Tonight’s episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” featured an absolutely packed panel. In addition to Ru, Michelle Visage, Santino Rice, and guest judges Chaz Bono, Georgia Holt (Cher’s mom), and Paula Abdul, we had the invisible producers who manipulated the top and bottom finishers, leading to one of the more outrageous eliminations we’ve seen on this show in quite a while. So let’s strap in and suck it up.
Speaking of strapping and sucking, the mini-challenge was “Hung Man,” in which the remaining seven queens -- Adore Delano, Ben DeLaCreme, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Joslyn Fox, and Trinity K. Bonet -- had to guess words based on clues and the letters that appeared on the finely toned buttocks of the expanded Scruff Pit Crew. Yes, you guys -- there were like a dozen Pit Crew members all standing there in just their underwear, and it was a beautiful sight. They’re multiplying! Like mogwai exposed to water after midnight! Can I take a few of them home? I’ll be gentle. I promise. (I’m lying.)
Ben DeLaCreme won the challenge, although I’m not sure what the prize was. (Eyelashes? I can’t remember. Pecs. Abs. Chest hair. Sausage casings. These are things that were demanding my attention.) Bottom line -- although maybe some of them were tops, I don’t know their lives -- this was a thoroughly enjoyable challenge and the queens were all hilarious. Well done, show. More Expanded Scruff Pit Crew, please! (Scruff founder Johnny Scruff also did a very good job as a brand ambassador. Take notes, douchebag from Absolut.)
The main challenge saw the limited-edition return of the late, lamented “RuPaul Show,” the talk show Ru had on VH1 for a few seasons with Visage as her second banana. I actually loved that show as a teenager. The queens had to act as fill-ins for Ru and interview Chaz Bono and Georgia Holt. I was surprised by how many of the queens seemed to struggle with this. (I say “seemed” because I attended the viewing party hosted by Darienne Lake, and she said that her interview segment went WAY better than editing suggested -- I can believe that given the shitty edit she’s been given the past few weeks. I also suspect some of the other queens did better than what we were shown.)
I’ll break down the performances queen by queen, along with an evaluation of their runway looks. This week’s runway theme was “animal kingdom,” which some of the queens rocked and some totally ignored or misinterpreted.
Adore Delano was one of the queens that seemed to miss the “animal” memo. She looked better than usual -- her runway has improved significantly over the past few challenges -- but did not read “animal” at all. She had a glittery mouth cage (striking, but irrelevant to the challengel), a skintight leather catsuit, and a kind of raggedy wig. Her talk-show performance was similarly lukewarm. She was obviously nervous and didn’t seem to be grasping the answers Holt in particular was giving her. It came off as ignorant airhead, and not in the knowing, fun way that Adore has nailed in the past.
Ben DeLaCreme returned to form this week, after two weeks of getting a (frankly implausible) underdog edit. Ben was strong in the talk-show challenge, being both personable and attentive. She killed the runway with a fly/beetle-inspired look that really commanded attention, regardless of whether she was on two feet or four. I personally felt that DeLa should have won this challenge, but the show probably wants to spread the wealth around a bit. Michelle apparently decided that Ben dressed as a bug was what she needed to show the “real Ben,” so I guess that stupid “character” critique is now a thing of the past. I suppose I’m glad about that, but it never made any sense to begin with. (Ben is a drag queen, so, you know, I kind of expect him to be playing a character and wearing costumes all the time.) I’d also like to point out that Ben made some pretty blunt comments about Joslyn at the top fo the episode. I’m curious to see how fans react, because Ben has been shown as one of the “nice queens” thus far, and yet anyone who dares to say anything remotely negative about Joslyn has been vilified. Will people turn on DeLa? I hope not.
Bianca Del Rio did not do well in the challenge, which is arguably the first time this season she has not excelled at anything thrown at her. Bianca wasn’t terrible, but (allegedly) focused too much on Chaz and not enough on Georgia. On the runway, Bianca blessedly gave us a very different look, opting for a cheetah-inspired frock and body paint. I was glad to see it, as Bianca -- though always gorgeous -- was staring to get a little samey-samey to me. I barely recognized her this week.
Courtney Act won the challenge, and I am struggling with that. I like Courtney. I defend her fairly consistently. (Most of the anti-Courtney people I have found tend to be boosting Joslyn, and the two of them have had basically the same level of performance but VERY different expectations. Joslyn has benefited from this, while Courtney has suffered.) I thought Courtney was good or better this challenge. She was very polished and professional in the interview, and you could tell that the subjects were engaged by it all. But I thought her energy level was way too low for a talk-show gig. She wasn’t bubbly or bright or charming, she was just being a good listener and asking decent questions. Again, a solid performance.Top 3, based on the competition. But win? I don’t see it. It’s possible that her stunning eagle runway pushed her over the top. That’s an iconic look, for sure. But I think Ben’s insect was right up there, and Ben’s challenge performance was stronger. But Courtney needed a win at this stage to justify her continued place in the competition leading up to the finals. I just wish the producer manipulation wasn’t so obvious.
