‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: Six Bottoms? I Think They Just Call It A Sad Orgy
This was an absolute train-wreck.
It’s week three of Season 11, and this RuCap is already encountering a serious problem: it requires every amount of restraint I have to not lead each article with a screen-cap of Vanessa Vanjie Mateo.
Miss Vanjie is so good. Much like Alyssa, everything that comes out of her mouth is gold — regardless of whether it makes sense. Plus as a RuGirl, she’s got the funds to level up her looks to match that extravagant personality, which means she’s absolutely obliterating this competition: she easily could have nabbed wins this or last week, but the show is trying to spotlight other queens.
But when she thanked herself during the challenge this week instead of Britney Spears, I was right there with her.
This week’s challenge — a two-team live acting challenge where the queens hosted a evangelical talk show dedicated to the pop diva of their own choice — was one of the best the show’s done in a hot minute.
Like Nina West says, “this is the meat of Drag Race“. Unfortunately, the meat had been left out of the fridge for about three or four days and had maggots in it, as Team Mariah was the biggest train-wreck the show has ever seen, taking the title off Season 7’s Shakesqueer episode. Sorry Laquisha Keeanne.
Mariah… The Too Elusive Chanteuse
Despite my proselytising for Vanjie, Nina West is set up to win this week from the get-go of the episode, but it’s deserved — and a nice moment too, since we’ve had Big Name queens come in before (Kelly Mantle, Mayhem Miller) and not deliver the talent they’re loved for in the real world.
Having said that, it’s clear that Silky Ganache once again won the mini-challenge for barging the set and just opening the door to get into the Seduction concert, but they couldn’t give a three week streak. Even though Silky is leaning a little lumpy after this week’s upsetting, somewhat violent outburst on Untucked (more on that later), she’s absolutely killing these little bits and her screen-time.
The two teams for this week’s challenge are Britney and Mariah. Team Mariah is Shuga, Ra’Jah, Honey, A’keira, Plastique and Scarlet — Britney, from what we’ve seen, was naturally a little stronger for this kind of challenge, but there was no reason why Mariah needed to flop so hard.
They just Did Not Know Her. They thought ‘So Emotional’ was a her song.
Which is frustrating, for sure. Knowledge is the key to this challenge, and RuPaul essentially tells them in the workroom that they need to change tact if they want to make it. In their defence, shamelessly stanning a pop star you know next-to-nothing about is, to let you in on a secret, an integral part of gay culture.
Do I love Reba McEntire? Absolutely. Could I name a single song? Does it matter?
For queer men, diva worship can be an escape into the strengths of powerful, over-produced femininity, an idolisation of the traits and tendencies we have beat out of us.
Thesis’ are devoted to the distinctly queer art of drag queens lip-syncing — of letting someone else speak for you and being beloved for embodying what on a day-to-day we need to hide. It’s why straight-washing efforts like Lip Sync Battle are so soulless: they lack the depth of something being both completely dumb and incredibly powerful at the same time.
Which brings us back to ‘When You Believe’, the Mariah worship show.
While you might’ve been yelling ‘Where. Are. The. Jokes’ at your television, the lack of laughs is only partly to blame for why Team Mariah was so painful to watch. Without a genuine love for Mariah, the whole segment felt incredibly mean-spirited in a way that that ‘It’s Britney, Bitch Network’ didn’t, even with its references to car-seats and shaved heads.
Every crack about Mariah’s ‘fake whistle-tone’, Glitter (sorry, I mean ‘Sparkle’) or ‘technical difficulties’ lacked the understanding that Lambs flock to Mariah in part because, not in spite of, that her ridiculous voice is matched by an out-of-this-world presence.
We simply have to stan her love of lingerie and chaise longues, this photo, her refusal to admit culpability for that New Year’s Eve performance, the utter mess that was Mariah’s World, ‘I Don’t Know Her’, forgetting how to read, fighting herself in the ‘Heartbreaker’ music video.
There were a few moments where that idea was there — Plastique’s ‘fish turned demon’ convertor character was a pretty solid parody of contemporary stan culture, even if it missed the mark a bit and I will forever have to call her ‘𝔄ℜℑ𝔄𝔑𝔄 𝔊ℜ𝔄𝔑𝔇𝔈’ from now on.
