rupaul’s drag race
There may never be anything on Drag Race that can outmatch the spectacular pettiness of season nine’s reunion. Watching Valentina’s monstrous villainy unfold as nearly all her sisters addressed the reasons why she sucks is peak reality TV that has cratered all future Drag Race reunions. So, rather than recreate similar scenarios, it’s shrewd of the producers to give this season’s reunion ep a more emotional core that happens to be marred by one explosive incident. There are plenty of genuinely affecting moments throughout, and as a bonus the show gins up a last-minute villain going into the finale. Also, Brown Cow is back! Stunning!
We start off with a thrilling video package dedicated to the ubiquity and impact of “Vaaanjie” (thanks for the Vulture clipping, editors!) before Vanessa stumbles upon a potentially new bit of gay slang in “intercourzing.” She also name-drops Lil’ Kim as a celebrity admirer and teases a possible collab, though it’s unclear whether or not it releases before or after her rumored season-11 run ends. Watch this space!
The queens then give some postmortem sound bites on the season’s most memorable lip-sync moments, including Monét’s splits fake-out and Monique’s defeated rendition of “Cut to the Feeling.” Kameron briefly talks about her brushes with elimination only to have Aquaria and Miz Cracker both contribute something remotely compelling by comparison. She’s certainly a fierce lip-syncer who can turn a decent look, but with the season wrapping up, we can now definitively say that Kameron Michaels is a conversational Charlie Hides: She gives you absolutely nothing, at least while the cameras are rolling. More on this later.
We then hit a locus in Drag Race herstory that will no doubt be debated at length in the postseason as we close the dog-eared book on the Vixen. This reunion devotes an entire block to Vixen’s multiple spats, notably with her self-insertion in the Aquaria-Cracker pseudo-narrative and ending with the explosive fight between her and Eureka in Untucked. As Kalorie hilariously munches on popcorn out of a Ziploc bag, the Vixen maintains that she brought up the comparison as her way of exposing the truth while accusing Monét of giving her the context she needed to say that Miz Cracker faked her way into the competition. Monét has none of this and shoots the claim down immediately, and so begins the Vixen’s slow backing into a corner as she misquotes her sisters and is concerned more with self-preservation than any accountability. Aquaria and Cracker, on their part, recount how they mutually agreed to kill the narrative after the first episode, and thank goodness, because the season’s other stories were the better for it.
It’s when Eureka says her piece that things start to unravel. There’s some grain of truth to the Vixen’s assertion that Eureka was egging her on, and there’s certainly an argument to be made about how unfair it is to be instructive in the Vixen’s responses rather than in Eureka’s behavior. “Everybody’s telling me how I should react, but nobody’s telling [Eureka] how to act!” says Vixen. She’s not totally wrong, but it’s not until she bends the truth and claims she’s never instigated a fight on the show that Ru challenges her to the point of complete disengagement, ending with the Vixen storming off the stage and disappearing for the rest of the reunion. Caught in between Her Truth and the Truth, the Vixen breaks.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Asia says in the immediate aftermath. She goes into a heartfelt contemplation on the Vixen’s difficult behavior being a cry for help and a result of her pain. Ru tells her “Sometimes you gotta let people go,” and what happens after this is remarkable: Asia stands up to Mother and rejects this notion of abandonment — on Pride month of all seasons! — while reminding everyone that “we’re the first people, we are the first people, to say if people aren’t treating us right!” It’s powerful stuff, and Asia’s heart is on full display here as she goes toe to toe with the most powerful and influential person in her field. It’s as emotionally raw a moment as we’re going to get on this show, and it’s made all the more impactful by how universal the message is. Ru eventually shouts Asia down and gets the last word in by volume alone, then ends on a bromide about seeking help. It’s a useful if not totally complete way to end the conversation, but the takeaway for us is clear: All hail Asia O’Hara, the empath queen of the entire series, for serving the children peak reality TV of a different kind.
The gut punches keep coming when Ru asks the queens about their familial hardships. Dusty does the community a public service by clearly defining what conversion therapy is, and her current relationship with her family is strained but otherwise functional, which sounds painfully familiar to anyone who’s had a similar journey. For Dusty to receive so much love from the outside world but not have any of that support from the people she cares about most is deeply hurtful, and it’s a heartbreaking admission that the love from her chosen family can never quite live up to the kind of love she so badly wants from her relatives.
Monique Heart relates to Dusty in that, as a member of a family that is fifth generation full-time ministry, drag is akin to “heresy.” Her discovery of drag ultimately brought Monique a hard-earned strength and the beginnings of a love for herself, and Ru emphatically validates her. It’s clear that RuPaul, as someone who emerged from nothing to become Everything, sees that Monique has committed to a mind-set that also worked for her and brought great prosperity. But as Ru, as if proving a point, loudly champions Monique for being able to quote scripture and apply it to drag, Asia looks defeated. It’s clear that there is more of a discussion to be had here about what the “acceptable” way to experience emotional turmoil and come out on the other side is, and the discussion does feel a touch incomplete. It is, however, a beautiful moment for Monique.
