As Kandy Muse (p.g.a.) informed us on Twitter this week, we are officially halfway through the season. Yep! Five queens down, five more to go until our glorious, COVID-compliant finale. And after a couple of rocky episodes, I’m pleased to announce that I think season 13 has found its footing again. The queens have finally eliminated Elliott With 2 T’s on their fourth attempt to do so (truly the Rasputin of drag), and it’s the makeover episode! I’m on record as saying that the makeover challenge is consistently one of my favorite Drag Race institutions, and this season’s installment is no exception. In lieu of quarantining a group of gay veterans found on Craigslist or perhaps some TikTok hype house across the street from the studio lot, this episode, the queens make over each other. The pairs are decided by a local psychic (because why not), who apparently has the time to give some recommendations to Ru between channeling the spirit of Utica’s dead childhood cow and telling Rosé and Denali they should bang.
It’s a very successful episode, in part because the premise — that the queens paired together have strengths they can teach each other — actually seems to hold true for the winning team. The result is a joyride of a challenge that features a laugh a minute and some high-stakes shake-ups that are sure to make the final few episodes of the season that much more exciting. Let’s break down the pairs.
Symone & Utica
For Symone and Utica, the biggest hurdle to this challenge is Utica’s fear of cancellation. It’s a reasonable fear: The Drag Race fan base has historically been unafraid to vocalize their displeasure when a queen crosses a line (Elliott springs to mind). However, I do think that Utica needs a little bit of a refresher on the actual mechanics of cultural appropriation from the Minnesota-based liberal-arts institution of her choice. Or at least an Instagram graphic she can share to her story. In my understanding, appropriation involves a theft, a member of a dominant culture looting a marginalized culture’s art, fashion, and mannerisms for their own gain. While I agree that it would have been ill-advised for Utica herself to bring a Halle Berry in B.A.P.S.–inspired look to the runway, the hallmark of this challenge is that Symone is bringing Utica into her drag (and therefore her inspirations, references, and culture). At first, Utica’s hesitation seems like it might be her (and Symone’s) downfall. There’s much in the way of hushed whispers, nail chewing, and side-eye glances from other queens. But ultimately, the most beautiful part of this partnership is that Utica and Symone decide to just trust each other. They take a leap: Symone into a weird hippie skin suit with a mouthpiece accessory, and Utica into potentially appropriative territory with a look celebrating an iconic Black film. And, baby, it pays off. Symone executes Utica’s vision flawlessly as she writhes in her skin-suit shawl while the muscles and tendons of her legs peek out from underneath. And Utica, in turn, gives her most confident and magnetic runway walk yet empowered by Symone’s drag and excellent eye for aesthetic detail. It’s a wonderful exchange of strengths. The judges fawn over it (as they should!), and there’s no question that this pair is the top of the week.
Rosé & Tina
Tina really gets dunked on from every angle this week. The judges tell her she looks like shit, her partner tells her she looks like shit, and the week’s biggest takeaway is that Tina Burner’s drag really doesn’t look good on anyone. The judges almost explicitly say so during this week’s deliberations, which shall henceforth be known as the Roast of Tina Burner. Not since Michelle Williams called Akashia a “messy man” in season one have I seen such legitimately rude critiques from the judges. (Which, to be clear, I love.) “Tina’s aesthetic is questionable …” Michelle begins, “… but it did look a lot like her!” Carson finishes. They even go on to explain that Tina actually looks “a lot prettier than usual” due to the fact that she isn’t sporting her usual “raccoon eyes.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! Rosé doesn’t have much kind to say about her partner, either. As soon as the pairings are announced, Rosé is instantly wary. “I am not leaving Drag Race in Tina Burner makeup,” she declares. Fair enough, sis. After all this, you might assume Tina is in the bottom, but nope! In fact, it’s Denali who joins Olivia in the lip sync. While Tina remains in the competition, it’s hard to characterize this week as anything but a loss for her. While Utica’s star is back on the rise, Tina’s seems to be rapidly collapsing.
