpants. Scruff isn’t explicitly mentioned, but their participation is heavily implied since most of the models have nice torsos and no faces. Alaska wins the game, and as a prize is given the opportunity to advertise the people who make Ru’s suits.

All that corporate shilling, it turns out, was actually thematically important to the episode’s main task: the six remaining queens will develop a product prototype and make a commercial for it. To help them with this process, Ru brings in Marcus Lemonis, then repeats his name several times so that the queens in the room won’t forget it and the viewers at home can quickly Google him. His low level of fame and complete lack of drag knowledge make him the least convincing expert the show has ever booked; Katya is so underwhelmed by his presence that when he says her idea is a disaster that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, she makes zero changes to her original concept.

003To give World of Wonder credit: the shooting-the-commercial segments are less forced than I expected. Everyone has a couple slips but more or less seems to deliver because they are, after all, professionals in the top of their field. They’re also all friends, as the getting-ready-for-the-runway montage proves. Some of them are, of course, closer than others; Katya waxes poetic about the importance of having a select few ride-or-die bitches who can be real with you, while Rolaskatox hugs it out over how special and lasting their bond is and how happy they are that it totally won’t affect the competition at all. AT ALL. Whatever, I really want to explore more about the circle of close Judies that exist entirely to call Katya out, because I feel like her conflation of love and criticism says a lot about her.

004

The main stage theme of PANTS inspires another round of brilliance from everyone involved. Perpetually bootylicious Roxxxy serves up some Studio 54-26-54 realness, while Katya uses a yellow pump and an unnerving amount of confidence to turn an alien extra’s costume on Star Trek: Voyager into the highest of fashion. Alyssa is in a similar boat: the only cohesive thing about her various garments is that they’re all black, but any randomly generated outfit becomes inspirational when positioned below her beautiful, crazy face. The runway is and always will be Detox’s domain, and her capri creation looks like a million bucks. Alaska knows that to make America great again, we just need more fringe. But the most scream-inducing moment of the night (at least by the barometer of the screaming queers I watch with) is Tati’s homage to T-Boz, which gave my retinas such a deep, delicious fuck that I needed Left Eye’s condom glasses. (Rest in peace, Lisa.)

005I normally wouldn’t be excited for a show to devote this much of its running time to commercials, but I can’t wait to see what the ladies have created. (Note to all businesses: book drag queens for your commercials. I’m available and cost-effective.) Though not exceptionally charming or creative, Roxxxy gets through her wig seminar just fine. Katya’s, on the other hand, is pure, genius-level art. Alyssa’s is like art for lizards: it bypasses logic and taps directly into the brain’s pleasure receptors. I have no particular feelings about Detox this week. Her video has a terminal case of meh. We knew Alaska would come up with something weird and hilarious, but wildcard Tatianna once again pulls through with a showcase of her tart yet endearing wit.

When it comes time for the judges’ critiques, however, the waters in the shark tank get a little choppy. Katya’s place in the top two is a no-brainer, though I question how Ru is going to follow through on the promise of making and selling a spray-on mood stabilizer at DragCon. Roxxxy’s fourth trip to the bottom is similarly foreseeable. But Tati gets scolded for not mentioning her product enough, even though Alaska (who also said next to nothing about what she was selling) receives high praise. For my money, Detox should have been the other queen on the chopping block; her idea was garbage in more than one sense of the word. But I’m not the one in charge here.

006During backstage deliberations, Roxxxy sounds like your elderly grandma when she starts speaking with alarming frankness about her impending death: just smiling and saying that it’s God’s will that her time has come and giving her belongings away. Tatianna, having already crossed the threshold once, comes at the conversation giving undead realness with the chilling, sexy hunger of a vampire. Again, in my mind she doesn’t even belong in the bottom, so her departure seems out of the question.