We then revisit Blair St. Clair’s painful revelation that she was raped in college, and she explains that coming clean about the experience was not something she had planned to do in advance, stating that “sometimes your heart is ready to speak before your brain.” She reveals that, since returning from Drag Race, she has told her mother about her experience, and further describes how she had developed a dangerous relationship with alcohol to cope with the emotional pain of her rape. She is now happily living a sober life.
Monét and Yuhua also detail familial strife as a result of their drag, with Monét’s family having a limited understanding of drag and Yuhua’s having none. Being “the highest form” and “Megazord” of gayness is something that goes completely at odds with Monét’s mother’s religious background, and Yuhua points out the psychological stigma that Chinese culture places on drag.
After some light reading back and forth on selected runway looks in a quick “Toot or Boot” segment, plus some behind-the-scenes footage of the judging panel over the season, we get back into the conflicts. Miz Cracker expresses her extreme hurt over Asia saying she was “not a star” on the episode she was eliminated. This had underlined a feeling Miz Cracker had for some time that Monét and Aquaria were the real “stars” of the NYC scene and were the most anticipated contestants New York offered in some time. Miz Cracker came to the competition to show she was more than second-rate, and Asia unfortunately confirmed fears Cracker had long held about her own stardom. An apology is offered and accepted, with Cracker stating finally that while Asia may have messed up this time and it’s all okay, “Not next time, bitch.” Put them on All Stars 4! Let’s see if there’s a next time, bitch!
Mayhem uses the opportunity to take issue with Aquaria and Asia for deeming her drag not up to par earlier in the season, but it’s pretty skillfully shut down by both queens, who explain that their disappointment in Mayhem’s tenure on the show is simply due to the fact that they have always been huge fans and anticipated a better performance than she gave. Mayhem can’t really clap back because, well … they ain’t wrong! So that’s that.
And then, late in the reunion episode, the shit gets really good. The conversation turns to Kameron Michaels when Monique mentions that the famously shy and reserved queen is actually pretty mouthy on social media. “Faces of many,” claims Monique. “Stunt queen.” And all of a sudden we can feel where this is going. It’s Valentina time, and the girls are about to spill the tea. Monique essentially asks the question, “Are you playing strategy or are you straight-up fake?”
Kameron goes on to claim she was intimidated during filming as someone who felt out of her depth; she was a hairdresser, not a professional drag queen like the rest of the girls. Kameron Michaels, top-four finalist, with those clothes and that lip sync and performance ability is up here claiming she is not a professional, y’all. And as for her attitude? “When you come and see me live I’m the same way I am on social media!”
Dusty calls her out as snooty, claiming she willfully ignores her at events. “I’m sure some girls feel like that,” says Kameron, as hands immediately shoot up all over the place. A delicious silent check-in between Vanjie and Monét confirms that neither of them know this woman at all! “I feel like I say hello to you guys,” insists Kameron, before Monique demonstrates what it is like when Kameron walks into a room. It’s not a flattering impression because it makes it seem like Kameron is … mean! When Monét relays that Kameron often would tell the girls she was abstaining from talking in the workroom because she didn’t want to say anything that could be, for all intents and purposes, produced or edited to hurt her, Kameron’s face serves us straight-up cold fish bitch goddess, honey, and Monique is right on top of it. “See?! That girl, right here! This girl? Who’s she?” And we want to know, too! God, we missed Monique! Monique Heart for President! This new turn in Kameron’s narrative, that her self-producing may have caught up to her in the very end, is a major highlight of an already Roxxxy Andrews–level thick and juicy episode.
After more reading and tomfoolery, the girls are asked who they all think should win the whole shebang. Aquaria earns votes from Mayhem and Dusty. Kalorie, Yuhua, Vanjie and Miz Cracker are in Eureka’s corner. And Monique, Monét and Blair are #TeamAsia. Kameron don’t get no love which, taking into account what hath just went down, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The cutting pattern back to her reactions is brutal.
And so we have a compelling reunion that focuses on raw vulnerability rather than bitchy relitigation. Next week is the Reveals — sorry, Lip-Sync Extravaganza, and we are looking forward to it, hawney! Who will prevail?! Does the reunion change your mind about any of these queens? Yell at us in the comments.
SAID THE BITCH: A Weekly Quote Spotlight
Monique Heart: “Wakanda fish.”
Asia O’Hara: “Clearly, she’s talking to Monét.”
Aquaria: “Wakanda fish is that?”
Eureka: Aquaria is smart!
‘Til next week, fish! Keep it pushin’!