Open wide, because this episode Ru gave us quite the teabagging with 42 LOOKS (I hope you read that in the same tone as Yuhua Hamasaki’s “FIVE NEW YORK GIRLS?!”) spread between not one but two balls. That’s a lot of fashions. Or, at least, clothes. And while there were notably few misses, there were also notably few megawatt moments on the runway. An interesting feeling that reminds me of Detox’s verse from “Read U Wrote U” — “I ain’t sayin’ I’m the best, but I’m not the worst.” Will that ultimately be the defining characteristic of Season 14? Better than Season 13, better than Season 11, but beyond that…what else have you got?
Before we got to the balls, there were two important pieces of production interference — I mean, “twists” — that we needed to get out of the way. First, if you have even a basic grasp of math, you know that 42 looks doesn’t work out evenly if you divide it between the 12 queens remaining after E2. (Fun fact, the person who did the official synopsis of this episode didn’t make that connection and basically spoiled the twist weeks ago when it went up on VH1’s website.) That’s because Ru delivered twist 1 by bringing back both eliminated contestants from the split premieres, Orion Story and Daya Betty, pretty much immediately and with little to no fanfare. People have conflicting feelings about this, and I get it. I think some of us have PTSD after Season 13, where I believe it was something like four nonelim episodes within the span of 6 weeks. It felt like the competition was never getting started. And that cast was a lot less likable than this one is. But I also think it really is unfair for both of those queens to have been booted when their odds were 1/7 versus 1/14. And at least one of them showed us this episode that they have a lot more to give. I’ll leave you to decide who that may be. (Hint: it’s not the one who immediately ended up in the bottom again.)
Twist 2 is something completely bonkers, that has the potential to make or break the season. Ru announced to the girls that they’re really leaning into this Candyland promo theme by having each girl select a RuPaul chocolate bar (HELLO WHERE CAN I BUY ONE OF THESE?) and hold on to it. When/if they lipsynch for their life, and they lose, they will then open the wrapping of the bar. ONE of the bars has a Wonka-like golden ticket that will automatically inject them right back into the competition. If it’s a regular old chocolate bar, they’re out (but on the plus side, at least they have delicious chocolate to eat on the taxi ride to the airport). There is speculation that this was a fail safe put in place to protect specific queens production didn’t want to go home. If it’s true that the bars really were random, and that the queens actually had custody of their bars the whole time (although I hope they don’t lipsynch with them actually on their person, that seems very…melty to me), I don’t see how that works. I do think it makes eliminations more unpredictable. Usually when you watch the lipsynch you have a pretty good idea who is going home. Now, even if a queen fully bombs, she could get spared. That intrigues me.
As for the balls themselves, each group of queens from the split premieres was assigned a specific theme. Premiere 1 got animal prints, Premiere 2 got red, white, and blue. The basic categories were the same in both (resort wear, evening gown, wedding gown that they had to make themselves). I like the idea of splitting up the aesthetics in a group this big, but I wish the categories themselves were more exciting. I think it was a spectacularly bad idea to make the last look — which they had to make themselves in the work room — a wedding gown. A recurring criticism was, “I don’t see wedding gown.” They had to use animal prints and red, white, and blue fabrics. How many wedding gowns do you see that are not overwhelmingly white? I also need for Drag Race as a franchise to retire the red/white/blue color thing for a while, I feel like it’s been used for promos and design challenges numerous times in the past two years (and I’m pretty sure we’ll see it again when Philippines launches soon). I’m over it. There are other colors.
I will not bother going through ball performances for each queen, as — yawn. I will reiterate that there were very few total disasters (although in a few cases I thought the looks, while decent, didn’t quite meet the assignment — notably Bosco). Consider that a year ago we had Lala Ri’s bag look for this same challenge. There was nothing even close to that monstrosity here, for good or ill. But there were also very few real WOW looks. I did think that at least half the queens gave us at least good handmade garments, but even the Top 3 lacked the punch that, say, Utica’s sleeping bag look gave last time. Possibly because they were all forced to make wedding gowns, which was, again, a very limiting brief.
The tops for the challenge were Willow Pill, who wisely took unexpected approaches to animal prints; Angeria Paris VanMichaels, who gave us polished pageant-appropriate looks in each category; and Jorgeous, who gave us a very simple first look, a stunning second one, and a wedding gown that was only nominally a wedding gown (but very sexy all the same). Willow won, but it easily could have been Angeria. I just think Willow was a bit more creative in her approach, and Ru also LOVES Willow.
The bottom three were Orion Story, who was rightly dinged for having way too many ideas going on (I also didn’t think her resort look worked at all, and she has to watch the way she paints because she often comes off looking like she’s on the verge of tears); Maddy Morphosis, who should get credit for making all the looks she wore even if the first looked right off the rack, the second lacked pizazz, and the third was a bit…folksy; and June Jambalaya, who looked great in Look 1, could barely walk in Look 2, and was so obviously uncomfortable in Look 3 (she does not know how to sew, at all) that she refused to allow the judges to see the front of it the entire time she walked the runway.
It was the correct Final 3, but I’m not sure it was the right Bottom 2. Orion was spared, I think in part because they didn’t want a rematch of the same B2 from Week 1. I also think the producers wanted to scare Maddy, who they obviously cast for storyline reasons and probably expected to go far, into stepping up her game. We’ll see if that works, because she survived the Kylie Minogue lipsynch against June Jambalaya. In truth, June gave us a stronger performance. However, June also 1) had her outfit falling off her body and laying all over the stage; 2) removed her wig to perform in the world’s saddest bus driver wig; 3) REMOVED HER SHOES which is basically automatic DQ in my book (and Ru’s too, I think). Sis turned that stage into a Filene’s Basement clearance rack, and in the end, she was the first actual elimination of Season 14, as her bar of chocolate did not contain the golden ticket. (Shout out to the brutal sad trombone sound when that information was revealed. I would like that on my phone.)
June herself acknowledged that she probably was not at a point where she should have been competing on this show. Two years in drag. She has all the enthusiasm in the world, but not the skill set yet to bring that to bear. I hope June continues to perform and grow. She is a sweet, likable queen and I think she has potential. Her promo look was one of my favorites. But the jambalaya needs to simmer, and the Race must move on.
Next: an acting challenge based off of dramatic Drag Race moments. Now THAT has potential.
Don’t forget to join us Saturdays at 2pm on Twitter Spaces as we discuss each new episode! Follow @culture_debate for more details!