As with many hyperspecific Drag Race challenges, this week’s viral social-media dance challenge is a Rorschach test. It shows the queens an objective reality and asks, “What do you see?” A comedy sketch or dance showcase? A satire or a branding exercise? A vase or two women kissing?”
For some queens, like Shea, there’s no need to dive deep into the subtextual possibilities of what a viral dance challenge could conceivably be interpreted as because a surface-level reading of it already plays to her strengths. And since it’s already well established that Shea is the best choreographer of the group, it makes perfect sense that she devises a dance challenge for “anyone who was top of their class at Alvin Ailey.” The concept is great, but it ultimately falls a little short of the expectations she sets for us up top. I mean … step, touch, step, touch, cha-cha, repeat? I don’t think the teens of TikTok will have any trouble grasping that, let alone an Alvin Ailey dancer. With a slightly more rigorous focus on the narrative she was selling, Shea might have made the top this week. The judges seem eager to give her another win, especially after her gorgeous burlesque runway presentation on the main stage. But after tonight, Shea is stuck in dead last. She has two more chances to claim a legendary legends star before the final four, and she best make them count.
But while Shea fails to surpass the challenge’s parameters, the Vivienne strays a little too far. She interprets the challenge as a satire, with the viral dance as little more than an afterthought. The Vivienne’s sketch is premised around mocking the idea of excessive branding, repeating the phrase “the Viveo” over and over again as a way to poke fun at the inherent humiliation of constantly selling oneself. This is all well and good but perhaps a little bit too cheeky for her audience of RuPaul, someone who has never been embarrassed. Unlike the other videos, Viv’s performance doesn’t end after her dance. Instead, she chooses to hit home the joke a couple more times, proving that the Vivienne hardly considers this a dance challenge. There’s not necessarily a problem with this, but if you go the comedic route, I think it’s safe to say that the dance at least needs to be the focal point of the comedy. With perhaps a touch more earnestness, the Vivienne might have gone all the way this week.
Raja finds herself in a similar trap (although I hardly think any of us assumed she would be placing highly in a dance-based challenge anyway), and, to a lesser extent, so does Trinity. Choosing to lean heavily into the “branding” part of the challenge, Raja and Trinity neglect the dancing aspect altogether. For Raja, the final result is something that’s part guided meditation and part light morning stretch. A dance? No. Funny? Not particularly. Trinity’s tucking tutorial is not a dance either, though she at least manages to make sure her video has an entertaining aspect to it, though comedy-wise it falls far short of the most successful video of them all (we’ll get to that later). That said, her opening line is truly a stroke of genius: “You know me as having the best tuck in the business, not because it’s true, but because it’s in my name. And that’s called branding!” In another crop of queens, that joke alone might have landed her a top-two spot.
Perhaps the biggest failure of the evening, however, was Yvie. Yvie’s win conditions for this challenge appear almost too obvious to say aloud. While she insists that she’s best known for being the weird winner, it’s clear to anyone who watched her season that she’s famous for being a contortionist, splitting lip-sync assassin. Yvie is no stranger to a viral dance: She’s created two or three! So why her final choreography contained not so much as a leg kick or a backbend is truly beyond me. Instead, Yvie’s dance is “the Odd Bod,” a flailing dance involving licking two lollipops (as a tie-in to the RuPaul song “Lick It Lollipop,” which I swear I’ve never heard before today.) It’s immediately forgettable and feels like yet another missed opportunity for a queen who can hardly afford to let any more pass her by. On the runway, Yvie attempts to sell a cocoon-into-moth story line (the yassified version of Jasmine Masters’s season-seven design challenge), but unfortunately, a wardrobe malfunction literally and figuratively clips her wings.
The most successful queens of the night were able to interpret this Rorschach test of a challenge through their own lens while also remembering the twisted mind who splattered this ink on the page in the first place: RuPaul. Jaida’s interpretation, while certainly not dance-heavy, was funny as hell: She refers to her own iconic challenge win in season 12 while hammering home a narrative of a dance inspired by running from and posing for the paparazzi that apparently hound her daily. It’s cute, the perfect balance of self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, and quite memorable. Combine that with what guest judge Ben Platt correctly describes as a “truly satisfying” runway, and it’s yet another excellent night for All Stars 7’s three-star general, Jaida Essence Hall.
The top two of the night, however, are in a league of their own. Monét lets us know up top this episode that she is no fool. She has a concept for her dance, but when Ru pooh-poohs it, she doesn’t waste a second implementing his notes. “I have learned in the 13 seasons I’ve done of this show that when RuPaul giveth you a suggestion … you take it.” Truer words. The final product is just what the doctor ordered. The dance moves Ru suggested but with a healthy serving of Monét flair. It’s absolutely the most fun dance of the night and undoubtedly the one I would want to learn. To top it all off, she looks absolutely gorgeous, and her Black history runway presentation is the most powerful look of the evening. Finally, a well-deserved second star for Monét.
But the best overall video of the night has to be Jinkx Monsoon. While other girls went for comedy over dance, nobody was able to nail it like Jinkx. Her character is a cantankerous sexy MILF who has chaotic relationships with both her adult son and her own libido. It’s funny in concept and even funnier in execution, and the final beat (earnestly delivering an unintelligible zinger with her mouth full) is the perfect cap to a perfect sketch. No notes. The judges are in love, and RuPaul yet again calls Jinkx a genius. At this point, her rocket-like trajectory to the top seems unstoppable.
But the pièce de résistance of this episode has yet to come. For the first time in Drag Race herstory, the top two queens will be lip-syncing not to a song but a spoken-word piece from Designing Women. On the surface, this might seem like an even matchup. Jinkx may not be able to compete with Monét doing, say, a pop song, but surely she could in a spoken-word piece? But to think that is to underestimate Monét’s capabilities as both a performer and a student of drag herstory. From the moment this lip sync starts, it’s clear that Monét knows not just every word but every syllable, inflection, and breath of the iconic monologue. Consider this experiment, Drag Race’s first foray into spoken word, a resounding success. And that is the night the lights went out in Drag Race’s Studio City production studio. After claiming her victory, Monét chooses to block … her good sis, Raja! A betrayal?! Not really. Raja is the only queen who has yet to be blocked, and she was practically begging for it at the top of this episode (a choice she’ll very quickly grow to regret).
Next week, a good old-fashioned roast! And thank God for that. The Hater’s Roast is a touring Rugirl staple off of Drag Race, so why not bring it to the main stage? I hope there are tears.
Until next week!