And then several things I disagree with happen. FIRST, I disagree with Ru’s continued mispronunciation of “duu-laaz,” because it makes me think that she’s tipping the winner in something other than American currency. No one is pregnant enough to need ten thousand doulas. SECOND, I don’t care if neither of them are going home, I disagree with both of the top two wearing fucking flats. THIRD, I disagree that Alaska won that lip sync, flag reveal be damned. And FOURTH, I strongly disagree with the choice to send Tatianna home (and FIFTH, disagree that Rolaskatox had nothing to do with that decision). I bind you, Lasky, from doing harm! Harm against other people, and harm against yourself!

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All T All Shade All Stars: The Second Second Chance Part 2 The Sequel

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You guys, I want to have a whole meta-discussion about Phi Phi O’Hara’s social media meltdown, because I am so interested in what is going on in her brain. It would be a mistake to make the whole recap about the stuff happening outside the show, but I will say this. 1: threatening her with violence is wrong. 2: I buy neither her version of events nor the one shown to us on TV; the truth is obviously somewhere in between. And 3: she failed herself, bottom line, because the only way to beat the producers at their game is to NOT SAY SHIT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. They can’t edit footage they don’t have. Unfortunately, she is in possession of the world’s strongest verbal shovel, and every time she opens her mouth, she can’t help but dig herself deeper.

OK, on with the show.

001The cliffhanger of the previous episode left me absolutely chafing all week. I never thought I’d be this eager to return to a place called “The Workroom.” Each of the eliminated queens makes a dramatic entrance with her two-in-one outfit (though Coco honestly just takes off a vest and calls it a day), and then we dive right into the “I heard what you said” discussion. It’s shocking how easily Phi Phi deals the victim card to someone else, given that she’s usually clutching to it for dear fucking life. I have trouble seeing how she can assign ulterior motive to Alyssa without recognizing that Alyssa’s brain couldn’t possibly manage subterfuge. Like, look around the room. Which of these people is likely to be subtle and clever? Alyssa doesn’t know how each sentence is going to end before she starts it; she couldn’t possibly demonstrate the foresight required for manipulation. In a further act of projection that would make a whole block of IMAX theaters jealous, Phi Phi literally shouts “DO NOT GET MAD!!!” at one point. I hope she made enough money off these five episodes to get some good therapy.

I’m sure they have enough footage to make a whole 90-minute special on just that one interaction, but the show must go on, so we cut to the next morning, when Ru introduces the maxi challenge. This time around, the ladies will entertain an audience of previous Drag Race contestants as comedy duos, with each returning hopeful choosing her own partner. Alyssa grabs Alaska right off the bat, partially to prove the two of them can succeed together but mostly because who wouldn’t pick Alaska first for this assignment?! Ginger’s choice of Katya as a teammate is also fairly obvious, given their existing friendship. I can’t even make a joke about how Tati picked Detox because she’s not Roxxxy or Phi Phi, because Tati is smart and funny and already made that joke. Left to pick between unfunny and unstable, Coco takes the risk that maybe Phi Phi’s insanity will manifest as hilarity in the way that Alyssa’s sometimes does. (It definitely won’t.)

003But what about Roxxxy? Surely the small percentage of you who can count were suspicious when Ru announced a couples task to an odd number of contestants. (I was suspicious that maybe the producers were not in that small percentage.) As consolation for being picked last (well, not picked at all, really), Ms. Andrews will serve as host of the show. If one of the eliminated girls wins, then that girl will stay. But if Roxxxy wins, she gets to choose who returns. (Don’t worry, that also definitely won’t happen.) Among the predictable montage of rehearsal clips where, you guessed it, some people don’t give the best performance of all time during a first run-through, Phi Phi starts a conversation hoping to bury the hatchet with (or possibly in) Alyssa. The problem is that she doesn’t seem to want to apologize: she wants an apology. The whole thing is fake as hell, so she probably should’ve expected the bogus-ass non-hug she gets for her effort.

