*shakes fist angrily at the sky*
So it was the Rusical, the annual (since Season…9?) challenge of singing, dancing, and general star quality. And because literally nobody demanded it, this year’s theme was Social Media: The Unauthorized Rusical. Maybe it’s because I came in with low expectations — or really no expectations — but this was not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Everyone in the high and safe groups were good, and I even thought one of the Bottom 3 was largely really good. (Hint: it was not Kandy Muse.)
I also enjoyed the overall energy of this episode much more than I have enjoyed most of this season. From the assigning of roles onward, these queens were spicy. Even Utica — sweet, unassuming Utica! — got in on it saying, “I feel like I’m causing all this drama [by refusing to give up the role I want]. I’m really enjoying it.”
The main friction came down to good Judys Rose and Denali, both angling to get the lead role in the Rusical in the hopes of breaking out of the Safe Zone the judges keep (unfairly) putting them in. This was some Roxy Hart/Velma Kelly shit, and ultimately the two had to audition for the other queens, and the rest of the cast voted on who they liked better. That’s a recurring theme this season! Ultimately Rose was the easy winner, and she got top billing.
I won’t go into the rest of the roles — most of the girls were playing musical versions of various apps, singing songs patterned after various Broadway musicals, with a ridiculous but socially relevant 11th hour October Surprise. It wasn’t a Madonna: The Rusical. It wasn’t a Cher: The Rusical. It certainly wasn’t RATS: The Rusical. But it was also miles better than PharmaRusical or Trump: The Rusical, that’s for sure. The overall energy was good and there were some very strong performances by Rose, Denali, GottMik (they’re growing on me with each week, and I was pleased to see them do so well in a performance-based challenge), as well as Utica (I think her runway hurt her, I was really expecting much more from her looks) and, dare I say it, Tina.
I got what the judges were saying about Tina blowing her big moment at the end, but for 90 percent of that number I thought she was very strong, giving me Liza by way of Ethel Merman. It’s strange to me that the judges came so hard for her over missing that one element, considering how many things she did right. But again: storylines.
Speaking of storylines, we are now halfway through this season and Elliott is still here. Never would have expected that one, so I guess bully for her! I thought she acquitted herself fine in the challenge, and of the two taxi-inspired runway looks, she was the best.
Let’s talk about that runway, the theme for which was Yellow, Gorgeous! Once AGAIN we have queens out there serving almost identical looks. How does this keep happening? (And why is it also starting to happen on UK2? The answer there is: Sister Sister.) This week we had Tina and Elliott giving us taxi realness. I don’t know how the two of them didn’t look at each other backstage and do exactly this:
But that wasn’t all! GottMik came out in a crash-test dummy outfit, which Denali had already served up during the ball a few weeks back. How. Are these queens. Not taking a moment. And realizing. That they cannot go down the runway. In a look that is INCREDIBLY similar. To another queen from this. Very. Season? The mind boggles. I understand that they only brought what they brought, but this has never happened before on this show, with the notable exception of Season 8’s KimonoGate. All it says to me is that these queens are not creative, that they are not problem solvers. And that’s disappointing.
Speaking of problems, let’s discuss our Bottom 3: Symone, Kandy Muse, and the aforementioned Tina Burner. Three girls from the Winner’s Circle, for the very first time. It occurred to me that the first episode twist really has had a profound impact on the social aspect of this season. That group of the “winning” queens remains thick as thieves, while the B Team has kind of splintered. Rose and Denali do their own thing, while Elliott and Utica are kind of on their own islands. (Utica in particular mentioned in “Untucked” that she feels like the cliques this season are the rest of the cast and then her, which made me very sad. Utica seems lovely and I dislike how isolated she seems.)
I’ve already shared my thoughts on Tina, but Kandy and Symone were absolutely the correct Bottom 2. Symone was not good in the challenge, at all. The energy was low, she knew this wasn’t her strong suit and it almost seemed like she was just trying to get the challenge over with. Her runway look was chic, but for Symone…not great. And that was ultimately the judges’ critique: she wasn’t bad, but she didn’t sparkle. And when you’re Symone, and you’re capable of that kind of radiance, not sparkling is almost as bad as failing.
