Tuesday, April 8, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episodes 7 & 8: Rupersize Me

Back-to-back episodes, but only one elimination

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 1:17 AM

It’s a testament to this show that Monday night’s two-hour extravaganza flew by with a quickness. (It would have been three hours, but the bar where I was watching decided it was more important to blare Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” than it was to turn up the volume for “Untucked,” so I’ll have to catch those later.) Both the sixth and seventh episodes continued the high overall quality of this season, with the seventh episode in particular containing several memorable moments. And although we only lost one queen tonight instead of two, I think this is a truly excellent Top 7 -- and there are at least two queens in the mix who I never expected to get half this far.

I’m still not entirely sure why the show decided to air back-to-back episodes. I suspect the non-elimination in Episode 7 may have contributed (although the series has done that before, without doubling up on episodes). But I’ll give a brief description of the action from each episode before going on to an individual analysis of the queens.

Episode 7 started with an amusing, but pointless, fake-nail/produce modeling challenge that Laganja Estranja won after motorboating a sweet potato -- as you do. The main challenge saw RuPaul splitting up the remaining eight queens into four teams of two so that they could film commercials pitching Ru’s real-life make-up line. The pairs were Laganja and Adore Delano, repping for high-school mean girls; Trinity K. Bonet and Bianca Del Rio as “working girls”; Courtney Act and Joslyn Fox as housewives; and Ben DeLaCreme and Darienne Lake as cougars. If those pairs seem odd, it’s because the show was trying to create as much drama as possible by pairing up contestants who have previously had beef with one another -- or whom the show would like viewers to believe held some grudges (I am dubious on almost all counts).

While the results were entertaining, Episode 7 was easily the weaker of the two outings due to the heavy hand of the producers casting a shadow on nearly every moment. The team assignments were just the start. The editing made it seem like every team struggled, while clearly almost all the contestants did well. The judges’ critiques were all over the damned place, and thank goodness for guest judge Leah Remini bringing some sense to the proceedings, because everyone else on panel was almost totally off base (I was especially disappointed by guest judge Lainie Kazan, who I found myself booing by the end of the show).

But most egregious was the actual placement of the teams, which bore very little reflection to reality. None of the teams full-on bombed, but somehow Laganja and Adore got the win despite being thoroughly mediocre -- Adore did better than average, but she was dragged down by Laganja’s continually weird, offputting affect. And Ben and Darienne ended up in the bottom, after the judges were indifferent to their blatantly comic take on the material. I’d like to point out that this is a show that rewarded Stacy Layne Matthews for eating chicken wings on camera during the exercise infomerical in Season 3, but now apparently cougars can’t make jokes about plastic surgery because it’s confusing or diminishes the product. OK.

To me the clear losers of the challenge were Adore and Laganja (especially Laganja), while the obvious winners were Trinity and Bianca, both of whom were hilarious. Courtney and Joslyn and Darienne and Ben fell in the middle.

The lipsynch to “Point of No Return” by Expose was fun and both queens were on point. The edit suggested that Darienne won it, as she was called safe first (probably for the faux tip-taking bit), but I thought the camera actually seemed to be trained more on Ben’s performance. Regardless, both were spared for what I consider a fairly cheap ploy on the producers’ parts to shake up Ben, and to start Ben’s underdog edit after she was such a packleader for the first half of the competition.

Side note: everyone killed that black-and-white runway, with Trinity and Adore in particular really snatching attention, and Courtney wisely changing things up with a Klaus Nomi-inspired work. So much for “resting on pretty”!

The second episode that aired tonight was MUCH stronger. This one saw a minichallenge in which the queens had to paint their chins and lipsynch upside down == just go with it -- and somehow Joslyn won despite Adore being laugh-out-loud funny during it. (I am convinced at this point that the minichallenge winners are preordained and are chosen solely on who needs a story arc/who will present the most drama.) The main challenge was a stand-up comedy routine performed in front of a room full of senior citizens. Three queens really excelled here: Darienne, Biancea, and, shockingly, Trinity. That was the really lovely surprise of this episode. Trinity’s arc throughout the show has been a performer with oodles of potential who keeps wrestling with self confidence. She was terrific in this challenge, arguably bolstered by tough love from Ru and encouraging words from Bianca (Bianca is getting SUCH a good edit on this show). But the performance was 100 percent Trinity, and it was revelatory. I expected Darienne and Bianca to be good, and they were. I expected Trinity to suck, and she was awesome.

That’s why I was surprised that the win went to Bianca -- it seemed fairly obvious -- instead of Trinity, who really pushed herself out of her comfort zone. Less successful were Courtney, who covered for her lack of comedy chops by singing a frankly underwhelming song; Joslyn, who started strong but quickly flatlined; Adore, who panicked and filled her set with a string of expletives; Ben, who surprisingly bombed the challenge (and who should have been in the bottom for this episode); and Laganja, who just totally sucked. As Michelle Visage put it, she gave us 0 humor.

