Knock, knock, guess who? It’s me, and I’m back once again to drop my weekly load of hot, hot takes all over your eager little faces.
Although Phi Phi is gone, the show must address her last bit of foolishness before fully moving on. Yes, it’s time to discuss her lipstick message. Hoo-boy, that lipstick message.
This last-ditch effort to cover up her outrageous behavior is quite an ingenious move, and a good illustration of who she is as a player in this game we call drag. Her emotions got the best of her, she lashed out in her petty, passive-aggressive way (a habit we’ve come to know quite well at this point in the show), and then tried to spin it after the fact with a piss-poor excuse on the mirror. Seriously, you couldn’t hug Alyssa because you were afraid to cry? Congrats on hugging every other queen on that stage, babe! What strength.
Five whole episodes of Phi Phi screaming about ethics in Drag Queen eliminations may have been fun, but tonight’s episode is a good reminder that Drag Race is at its best when the girls get to do bizarrely convoluted challenges. Indeed, most seasons manage to exist without a villain of Phi Phi’s caliber at all. Can you think of anyone who sucked up so much screen time with their shenanigans? Derrick Berry’s cluelessness aside, it’s a tough call.
Tonight, we get a soft reset and a return to whimsy and fun. It feels less like an episode of Real World/Road Rules: The Challenge and more like The Great British Bake Off in drag. And I, for one, was delighted.
RuPaul summons underwear mogul Andrew Christian, who conjures up as much personality as he’s able so he can subtly peddle his wares while the queens compete in a testicle-centric round of putt-putt golf. Alaska wins some bullshit prize and absolutely no advantage for the maxi-challenge. After they’ve helped all the pit-crew members who got stuck in their animal masks, RuPaul gets to the main event: The queens must design and market a product that is somehow connected to their personal brand.
Don’t worry, though, because these queens won’t be going in blind. They’ll have all the help and expertise of everybody’s favorite gay icon … Marcus Lemonis.
This one is a real head-scratcher, isn’t it? Lemonis is a successful businessman and TV personality, sure, but he seems like an odd fit for the show. Detox is over here crafting up a talking trash can and Tatianna is blathering on about a literal T set, and this guy is dispensing sober business advice like he’s still trapped in a CNBC soundstage. The man dated Bethenny Frankel for fuck’s sake, why not have Skinny Girl Margarita on herself?
The queens start filming their infomercials and we’re treated to the same round of Michelle Visage notes and sad trombone moments that, let’s all be honest, rarely ever provide any truthful foreshadowing for how the queens will fare come judging hour. Tricks from the editor’s bay, and nothing more.
In the absence of any real inter-queen drama, we’re given a few extra moments with the queens while they prepare. These scenes are usually transparent about being producer-prompted (see: the narratively convenient RoLaskaTox check-in), but without Untucked this season, it’s the only place we get to see the queens have fun together in a more relaxed atmosphere. More of this, please! It’s nice to remember that these girls are friends.
But enough about all that. We’ve got to talk about some pants (pants!) on the runway. Seriously, there is nothing more joyful than hearing RuPaul repeatedly proclaim, “Pants!”
Roxxxy: The fit is perfection, but I can’t help shake the feeling I’ve seen this on the cover of a McCalls pattern collection.
Katya: Possibly a controversial opinion, but this may be my favorite Katya look all season. Katya’s description of the look (“1980s lesbian literary agent disinterested pissed-off Ellen Barkin fantasy”) is hilarious, but I think she undersells just how much this is giving me high fucking fashion. Katya never skimps on the detailing, and the yellow accents combined with the perfect wig really elevate what could otherwise be a pretty drab number.
Alyssa: In a rare moment of intention matching execution, Alyssa really does epitomize the Dynasty fantasy she was aiming for. With Alyssa’s taste level, this could have easily read 1,000 percent tackier than it does. It actually looks quite understated and chic, if maybe a little boring.
Detox: Jessica Rabbit in resort wear.
