Call me Cornacia because I am smiling EAR to EAR. This episode was so, so weird, giving us exactly the kind of wackadoo buffoonery that drew so many fans to Drag Race in the first place. This may be one of the weirdest episodes of all time, outside of essentially all of All Stars 1, and those weren’t fun-weird. Those were failed-avant-garde-cinematic-experiment-weird. Hang All Stars 1 in the Hague (round the back, but who cares, still the Hague). This episode, on the other hand, delivered on the promise at Canada’s Drag Race’s outset, which was that it captured the subversive, almost DIY spirit of the early seasons, back when Drag Race was actively satirizing the sorts of competition series it would eventually straight-facedly become (not to mention actively cribbing from ANTM’s notes). All this in an episode about a scene that Drag Race often falsely depicts as not weird enough: pageants.
The episode begins with BOA serving the wrong kind of bod: Bitch on Departure. You would think this would quiet at least some of Scarlett BoBo’s werkroom bickering, but no, she’s peeved as ever because she still hasn’t won a challenge. Ilona also hasn’t won, but she’s got a fire — or, at the very least, a Juul pod — lit under her unfoundationed ass, and, as she puts it, “I don’t really care what Priyanka thinks or that old one thinks,” “that old one” meaning Rita Baga, who is somehow not 45 and actually not even as old as Jimbo. Rita constantly baffles me in a sort of Tenet way (I presume): Something about her does scream OLD, even though she has great skin. It’s more of a “taste” and “choices” vibe; as Trixie put it on “Pit Stop,” she really does serve Tempest DuJour (and not just because she’s French). Ilona calls the revved-up top-six tension “food in the library,” which, look: I’m not the only one who was baffled by this.
Does it mean forbidden? Does it mean stinky? We may never know what’s going on inside that strange pastel head of Miss Ilona Verley.
Then it’s a new day in the werkroom, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long a compilation video of queens saying “It’s a new day in the werkroom” would run. Eight minutes? There’s hardly time to ponder it, because, as Pri put it, “Whoa, y’all skipping over the mini and getting right to the maxi today?” Which was also what I yelled at the TV every episode of season nine. But it’s a worthy cause: The queens will be competing in the “Miss Loose Jaw” drag pageant because Regina isn’t the only funny name for a town in Saskatchewan. Because Rita *cough* erroneously *cough* won last week’s episode, she gets handed the classic “gift box with a turd inside” prize of assigning everyone their characters. Like “The Bitchelor” before it, the Miss Loose Jaw Pageant is an improv challenge in which the queens must work with preassigned characters, all broad, feminine archetypes. Such challenges always do carry with them the faintest whiff of rigga morris, because, on paper, some characters seem more easy to work with than others. But this week’s outcome proves that an easily digestible stereotype (a.k.a. “town slut,” “the moody one,” etc.) is just a flimsy springboard for diving into a whole ocean of batshit. Props to the Canada’s Drag Race producers for exceeding the rock-bottom standards of usual Drag Race–challenge writing with their character descriptions and ascending to the level of Free Downloadable Murder-Mystery Party PDF.
Prepping in the werkroom, Lemon wears her best wig yet as a JonBenét-ish pageant girl, a role she was truly born to play. She’s still emotionally processing the grand-mal bus-throw-under-ism of last week’s main stage, when nearly everyone said they’d send Lemon home. Meanwhile, Ilona speaks to being the first two-spirit queen on Drag Race and how powerful it will be for other First Nations trans and nonbinary children to see representation onscreen. And Jimbo speaks about having trained as a clown, surprising all of no one, and mentions having worked as a sketch comic in a “vaudeville troupe,” which, I know there’s a burlesque revival, but vaudeville? Where is vaudeville happening? When Jimbo said she’s from the West Coast, did she mean a saloon in a haunted gold-rush town? Is Jimbo a member of The Old Guard?
We’re given zero time to ponder Jimbo’s immortality because Allie X is announced as the extra-special guest host, thrilling the room after weeks of whos. Ilona is the most excited because she literally has an Allie X–lyric tattoo. Then again, considering Ilona’s volume of ink, it would be more surprising if she didn’t have a guest host’s lyrics on there somewhere. She probably has a Tom Green stick and poke we don’t know about.