Both Laganja and Adore had minimeltdowns on the runway, with Laganja’s being far more irritating to me. Basically, it came down to the fact that Laganja has been trying really hard, you guys, and back home everyone loves her. It is so difficult for her to be in this competition when all she hears is criticism, even when she’s succeeding. I am still fascinated by exactly what Laganja thought was going to happen when she went on this show. Based on her reaction, she sincerely seemed to think that she would be praised episode after episode, because any little criticism leaves her a shell of a queen. She also rejected Michelle Visage’s dead-on critique that her overly animated kiki schtick was just that -- a schtick -- and if Laganja really thinks that act is who she really is, I am concerned for her mental well being. I’ve seen porn actors with more believable personas than Laganja Estranja. (“I swear, I’ve never been with a guy before! I am straight and married!” The lady doth protest too much.)

Laganj ended up in the Bottom 2 against Joslyn, and honestly, I’m not sure that was right, either. I adore Ben, but to me she was easily the second weakest in the challenge after Estranja -- at least Joslyn got in one good joke. Ben shot off a rapid-fire series of jokes, not one of which landed. But Joslyn faced off with Laganja to “Stupid Girls” by Pink, and I got the sense for the first half of the song that Ganja had already checked out. She removed her wig within a few seconds. To me, that’s almost an automatic DQ. Things picked up after the synchronized jump split from the two of them -- that was fun -- but Joslyn overall seemed more committed, and was giving us some fairly convincing stripper-esque moves. So she stayed, while Laganja was eliminated. I can’t imagine anyone will miss her terribly. For her sake I hope she takes a seat, take a breath (not from the bong), and comes to grips with the fact that not everything is about her, and that’s perfectly fine.

That leaves a Final 7 that is, I think, one of the strongest groups we’ve ever had. Sure, there are some weaknesses in the mix. But all of these queens have surprised us in one way or another these past few months. That said, I definitely have my favorites. Some notes on the specific queens:

-Adore Delano: I continue to like Adore more and more, and she stepped up her look this week, particularly in the black-and-white runway. Polish has been her major weakness thus far, but there is obviously talent there. And the charisma is shining through more and more. Her breakdown on the runway after flubbing the comedy challenge doesn’t bode well for her going forward.

-Ben DeLaCreme: Ben had a rough go of it these two episodes, and her edit is changing from frontrunner to underdog. Michelle’s stupid “you’re too much of a character/costume" critique is such infuriating bullshit. These are DRAG QUEENS. By definition they are CHARACTERS wearing COSTUMES. If you dislike her Rose-Nylund-on-speed thing, then say that. But if you dislike Rose Nylund on speed, I question your taste level and also whether you are maybe dead inside. Still, Ben’s recent missteps actually may work to her advantage, as she can “improve” in this final third, despite the fact that she’s already an amazingly strong queen.

-Bianca Del Rio: Perfection in every way. There is literally nothing to critique about Bianca. As Bruce Vilanch said, “She’s the real deal.” That is the power of Bianca. I’m agreeing with Bruce effing Vilanch.

-Courtney Act: After getting read for “resting on pretty” last week, I expected more from Courtney these two episodes. I have defended Courtney in the past, and will continue to do so. But what I realized these episodes is that Courtney is quite calculated. Not a bad thing, but it’s also not going to be enough at this point. She didn’t trust her comedy skills to just do stand up, so she threw in a song -- a fairly unimpressive song. I suspect the internet is about to turn on Courtney for being “mean” to human Bambi Joslyn, but I had a hard time disagreeing with any of her critiques of Ms. Fox. But all that said, Courtney needs a win, or at least a Top 3 placement, very soon, or she’s not going to make the cut for the finale.

-Darienne Lake: I still think it was bullshit that Darienne and Ben were in the Bottom 2 in Episode 7, and it was no surprise that she finished in the top during the comedy challenge. That’s where she excels. The black-and-white runway was arguably her best yet. Darienne continues to get the bitter edit, but please note -- Darienne is rarely saying anyone’s names in her dismissive talking-head reaction shots. She could have been referring to the cheap toilet paper in the hotel rooms for all we know. I can’t imagine she’s overly thrilled with her edit these past few weeks, nor the fact that she’s had to lipsynch twice already. It is rare that a queen survives a third LSFYL, especially when we still have three queens in the Top 7 -- Bianca, Courtney, Adore -- who have never had to lispynch ONCE.

-Joslyn Fox: Joslyn was decent in the infomercial, and I was really hoping she’d be stronger In the stand-up. But she wasn’t. Not Bottom 2 material, but she still has yet to really slay a challenge -- and time is running out. I don’t disagree with Courtney that Joslyn’s drag isn’t really up to the level of many of the remaining queens, and Joslyn doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to elevate her game. I think she’s a sweet queen, a pretty queen, and a funny queen. I think she’s a lock for Miss Congeniality. But she has yet to fully distinguish herself in this competition, especially when compared to the likes of Bianca and Ben. Joslyn’s fans are legion, and I suspect she’ll have a great post-show career. But as for the show itself, I feel like her black horse is starting to get lathered.

-Trinity K. Bonet: Meanwhile, Trinity is surging unexpectedly in this competition. She has consistently confounded my expectations, even while often frustrating the living shit out of me. But I thought she was more or less flawless in the challenges these two episodes, and looked stunning on the runways. I don’t know how much further Trinity can go, but I’m so impressed by this queen after these back-to-back episodes.

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