On the mainstage, Ru wears her best bathrobe and forces people who weren’t cast on this season to show up in full drag to listen to an onslaught of mediocre stage buffoonery. I assume they were paid. Not with money, obviously, but somehow. Maybe they were told it would be great exposure. As hostess, Roxxxy should be given at least some credit for not sweating every drop of paint off her face, given how much effort it takes for her to squeeze out each lame joke. At least she’s not as bad as Coco and Phi Phi. Their narrative-heavy, stereotype-ridden short play garners about as many giggles as a live-action snuff film. The best part of their act is watching Porkchop not laugh at it.

002I’ll give Roxxxy credit for sharing hosting duties with her Season 5 character Tasha Salad because it’s a bold, silly move that actually kind of works. Like, she’s never going to be George Carlin (without a lock of his hair, a thick pewter cauldron, and a full moon), so reveling in the stupidity of a lisp and a lot of dressing-based puns is really the best any of us could hope for here. Speaking of exceeding expectations: Alaska and Alyssa are apparently so good that people who weren’t even there were laughing. (Seriously, you’re showing me an audience of 20 and playing me the sound of an audience of 80, and I can tell the difference. Don’t prove Phi Phi right, World of Wonder.) Katya and Ginger do a solid if somewhat schlocky routine. I tittered, but modern-day drag queens shouldn’t bring to mind phrases like “vaudeville duo” and “Borscht belt.” Detox and Tatianna play to the same invisible crowd that Team Alysska slayed, and further stretch credulity by producing matching outfits. But their routine is pretty great.

Since Katya is only safe, Ginger is sent right back home. Roxxxy lands in the bottom along with Phi Phi, meaning that Coco will also be leaving us. That means the girls who might actually return are Alyssa, who is so watchable that I want her edited into episodes of my other favorite shows, and Tati, who’s working her ass off to earn her redemption instead of just talking about it like some people. I mean, she had a matching dress for her partner! I’m assuming one of them brought both those garments just in case? I wouldn’t have been mad at a little explanation on that one.

005

You know who would be mad at explanation? The same person who’s mad at everything else. During backstage deliberations, Phi Phi decides that she is not interested in defending herself and pleading her case. She eventually does submit to one-on-ones, but they’re not exceptionally productive. Her relationship with Tatianna is tense, and her connection with Alyssa is so frayed that I can’t even call it a relationship anymore. They have a “thing,” maybe. “It’s complicated.” Roxxxy, who is able to manifest emotions other than resentment and blind fury, cries during her meeting and basically assures us that this decision is close in the way that the race between Trump and Clinton is close. (Like, we’re not actually letting Trump win, right? No one’s allowing that to happen? I need to believe that his victory is literally impossible or I won’t be able to sleep at night.)

006The top two, finally given something to fight for, lip sync the tits off that Rihanna song. The fact that Tatianna is once again wearing an outfit to match her partner concerns me, though. Did she burn all her drag in effigy after she got eliminated the first time? Why does she not have her own clothes? Why is it even important that she and Alyssa have complementary dance costumes and blond wigs? Whatever, their combined performance is so phenomenal that it’s almost impossible to focus on even glaring questions. They’re so good I caught Phi Phi smiling behind them, and even through her delusion she has to know she’s getting cut no matter who wins.

And that’s the amazing thing: THEY BOTH WIN. Ru returns two girls to the competition, cementing this as the best season of television that has ever been broadcast. On top of that, their custom-printed lipsticks will BOTH count, so there’s a chance that they’ll chop both Phi Phi AND Roxxxy. (They definitely won’t.) (Will they?) No! Of course they don’t! With their powers combined, they banish the no-longer-in-joke-quotes villain of the season to the section of Hell where everyone spends all day talking about how personally persecuted they are. (Not really, of course. At least, not without a lock of her hair, a thick pewter cauldron, and a full moon.)

