‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: Stay Golden, Girl

Scarlet Envy? More like, um, Scarlet... Sad!!

After a few iffy weeks, Drag Race has gone for gold, though Scarlet Envy’s fanbase is seeing red. More like Scarlet… Sad… that her audience are racist pieces of shit. Yep, nice one.

Sorry to start here, but it’s pretty frustrating that Ra’Jah O’Hara is receiving death threats across social media for winning a lip sync. Season in, season out, the fanbase is exceedingly acidic (toxic, if you will) towards the queens, particularly when they’re not the white ones they want to fuck.

Look, I have so many feelings about this show that I wormed my way into making it my job to watch it — and was super sad to see Scarlet, who has massively grown on me, go — but come on, mates.

This is a shame, because the actual episode itself was excellent — we had a completely irreverent mini-challenge, lots of walk-room moments, plenty of drama, a gigantic ‘Draglympics’ challenge, and, no Carson “how many enema jokes can I make, no drag knowledge mouth” Kressley. Turns out great TV just means endangering the contestants’ bodies.

Drama, Conflama

Tensions start high straight away, as Yvie Oddly smirks while telling Vanjie and Silky they need to address the judges’ respective critiques — same silhouette, and not serving spooky in last week’s Monster Ball.

Even though Yvie’s points are perfectly valid (Vanjie could mix up her looks with the provided sewing tools, for example), she’s undoubtably pretty abrasive, and it’s easy to imagine it would wear you down in that environment.

Her posturing reminds me a little of Violet Chachki in early Season 7: a little too brash, but ready to listen when called out on it, as Yvie was on this week’s Untucked. It’s a neat narrative for a clear front-runner — and boy, did Yvie serve narrative this week, between her feuds and opening up about her Ehlers-Danlos, and living with an invisible, incurable disability.

More on that later. The mini-challenge — an ’80s “Galisthenics” aerobics challenge — is just plain fun, a lot less contrived than previous weeks. Even though the girls are high-energy, the star is the class leader, the delightfully unhinged Love Conney, who, by the way, is the gay in Legally Blonde‘s “Bend & Snap” scene (a living legend! we stan!). This is old-school drag comedy, packed with puns, terrible jokes and a dark, menacing energy. There’s too many moments to pull out, but my favourite gag has to be Conney calling some queens by their name, but most just by what they’re wearing. What a power move.

Love Conney recreating how he left her mother’s womb.

Plastique and A’keria are this week’s mini-challenge winners, and become the team leaders for this week’s maxi-challenge, the Draglympics. Out of the gate, A’keria’s team, Tuckpakistan, is evidently stronger: she’s picked contortionist Yvie, former ballet dancer Brooke, Silky, and is lumped with Shuga.

Plastique’s team, representing the fine land of Genovia Glamazonia, is a little shaky. Plastique’s from the House Of Edwards, so can clearly move, and Vanjie’s proven herself too, but Ra’Jah’s struggled in most challenges, Nina’s a little out of her depth, and ‘not a dancer but not not a dancer’, Scarlet is so out of her depth that her Monster I’d Like To Freak may as well drag her to drown in the black lagoon. But God bless her, she tries so, so hard.

Choreographer Travis Wall is back to prepare the teams for the three technical categories, which are fanography, voguing and shablam (aka a death drop, aka a dip). Adam Rippon is there too.

Much like Trump: The Musical‘s Yanis Marshall, Wall is shady but sweet, but it’d be nice for the show to include vogue choreographers and ballroom figures here like Dashaun Wesley or Leoimy, rather than a white dude with max appreciation but little connection to that world. Drag Race largely treats the ball scene like a relic of ’90s New York, confined to Paris Is Burning quotes, ignoring that it’s a thriving community that continues to grow, push the form outwards, and provide a home for the queer community’s most persecuted.

“It’s called a dip, not a death drop!”

The queens are absolutely pressed by this week’s challenge, which, like Season 9’s gymnastics challenge that sent Eureka packing with a popped kneecap, is super physically taxing.

Given last time, it’s surprising they pushed Yvie into this position of risking her health, though it’s clear she doesn’t want her illness to be used against her: when Wall asks her if she’s okay, she omits her condition and says she hurt her body a few weeks back. It’s the sort of white lie a lot of people living with invisible illnesses are well-versed in, and the show lets the moment linger without overdramatising it. Possibly because the drama comes later.