Which brings us to Kandy. The judges dinged her for barely turning her face to the judges during the performance, her outfit — which was a real Chico’s Kind of Day fantasy, and by “fantasy” I mean “depressing cubicle reality” — was falling apart, and she seemed unpolished. You mean, she gave you exactly what she’s been giving you this entire season? Unfocused, uninspiring performances? Which you have largely been praising her for, while ignoring other girls who are performing better? I don’t know why you’re gagging so, she fails to bring it to you just about every ball, darling. There were some shots of her in that challenge that made me gasp, they were so unflattering. And again, I could barely understand a word of her lyrics. (Her Beyonce Lemonade look was the prettiest I think she has looked on the show, but I personally thought the make-up was distractingly shiny under the runway lights.)
So the Bottom 2 ended up being besties Symone and Kandy battling it out to Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$.” These were two very different approaches to the song, and I thought both had merits. Both of them had great energy. It was EASILY the best Kandy has performed on this show, possibly ever. She had some good moves (I’m not counting the Eureka Kick TM because we’ve seen it, we’re done with it, we need something more). The lipsynch was on point. The only part where I take issue — and she has done this several times now — is when Kandy gets on the floor. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing down there, but I’m pretty sure it’s not translating on TV. I’m choosing my words very carefully here.
Symone, meanwhile, took a less physical approach to the song and served us attitude. It was on point, it was confident cool. It was striking. But Kandy was really bringing it. If Kandy didn’t have her tummy time floor interlude, and if this wasn’t Kandy’s second time in the B2 (would be third if they had a B2 in Episode 2), Symone could have very well lost this.
But she didn’t. Symone was declared the victor, and then RuPaul blessed us and saved the season by telling a tearful, but very grateful, Kandy Muse to sashay away. And just as Kandy was about to turn the corner to go back to the Werk Room, Ru said to stop — she wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. And she made it a double shantay.
God. Dammit. Ru.
I truly believe that this is a case where the producers and editors completely misread how the fandom would react to a queen. I think they genuinely thought the majority of viewers would love Kandy. That is not my experience, nor the experience of virtually anyone else I know. In fact, most of what I saw tonight were people infuriated that Ru and the show once again protected a grating queen who is essentially an attention black hole. So long as Kandy is around, I feel like this season is going to revolve around her. (Although interestingly, the cast itself seemed gutted when she was eliminated.) If she was performing at a level to justify that, fine — I had no issue with Bob dominating Season 8, or Sharon dominating Season 4. But that is not the case here. They keep rescuing Kandy, we all see exactly what they’re doing, and it’s just…exasperating. It’s exhausting. I should not feel exhausted watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
But that is how this season is feeling. We are now 8 episodes in and we have only eliminated 4 QUEENS. There are nine left. NINE! And then — and then! They extend the season even further by pushing off the next episode (which is Snatch Game, by the way) to air a special about the queens during quarantine next Friday. Why are they doing this? To stretch the season and get those advertiser dollars, I assume. But I like to think that Ru knew I was going on vacation next week, and she said, “The devil works hard, but Eric works harder. Let’s give him the week off.” Thank you, Mama Ru. I take it all back.
I will end on a positive note: it was really lovely to see Rose finally get her win. She was fantastic in that challenge, and you could tell how much it meant to her to finally clinch that victory. I thought Michelle’s critique of her look for being orange, not yellow, was bullshit — that was clearly yellow, just a warmer shade. That said, once again I did not care for Rose’s runway and that bums me out, because I want so badly to love her style. Poor Denali has been pushed to her limit by Production shenanigans, and I’m glad she at least got a High placement this time. But they are putting her through it, and that’s why the blatant favoritism for other queens isn’t cute — it’s damaging to other queens. Maybe Denali will get her moment in the sun next week. I mean, next episode. Two weeks from now.
Here is this week’s Photo Finish fashion review, with guest host Curtis Creekmore and guest judge Gary Jackson!