RuPaul’s Drag Race
Hello my little babies, I’m back again. Can y’all believe this is episode eight? This time last season, we knew who the final four would be and we already watched them dance with brooms. I’ll admit I was harsh on this season to start, and I’m thawing with each passing episode, but I think I’m ready with a verdict: This season is straight-up guilty of giving us too many queens to start. It’s hard to believe we had to sit through Charlie Hides to get here.
This week is the annual stand-up-comedy challenge, and boy is comedy hard. Drag Race has dressed this challenge up in a couple of different ways — roasts, an awards show, and All Stars season two just had them do it in pairs — but it all comes back to the basic skill of standing behind a mic in front of an audience to deliver some pre-written jokes. It’s a tough challenge for most seasoned queens, and there are no longer any self-professed “comedy queens” left in the competition at this point, so more than usual it’s a big fat question mark of who will succeed and who will whiff it.
This time around, they don’t really try to reinvent the challenge in any sort of annoyingly gimmicky way. Instead, they force the queens to roast Michelle Visage, which is perfect and I can’t believe Drag Race hasn’t done this sooner. Roasting Michelle seems like a much easier yet somehow more terrifying prospect than roasting Ru.
At the top of the episode, the girls finally get comfortable enough with each other to gloat and tease, and it’s nice to see them loosen up a bit. At this point in the competition, it’s helpful of them to tally up the wins of each queen, reminding us who the front-runners are while deflating anyone in the room who might be feeling the pressure — in this case, Farrah and Peppermint. Peppermint is given more time to lament her lack of success, so of course we’re being set up for a Peppermint win or a Peppermint elimination. I’ll admit I was not super-impressed with Peppermint at the start of the season and I did not expect her to stick around this long, let alone fall in love with her as much as I have. As it stands, Peppermint is the perfect one-woman Greek chorus and her services as the season’s de facto narrator have been greatly appreciated. The bitch is funny in her confessionals, and God bless her for finally bringing that wit to the challenges.
Before we dive into the main challenge, we gotta address everyone’s favorite mini-challenge: Reading Is Fundamental! The queens haven’t been particularly shady this season, so some of these jabs are news to me (apparently Shea is struggling with BO?), which makes it all the more exciting to finally watch the queens see themselves reflected in that particular mirror for the first time. Some of them are great! I thought Sasha and Peppermint in particular had some funny and smart reads. Sasha’s Jurassic Park read and Peppermint comparing Trinity to a wax figure were both mean but subtle, something the other queens seemed to struggle with. Call me crazy, but plainly saying that Trinity is an ugly stripper seems basic, and it’s wild to me that Valentina nabbed the win for doing essentially what Farrah ends up doing in the main challenge with just an ounce more personality.
On that note, I kind of think that Farrah’s Pillsbury line (while clearly hack and something she probably heard in the eighth grade) was funnier than anything Valentina said, and the poor little scamp was completely steamrolled once again by Alexis Michelle because of it. Listen, nobody likes to hear negative shit about their body, and Lord knows we all struggle, but it was deeply annoying to watch Alexis get salty with them after a reading challenge. Roxxxy Andrews went through two season’s worth of “left at the bus stop” jokes and this bitch is mad because someone brought up her rolls?
As per usual, Alexis is pretty tough for me to watch throughout this entire episode. Maybe it’s because she’s a mirror reflecting back at me all the things I hate about myself, or maybe because she is just straight-up thin-skinned and boring, we’ll never know. What I do know is, it was extremely satisfying to watch RuPaul gently admonish Alexis for her hypocrisy — and slightly less satisfying to see teacher’s pet Alexis fold like a house of cards. She talks a big game about her comedic chops (she spends a lot of time “on the mic”), so of course she does terribly, something we’ll unpack in a later paragraph.
Can we talk about the Russia moment? I didn’t want to beat this drum too hard because I know some of you love the Very Special Moments that have been cropping up week after week at the same exact minute in the episode, but I still contend that these feel extremely overproduced in a way I haven’t felt in seasons past. While I don’t want to judge any of these girls’ lived experiences (I thought Trinity’s backstory really added a few more dimensions to a queen I already really like), I will fully judge the manufactured way they’re being presented to us. This week, you could almost hear the producer yell from offscreen, “Okay, now talk about Russia!” Don’t get me wrong, I think Peppermint’s story is harrowing and interesting and Jesus Christ does it feel wildly relevant. (Did World of Wonder know something we didn’t?) But I just wish it didn’t feel quite so expected at this point.