Now it’s time for Miss Loose Jaw, and Drag Race Original Flavor can learn a thing or two about place setting and mood from this maxi challenge: Throw up a scrim, and the main-stage area is transformed into a small-town rec hall or Elks Lodge, complete with a very corny setup for the queens. Jeffrey is delightful, enthusiastic, and absolutely commits to his character of the corny pageant host. He keeps the energy at 100 throughout the challenge, from the moment he introduces the esteemed panel of judges: drag icon Michelle DuBarry of the Great Imposters; Stefan Brogren, who plays and/or played a principal on Degrassi, apparently; and Traci Melchor. That’s right, it’s the return of the squirrelfriend. Does she sleep in the studio? The queens introduce themselves, in character and in their sashes, landing first impressions with the judges before the talent portion even begins. Priyanka’s surly body language as “Miss Demeanor” made me cackle out of the gate, even if it was a similar character to ones she’s done in the past, like last week’s Ashley from Oshawa. Also, Rita Baga is wearing some sort of very strange, loose nude long-sleeved modesty guard under her outfits throughout this challenge, and it’s distracting in a sloppy way. Nothing wrong with a nude bodycon, but these sleeves were crumply and basically bell-bottom. Anyway.
First round is the talent portion, and Ilona translates her “Miss Erable” character as someone who does passionate, angsty painting-slash-stripping. It’s more awkward than funny, but it’s far from the weirdest thing we see. (Also, fun Canada fact: Erable is French for maple, so Ilona’s name is a bilingual pun! Kinda.) Priyanka outweirds her, doing an extremely angry interpretive dance that ends with her BODY-SLAMMING her “pregnant stomach.” Jimbo plays her tried-and-true airheaded-sexpot character while displaying a talent … of ANIMAL CALLS. This would be hilarious and bizarre on its own, but the animal calls are golden: “The call of the bum-bum gerbil: Help!” “The call of the double-headed dildo bird,” “big-dick snake: AAAH!” Jimbo is doing some of the weirdest shit to ever grace a main stage, and I’m just grateful that Canada’s Drag Race has created a platform for an outsider artist like her to perform an ode to Richard Gere’s gerbil. The momentum stays high throughout the challenge: BoBo does a bongo routine and at one point gets into such a groove that she’s bongo-ing on her titties. Lemon does a mime act in a little mime suit, and it’s as committed and hilarious as you would expect at this point. As Lemon says in the confessional, “I always love when a pageant girl’s real talent is pageants.” Similarly, I always love when a RuGirl’s real talent is Drag Race, because it makes for watchable TV, and Lemon continues to surprise and impress.
Oh-and-then-Rita-wraps-gifts-and-it’s-kind-of-nothing. The swimsuit portion continues to do Rita and her rash guard zero favors, although I have to point out her striking resemblance in this challenge to Loonette the clown from the Canadian children’s series The Big Comfy Couch. The homage was probably accidental, but it’s high praise coming from any former Canadian child. Also, Lemon makes the most of this filler category when she trips and whines “Daddyyyyy.”
Finally, there is the Q&A portion, which is not terribly notable, until Jimbo deep-throats Jeffrey’s microphone and says “Wow, that tastes really good. Like strangers.” The pageant ends with no one getting the crown because Michelle DuBarry stole it, which, these Violet Chachki teas.
On elimination day, Ilona and Scarlett have a hilarious fight in the werkroom, which I have now Talmudically pored over and still have zero idea what it’s about. Priyanka really is the audience surrogate, laughing as she says, “This is the Seinfeld of all fights because nothing’s happening,” except for excellent reality TV, that is. It’s the sort of messy, screechy, bickering, babbling fight you’d expect on The Real Housewives, complete with the rest of the cast egging them on and literally crying of laughter. It’s the sort of joyous mess we don’t get enough of on Drag Race anymore. It’s heated, nonsensical, low stakes, and fun. When the other queens started chanting “Keep fighting! Keep fighting!,” I joined in. The show briefly tries to regain its composure by shoehorning in a Serious Makeup Mirror Talk™ about how Michelle DuBarry is the “oldest working drag queen in the world” and respecting their elders, which is to say being nice to Rita. But we can’t lose momentum on this absolute circus train of an episode, and it’s full speed ahead to the …
… main stage! From the moment she struts onto the main stage in her high-fashion straitjacket, Miss Allie X is the absolute encapsulation of everything a Drag Race guest should be: She’s engaged, she’s kind, she’s quick with a pun, she gives good feedback, she serves a leerrrwwqquk. The category is, fittingly, pageant perfection, and somewhere Anastarzia Anaquway just shed a single tear. Ilona looks expensive in her colors, even though her lavender hair really do be “Dame Edna meeting George Washington,” as Brooke called it. Rita and Scarlett both go for down-the-middle glam in black and tan, a color combo that works better as a pub order than as a gown. Priyanka gives a “Bollywood dream,” and Jimbo is crying sparkly diamond tears in her big-hooped, ostrich-feathered, Barbie-pink gown. Best of all is Lemon, who is serving “perfect pageant 5-year-old realness” and who commits to a ridiculous JonBenét character in her signature Lemon yellow and little bobby socks. The physical comedy on display is top-notch, and, as Stacey comments from behind her ten-foot-tall turtleneck, going with such a perverse interpretation of the category was a risky move that she pulls off. Best of all, I am pleased to report that the wig is great! It’s massive and voluminous! It probably flattened all the other wigs in her luggage, which is why they all looked so sad! The judges praise Lemon for her preternatural improv abilities, they absolutely loathe Jimbo’s look, and, once again, they express disappointment that Priyanka floundered in an improv challenge.
