RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.
The thing about Drag Race — whether it’s U.K. or U.S., All-Stars or Soon-to-Be-Stars — is that every season is essentially the same. There is Snatch Game, a Rusical, an improv challenge, and Michelle Visage telling grown men that they need to pay more attention to their undergarments. There’s also, increasingly, at least one eye-rolling double save. This is especially true of a sewing and/or design challenge. We all know that we’re going to get the queens who went to design school versus the ones who are like, “Bitch, please, I pay someone to make my outfits,” and that one of the design queens will win and everyone else will parade around in like, a bodysuit made out of playing cards held together by chewing gum, wig glue, and determination. This episode was no different, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to love.
It starts out with another RuPaul tradition: the reading mini challenge. So often in these recaps I’m explaining England to Americans, but might I take a minute to explain America to the English (and probably also to the Americans because we are not a people known for our intelligence). RuPaul always starts this challenge, where each of the queens roast the others, by saying, “Because reading is what?” and all the queens answer, “Fundamental!” If you search “reading is fundamental” on YouTube almost all of the results are for this very challenge in past seasons of Drag Race. For those of us, ahem, over a certain age, it means something totally different. Reading Is Fundamental (better known as RIF) is a charity that tries to boost literacy in children. There were countless PSAs for the group back in the ’70s and ’80s, featuring stars of the day like Ed Asner and Carol Burnett. They used to air so frequently during after-school cartoons that I almost didn’t learn how to read out of spite. So, that is where the catchphrase comes from. As for Hooked on Phonics, another commercial that haunted our cartoons, maybe that should be forgotten forever in the deep recesses of television history.
The challenge itself is as amusing as always, but damn do these British queens have a death wish … for their fellow contestants. Sister says, “Tayce, your runway looks are unsurpassed, but I would like to see you slip into something long and flowy … like the Thames.” Damn, is that a read or a death threat? Sweet, innocent Ellie Diamond (who sadly works at McDonald’s, not Greggs as I always imagined) says, “Bimini Bon-Boulash you’re know for your tricks in the chair but how about you do us all a favor and next time make it an electric one.” She wasn’t just chopped, she was electrocuted. Bimini says, “Sister, you have such a kind face … the kind you throw bricks at.” Don’t do that to Sister’s face. She just bought it!
Sister wins the challenge, which is not surprising since her new teeth are haunted by the evil spirit of Phi Phi O’Hara. That means she gets an extra 15 seconds hunting for goods that the queens need to use to build superhero outfits out of unconventional materials. The reasoning is that these are the things everyone was hoarding during lockdown, but I didn’t see any yeast, flour, dumbbells, liquor, or PReP pills.
The queens start immediately working on their outfits and A’Whora keeps talking about how she didn’t spend £60,000 on fashion school so that she could lose another design challenge on Drag Race, which immediately means she either wins or flops so hard she’s in the bottom two. Bimini also seems like she’s in trouble because her idea for an outfit consists of a pillowcase, two rolls of toilet paper, and two palm fronds. To be fair, it is more than Bimini is usually wearing when she walks down the runway.
RuPaul brings Raven, the former contestant and his makeup artist, around to all the queens so that they can ask her for advice. She gives them so many good tips, like about how Lawrence can improve her eye makeup and Sister can make her beard disappear, a trick she learned from early-career Ricky Martin when he was still pretending to be straight. (ZING!) The visit also shows us that Tayce, who is taking apart a bunch of pot scrubbers to make her outfit, is also in danger, girl. “I don’t want no help, I don’t want no advice, I just want to bring me to the runway,” Tayce says, a sign of arrogance which surely means she’ll be lip syncing in no time.
But the ability to predict the bottom two soon gets really murky. Bimini decides to change her outfit last minute, which is often the kiss of death. So does Lawrence when her original plan doesn’t work out. Then Lawrence starts talking about being bullied as a young kid by all of his classmates. “When they laugh at you just for walking into the room, what are you meant to do? What are you meant to do?” he brogues in a way that is both melodic and heartbreaking. He talks about how he overcame it by finding his inner strength and his humour. (The extra U is cause he’s Scottish.) “I’m on Drag Race to be the superstar that I am, that they tried to stop me from being,” she says and I’m like, holy shit, Lawrence is definitely going home. You don’t get a sad personal story for no reason. (Unless, of course, you do.)
The next day, the queens walk into the werkroom and it looks like the entrance to a Wal-Mart on Black Friday, with just random cheap shit scattered all over the floor. No one is ready and everyone is trying to sew faster than the Micro Machines man on crystal meth.
On the runway, each of the queens gets a cute transformation from their lockdown self into a Supershero. Tayce is Exfoliana Bolt and, just as predicted, the outfit is awful. It’s the scrubbers made into a tube top and a pair of sleeves, but they’re so grating that the sleeves keep getting stuck to the top. The whole garment ends at the waist and there is just a copper strip covering where both of her front and back bottoms should be. It sort of looks like a ginger got a Brazilian wax from a blind technician.
Lawrence of Chania looks like a blue Ikea bag that was invaded by the spirit of a good witch, not a bad witch, and then rolled around in orange balls. Bimini is Dr. Isabella Blows-A-Lot and she basically took a curtain, shredded it, and added some red paper around it. Everyone comments on how it’s very Viviane Westwood, but that is just code for sloppy-looking fashion. Bimini is once again saved from her bad sewing skills by her superior references.
When A’Whora rounds the corner as COVID Nine-Tina, she’s wearing a sleek, shiny blue outfit with a glitter mask painted over her face and it looks like something that would have won an Oscar for costume design in The Fifth Element. But then she pops out her shoulders and it’s like a fashion puffer fish and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It reminds me of the lizard outfits from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but she made it out of bin bags (read: trash bags) in two days. It’s an absolute marvel and you just know that girl is going to get the win she has been lusting after.
Ellie looks like an 8-year-old girl’s birthday-party vision board. It’s all pink and tiaras and scepters and every brand of candy that could possibly get stuck in a carpet. It’s cute and well-executed but as predictable as Meryl Streep being nominated for an Oscar for a mediocre movie. Then comes Sister, who looks like a child’s drawing of what she did on her summer vacation. It’s like a million different scribbles that don’t cohere into one picture. There are bulbous flowers, an orange wig, some strange one-legged garment that looks like she got caught in an accident at the Ace Bandage factory.
Backstage things get a little heated when Ellie, who all the queens said at the top of the episode should go home, wants them all to take it back. TAKE IT BACK! She says she has gotten great marks from the judges and, unlike everyone else, hasn’t had to lip sync once. A’Whora says that Ellie’s looks are too similar all the time, like CBeebies (a long-running BBC children’s show kind of like Blue’s Clues) on acid. Sister thinks that Ellie doesn’t take any risks and her risks aren’t rewarded. But what, exactly, are Sister’s risks? Risking ripping off A’Whora each week? Risking looking like the Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock? Risking trading her soul for a new set of chompers?
The tops are obviously A’Whora and Ellie, who get near universal praise from the judges. Lawrence and Bimini are in judging limbo, with the verdict being that they are passable but not outstanding. Tayce and Sister are clearly in the bottom for complete opposite reasons: Tayce’s outfit is not enough and Sister’s outfit is far, far too much. It comes down to the lip sync, with Tayce rolling around on her back and doing death drops and trying not to wince as a million different scrubbers exfoliate her backne. The judges make the right call and send Sister Sister packing. Last week it was Tia, this week it’s Sister Sister. Thank god there isn’t a Tamara in the competition, or she’d be absolutely doomed.