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All T All Shade All Stars: Diminishing Returns

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001Like members of an extremely small religious order, the contestants have thus far held strictly to the elimination commandments that they made up the first day. Clinging to the wisdom of the mighty judges has brought them comfort in times of chaos. By sending Ginger home, however, Alyssa has forced everyone to question the validity of their tribe’s ways. If stuffing live eels into that tree stump doesn’t control the weather, does that mean there is no Ten-Legged Low-Carb Goddess smiling down on us? Has it all been a lie? The wayward zealots struggle to make meaning of the Heretic Edwards’ actions. Detox, for her part, assures the others that she would have done the good and pure thing and sent Katya home; the chastened Katya can only nod. Sensing the opportunity to hear her own voice, Acolyte O’Hara dives in to speak at length about fairness. Surely, if the Holy Many-Limbed Lady of Gluten Avoidance existed, she would intervene to assist her loudest daughter by shutting her the fuck up. Seriously, Phi Phi needs to get out of her own way. Her efforts at redeeming herself are like a sex offender trying to win over his neighbors by showing them how inoffensive his dick is.

002After a restful night’s sleep (when the souls of the true believers are taken to the Next Place and cradled in Her unbreaded bosom), the cultists return to find a note written by the producers and signed by Ginger that, if you can believe it, reignites the fairness argument! Phi Phi’s inner Likeability Monster begins to stir, but Alyssa and Katya give zero fucks and thus do not feed the beast. With the threat of actual drama removed, RuPaul has no choice but to enter the workroom and give the girls their assignment for the week. As usual, she continues to refer to the maxi challenge even though we seem to have done away with mini challenges altogether; regardless, the task today will be to figure out how close one can get to recreating copyrighted movies without a lawsuit being filed.

Alyssa immediately latches onto Alaska, either because she is brilliant or because she reflexively grabbed the first person she looked at. It’s sometimes impossible to tell whether she is succeeding intentionally or in some sort of thoughtless Zen flow. Either way, the pair will bait the Warner Bros. legal team with a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? follow-up. Picking from the best of the rest, Katya latches onto Detox to taunt MGM with their Thelma and Louise sequel (though Universal could probably also claim that they ripped off the plot of Death Becomes Her for this one). Last and least, Phi Phi and Roxxxy will wave their red flag at the United Artists crew as they create the next Showgirls, though TRUE fans know that there’s already a second entry in the story: Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven (I’m sadly not even making that up).

007Look, we all know how the next segment is going to go. First, two people have to swap parts, because that happens LITERALLY EVERY TIME there is an acting challenge (Phi Phi and Roxxxy perform this season’s exchange). Next, someone from each pair has to struggle to remember their lines (which they were given earlier that day, mind you), while juxtaposed against their partner’s better takes. Finally, the directors will do their jobs and offer direction to the actors, while shady noises play in the background. Sure, we’d all appreciate it if Todrick Hall could remain completely silent (and the editors at World of Wonder are striving for that ideal), but getting something wrong in rehearsal is inevitable. Nobody believes that Alaska gave perfect takes every time, and if you do, I’ve got a Bridge to Nowhere to sell you. (Timely political reference: nailed it.) The one unexpected moment in filming: Roxxxy pronouncing sash as “shaw” and immediately identifying it as “another sequence moment.” Phi Phi should see if she can offer some acting talent in exchange for some of her partner’s self-awareness. It’d be a win-win.

Since the runway theme is surprise outfit reveals, we have to skip the getting-ready montage. As a result, there are literally only 15 minutes of footage before RuPaul’s boss battle entrance, which has to set some kind of record. And yet here we already are: the tearaways are torn away, the screeners are screened, and the opinions are opined. Phi Phi gets neither overt love nor overt disdain for her prince-to-princess reveal. Her Nomi is a hit, though I think the praise is as forced as her performance; she nailed the look and didn’t completely bomb the jokes, but she would have been the weaker link next to anyone but Roxxxy. Speaking of whom: she may not be an actress, but when it comes to stacking outfits, Ms. Andrews is playing some next-level Jenga.

