We’re hitting that string of early season episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race when the frontrunners become clear, and the challenges become goofier. Our top ten tackled the age-old art of improv this week, yes, and the gap between our top and bottom performers continued to grow.
The improv challenge often devolves into screaming and humping and sloppy making out. This season is no different. The queens did their best to bring the funny to the rubooted Bossy Rossy After Dark, but, as is typical with these challenges, it left me feeling unimpressed.
I think it’s time to reengineer this challenge. Improv is a staple of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and the ability to volley with others is a required skill for any queen. The problem is these scenes too frequently rely on the same touchstones — COPS, Judge Judy, Maury, Sally Jesse Raphael, Dr. Phil. The framework yields the same types of characters (and classism) that inevitably will wear thin, even if you’re not a snowflake like me. I tend to look more fondly on the seasons that built their improv challenge around a political debate or other reality competition, etc.
However, I must admit, Ross Mathews has become a stronger performer and wittier host as the years have worn on. He often steals the spotlight among the judges with his bon mots, and he really helped tonight’s scenes keep moving.
Truthfully, he was by far the best performer of the evening, including this week’s winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Coming off last week’s slugfest between Kandy and Tamisha, the gals get the opportunity to get a lot off their chests in the annual Library mini-challenge. In what’s becoming a pattern, it’s a mostly strong showing, though few are spectacular. Elliott is the only one to really bite it, and the editors don’t do any favors making it clear how unfunny the jokes are. Gottmik gets the win, mostly for a savage read of Kandy involving the communities this season of Drag Race represents: Gay, Trans and Pug.
Then Ru announces this week’s maxi challenge: in groups, the gals will be guests on Bossy Rossy After Dark, a web-only talk show for drag queens and the people who love them, or whatever. The groups are set based on where the gals stand, so some folks are happier than others.
Team Rosé, Denali and LaLa Ri
Both Lala Ri and Denali have something to prove after the last RuPaulmark acting challenge. Rosé has the experience, of course, but a seasoned teammate is usually less of an advantage and more something to overcome. Denali and Rosé play a mother and daughter pregnant by the same imaginary man. Lala is the Marcia Gay Harden First Wives Club therapist who is — surprise! — also pregnant by the transparent babydaddy. Rosé and Denali match each other’s energy, but Lala struggles to hold her own. Overall, this was fine.
Team Utica, Olivia and Gottmik
Right off the bat, Utica looks to establish herself as an improv icon. As they review available parts, Utica underscore her professional improv and mime experience, relevant to their sketch centering around escaping a mime cult. Olivia, heretofore the most likable and magnanimous personality in the werkroom, revealed a much savvier side as she demanded the part of the near-silent mime.
Filming with Ross, Gottmik starts the scene incredibly strong. There’s a touch too much of the usual, breezy LA attitude, but she makes smart decisions about body language and facial expressions that do seem to really fit the character.
From Olivia’s entrance on, she is on. The mime makeup makes Olivia’s striking features even more captivating, and she sells every physical bit with full force. Gottmik should get more credit for being a strong scene partner, but Olivia really brought something to the set no one else came close to. (Though, I mean, it’s not like any of these are going to be up for a Mark Twain Prize.)
Utica gets stuck playing the mime’s mom, and she brings numerous unforced errors to the part. She looks beautiful, in a My Name Is Earl kind of way, but so much of it feels out of place. Why the extra long nails? Why enter with a diatribe about coffee?
The edit may suggest that Utica’s deference to Olivia was her downfall. Had she fought harder for the mime part, she would have succeeded. I don’t buy that. In interview, Utica talked about being known as a “scene stealer” in her improv troupe. You don’t want to be a “scene stealer” in improv; the collaboration is the point. Seeing Utica show up to set with a bunch of rogue ideas and bits I think says more about how she would have approached any part.
Team Symone and Kandy
Defying traditional reality TV wisdom, Kandy approaches this challenge as an opportunity to turn her personality DOWN. It seems like a bad move, and even her partner Symone is concerned as they prep. They’re playing a Paris and Nicole knockoff reuniting for the first time since their famous fallout. Kandy is subdued, but keeps the game moving. I wouldn’t go as far to say she really “stretched” for the role, but made it through successfully without reverting to some of her more natural tics.
Symone, of course, is, as always, low-key brilliant. It’s not a blowout by any means, but it’s confident and quickly paced and full of enough solid efforts to show she did her homework. Even though Symone isn’t a “comedy queen” she shares something very specific with gals like Trixie, Bianca and Jinkx. She has a rock solid signature style that makes everything she does seems special.
Team Elliott and Tina
Finally, in my least favorite sketch of the day, Tina and Elliott face off as frenemies who fell out over Tina’s massive booty. NASA is also involved? Maybe they’re in love? Elliott gives us nothing, including a surprise reveal her character got enormous breasts. Ok. The whole thing devolves into a … tickle fight? And then Tina and Elliott make out in the least sexy way I can possibly imagine. Tina does what she needs to do, but Elliott feels like she was picked out of the audience just before this, like a human one-word suggestion (with two Ts).
The runway is BEAD IT, and I could not be more excited. These runways have felt more open to interpretation, and the results have been thrilling. More on individual lewks in our rankings below.
Strong performances and runways weren’t enough to place Denali, Rosé and Gottmik in the top slots this week, so all three retire to safety.