The queens go backstage to shroud themselves in throw blankets because it looks like it’s five-degrees Celsius in there, but the chill in the room doesn’t translate to the mood, because we have here the best-ever episode of Funtucked Fun-Size Mini Untucked Babies Jr., which is what I’m going to be calling these intra-episode li’l Untuckeds from here on out. Priyanka knows she’s going to be in the bottom, and she processes her feelings of disappointment and fear in a way that’s so balanced and lucid it explains why she makes such a good kids’ TV host: She’s a great role model. She’s always real and never nasty.
But sometimes, nasty is fun. Sometimes, nasty is exactly what we want. And when Rita Baga gives “constructive criticism” to Jimbo, nasty is exactly what we get. Jimbo is railing against the judges for hating her look, saying, “You question my taste level? I question your knowledge of the English language.” I mean. And once Rita weighs in, Canada’s Drag Race unlocks its most powerful player yet: Attack Jimbo. I have transcribed her monologue in full. Feel free to use it for any upcoming Tisch or Juilliard auditions:
“Okay, bitch. Well, you’re wearing some crusty-ass Golden Girls bullshit on your head, and you’re coming for me? Your lace line looks like barf. Your hair is fried. That wig should go directly in the garbage. I mean, your hair looks like a grandma just dunked her head in a toilet. I mean, your hair is disgusting. Look at it. Like the flyaways everywhere. It’s uneven. I’m not trying to be a bitch, but that hair is thirsty.”
I’m pretty sure, if you squint really closely during this scene, you can see David Mamet crouching in the background behind the Fabricland fabrics wall, furiously taking notes. And then Priyanka comes through with the perfect kicker, as she always does: “I’m dead. I’m sitting here wondering if i have a job after this competition, and these bitches are fighting like two senior citizens who have been in the home for too long.”
Back on the main stage, Lemon wins her second maxi challenge, and Scarlett is low-key roiling over being overlooked yet again. I have a hard time placing Scarlett; as the judges say, she’s very consistent but never the best. A real Jan of the season (both Brady and Sport). And if the surreal talent show wasn’t enough … if the sissy fight about nothing wasn’t enough … if Jimbo’s Funtucked rampage wasn’t enough … if my beloved Lemon radiating charm and talent and winning a second challenge wasn’t enough … Priyanka’s lip sync to “Hello,” by Allie X, tips this episode over into five-starsville. The way she sneaks around Ilona Verley and waves like a grandma. The way she plays air bass, air drum, and air triangle to the track. The way that she didn’t need flips and stunts to seal the deal but pulled one off anyway, because her name’s Priyanka and she just fucking can. It’s the best lip sync of the season. And then! Allie X continues to go above and beyond when she sees Ilona off in the werkroom. You have to imagine she asked the producers to go out of her way and do that. And then Lemon tap-dances to “You Wear it Well” as the music plays? It’s what I came to see.
• “It’s that BP energy. Big Priyanka energy.” Nobody tell Pri about BP oil.
• “Endless financ-i-al contribut-i-ons” — Lemon literally invented accents.
• “This is for my lesbian sister — I think of you!” Props, Rita!
• “She was like a Glamazon Zamboni smoothing out the whole stage.” — Allie X showing us why Canada’s Drag Race is thee Drag Race
• Rita had never heard of Eeyore. Apparently, in French, Eeyore is “Bourriquet.”