005Her progression from good girl to Satan’s prom date earns tepid notice, but Katya delivers in the video segment. Detox is likewise a solid C as a fashion plate and a solid B as an actress, though we’re grading both of those tests on pretty steep curves. The highest highs and lowest lows come from the final team. In terms of adhering to the assignment, I question whether one could call Alaska’s offering two whole outfits; there’s no question, however, that her Lil’ Poundcake look is phenomenal and her Bette Davis realness deserves above-the-title billing. Alyssa, on the other hand, is no actress, and her Joan Crawford from the Snatch Game has aged about as well as the bottle of wine you opened two weeks ago and left on the counter. Still, when she unleashed her camera-covered cataclysm, the bar I was in exploded into gay holleration. It was the YAAAAS heard round the world.

Unfortunately, this segment was filmed many months ago, and not even the sassiest of screams can reach back through time. Alyssa thus lands in the bottom three, along with Roxxxy and Katya. (The judges should have made it explicit that they were putting one lady from each scene on the chopping block, though it still feels wrong since there was only a bottom two last week. And if Scruff and Grindr have taught me anything, it’s that we have enough bottoms.) Alaska, the only person to fully succeed at all aspects of this week’s episode, is obviously one of the lip syncers; she’ll face off against Phi Phi, who sighs with relief at the announcement as though this small victory could ever begin to satiate her endless, ravenous desire for approval.

009Backstage, deliberation gets hairy because Alyssa is still pushing for cumulative scoring, while everyone else seems more married to the idea that each challenge should stand on its own. Shaking things up further, Phi Phi calls the tradition of one-on-ones into question, opting to make her decision without input from the gals in the danger zone. Will the Blessed Legsaplenty Celiac Queen rain retribution on our island of loyal manclowns? Praise be to She of the Five Butts; let us honor her with rice cakes and those weird noodles made out of mushroom protein.

No amount of religious fervor can protect us from the lip sync and its bloody aftermath, however. It’s a tight battle, too, but in the end, Phi Phi’s conventional take is no match for Alaska’s ability to break expectations while still exceeding them. But her win comes with a high price: she must make the unkindest cut and send Alyssa home. It’s weird to watch her try to be serious while speaking in that voice and painted like a possessed doll. She even cries about it. Or, at least, she sounds like she’s crying; her face doesn’t actually get wet. Maybe she’s an amazing actress. Maybe she had her tear ducts removed when she was having the rest of her face adjusted. Maybe her drag is so polished that she has learned to suppress her excretions in order to preserve her make-up. Maybe I think about this show too hard.

010Anyway, if you thought this episode was over (I did), it’s not. We dive straight back into the workroom for the post-elimination discussion that usually starts the show. The crew inevitably veers back to the subject of fairness, and Phi Phi inevitably dives in to sabotage herself. (I’d say she’s her own worst enemy, but there’s currently a whole pile of people on Twitter vying for that title.) Her tirade about Alyssa is cut off, however, by the greatest reveal in all of television history. Out of nowhere, a light turns on behind the mirror, which we suddenly realize is actually two-way glass. On the other side sit the four eliminated contestants, who have been intently listening and serving ALL THE FACE. RuPaul will go down in history as the first celebrity to make a million people shit themselves simultaneously. Thursday can’t come soon enough.

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All T All Shade All Stars: If I Could Turn Back Time

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001Things start off on a solemn note because this most recent elimination is forcing people to reevaluate their prospects. I doubt that anyone ever viewed Coco as real competition, but Tatianna came in hot that first week, and her dismissal proves that even a strong contender can be sent packing for one botched challenge. The saving grace in this situation: THE RULES. No one likes to give a sister the chop, but Katya and Alaska manage to sleep at night by reminding themselves that their selection was based entirely on what the judges said. It’s a deflection that allows everyone to keep their sanity. Except, of course, for Alyssa, who has already lost hers. And while her antics might not be to some people’s liking, rest assured that I would personally smother Phi Phi to death in her sleep in exchange for one more episode of Alyssa’s Secret.