Without a real runway this week, I thought I’d just break down each girl’s performance for the hell of it.
Shea: While not exactly a comedy queen, Shea is still one of the few remaining queens who seems well-equipped from the outset to do well. It’s a snappy performance with some real jokes, and she brings this energy that makes me feel like she’s known everyone on the judges’ panel for years.
Sasha: Sasha is one of the biggest question marks. While she did well in Snatch, the roast is a different skill set entirely, and success in one doesn’t necessarily point to success in the other. But once again, Sasha defies the odds and makes the people laugh. I liked the third-wave gender-studies professor she brought to the performance, though I’m still unconvinced that Sasha’s cerebral style of drag is great TV. Still, her rapid-fire Jersey jokes were fun!
Valentina: I don’t know, you guys. I feel like the cracks are starting to show a little bit with Valentina. The jokes were a little bit pat, but the accents were outrageous. Was she doing a character? Who is she? Did she slip into a weird generic Asian accent at one point? This whole performance just feels a touch more panicked than we’ve seen her before. As much as I can’t imagine a top three without Valentina, I’d be shocked if she makes it through another handful of performance challenges without ending up in the bottom.
Trinity: Creating a character with a strong POV is a really smart move for this challenge, but Trinity didn’t really get too far off the ground with this one. But I have mad respect anyone who attempts to sell “we all poop” as a joke.
Farrah: A small, almost undetectable part of my soul held out hope that Farrah might shock the world and knock this one out of the park, but … yikes bikes, kids. This was about as bad as you’d expect from what I think we can now officially say is the last bit of cannon fodder in season nine. It’s clear that Farrah doesn’t have a strong grasp on what comedy is, let alone a roast. It seems like she spent the majority of her time onstage just baldly insulting everyone on the judges’ panel without so much as a hint of a joke. I wish some producer would’ve been smart enough to ask her who her comedic influences are, because I’m dying to know.
Peppermint: One might be inclined to believe that Peppermint succeeds due to lowered expectations, but after watching her bits again, I think she gave the honest to God best roast of the bunch. I’m glad for that because I’m honestly rooting for Pep at this point. Her reads are smart, funny, and hit on some less-obvious angles the other queens forgot. The Destiny’s Child joke alone could have won it for her.
Nina: Another queen trying to take on a character with a POV, this didn’t quite work as well as I think she hoped it would? It felt scattershot and light on actual jokes.
Alexis: Yeah, this is terrible and bad and without jokes and leaves me with so many questions. Why the green? Did she ever answer for this? Why the sudden Jersey accent? Did she think calling Fortune Feimster a bull dyke was an example of everyone “laughing together?” And that Great Gazoo drag was a legendarily bad look.
So, as was halfway telegraphed in the first three minutes of the episode, Peppermint gets her first win. And deservedly so — her look this week also happens to be one of her best yet. Just as everything seems to be coming together for Peppermint, however, it starts to fall apart for Alexis and she’s sent to lip sync with Farrah to a Dolly number.
It was a slow burn, but I’m glad that Farrah went out to a song where she really seemed to have some fun. Even though there didn’t seem to be a trick she could pull out that wouldn’t send her packing, there were still moments throughout this lip sync where I thought she might take it. That is, of course, until Alexis did a startling run into a split that gave me phantom pains and also won her the whole dang thing. As much as I am irked by Alexis, it’s clear she deserves to be here at least one more week over Farrah. It’s time we say good-bye to our weepy princess.
I’m maybe one of seven Drag Race viewers who are sad to see Farrah go, but I’m elated to finally be at a stage in the competition where it truly feels like anyone’s to lose. Rotating through all the possibilities in my head, I’m titillated. Give us Valentina versus Nina! Give us Shea versus Trinity! Give us quality primetime television on a Friday night!