Alaska: Ellen Ripley meets Betsy Ross meets an American Apparel ad meets a bad wig. Maybe the first thing she’s worn all season that approaches a dud.
Tatianna: “Pants” is maybe the broadest runway categories I’ve ever seen on the show, so kudos to Tati for taking it somewhere interesting. This T-Boz is incredible, and demonstrates again what an incredible impersonator Tatianna is. But maybe it’s just a little too on the nose for me? Would have preferred a reference over a full-out facsimile, though I can’t complain too much because it’s pretty fucking great.
Now we get to the commercials. This challenge is a perfect All Stars challenge for these girls, because it becomes immediately clear who has really developed a firm grasp on their brand since appearing on the show. People like Alaska and Alyssa lean into the comedy that makes them such successes online, and it works. (Even if Alyssa is maybe a bit confused on the actual aesthetics of her commercial, bless her.) Katya in particular is the triumph of the episode, shrugging off the critiques in the work room and barreling ahead with her original idea, which is both funny and succinctly distills her brand in a very clever way. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the in-her-head Katya that has been creeping back into the competition. For the first time since Snatch Game, we’re seeing a Katya who is worthy of a top-three spot.
On the flip side of all this, we have Detox, Tatianna, and Roxxxy. All three give fairly pedestrian, if inoffensive entries, but none of them really pop like Alaska’s or Katya’s. While I understand Tatianna’s nebulous product is reason enough to put her in the bottom, I didn’t find Detox’s talking trash can to be all that compelling either. But in the end, it’s Roxxxy joining Tatianna in the bottom again.
Oh, Roxxxy. It’s fitting that given a challenge where she’s asked to showcase her “brand” as a drag queen, she chooses the one (and maybe only) gimmick she’ll be remembered for: her wig work. I’ll admit the first time I saw Roxxxy reveal that secret wig, I was reaching for my wallet so I could throw all my money at her. But there’s only so many times I want to see it before it becomes a case of diminished returns. A wig reveal is the only truly remarkable thing Roxxxy has to offer at this stage in the competition, which is why she’s found herself in the bottom so often.
Luckily for Roxxxy, her fate rests in the hands of Katya and Alaska. Between having to follow last week’s series-defining showdown and an odd song choice (“Cherry Bomb” is, uh, great, but maybe an ill-advised pick in this context), this lip sync ends up being a bit lackluster. We do get an amazing The Craft costume change out of Katya along with a signature trick or two, but beyond Alaska’s ingenious American Flag reveal (a first, I believe!), there’s not much to see here. I thought for sure the producers would hand it to Katya as to avoid giving Alaska too many wins (at this rate she’ll win the $100,000 by default), Alaska is once again crowned the winner and we’re once again left wondering if Alaska will send home her RoLaskaTox sister.
If it weren’t for the brief, obviously producer-prompted moment in front of the work room, I’m not sure I would have really given RoLaskaTox much thought at this stage in the game. It was sweet to see that these girls are still close, and great to see how they’d each evolved as drag queens and competitors. They don’t need RoLaskaTox this time around, because they’re queens who’ve been here before and can stand on their own. Which makes Alaska’s choice here so fucking annoying.
While the show is clearly trying to paint this decision as one motivated by their friendship, don’t be played, my children. As I’ve said many times before, Alaska knows how to win this game. While I’m sure she’s happy to see Roxxxy stay in the competition, I doubt that she eliminated Tatianna because she’s sentimental about a years-old alliance. Tatianna (and Alyssa before her) are strong competitors and it makes sense that Alaska would send the strongest home, especially this close to the finish line.
It’s a ruthless move, but one that’s hard to fault her for. This competition has been Alaska’s to lose from week one, and she’s not going to snatch that crown if she doesn’t play smart. It is frustrating though, because unlike Roxxxy, it feels like Tatianna has so much more to give. Sad as it is, she hardly leaves empty-handed. She gave us a legendary lip-sync performance, gained a whole new fan base, and managed to establish a catchphrase in only two short episodes. So pour one out for Tati tonight. No matter where she goes from here, bitch will always have choices.