After the credits, it’s a new day in the workroom, and the revelation that Katya hates that part of the show as much as I do only enables my fantasy that one day she and I will be best friends. Phi Phi continues trying to read Alyssa because she still hasn’t accepted the Goddess Edwards into her heart like the rest of the queens. Together, they chant “BEAST” and giggle like middle schoolers at a sleepover, not even bothering to respond to the blue-haired gollum’s taunts because nothing she says could possibly matter while they are in the presence of true, unadultered, witless excellence.

002Speaking of which, in walks Ru. Since the network won’t give her another 90-minute time slot, she blows past the mini-challenge and skips straight to the main event: the girls will be lip syncing to a long-form musical number, performing as (and about) great women in history. It’s an assignment that immediately worries Katya, given her plane crash of a showing last time she tried this type of gig. Luckily, no one remembers anything about her season except how completely delightful she is. I’ve blocked that whole debacle out so thoroughly that when they show clips from her first lap on the show, it’s like new footage to me. And I recapped those episodes! But I’ll never forget that Phi Phi referred to “gee eye effs” in her talking heads segment this week, and I’ll never forgive her for it, either. Even in the midst of a raging debate over correct pronunciation, she manages to find a new way to piss everyone off.

As usual, the show carts out some tepid rehearsal footage and tries to make us believe that anyone who didn’t nail the choreography on the first try is destined to fall off a cliff into a pit of burning snakes. Sorry, editors, but I’m not at all impressed that you found clips of people not knowing the dance steps. Neither is it shocking that they caught Phi Phi trying to sabotage others. (The only surprise, really, is that she thinks it will work. It must suck to be the least stable, the meanest, and the dumbest.) Of course, back at the make-up table the next day, she’s suddenly virulently anti-bullying. Because she’s the real victim here. How awful that she experienced social consequences for being a horrible shitlord! At least she has this chance to pave herself a road to redemption one backhanded comment at a time. Like, girl, you don’t need to remind Ginger that her dress is massive. SHE’S FAT THAT’S JUST HOW BIG HER CLOTHES ARE.

005In the Lip Sync Extravaganza, Alaska and Phi Phi both do completely serviceable jobs as Eve and Helen of Troy respectively. Detox manages to stand out performance-wise because it’s been a couple years since she’s shown us that jaw waggle on TV, so it seems fresh. (Giving me that not-so-fresh feeling: her “innovative” take on Marie Antoinette that Robbie Turner just did for Season 8’s neon runway.) Ginger’s horsing around is great, but Alyssa’s got more pizzazz than a whole warehouse full of bedazzled guns. Given what a drunken egret of a man she is, it’s easy to forget that she’s actually very good at what she does, even if “what she does” falls in a pretty narrow range. She’s a tough act to follow, but don’t cry for Roxxxy, Argentina: she holds her own. Katya, sadly, falters again, though I think most of the blame lies with the material. Princess Di is a beloved icon whose tragic death we all remember. It’d be like assigning everyone New York landmarks to sing about, and then asking Katya to close the show with a haiku about the Twin Towers.

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The runway theme provides everyone with great insight into how bleak the future of a drag queen really is. (You can’t exactly make enough to save for retirement, so your options are basically to lip sync into your 80s, starve, or die young.) Continuing her streak of outstanding looks, Detox locks in one of the top spots with her silver body paint moment. Alyssa takes the other win in spite of her confusing creation, which holds your attention in a Two Girls, One Cup sort of way. I think Katya’s look represents the kind of drag she would be doing in the future, but the judges aren’t here for it, so she’s lined up on the chopping block next to Ginger Minj, whose outfit is so generically bad that my attempts at a punchline just roll right off it.

