They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and yet this week, for what feels like the first time in ages, Drag Race has turned out a new maxi-challenge format: A drag brunch hosted in pairs. This bitch has some life in her yet! It’s a more freeform comedy challenge than we’re used to on the show, and it seems promising — even though allowing Sydney’s Star Casino to sponsor a challenge might be the most egregious example of pinkwashing this side of RuPaul’s fracking ranch. (Two separate Australian states are currently investigating the Star over accusations of money laundering. Are we finally witnessing the yassification of organized crime?)
Before we can get to the actual meat of the challenge, the queens talk about who is trying to “sabo,” a.k.a. sabotage, who. After winning a mini-challenge involving trying to figure out what members of the Pit Crew have hidden in their shorts, Molly gets to choose teams, so Spankie naturally (and correctly) thinks that Molly is trying to sabo her by putting her in a duo with Yuri. Pomara is also suspicious of Molly and deems her the “sabo bitch” of the season. Personally, I can’t help but feel that I’m trying to sabo myself by coming back to this franchise year after year only to find myself having to learn words like “sabo,” but I guess that’s my lot in life.
As it turns out, Molly did a remarkably good job as this week’s sabo bitch. Beverly, who’s such a perfectionist that she always looks like she’s one minor inconvenience away from going full Jonestown, is paired with Pomara, whose idea of observational humor is … freeform, to say the least. Spankie, who is genuinely quite funny, looks rattled after Yuri tries out a joke on her. It’s only Kween and Minnie, of the pairs that Molly put together, who seem to genuinely be on the same level from the get-go, working on a brunch set based around the idea of structural racism in the drag community. Hearing that Kween and Minnie are tackling this topic leads Hanna to come clean and admit that she’s been thinking hard about antiracism work since she’s done culturally insensitive performances in the past. Kween handles the situation with incredible grace and generosity, acknowledging the hurt that Hanna’s caused while still accepting that she’s remorseful. To the show’s credit, this moment isn’t played salaciously or sensationally — instead, it feels like a genuine heart-to-heart between the two queens.
Everyone seems to fare pretty well in rehearsals — this is quite a funny batch of queens, and they clearly know which angles to go for. Hanna leaves Rhys totally dumbstruck when she reveals that she wanted to be a priest before she decided to become a drag queen, while Spankie’s bawdy, rough-as-guts sense of humor gets by on sheer charm. Pomara and Beverly, on the other hand, are giving ‘Dementia Ward Comedy Festival’. They bicker, can’t remember their own lines, and barely seem to understand the format of the challenge. It’s a total mess, and it isn’t helped by the fact that neither queen is really veiling their hostility towards the other at this point. Pomara and Beverly’s set looks to be a mess — and what would a Drag Race comedy challenge without a total trainwreck to make everyone else look better?
Pomara and Beverly are tasked with opening the challenge, and, honestly, it seems as if they’re going to do pretty well at first: Calling Molly and Hanna “the rejects from the Hobbit trilogy” is pretty solid, but as soon as their jokes get more complex than that, they begin to stumble. To their credit, Pomara and Beverly’s set is far more polished than their rehearsal would have made it seem — they just lack the charisma or gravitas to pull off their jokes. It feels as if they both know their script but never rehearsed together at all: Even when they interact, there’s a coolness to their rapport, like they’ve been green-screened together in post-production. They start and end their set solidly, but it’s still a chilly and largely forgettable performance.
When it comes time for Molly and Hanna’s performance, it becomes clear that Molly truly is the sabo bitch of the season: She’s even managed to sabo herself. In this challenge, Hanna is an absolute supernova. She’s so quick-witted and so gorgeous, to the point that Molly can’t help but fade away. It was a smart move to choose her as a partner, given how good she is, but it means that Molly is stuck playing second-fiddle, mugging like a drag Snooki while Hanna, looking resplendent in a sixties-inspired outfit, steals the show. They don’t have jokes, per-se, but it’s just a hugely enjoyable spectacle all-round and a particularly great showcase for Hanna.
Although Kween and Minnie turn out to be one of the best sets of the evening, it also feels like something of a cop-out — although the pair clearly decided that Kween should get more stage time as an acknowledgment of Minnie’s privilege, it didn’t really feel like a comment on structural racism in the drag community as much as lip-service. Still, the set was hilarious, and Kween and Minnie have a fabulous rapport: It’s a testament to both queens’ experience that their set was structured in two or three acts but still felt concise and punchy.
The balletic, self-assured delivery of Kween and Minnie’s act is sharply contrasted by the erratic but-loveable energy of Spankie and Yuri. Yuri only made it to set with minutes to spare due to an eye infection, but she still does a pretty good job, especially considering how woeful her performance in last week’s acting challenge was. She’s mostly content to play the bimbo for Spankie to bounce jokes off, and it totally works, culminating in one of the simplest — but in my mind, funniest — punchlines of the night: “I’m Spankie Jackzon, and I wear pants.”
On the runway, the category is ‘Red For Filth,’ and everyone looks good — Hanna and Yuri, in particular, look great in a structural businesswoman-inspired dress and a 20s take on the devil, respectively, and Minnie pulls out a sweet tribute to friends she’s lost to HIV — but nobody rises head-and-shoulders above the pack. As with a lot of the jokes we heard during the challenge, a lot of these outfits feel like they’ve been done before on past seasons of Drag Race — not exactly a huge problem, given how many seasons have aired, but it still takes a bit of the impact away.
Spankie and Yuri are deservedly named winners of this week’s challenge, and each queen wins five thousand questionably sourced dollars, courtesy of The Star. (Don’t be surprised if the Securities and Investments Commission comes knocking, girlies!) Everyone else is met with mixed reception (as ever, the main critique on Drag Race Down Under seems to be “It was a little shoddy”), with Pomara and Beverly receiving the harshest critiques. Ultimately, they’re the pair forced to lipsync to Years & Years and Kylie Minogue’s “Starstruck.” Altogether, it’s an erratic, underwhelming performance — over and over, Beverly moves as if to jump or cartwheel, before just … not doing either — but, ultimately, it’s Pomara, who seems to be moving at half the speed of her opponent, who is sent home. On Drag Race, as in life, every bottomless brunch has to end sometime.