As noted drag connoisseur Charles Dickens once wrote, last night's "RuPaul's Drag Race" was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This season has certainly bounced back from that dreadful cake episode a month or so ago, and the last three or four episodes have been wildly entertaining. Last night was no exception. The challenge made for instant hilarity and the lipsynch battle was truly jaw dropping.
The worst of times reference has to do with the contestant chosen to reenter the competition. At the end of last week's elimination RuPaul informed the remaining four queens - Raja, Manila Luzon, Alexis Matteo, and Yara Sofia - that Ru is often criticized for sending home dolls before their time. So she would be bringing back an eliminated contestant from this season, one selected by a unanimous vote by her co-judges, Michelle Visage, Santino Rice, and Billy B.
I agree that Ru has a tendency to cut some contestants too early, especially in seasons past, since both Ongina (S1) and Pandora Boxx (S2) were axed ahead of less-impressive queens. This season I think Ru's mostly gotten it right, and the Final 4 are the four best contestants. The only S3 eliminees I was remotely interested in seeing again were Mimi Imfurst (cut after the third challenge after assaulting Phoenix on stage - she was a mess, but she was always interesting) and, god help me, Shangela (justly eliminated last episode, but a veritable font of sound bites - that said, I did not miss her this episode at all).
Instead the show gave us one of the worst contestants of the season, one who had already long outlived her expiration date when she was eliminated two episodes back: Carmen Carrera. First, I cannot believe that the other three judges unanimously decided to go for Carmen. Michelle certainly never seemed to care for her when Carmen went before panel. Second, Carmen is about as useless as a drag queen can get. She brings NOTHING to the table. The criteria for this show - when Ru decides to use them - are Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. Carmen is a charisma vacuum; can you imagine being stuck in an elevator with that vapid queen? She's certainly not unique, relying almost solely on a body that is, let's be honest, not all that impressive. (I was far more in awe of Yara's bod in the singing challenge.) And she has no discernible talent aside from being naked. I can be naked, Carmen. I'm doing it right now. So, boo to Carmen. Literally - I booed at the television when her smirking face walked through that door. What a huge wasted opportunity on this show's behalf.
After I got over the disappointment at Carmen's return, the rest of the show was seriously awesome. The mini-challenge tasked the queens with soaking each other in a dunk tank. That's not some gay euphemism (although it sounds fun); they actually took turns trying to dump one of their competitors in a carnival-style dunk tank. Yes, the show has officially run out of drag-related challenges. We did learn two things, however: 1. Raja throws like a girl. 2. If this drag thing doesn't work out for Alexisáshe should sashay over to Major League Baseball, because sister has an arm on her.
Alexis ended up winning the challenge, which gave her an advantage in the main challenge: the dolls had to transform a straight jock into their drag sister for a night. Of course the queens all fawned over the straight man meat in front of them, and rightly so. My personal favorites were Raja's Texas stallion, Carmen's beefy Asian friend, and Manila's strawberry-blonde jokester. The guys were mostly game for their drag transformations, and it was a hoot watching them learn the actual mechanics of the artform (their faces as they tried to comprehend the ins and outs - beg pardon - of tucking was worth it alone). In addition to the regular mainstage presentation, the queens had to give their sisters a cheerleader look and present a cheer involving safe sex.
Pretty much everyone did well - the cheers were outrageous, especially Manila's and Raja's, which referenced barebacking (guest judge Sharon Osbourne had no idea what that was; classic). But usual front-runner Raja performed worst overall. Her jock did not transform well, and they looked kind of drab on the runway - even the normally glamazon Raja. There was also very little chemistry between her and her sister, "Enigma." Raja rightfully deserved her place in the bottom two. Joining her there was Carmen, who went right back to her wheelhouse by wearing barely anything. She looked great, but her stocky cub of a partner couldn't really pull off a two-piece with all those bulging muscles and... I'm sorry. I blacked out there for a second. Anyway, the consensus among the judges was that Carmen was only looking to show off Carmen (duh) and didn't give any consideration as to what would work for her partner (double duh).
Meanwhile, Alexis did great, Yara's drag sister may have been prettier than her, and Manila and her partner totally killed it. Love her sister. He's that self-satisfied jock from high school who you should probably hate, but ultimately just want to make out with in the band-room closet. Not that I know anything about that.
The lipsynch between Raja and Carmen will stand out as one of the most memorable in the show's history. It was set to Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," and Raja was in the lead from the beginning by, you know, actually doing something instead of standing there and posing, like Carmen. About halfway through Raja took off her skirt, which of course was like flashing red to the nudity-loving gay bull that is Carmen, and that bitch ripped off her bottoms, concluding the lipsynch completely bare on her lower half. The censors' pixel box got a workout. Somehow the two of them ended up on the ground and started caressing and rubbing up against each other -- even guest judge Margaret Cho was shocked, and NOTHING shocks Peg Cho. It's a damned good thing we just had those cheers about safe sex!
After it was over my friend turned to me and said, "If Raja goes home to Carmen, I am done with this show." Amen. Thankfully that didn't happen, and the pointless Carmen Carrera was sent home again, with Manila adding, "Please don't come back this time, for real." FOR REAL. If she had somehow managed to make F3, or even somehow win this thing, I would have been furious.
With Carmen gone - again - that leaves us with a strong Final 4. I think Yara's going to have pull out every trick she has up of her sleeve to survive next episode, because the show has been setting up an Alexis/Manila/Raja finale for quite some time. (I had initially assumed Shangela instead of Alexis, but I'm pleasantly surprised that's not the case.) And I think that may be the best Final 3 this show has ever seen.