Backstage during deliberation, the only real drama comes from everyone’s worry that their carefully constructed game rules won’t be followed. It’s not that Alyssa wants to fuck with the system: it’s that her brain works differently from everyone else’s. She has some unique form of glittery autism. “The Future of Drag” is being incoherently hilarious at a party, falling into a split, and then telling everyone you have Edwards’ Syndrome. Though the consensus seems to be that Katya should go home, some question remains as to whether she will.

007Detox asserts before the lip sync that she’s confident she’ll win, but her assurance is misplaced. See, she pretty much has only one gimmick with that lip quiver, and she used it up in the challenge. Her competitor, on the other hand, is a whole season’s worth of pageants condensed into human form. Alyssa’s costume change isn’t a weakness: it’s a chance for her to give you another look. She brings the fire-in-the-eyes, legs-in-the-air, the-power-of-Christ-compels-you DRAMA that the judges crave, and her victory is sweet. Even sweeter: her understanding that Katya is a more dynamic contestant than Ginger. Trimming the Minj might not be the more popular option, but it’s for sure the more interesting one.

(Speaking of interesting: when Ginger says that she and Alyssa do “kind of the same thing,” what thing is she talking about, exactly? Having teeth? Breathing oxygen? Their Venn diagrams have like six molecules of overlap.)

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All T All Shade All Stars: The Girl Who Blanked

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Following Coco’s departure, the queens return to the workroom looking like a bunch of children who just learned that the chicken we eat is the same thing as the chicken that walks around and clucks. Roxxxy is the most shaken, since she’s the one who had to behead the metaphorical fowl. It’s not fair to foist this heavy a moral quandary on a woman who doesn’t know how to say “sequin.” To deflect some of their guilt, the ladies dissect how harsh the critiques were: since the judges no longer have the power to bite, they have tripled their bark. The mere mention of Michelle’s name triggers Adore’s PTSD, which she developed in the half hour since she got chewed out. On top of it all, everyone’s worried that, given their collectively high skill level, winning will require almost superhuman amounts of strength and style. The pressure is so intense that Phi Phi has already lost a tooth! (I know it was fake, but still. To whoever edits this show: can we remove any shit like that from future episodes? You censored Violet Chachki’s male nipples in Season 7 and all of a sudden you’re going full-tilt body horror on me?)

as2e02 03Everyone comes back the next morning refreshed from a night of slumber and excited to face the day’s assignment (except for Adore, who is either psychologically damaged or changing her aesthetic to emo). Contestants and audience alike are thrilled to learn that the main challenge is… Snatch Game! Viewers at home get to revel in the kind of rampant stupidity that could only have come from 1970s broadcasting standards, while the racers get a second lap at the most notable event in the competition. This will be particularly tough for Tatianna: as the winner of the first Snatch Game, she has to reclimb a mountain that has only gotten taller. Phi Phi, Detox, and Alyssa are in some ways lucky to have set the bar low, since it will now be much easier for them to jump it.

Amidst all the discussion of which celebrity hairdo each queen will half-assedly recreate, Adore is just over in the corner crying into her wig. Ru, who is an amateur detective in her off hours, astutely notes that something is wrong with Our Lady of Perpetual Hogbody. And then the dramatic music cues in: she’s putting the “no” in Delano and quitting.

as2e02 04This shit is so juicy that the other girls stop getting ready and blatantly stare at the conversation as it unfolds. What follows is a verbal tennis match that boils down to a battle over who can deliver the best Oprah-esque amateur life coach platitudes. It’s important to be true to yourself and live your truth and do what’s in your heart and keep your eyes on the prize and don’t shit where you eat and a stitch in time saves nine and FUCK GUYS ADORE IS REALLY LEAVING! I have to say, I’ve seen high school guidance counselors work harder at getting someone not to drop out; you can tell that Ms. Charles is half invested in preventing an early exit and half thinking, “this is going to make everyone on Reddit crap their pants!” Adore then meets with Michelle, who also reeks of bullshit initially (eliciting a facial expression from Ms. Delano that would count as the best of the episode if Alyssa weren’t here to snag that title every single week), but she eventually gives a more honest apology. Still, it’s too little too late, and let’s be real: by the end of the main stage presentation, they’d probably go right back to telling Adore that she looks like an obese gibbon doing Daria cosplay.