Kandy & Gottmik
How can you not stan Gottmuse? Watching Gottmik and Kandy hang out is joyous, and this episode leaves me eager to watch whatever YouTube show the pair inevitably film in front of the green screen in the basement of the World of Wonder headquarters. On the runway, Kandy says that she and Gottmik had the hardest challenge of any queen onstage this week, and honestly? She’s right. While the other queens are raiding each other’s closets for the perfect dress to style, Gottmik discovers that Kandy can’t even squeeze into a single one of her fingerless gloves. And as legendary drag king Johnny Cochran once said: If the glove don’t fit, you must a-quit … drag! But Gottmuse is not so easily deterred, and they get creative with sewing and restyling. The result is superb. While the spiritual transformations aren’t as significant as those of Utica and Symone, Gottmuse delivers some pretty excellent drag on the runway. Their looks are as clean as Kandy’s freshly shaven ass, with Kandy in particular looking incredible in Gottmik’s signature clown-white face. But the best drag of the episode did not appear on the runway. Instead, it came right from Kandy Muse’s mouth. I knew it was over for Denali the second she brought up Kandy. Picking a fight with Kandy is sort of like picking a fight with Azealia Banks: It won’t end well for you, but it will be very entertaining for everyone else. And Kandy doesn’t just read Denali. No, she takes the scenic route, leaving plenty of time to read Olivia, Tina Burner, and the rest of the girls along the way just for good measure. The judges eat it up, and so do we. Gottmik has long seemed like a lock for top four, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kandy make her way to the finale as well. Regardless, I’m sure she’ll give us some more good TV along the way.
Olivia & Denali
I must admit, I didn’t see this one coming quite so soon. While we’re treated to some lovely bonding moments between Denali and Olivia this week as they discuss how the women in their family have influenced and shaped their respective drag personas, it’s unfortunately not enough to save the pair from the bottom two. On the runway, Denali seems to be serving some pageant-queen drag that reads more Haus of Nicole Paige Brooks than Haus of Lux. The judges call it generic and critique Olivia for not adding any of her signature house codes. Where were the bouncy curls? The 1,000-watt smile? The tiny purse?? It doesn’t feel thoughtful, and Olivia earns her spot in the bottom two. Denali, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery. The judges praise the tulle, the ponytail, and even little details like the long acrylic ice-skating nails. They quibble with the makeup, but to my eyes, they have far harsher words for Tina Burner. However, as has been the downfall of many a Drag Race queen, Ru judges the queens as pairs this episode. Unfortunately for Denali, that means she’ll be lip-syncing along with her partner.
For the lip sync, we have yet another repeat! OG Drag Race fans will remember Shannel and Rebecca Glasscock performing this worship anthem after Shannel landed in the bottom for her performance of Hannibal Lecter as Miss Absolut Mandarin (if that sentence is meaningless to you, WE ARE NOT THE SAME). There’s less ass-shaking in Olivia and Denali’s respective renditions of the song, but just as much heart. It’s a close lip sync, but it’s a little more in Olivia’s wheelhouse than it is in Denali’s, giving the New York queen a critical edge. It’s pretty surprising to see Denali exit the competition before, say, Tina Burner, but fortunes on Drag Race can turn on a dime. And so, this week, Chicago’s Ice Princess sashays away.
“It DO Take Nerve!”
Quotes that left my mouth agape
It’s been a while, but this episode had some iconic quotes I had to celebrate:
“Careful, Santino.” — Michelle to Carson
This really made me scream. Mostly as a result of it being the first direct Santino Rice slander from Michelle since he left the show. I’m also quite glad she checked Carson, who had some very questionable comments and, shall we say … impressions this episode. Careful, Santino!
“Tina’s drag is really fun and expressive, and I don’t like any of it.” — Rosé
Rosé is completely unafraid of a drag and I love her for it. Also … someone had to say it!
“I feel like I’m back in my modern-dance improv classes!” — Utica
Tell me you went to a liberal arts school, without telling me you went to a liberal arts school.