Ten minutes into this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I watching the current Broadway revival of Funny Girl right now? Because, much like Lea Michele, these bitches cannot read. This week is the beloved reading mini-challenge, and, as with so many comedy-based challenges on this season of Drag Race Down Under, the whole thing produces about as many laughs as a Terrence Malick film. Kween Kong wins the challenge, but only because she actually gets some laughs, as opposed to Beverly Kills, whose jokes are needlessly horny; Spankie Jackszon, whose jokes are needlessly rushed; and everyone else, whose jokes are just profoundly forgettable. At least Yuri Guaii is smart enough to bow out after bombing once, displaying a level of self-awareness that most queens simply don’t have. In all, the mini-challenge feels like an illiteracy awareness PSA.
This week, the queens are taking part in a girl group challenge — a recent, but beloved, addition to the Drag Race challenge canon, and a clear favourite of the show’s producers, likely because having two new songs for viewers to stream provides a nice new revenue stream. As ever, this challenge provides some extraordinarily awkward odd-couple comedy, like when Spankie, mere seconds after sitting down with her team, suggests their group be called Sluts With Nuts — an inspired, but quickly vetoed, choice — or when Beverly and Molly look on in horror as Yuri stumbles, painfully, through her rap verse.
Beverly, who has been in the lip sync twice, tears into the challenge with terrifying verve. I don’t think she blinks once in this episode, her desperation for a win, or any kind of praise from the judges, clearly causing some kind of neurological episode. She approaches her self-appointed job as dance captain like she’s Bob Fosse on meth, rehearsing with her group in front of the other queens before basically trying to pick a fight with Kween over who’s a better dancer. Beverly’s overconfidence is a profound cope, and although I usually think that Drag Race is better when its contestants are at the higher end of the delusional scale, there is something a little heartbreaking about seeing someone begin to unravel because of a competition where grown gay men are judged on who is a better “rapstress” — a totally made-up word that gets genuinely bandied about multiple times on this episode.
During recording, it’s clear that BAB’Z — Spankie, Kween, and Hanna — have it in the bag. Michelle is gunning for the G in her as-yet-nonexistent EGOT in her role as producer, mouthing along to every word and giving Kween extraordinarily specific notes on the best way to deliver lines like “your breath also really really really smell.” The Hung Divas — Beverly, Yuri, and Molly — don’t fare quite as well. Beverly talks about rap music the way my mum talks about rap music — “If my rap sessions in the shower prove anything, it’s that I’ve been preparing for this for decades,” she warns, like an Etsy cushion come to life — which makes me think that, like my mum, she has never really listened to rap music. Still, the quality of a rap verse on Drag Race never really seems to matter as much as the attitude, so it feels like she’ll be fine.
The real problem is Yuri: She can’t keep time to save her life, both during recording and dance rehearsals. Yuri’s total inability to dance finally pushes Beverly to her limits, which is both distressing and comedic. On one hand, we’re clearly watching a mental breakdown occur in real time. On the other, it’s objectively funny to see anyone lose their mind over the best possible timing of a slut drop.
During the performance, BAB’Z absolutely destroy. Spankie and Kween ooze charisma, and although Hanna gets a little lost — in part because she’s just so tiny — it’s a fun, extremely polished performance. The Hung Divas do well too, but it hardly feels worth all the strife that they put themselves through: the whole thing just feels a little … flat. Yuri has fixed her timing problem, but forgot to fix her personality problem; she delivers her verse with absolutely no inflection or intonation, and although she looks great, it sounds like she’s not even there.
Once again, there’s no shoddiness whatsoever on this week’s belts-and-buckles-themed runway — save for Spankie’s baggy latex (“her loose pink flaps,” as Beverly says) which, as Rhys notes, feels more in-character than if she wore something that actually fit properly. Kween’s pink-and-black latex look, inspired, weirdly, by both her baby niece and Kady from Mean Girls, is a clear standout, as is Hanna’s Jean-Paul Gaultier-inspired denim look. Ultimately, it’s BAB’Z who win, quite deservingly, and Yuri and Molly who have to lip-sync to the S&M remix of Tina Arena’s “Chains.” It’s an incredible choice for a lip-sync song, and both queens absolutely turn it out. It feels like the rare lip-sync that’s deserving of a double shantay, but, sadly, it’s Yuri who’s sent packing, and Molly who lives to slay another day.