“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Recap Realness: The Great Bitch-Fit Bake-Off
Last week’s double elimination, while justified, was also unexpected. The harrowed way the girls hobble back into the workroom suggests that Ru should have replaced the (completely unused) Shade Tree room with an on-call therapist. With no lip sync survivor to do the job, runway champion Chi Chi takes on the honor of symbolically spritzing the mirror. (Production finishes that job, right? It feels like the kind of thing that takes time, sweat, and a squeegee. That tissue is just smearing it around.) The threat of a returning queen looms large in people’s minds: Bob makes the really good suggestion that Porkchop should get a shot, while Betty makes the really bad suggestion that everyone should be an asshole. Roll credits!
You know how I know that Robbie is going to start being unlikeable again? Because she begins the day by declaring, “It’s a new day.” Every time I hear that, it’s like the producers are jamming a needle in my eye. We’re all aware of what it means when everybody enters through the same door in a different outfit. (Though I would adore it if one day, the first image after the theme song was a talking head of someone saying, “It was really weird to spend ten minutes changing clothes with everyone in the parking lot just now. I wish World of Wonder would let us sleep.”)
But anyway, it is indeed a different day, and it dawns with a different mini-challenge. Ru releases the Pit Crew from their dungeon and allows them into the fresh air for the exact amount of time it takes to wheel a clothing rack into the room. Thus armed, the queens perform runway walks as sassy, sexy, surreal Supremes, delivering questionable fashion and highly suspicious legal advice. In a cosmic sense, this game killed Scalia, I’m sure of it. The rest of us get life from it (Bob’s inability to control her laughter is an accurate representation of my experience as well), in particular Naomi, who defies all expectations by actually delivering a wearable garment.
Since the contestants will be constantly roped into group challenges again this season, Ru announces that Miss Smalls has earned herself a spot as one of the captains. It’s time for some of that thespianism we all experimented with in college, with pun-laden scripts based incredibly loosely on the hit melodrama Empire. She’ll be competing against a team headed by the returning contestant, who is… dramatic build-up… oh please let Bob have been right… no, it’s just Naysha. Memorize her face now, because even as one of the leaders, she’s more or less a non-entity for the rest of the episode.
The casting process is of course full of shade and bitchery, but anyone who has watched this show obsessively could have written it all in advance (just like the producers probably did, honestly). People have to switch roles, catty comments get made, there’s some rivalry between the teams. The setup makes it seem like Bob and Thorgy are going to raise armies of orcs and undead against each other, but all the Lord of the Cockrings buildup has no release. If only these TV people could have less actual humanity.
During rehearsal with Ru and Faith Evans, Team Naysha is encouraged to emphasize the uncomfortable stereotypes they’re already reinforcing as hard as they can. Like, no one told the Britney impersonator not to wear a Halloween store Black Panther costume? Quite the opposite, actually: it’s all tongue pops and neck swerves as far as the eye can see. Already carrying the weight of all the Asian humor, Kim now has to do double-time and also serve Shanaynay realness. Thorgy brings the energy, precision, and overall diva quality, but mostly the scene can’t overcome its glaring lack of actual black participants.
The opposing team fares better mostly because they have Bob, who tries to single-handedly make up for the previous group’s melanin deficiency with a look-at-all-this-skin nude illusion. Taking the original script as a light suggestion (and not necessarily a good one), Ms. The Drag Queen improvises her way into the stratosphere. She can kick ass and take names without putting down her omnipresent pocketbook. Conversely, Robbie is given the “struggle” edit because of her choice to make both of her personalities white. C’mon, girl, throw us some Ebonics. We’ve got a black president for another few months!
On the following morning, however, the tables have turned. For the First. Time. In. Drag. Race. Herstory. The contestants will be roller skating down the runway. If the acting challenge was tailored specifically to BTDQ’s strengths, then this mainstage presentation has been placed directly in Robbie’s wheelhouse. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE GUYS?!) Thorgy also has some finesse in her footwear, but Bob’s Chocolate Chip Cookie ends up being so delicious that it makes you forget she can barely stand up in that off-the-rack unitard, and she easily collects a win for the week.
I don’t actually think Robbie did as poorly as the judges make out, but her refusal to tap dance earlier means that she’ll have to lip sync now. What a coincidence that the girl who’s most confident in skates is the one who will have the most opportunity to show off her tricks! It’s amazing how that happened without any manipulation or outside intervention. Her opponent is the perpetually delightful Cynthia Lee Fontaine, who is almost literally steamrolled and has to sashay away.
Now here’s the thing. I know, from a factual standpoint, that Cynthia is a terrible actor. I also know that her runway look was so haphazard that it could have been chosen by a random outfit generation machine. By the standards set for her, she empirically failed. And yet, she is infinitely more charismatic and watchable than half the queens against whom she was competing. Her misinterpretation of her lines, outlandish confidence in the garbage nonsense she presents, frog noises, Muppet faces, and insane non-sequiturs will be irreplaceable in future episodes. Treasure her cu-cu, dear audience. Hold it close to your heart. Grasp it with both hands and massage to make sure it doesn’t get hard and lumpy. It is a precious gift she has given to us, and we must honor its memory forever.
Chris Kelly performs under the drag name Ariel Italic and can be seen as one of the cohosts of Nobodies Hosting Drag Race every Monday night at Eastlands in Brooklyn, NY.