After Plastique’s group struggles through rehearsal, Yvie offers more on what her life’s like with Elhers-Danlos, explaining that it’s likely she’ll be in a wheelchair in a decade’s time. Her description of her constant pain is eye-opening for a lot of her sisters without being trauma-porn, and it lends context to her drive.

Yvie, who is 24, feels like she has to give it her all now, because she’s losing ability to match her creative dreams with her physical ability to achieve them. It also explains her abrasiveness with the other queens. She has no time for excuses because she refuses to live with them.

The other big moment was Vanjie’s vulnerable moment, admitting she feels she’s failing RuPaul and herself by not living up to her potential. Vanjie hasn’t been coasting by any means, but six weeks in, she’s fanging for a win. Hearing her voice soften through tears is heartbreaking, so removed from the foghorn we’re used to.

The challenge is spectacular to watch. While A’keria’s team are given the winner’s edit, Plastique’s is damn good too — both teams fumble in moments, but overall, it’s high energy, entertaining and laugh-out loud funny. And Yvie and Brooke’s double-jump into the splits? I mean, come on.

Artists’ depiction of the show’s producers writing Scarlet’s storyline.

Again with the Season 7 similarities, but the choice to make the queens dance to those DJ Shyboy remixes put the girls in a position where they spit out lines from previous queens, rather than presenting fresh sound-bytes or ideas. This time, it worked rather than overshadowed thanks to the stellar performances. Plus, the Garageband remxies chopped quotes from the show’s entire legacy instead of the past few years. More people need to know that Tammie Brown is out there, walking children in nature.

Stream Golden Hour By Kacey Musgraves

This week’s runway, ‘All That Glitters…’,  is Season 11’s third colour-theme, following on from white and orange. It’s not the most creative prompt, but I don’t care, because there were so. many. toots.

A’keria better RuPaulogise before she gets a cease-and-desist: this look is truly RuPaul, but better?

Plastique is that high school friend who still writes ‘pretty xx’ on your Instagrams, but unlike Cassandra, you wouldn’t even hide it from second-hand embarrassment.

Brooke came with a homage to her bank account.

Even this week’s apparent ‘boots’ were pretty solid, though Vanjie’s was a little lacklustre, especially after Plastique’s pretty-in-pink Playboy bunny last week. Despite what the judges said, I loved Nina’s kitschy Viking look, though mostly for the way she sold it on the runway.

Season 11 sure is horny, huh?

Jasmine Masters, this is how you serve (no) face.

A’keria wins this week, which is well-deserved. She’s a personal favourite, but hasn’t been terribly central to the show so far. Maybe that’s about to change. In terms of edits, Yvie’s another winner — she turns her crutch into a point of power, looks amazing and shows class, sass and a lot of ass. The whole ‘let’s let Yvie potentially jeopardise her health for a good storyline either way’ is a little too UnREAL for my taste, but she handles it so well.

Yvie Oddly and five fans (um, Silky is holding a fan).

The week is judged by teams, and so Shuga, who faded into the background on both the runway and challenge, is saved for another week. Instead, Scarlet and Ra’Jah face off to ‘Last Dance’ by Donna Summer, and despite breaking out the big guns — scissors, in homage to Us, glitter, in homage to Mariah Carey’s Sparkle — Scarlet is sent packing. It’s a damn shame, frankly: she’s quite an odd-ball, can act and serve a look, and has produced some of the season’s best quotes. Did you forget ‘When you feel your own oats, you forget that there are other oats there”?

Just the tip!

It felt like a potential double-sashay, but watching the lip-sync again, Ra’Jah really did do the better job. Scarlet was excellent, but she missed a massive moment fumbling with the scissors, and didn’t quite have her words down.

I originally thought the show was signalling she’d RuTurn later this season, but Untucked changed my mind. She talks about not being “quite complete” yet as a queen, and how much more she has to learn. Maybe All Stars 5, which will probably air in two weeks.

Nine queens remain, and we’re getting into the thick of it, where the show tends to really find its groove. Next week’s challenge is another design challenge, a ‘farm-to-runway’ country look. We’ll never go hungry again.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 streams on Stan from 2pm AEST each Friday.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.