Darienne Lake was fine in the challenge, although she did come off as nervous in the sections they showed us. But she did seem to have a rapport with Georgia at the very least, while Chaz was giving her basically nothing with which to work. (Darienne did not seem like a fan of Chaz’s based on the comments at the viewing party.) The runway look was Babar Couture and I thought it was a successful interpretation of the theme.
Joslyn Fox was a bomb across the board this episode. Her performance in the challenge literally led to multiple facepalms on my end, with cringe-inducing references to Cher coming out of and delivering babies from vaginas and then making at least two pointed references to abortions. Painfully bad, and the “wonk wonk” titty thing seemed totally out of place in this context. When your breast grabs are more offputting than abortion jokes, you know you are in trouble. Joslyn also came out on the runway wearing something that had no discernible connection to animals, made a point of showing her ass once again, and also gave us a look at her “meaty tuck.” (Note to self: new blog name.) It was bad. Across-the-board bad. There is absolutely no question that Joslyn should have been in the Bottom 2, and probably going home. But she didn’t even have to lipsynch, and I hope she sent a nice fruit basket to the producers, because that was all blatant behind-the-scenes manipulation. I like Joslyn, but at this point, her continued presence in this competition is becoming a problem. Not only has she yet to win a challenge, but she’s not taking notes from the judges (surprise: another largely naked runway look) and she is outliving queens who have put in overall better quality of work. The crowd at the bar at which I watched the show was stunned that she survived this episode.
Trinity K. Bonet, meanwhile, got totally boned. Granted, Trinity blew the challenge. Her dull speaking voice put her at an automatic disadvantage, and she didn’t seem to have much of a rapport with Chaz or Georgia. Most egregiously, she kept referring to Chaz as “Chad,” which…no. Terrible mistake. But the runway look was absolutely sickening, a kind of glamour pheasant (note to self: another possible blog name) that was regal and sexy at the same time.
I don’t disagree with Trinity ending up in the Bottom 2. Forgetting your guest’s name is a colossal talk-show faux pas. But the fact that she was put up against Adore to lipsynch to Paula Abdul’s “Vibeology”? Total bullshit. (Both the song, and the decision.) Adore wasn’t great tonight, but Joslyn was worse in every possible way. The only ] explanation comes down to producer-driven storylines. This was Trinity’s third appearance in the B2. It is very rare indeed for a queen to escape that lipsynching black hole. My guess is that they wanted to shake Adore up a bit, since she was clearly one of this season's darlings (understandable -- I’ve grown quite fond of Adore over the past month or so), and also to show the viewing audience how she could perform in a LSFYL. But I don’t think Adore had any real danger of going home this week. Trinity was basically marked for death from the get-go. Had it been the equally expendable (in the producers’ eyes) Joslyn, however, Trinity MIGHT have lived another week. But against a favorite like Adore? Nope. Trinity sending Adore home doesn’t fit in with the increasingly obvious plan for the season.
I’m not saying that Adore did poorly in the lipsynch. She actually acquitted herself better than expected, and had a few great moves. But the edit of the battle obviously favored her, so we don’t know what Trinity was actually serving. Given Trinity's previous two lipsynchs, this was a fairly tepid affair for her. I also noted that few of the remaining queens chimed in with talking heads on who was winning. That’s telling.
So, Trinity sashayed away, and Adore stayed. Trinity was extremely classy in her exit, which is not surprising. That queen has had such an interesting arc on this show. I dismissed her out of hand at first. She impressed with her runways. She annoyed with her work-room attitude but pulled through in the challenges. She wowed us with her lipsynchs and then came roaring back with two terrific performances in the commercial and comedy challenges. And on “Untucked” she alternated between frustrating self doubt and surprisingly mature insights into the other queens.
I’m so glad we got a chance to get to know Trinity, and I think this season was stronger for having her as part of it. Good on Ru and the show for championing such a surprising queen. But that’s why it’s all the more frustrating to see her dropped so bluntly when the storyline dictated it, even though the performances didn’t back that up (see also: Carrion, April). That’s the danger of introducing viewers to such a great bunch of contestants. We’re not stupid. We see what you’re doing. If you want to be upfront about it, that’s fine. But let’s not pretend we don’t know exactly what happened tonight.
Next episode: weddings, makeovers, Neil Patrick Harris, and allegedly some serious runway shade.