But ultimately, it all felt too similar to the dark side of diva worship, where queer men treat women as objects first, people second (for The Guardian last year, Brian O’Flynn explored this in full, and it’s well worth a read).
Team Britney, on the other hand, were an absolute delight to watch. The amount of references they got in were so impressive, and so celebratory, too. It was such a smart choice, given Britney’s multiple epochs over the past 20 years offer a lot to pull from. Plus, since she’s a Southern, Christian girl, it felt right for these evangelical belles to preach on her behalf.
It was pretty much perfect, though we do Need To Talk About Mercedes. It’s hard to watch the queens on this show struggle to shine, and as we learnt last week, Mercedes is wrestling with a lot internally. There were a few particularly uncomfortable moments this past episode, such as when Mercedes was semi-forced into playing an African stereotype.
It was clear that Yvie and the girls were trying to help Mercedes find an easy schtick to coast through the week, but there was something a little ...off about the way Ariel told her to make a joke about “only having spears” at her home, which is just ‘Africa’, we guess? The moment follows on from last week where Brooke Lynn essentially told Plastique to do a Vietnamese accent, which, because she was down for, ultimately landed fine.
Mercedes seemed less comfortable with it, and while we’re not sure exactly to do with this information, it feels like the show is sowing seeds for a bigger conversation/blow-up about the way queens are rewarded for indulging in stereotypes, though time will tell.
Mercedes’ other main moment this episode was when she walked away from the girls when they were asking about her Islamic faith — more than fair enough when you’re working with someone who thinks you’re ‘Mausoleum’, not ‘Muslim’. The editor’s choice to include her confessional about not liking to talk about her faith felt pointed though, and it seems like they’re building up a storyline here. We’re guessing it might need to be resolved next week.
This week’s runway theme wasn’t the most exciting — fringe is a little simple, but some queens ran with it all the same.
Meanwhile, Ariel comes out in the same outfit she’s wearing every single week, Silky dances around the stage to hide a so-so look, and Mercedes’ neon fringe is best left out of this article. A’Kiera is stunning on the run-way, and her and Ra’Jah are fast becoming personal favourites for their confessionals.
After deliberation, the entirety of Team Mariah is made to lip-sync. It’s an absolute stunt, and none of the queens can really perform to full capacity. As Scarlet puts it, how are they supposed to perform without smashing another queen in the face? Alternatively, as Ra’Jah says, it’s the perfect time for a “Tonya Harding moment”, though in the end, it’s Honey who sabotages herself by jumping off the stage and seemingly coughing up a hairball on all fours.
She’s desperate to stay, and it overwhelms her performance in the wrong way.
Having seen Honey perform live before, it’s a shame her talent didn’t quite make itself onto the screen. On Untucked, we see her collapse backstage post-elimination, weeping into the floor. It’s absolutely brutal, as is watching Silky’s bizarre meltdown at the queens backstage.
Her team calls her out for throwing them under the bus during the workroom chat to RuPaul and acting a little cold after the team picked Britney as their queen-of-choice, and she goes on the straw man defence of complaining the challenge felt disrespectful to her Christian upbringing.
At one point, she stands up and tears off her outfit to reveal another, absolutely bellowing ‘I was ready to lip sync!’, a point which has no relevance. It’s all incredibly aggressive, especially since no other queen is shouting.
It’s a little scary to watch — and given her no-boundaries behaviour with the celebrities back-stage and an allegation of sexual assault against her, Silky has soured a bit in our books. We’re not cancelling her, but we’re confused as to where the show’s taking us, since she’s clearly RuPaul’s favourite.
If you aren’t watching Untucked, you really are only getting half the story. Plus, we get to see drag queens smoke out the back of a film lot, which fills cravings I never knew I had.
Next week’s challenge is ‘Trump: The Rusical’, which prompted groans from the three different groups of people I watched it with. Love!
RuPaul’s Drag Race streams on Stan, with new episodes dropping Friday 3pm.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.