RuPaul’s Drag Race
Welcome, compatriots, to the first elimination episode of the season. Finally! The first three weeks of season 13 have been a lovely run of RuPaul’s Best Friend Race, but it brings me great pleasure to report that this week we finally see a contestant cry. Don’t get me wrong: First and foremost, I watch Drag Race for the immense and diverse talents of all the contestants, of course. In fact, that’s exactly why I was excited for this episode, which celebrates the two most ubiquitous drag queen talents of all: conflict and emotional manipulation!
And the queens truly get right to it. Group one (the self-ordained “Winner’s Circle”) decides to stage a sting operation to embarrass group two (“the B-squad”) by hiding Elliott behind a dividing curtain in the back of the werkroom. The idea here is that they can trick the queens into shit-talking Elliott while she’s in the room. This plan doesn’t make sense to me for two reasons: The first is that you usually don’t have to “trick” drag queens into being mean to you. And the second is that I don’t understand what Elliott gets out of this. She already has confirmation that the other queens dislike her, because, well, they sent her home unanimously. So now, by hiding behind the curtain, she gets the privilege of … hearing them say it again? A half-baked plan, to be sure, but Elliott seems to find perverse joy in revealing to a crowd of crestfallen entertainers that, yes, she’s still here.
After the queens have sized each other up, RuPaul enters and gets straight to business. For this week’s main challenge, the queens are divided into teams and tasked with acting in RuPaulmark Channel holiday movies, movies with near-identical scripts and characters that satirize the formulaic nature of the Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s a clever setup that really evens the playing field. Denali can’t claim she got the short end of the stick, for instance, because Tina and Symone had the exact same lines and did just fine. This also benefits the audience, since we get to directly compare the comedy skills of the assembled cast for the first time.
Now, as with any Drag Race acting challenge, we have the good (Symone, Rosé), the bad (Denali, LaLa) and the transcendent (Kahmora). Let’s discuss:
“God Loves Flags”
Let’s save the best for first. Symone and Rosé carry their team to a definitive victory with their Flag Day parody “God Loves Flags.” Symone stars as evil, closeted CEO Red Flag; she keeps the judges cackling from start to finish with her now-iconic facial expressions and inscrutable pronunciation of the work “factory.” Rosé plays her … Best friend? Love interest? Who cares. The only thing that matters is that she glued shoes to her knees, a truly inspired choice. Their presences buoy the much weaker LaLa Ri and Utica, who are both more than a little shaky and can’t seem to translate their winning personalities to this scripted challenge. Or memorize their lines for that matter! The judges heap praise onto Rosé and Symone, but Symone’s stellar du-rag-train runway steals the show. The judges are gagged, as are we all, and RuPaul tells Symone “You’re a winner, baby” for the third time in four episodes. Symone’s momentum is undeniable at this point. She’s somehow lapped the other girls before the referee has even had a chance to start his stopwatch. Of course, it’s still early, and you may recall another young, stunning L.A. queen with an unimpeachable early-season run who was prematurely declared the season’s victor (by me … shut up). But, in my view, the comparisons end there. There was a cockiness to Gigi Goode that I don’t sense at all in Symone. Perhaps it’s her firmly rooted sense of purpose and maturity, or perhaps it’s simply good old-fashioned midwestern manners, but Symone feels grounded to me. And I think that will serve her well as we enter the marathon phase of this competition.
“April Fool’s Rush In”
Next up, in a solid second place, it’s Team “April Fool’s Rush In” starring Gottmik, Joey Jay, Kandy Muse, and Tamisha Iman. Gottmik and Tina are the stars, in theory, but Kandy steals the show as Whoopi Cushion, a clown employee of the small-town novelty gift shop. Kandy wants this part so bad that she stakes her claim before the other girls even have a chance to open their scripts. It’s certainly obnoxious, but it’s hard to stay mad at someone as entertaining as Kandy. As Gottmik astutely summarizes: “Well … props to you. That was kind of everything, but not sure that’s how that works.” Yes, Kandy may be a tough pill to swallow, but the high you get is worth it. Tamisha also has some standout moments as a fortune teller/Cher impersonator. She responds to Ross’s direction well (unlike Joey Jay), and the results in the final product speak for themselves. Tamisha is safe, and Kandy might have been a top contender if not for her runway. Don’t get me wrong, the garment is beautiful, but Michelle is right that it’s not quite the category and there’s really no story to speak of when compared to some of the other girls. But the judges love them some Kandy, and it’s a solid rebound after her low placement last challenge.
“Misery Loves Company”
Finally, let’s talk about the team with the most to lose, “Misery Loves Company.” Denali wants to show she can stand out among titans like Symone, Elliott wants to prove she’s not the worst one here, Kahmora needs to make up for last episode’s disaster, and Olivia … is just chilling! Denali talked a big game this week. And last week. And the week before. She tells us repeatedly that she’s the fiercest competitor, the one to beat, and (most relevant) more than just a fierce lip-syncer. Unfortunately, Denali collapses under the burden of her own expectations. Before the other girls can get a word in, she insists on biting off the biggest role, which she later realizes is a bit more than she can chew. This leaves Elliott to play the ditzy cupid (“I actually am stupid,” she explains), Kahmora as a tree (more on that in a moment), and Olivia affably accepts the grandma (she’s just happy to be there). In rehearsal, we watch Denali strike out. The lines aren’t coming, and there’s no characterization to speak of. On the runway, she’s a knockout, but it’s apparently not enough to make up for her grave miscalculation. But Denali’s struggles are truly nothing when compared to her sister Kahmora’s. For context, Kahmora is playing a completely green-screened tree. Why then, an astute observer might ask, does Kahmora show up to set wearing full hip/ass pads and a breastplate with erect nipples? I cannot answer this, as my mind does not operate on the same plane of consciousness as hers. Kahmora seemingly has a total of two lines, takes up 80 percent of everyone’s time and attention on set (VERY me), and ultimately fails to deliver one of those two lines correctly. Needless to say, I am obsessed. Much like Denali, her impeccable runway doesn’t save her, and it’s Chicago vs. Chicago in the bottom two.
The lip sync is a bloodbath. Denali has proved one thing for certain: She is indeed the lip-sync assassin of the season. She brings Olympic-level athleticism and precision to her incredible performance of “100% Pure Love,” and it’s over within seconds. “Stop!” I wanted to shout. “She’s already dead!” But Denali is ruthless. She shows so little mercy for her Chicago sister, I’m pretty sure it’s a violation of at least two Geneva Conventions. Denali is declared the victor, and the beautiful Kahmora is the first official casualty of the Pork Chop Loading Dock. Elliott rejoices.
Despite B-squad’s best efforts, the hierarchy put into place in episode one’s lip-sync extravaganza was reinforced this week. Symone reigned supreme once again, and both members of the bottom two came from the lip-sync-losing team. But Drag Race is known for its midseason shakeups, and I wouldn’t put it past these queens to steal the spotlight right back next week. Let’s find out, shall we? Until then!