Canada’s Drag Race
Just between us Vult-her dot coms (did I do that right): What do we think about Canada’s Drag Race’s three-host structure? Love it? List it? I don’t know what I make of how Brooke, Jeffrey, and Stacey play hot potato with the various segments. At first, it was refreshing to see a show in the Drag Race format put in the capable manicured talons of people other than Ru and Michelle. It makes the show more about the queens, letting the contestants hold greater sway on the overall vibe of the season. This ego death is the secret sauce at the core of Canada’s Drag Race that makes it such a tasty Timbit. On the other hand, I don’t like the lack of consistency in which host oversees what: Who shows up for the mini challenge? Walk-through? Maxi challenge coach? The way they switch it up sometimes feels like it takes away from the ritual, the ceremony, and mostly, the opportunity to form new tropes that will one day bloom into memes. I’m torn between liking how loose and interchangeable the roles are and wishing there was a smidge more routine. Either way, I’m picking at teensy-tiny, size XXS nits, because this season has been so largely wonderful overall and I need to remind myself to sound like a critic sometimes (and not just when I’m being too harsh on Rita).
So the queens are down to the derniere cinq, and they’re stacking up their stats: Who has the most wins, the most losses, the mostest consistentiest steadiness? At this episode’s outset, Priyanka only has one win, and she’s been in the bottom two twice. She’s far from a shoo-in, despite being the season’s narrator. It’s interesting to watch this episode air in the States after we already know what happens in the season finale. We’ll suspend our disbelief and mentally Tenet ourselves two weeks into the past for the sake of these last few recaps, but I’ll just say: You know that running joke in Walk Hard where John C. Reilly’s dad keeps saying “the wrong kid died”? That, but the opposite. The right queen won.
In fact, we all won, because the puppets mini challenge is back back back again! When Drag Race finally whips out the puppet bin toward the end of a season, it’s like when you’ve sat through a two-hour concert of Shania Twain playing her “new stuff” before she gives us “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and I was definitely pleased by the tiny outfits the producers made for the boy puppets: Puppet Lemon had a little yellow-lemon coat! Available for purchase at dragqueenmerch.com when?! Considering how Priyanka’s literal job is literally being a literal children’s television host, you would think she’d be a natural at puppet play, but we’ve also learned by now that Priyanka only strikes when we least expect her to. Otherwise, these queens played down, dirty, and shady with these puppets. They were using those rag dolls like class A weapons. Jimbo stuffed filler into her Scarlett BoBo puppet’s cheek. Rita used puppet Jimbo to throw human Jimbo under the bus in front of Jeffrey, repeating what she said about the judge’s grasp of the English language in her Funtucked rant last week, which rumor has it has been nominated for (and already won, somehow) every category of Tony Award, even Lighting Design, for some reason. Wildest of all, the puppet challenge is when Canada’s Drag Race decides to casually reveal that Rita has a crush on Lemon! I kind of respect how the editing hasn’t made a big deal of this, but also, who doesn’t have a crush on Lemon? Couldn’t be me.
Scarlett wins puppets, and she’s thrilled that she’s finally won something, which is funny in that it reminds us that not only has Scarlett not won a maxi challenge yet, but apparently she hadn’t even won a mini challenge up until now, either! The queens find out that they’ve made it to the Makeover Episode, and Scarlett will assign everyone their partners. While no Makeover Challenge will ever approach my personal favorite — the one where they were matched with the cast of Little Women L.A. and had to do a Wizard of Oz–themed interpretive-dance dream ballet to an instrumental rendition of RuPaul’s “If I Dream” — this is a very powerful episode. The five makeover participants are gay refugees who participated in Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps queer people facing homophobic or transphobic persecution in their home countries to seek asylum in Canada. This is obviously a very beautiful thing, and also contributes to one of the overarching themes of this season of television, which is: How do we establish a distinct, queer, Canadian identity in the shadow of a much more famous, much showier, much louder neighbor to the south? There were cute regional specificities, like the Heritage Minutes challenge and the “Not Sorry Aboot It” song and Quebecois contestants as a whole, but Canada (at least throughout my childhood/public education) has long had an image of itself as a proudly multicultural and accepting nation of immigrants, in contrast to the U.S., especially during times when Republicans are in power. I want to caution that much as American exceptionalism is a myth, so too is Canada’s view of itself as an exceptionally accepting and utopian liberal paradise: Canada still reckons with anti-Black racism, police violence, homophobia, Islamophobia, and centuries of systemic oppression and cultural genocide of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. Many writers, scholars, and activists who are much smarter than I am have written extensively about how Canada’s back-patting view of itself as more evolved and accepting than America is used to obscure ongoing violence and silence those who speak out against it. I am positive that some King’s College keener is already writing a term paper about how Canada’s Drag Race is pinkwashing.
AND YET! Two things can be true at once: Canada could still struggle with ongoing violence and oppression and become a refuge and home for people facing even more frightening violence and oppression elsewhere. Like the top-five queens who confront their own privilege over the course of this episode, I can feel immensely grateful to be Canadian and still mourn how my hometown is razing its gay village to the ground to build condos. An episode of television can be a place for Rainbow Railroad refugees to share their stories of finding safety and community, and be a fun excuse to watch people totter around in heels for the first time. Two things being true at the same time is kind of the beauty of drag, so it’s time to just get back into the recap before I get my foot so far down my mouth I have to page Dr. Zizmor.
