TV

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: Drag Me To Michelle

This week the queens served up a feast.

My legendary children, this week’s Drag Race is the sort of episode you remember: iconic challenges, self-referential herstory making, and a high laugh-per-minute rate. It centred entirely around a repeat of the iconic RuPaul roast from Season Five.

Except this time the subject of the jokes was RPDR judge and RuPaul BFF, Michelle Visage. Her reaction GIFS are a thing of beauty, so I’m looking forward to overusing ones from this ep.

MICHELLE REACTION

“I don’t wanna see a roast (it’s the sight that I fear most)” – Michelle Visage.

The Setup

As predicted by me, oft-published RPDR expert, the mini-challenge returned in time for Reading is Fundamental, the Paris is Burning-inspired exercise in which the queens read one another after Ru declares “the library is open.”

This mini-challenge is almost as important as Snatch Game in helping you determine your top three. Which isn’t to say the season winner has to rule the library, but just as important as landing a read is learning to take one. This week, Alexis Michelle made a fuss over the queens making jokes about her body.

Hot on the heels of the body image chat in the workroom a few weeks back, Alexis was in a way justified in calling out the jokes… so why is it when she does it, it comes off as an insincere attempt at centring herself in a drama? This is Alexis’ MO (lest we forget IfYouSeeSomethingSaySomethingGate on Untucked). Meanwhile, she continued to make whorephobic jokes about Farrah Moan and no-one jumped on that, so… intersectionality FTW, ladies!

ALEXIS LIBRARY

…Eye rolls?

Here’s the thing about reading a queen for her size – it can’t be the joke, it needs to inform the joke. Ever since “backrolls” entered the RPDR lexicon it has been abundantly clear that the queen needs to be in on it. In countless library mini-challenges, unfunny contestants have read larger queens and come off just mean. If you’re going to do it, do it like Sharon Needles who read the beloved Jiggly Caliente with “Jiggly, you’re such a fat slut, after sex you smoke hams.”

The Challenge

So this week, Michelle Visage was getting roasted by the queens, which is a change from her usual Friday night: getting spitroasted by the crew.

Just kidding, every crew member on Drag Race is gayer than Ross Mathews on a date with Huckleberry Hound.

Just kidding, Ru hasn’t made Ross famous enough to score a date with Huckleberry Hound.

But seriously, RuPaul: I can’t think of anyone who has done more to support the gay community than you… although your personal contribution has been a lot less, ever since they shut down rentboy.com.

Speaking of getting paid to pretend you like someone: Michelle Visage, ladies and gentlemen.

Lots of people make fun of Michelle’s face because it doesn’t move, but how could it – it’s been surgically attached to Ru’s ass for years.

You know, Michelle Visage is a lot like Drag Race: colourful, over the top and more than a hundred men have had their go…and most of them get shown the backdoor.

NOW THAT’S HOW YOU DO A ROAST. Take note, queens. Ever since CoCo Montrese won the last RuPaul roast by playing Ru’s ghetto cousin from the Brewster projects, queens think they can hide behind a character in the standup comedy challenges.

This week, we proved once and for all that CoCo fluked it by bringing a character to the standup challenge. I get it, standup comedy is hard (no doubt slightly harder with your balls tucked up inside your body). But like Snatch Game, the standup challenge lets us know who the gifted comedians are. Here are the roasters who crackled, and the ones who came off a little frozen in the middle.

PEPPERMINT ROAST

(Pepper)mint goes great with roasted meat.

After a so-so Snatch Game, I wrote Peppermint off as a gifted improviser and comedic performer, but this week she not only roasted Michelle Visage, she carved her up and served her on a silver platter. Peppermint won the week, up against the naturally gifted Shea and resident clever-clogs Sasha.

VALENTINA ROAST

Valentina served us honey-glazed ham this week.

Latin America’s Sweetheart Valentina did well this week. Not as good as some of her colleagues, but not as bad as you might think the perpetually smiling ingenue might go. At this stage, Valentina is due for another win to remind us why she deserves a spot in the top three for more than just her flawless looks and for inspiring the meme of the season (sorry Aja).

TRINITY ROAST

Red(neck) for filth.

Many have been raving about pageant queen turned top three potential Trinity Taylor, but this week she tried to repeat the redneck shtick she used to win the Princess challenge…and failed. Nina Bo’Nina Brown also went for a character, which thanks to her “bushfire alert” dry sense of humour came off better than Trinity. Neither of them made the bottom two, however.

ALEXIS ROAST

A lesser writer, blind to this week’s subplot around body image, might make a “love child of Kermit and Miss Piggy” joke here.

Alexis’ roast and Wicked look were a masterclass in defying hilarity. This Broadway queen reminded us being trained in musical theatre is not a guarantee of standup success. She just kept saying Michelle’s name? Anyway, Alexis ended up in the bottom two and one hopes it makes her a little more humble.

FARRAH ROAST

Farrah’s roast was all clanger, no banger.

It’s hard not to pick apart this roast. Farrah has been consistently struggling through the competition, and this week’s challenge was perhaps her lowest point. I will never be able to forget her cringeworthy final line, “Now that Michelle’s dick breath has stunk up the stage…” She earned her spot in the bottom two, poor thing.

The Lip Sync

Confession: until I watched Alexis Michelle’s green lip synch, I didn’t know how badly I needed to see Marcia Gay Harden play Elphaba in the Palm Springs Players’ production of Wicked. Alexis mum-danced her way across the stage to that Dolly Parton hit like it was three hours after speeches at her stepdaughter’s wedding, and I was there for it.

Sometimes, Ru throws one queen a bone at the lip synch (see: Season Four where Chad Michaels got handed an age-appropriate Wynnona Judd number and Chi Chi’s Dreamgirls coup). Had Farrah and Alexis gone head to head with a lip synch from anything this year, decade, or millennium, who knows what would have happened. But sometimes the Gods have a hand in the fates of these mortal queens, and this week ZeusPaul wasn’t fucking around.

Farrah finally got sent home, her final critique from Michelle summing it up perfectly: Farrah was a gorgeous young queen, yet to know herself. And if you can’t know yourself, how the hell are you gonna know how to win RPDR.

This Week’s Real Winner Is…

The lifespan of a post-All Stars 2 RPDR. At the top of the season, it was unclear whether or not the show could sustain itself after what I call the Drag Race Golden Era came to an end. Alaska’s crowning symbolised the end of a particular chapter in the show’s broader narrative, and where to from there was anyone’s guess. Not unlike a teen drama “going to college”, the familiar aspects of the show were still there but now in a changed environment – not so much in format, but in feeling.

This season, we have seen the show respond directly to its rapid increase in fandom, and the difficulties that brings (leave your snake emojis in the comments if you disagree) by injecting more kindness, community-minded topics (this week touched on the genuine atrocities against LGBTIQA people taking place in Russia) and empathy-engendering edits within the broader competitive format. The show has always had heart, but this season has felt less cloying, and more genuine. While that may lose some die-hard followers, perhaps the new approach stands to gain RPDR even more fans as it matures.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is fast-tracked from the US each Saturday on Stan. Read more Drag Race recaps here.

Nic Holas has written for The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Archer Magazine, and Hello Mr. You can find him on Twitter @nicheholas, or in his role as co-founder of HIV movement The Institute of Many.