But we’re not here to dwell on that downfall, because it’s time for the Snatch Game, which has delivered more abominations than an obstetrician in Chernobyl. You’d think that people who had been through this would have learned from their experiences, but you’d be wrong. And it doesn’t help that Phi Phi has been dropping helpful hints in some people’s ears (though anyone who would listen to her advice obviously didn’t watch her Season 4 performance as a freshman theater major who thinks Lady Gaga is really edgy). She’s better this time around, even if her Theresa Caputo is still medium by any measure. Her mind games derail Roxxxy, however, who abandons Sofia Vergara (who she could probably pull off) for Alaska (please stop).

as2e02 07Though she brings back a celebrity that was done a disservice in Season 8, Detox can’t save Nancy Grace, and vice versa. Rounding out the middle, Ginger throws down a vague Tammy Faye with an accent that wavers between Minnesotan and Australian depending on the Bible verse. The strongest contenders are Katya, who taps into her innate mania to deliver a hilariously nonsensical Björk, and Alaska, who turns Mae West’s veiled innuendos into brilliant pornographic haikus. Special mention must be made, however, of the juggernaut that is Alyssa Edwards as Joan Crawford. An expert at winning by failing, she has a minimal grasp on the look, no grasp whatsoever on the voice (take that, Phi Phi), and nothing but a handful of Mommie Dearest quotes to support her performance. From any other queen, this would have been a one-way ticket to the bottom two, but her inimitable presence turns the botched characterization into the most entertaining showing of the night. She’s only good at one thing, and that’s being Alyssa Edwards, but she’s so good at it that context ceases to matter. One imagines that she might begin winning marathons and resolving legal disputes not with physical stamina or constitutional knowledge, but with her uniquely compelling oddness.

And then there’s Tatianna. Even after managing to turn into an exact physical replica of Ariana Grande, she comes up piccolo on punchlines. (It’s Italian for small. Read a book.) Gosh I hope she has a stunning runway outfit to save her!

as2e02 06She does not. And she’s stuck in the bottom three with Roxxxy, who can almost always be counted on to turn a look, and Detox, who is admittedly hit-or-miss but who unequivocally burned this motherfucker to the ground with her fetish gear Romper Room pony play presentation. The top two represent opposite ends of the spectrum with their latex loveliness: Katya is as campy as Alaska is chic (and critically, neither of them wore a one-piece bathing suit and acted like that was acceptable). It’s up to them to decide who will sashay away. Adding insult to injury, whoever is chosen will have to sashay in a rubber dress, which will probably make all sorts of fart noises that we will childishly laugh at after she’s gone.

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The ladies retire backstage for the dreaded one-on-one meeting portion of the evening, where we learn no new information and everyone just sort of awkwardly dances around the specifics of the topic. It’s like listening in on a team meeting after someone heard there will be layoffs: everyone is looking for the boss to drop hints, and the boss is remaining stone-faced until the last possible minute because no one wants a situation where Legal has to get involved. Meanwhile, Katya changes her entire outfit and Alaska puts on a shorter heel and both of them get ready to leg sync for their leprosy or whatever.

as2e02 10So here’s the thing: “Le Freak” is a surprisingly limp choice for a drag number. On top of that, Katya (who is in full-on FLATS, mind you) trots out a C+ show that only adds to the flaccidity. It’s not like she has to worry about going home; maybe she thinks it’s worth $10,000 to force someone else to chop Tatianna. People make a lot of Hunger Games jokes on this show, but between the accounting decisions and the hiring/firing politics, it’s basically a very sparkly office drama. And it really is sad to see Tati pack up her desk and file for unemployment: she was always so much fun at the holiday party and never stole from the break room fridge.

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