Olivia’s ability to shine despite lacking a speaking role pushes her to the tippy top, even though I think her schoolgirl bead outfit was a bit of a letdown (and, once again, felt like a repeat of a previous runway; this time Kandy’s backpack ball lewk). Kandy gets praise for playing it a bit more subdued, and her nearly nude beaded runway with oversized satellite hat is by far her best showing on the mainstage. Lastly, Tina turns in one of her cheaper looking outfits with a series of reveals that progressively make her Mardi Gras presentation worse.
The judges, including Ts Madison, take issue with Lala Ri’s lacking in the challenge. Once again, she blended into the background, and her bodysuit has an unforgivable tear in the seams. Utica catches flak for her bizarre performance choices, but it’s hard to resist her lovely bloody beaded bride on the runway. It’s likely the runway that ultimately saved her.
That leaves Elliott. The young queen hasn’t won a ton of fans online (myself included, I know), and this week aimed to add a little depth to her story. In a revealing chat with Tina in the werkroom, Elliott opened up about her depression and difficulty connecting with others.
Whether or not that affected her performance this week, who can say? The judges are gaga for the slinky Mardi Gras flapper dress, but they are far less enamored with her improv performance.
In the end, Ru puts Elliott and Lala up for a lip sync to Kelly Clarkson’s “Whole Lotta Woman.” It’s certainly not up to some of the earlier lethal lip syncs, but both Lala and Elliott turn in a strong showing. Personally, I feel like Lala is doing DRAG, while Elliott is merely dancing, but it’s Ru’s call, not mine, and she sends Lala back to Atlanta.
To be honest, I couldn’t see Lala nor Elliott making it all the way in the competition, so it’s not like the outcome here feels particularly impactful. I hope Lala made a slew of new fans and turns this appearance into a lucrative life. She’s got the personality and star power to make it happen.
Where does that leave the rest of the gals? Let’s look at our rankings.
- I mean, obviously, Symone. The judges are routinely wowed by her runways, and she brings a professionalism and polish to every aspect of this competition. Her fashion and POV are so fresh and exciting and, most of all, beautiful. She made what chicken salad she could out of the chicken sh*t scene, and then she destroyed that runway in spectacular fashion.
- The top half of the competition is starting to settle in, but it’s a neck-and-neck race for slots 2-5. Olivia is surging after two weeks of back-to-back wins. Some may say she showed a shadier side this week … but I liked it. If she can blend her beauty, brains, ability and the fire to make it all happen, she can continue to outshine the competition.
- I hope no one is sleeping on Gottmik. When high-fashion queens can also carry comedy, it’s a powerful combo. (Think Aquaria and Gigi Goode’s legendary Snatch Games.) Gottmik’s runways are as good if not better than both of those previous fashion icons, and then to crush the reading mini-challenge AND hold strong in improv? That’s quite the skillset. I’m a sucker for a latex anal bead headpiece (reads that back yes, exactly what I meant, ok), and the way Gloria Allpink rested her head on her hands while listening intently made me chuckle every time.
- This challenge was ready-made for Tina, but … eh? Neither her performance nor her runway felt like her best this week. Sure, the sketches were stupid, but that runway was hideous. Tina is still a powerful factor in the race, but I don’t think this week will go down as a highlight. However, I’m starting to warm to Tina Burner (pun intended). The less schticky Draglish she hides behind, the easier it is to connect with her. I appreciated the way she was there for Elliott, and her vulnerability about her own experiences will only help endear her to more people.
- Rosé is getting the full Jan treatment, right? It’s almost as if Ru also enjoys seeing her snap, like she’s purposefully pushing her to the edge by teasing her with near-wins. She was fine at improv, good even, and I enjoyed the Perler Beads dress. She’s consistently strong, but still hasn’t had a show-stopping moment.
- Denali did fine in the comedy, but, again, the runway was all concept. As I said last week, I’m a bit done with Denali’s overly considered runways. The chandelier gown was beautiful, yes, but wouldn’t it have been even more gorgeous if it was less literal? It would still recall the elegant, beaded beauty of the light fixture without looking like Lumiere in some Beauty and Beast Vegas revue.
- Kandy looked her absolute best on the runway, without question. I’m actually shocked she had that in her after seeing the last few weeks. As undeniable as her runway was, her performance was less of a bullseye. It wasn’t bad, but was it really top three?
- Can Utica bounce back after two weeks in the bottom three? I’m increasingly concerned with her ability to direct and channel her weirdness to stay within the confines of a challenge. The judges have been clear with their criticisms, and Utica is going to have to prove her adaptability ASAP if she wants to remain a contender.
- Man, I am bummed to lose Lala Ri. I mean, I can’t argue with Ru’s decision here, but she will be missed. Especially on the heels of losing Tamisha Iman, saying goodbye to Lala means losing a light in the werkroom and a dependably lovable interview presence. Consider me officially a fan, and I for one cannot wait until we are all able to partake in the Lala Ri Experience live and in person. I bet it’s magical.
- I don’t want to pile on to Elliott, and the episode did a good job to give the young queen a little slack while they work some things out on their own. I buy that. I’m with the judges that she looked her utter best on the runway. (I actually think her out-of-drag outfit during the mini-challenge with the tie-dye pussybow was actually one of her best looks of the season!) I just don’t see it all coming together into a unified and coherent vision like Symone, Rosé, Tina and others have carefully crafted. I can see Elliott making a successful run on a future All Stars, a la Aja or Tatianna, but I don’t believe she’s long for this season.
How would you rank the queens?