The five participants are: Elton from Jamaica, who’s paired with Priyanka; Rebal from Syria, who’s paired with Lemon; Dennis from Uganda, whom Scarlett chooses for her partner; and married couple Eka and Rainer from Indonesia, who are drafted to Jimbo and Rita, respectively. Shout-out to Anastasia Beverly Hills for providing the makeup for this challenge, and by extension valuing the Canadian market; after the Fabricland wall I’m surprised the queens aren’t given Shopper’s Drug Mart makeup from the Joe Fresh endcap. As the duos decide on their characters and coordinate their outfits, we really get to know these guest stars. Elton is a Torontonian who’s very game about parting with his beard, and he’s actually seen Priyanka perform! Rainer’s feeling competitive, and Rebal is totally leaning into the sassy Lemon brand. Funniest of all is how after we see all of these queens ask their partners things like “What kind of queen do you want to be?” and “How comfortable are you in heels?” We cut to Jimbo asking Eka, “Have you ever been a slutty demon before?” Jimbo has a walk-in closet full of strong suits, but being a cuddly nurturer isn’t one of them.
They then take turns practicing in pairs on the main stage. Lemon says that “Rebal has never walked in heels before, so right now he walks like Jimbo.” Dennis is by far my favorite runway walker, really serving futch realness with those poses.
On elimination day, as the queens paint their partners’ faces, they talk about their experiences in their home countries: staying closeted, arrests, and the deaths of loved ones. Dennis worked with an organization in Uganda helping place asylum-seekers with Rainbow Railroad before he, too, had to flee. “When you see people moving from one country to another, it’s most likely the hardest decision of their life,” Dennis said. Eka and Rainer talk about how they had to get to Canada to get married. That doesn’t stop Priyanka from being shady about Rita’s paint job on her new drag daughter: “Someone must call Social Services. Take the child away.”
Someone named Amanda Brugel is the guest host, and honestly, good for her! She’s having fun, and that’s nice to see. Priyanka and Elektra (Elton) are first up, giving West Indian Carnival sisters. Yes, they’re basically wearing bodysuits, but they both look stunning. Scarlett and Violet BoBo (Dennis) are next, and they opt for even plainer bodysuits, albeit with fun styling, good wigs, and big fringe leather jackets. Dennis is smiling the truest, realest smile I’ve ever seen on this show and it’s electrifying. Lemon and Lime (Rebal) are next, and they really did serve flat Sprite. Lemon brought matching flapper outfits, but they’re straight-up unflattering and kind of limp. Looking at my notes, I wrote, “Oh that poor, poor man in that sad, sad Lime wig,” and I stand by it. It became very clear as this season went on that some of these girls didn’t have the sort of multiple-credit-card-debt costume budget that we’re used to from Drag Race Original Flavor, but even bearing that in mind, the execution of this concept was not there.
Then there are the two standout pairs of the evening, beginning with Rita and Tari (Rainer) Baga, serving some sort of convoluted Cirque du So-Gay clown narrative that made me go “what in the French Canada …?” Rainer is literally dressed in the parachute from gym class, and Rita is some sort of I Love Lucy black-and-white situation. Brooke nails it when she says, “You know, I really don’t get these Quebec sitcoms,” as they mime out some sort of intergenerational clown spat on the runway.
The other standouts, the victims of highway robbery, the absolute makeover fantasy, are Jimbo and Bimbo, little red riding whores in breastplates, feeling themselves and smushing their boobies together (as you do) and giving us an elevated cock-destroyer narrative. Jimbo handmade the latex red outfits herself, but Eka brought so much to the table as Bimbo, Jimbo’s partner in sex crime, committing to the bit and to that impossible tuck. The judges unfortunately disagreed, with Stacey giving the critique that “it was too sexy,” as if there’s such a thing. It’s frustrating when the judges try to pin a queen into a specific box, and either admonish her for not showing enough variety or saying they miss the box when she tries to show versatility. They say that they’re missing her camp, even though Jimbo and Bimbo are full camp. They’re sexy sleepaway camp.
In Funtucked Quibi Minis™, the guests talk about how much fun they had while Jimbo absolutely cannot quit dumping on Rita: “Those cheap-ass dresses? That nasty poly? Sorry, no. I’ve seen that shit at the dollar store.” Scarlett has taken some of Dennis’s swagger and charisma with her, and is pretty certain she won’t be in the bottom despite middling critiques.
And she’s right! Priyanka wins the challenge, and the prize is a $10,000 donation to Rainbow Railroad. On the flipside, Rita and Lemon have landed in the bottom two, and it’s hilarious to watch Lemon’s confidence in her confessional as she drags everyone else’s looks. The delusion!
The LSFYL is “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morisette, which is such a hilariously oddball, but I guess inevitable, choice. They couldn’t have skipped over Alanis entirely, although it’s funny to see which perennial karaoke songs don’t necessarily translate into obvious lip-sync songs. Only on Canada’s Drag Race can you watch two queens pump their puss to the line “would she go down on you in a thyee-tarrre?” There is so much action happening on this here stage that the show deploys the rarely used split-screen effect, just so that we can watch Rita drag her body across the stage like some sort of Japanese folklore ghost while Lemon tries to steal some of Pri’s winning electric bass moves from last week. Rita clearly has the upper hand: For one, she was in her 30s when this song came out while Lemon wasn’t even born yet (kidding), and Rita smartly serves the song’s real emotions while Lemon tries to pump her puss to it. Lemon sashays away, and shares this beautiful message: “I want people to know that sometimes the mean girl in the movie has a kind heart.” Lemon!
• “Who would put yellow, lime green, and purple together? Me, I would.” —Scarlett BoBo has never heard of (a) Mardi Gras or (b) my Sno-Cone order.
• “Delusional self-confidence is the Lemon brand!” —Lemon, I miss you already.
• “Bobo is dressing up like Lemon, Rita is dressing up like Jimbo, and Jimbo is dressing her girl like Lady Gaga. Jimbo, you don’t look like Lady Gaga ever. You a clown.”
• “I am the old and grumpy clown…” —Rita giving me my new bio.