“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 16, Episode 11 Recap

March 18, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

After this episode, we are finally down to the Top 6 — and it’s a good group, I think. Not the group I would have predicted after the first few episodes. But a strong group overall, with at least two obvious superstars in the mix.

But before we get into that, let’s dig into this episode, which featured a queen-superlative minigame (Sapphira won, and got a nice chunk of change along with it) and a maxi-challenge that split the queens into teams and tasked them with doing TED Talk-like parody seminars on drag in the workplace.


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I’ll go over each queen in the order of most impressive to least impressive, judging them individually on their challenge performance as well as their look for the Flashback: Drag Con 1980 runway.

Plane Jane: Plane should have won that challenge. Full stop. Plane and Q’s team was easily the most cohesive, and had the funniest jokes. It wasn’t even a contest. Plane admitted that the funniest bits for the routine — the slide featuring slides, the “clip” package — were Q’s ideas, but Plane delivered them expertly. Of the two, she was the most engaging. I would gladly watch a comedy routine by Plane if that’s the energy she brings. I wasn’t as enamored of her Drag Con 1980 runway look, but it was well constructed and I could see where shew as going with the concept. I think it was perhaps a bit overworked, but I’ll take overworked than underwhelming any day. Another great week for Plane, and I cannot stress enough that she absolutely should have won this challenge.

Q: Q was Plane’s partner in the challenge, and per Plane’s explanation, came up with many of the funnier bits. Q did well in the presentation, but I thought her energy was a bit too over-the-top for the task at hand. Still, she clearly did very well, and was easily in the Top. In my opinion, she had the best look on the runway. Not only was it 80s soap-opera villain perfection — that was Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan Dexter house down boots, from the proportions to the design elements — but she also incorporated her personal connection to the AIDS crisis that decimated the gay male population of the 1980s. The Keith Haring-inspired print, the red AIDS ribbon detail, this was flawless work by Q. And she was incredibly braving sharing her own HIV status with this audience. I think in a world where PrEP is readily available to many Americans, HIV/AIDS can sometimes feel like something that’s in the past. But it’s still very much a serious issue, especially for people in rural communities, people of color, etc. I appreciated Q raising awareness around this issue, and restarting a dialogue that never should have stopped.

Sapphira Cristal: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Sapphira was overpraised by the judges. When it came to the challenge, Sapphira showed her seasoned hosting chops. She knows how to command attention. She knows how to work a room. She knows how to get people immediately under her spell. But she fumbled multiple times, visibly. And everyone noticed it — the queens even said so in talking heads. On the runway, her look was undeniably 80s, so flirty and fun. It absolutely met the assignment and all the details were correct. It was cute as a button — but I question the dour color palette for this prompt. It was supposed to be Drag Con 1980, and she could have been going to a funeral in that look. A really fun funeral, but a funeral nonetheless. I was absolutely floored when Ru declared her the winner for this challenge. Mrs. Kasha Davis went HOME for saying “Welcyum” in a presentation challenge in Season 7, and Sapphira WON a challenge in Season 16 even after several very obvious stumbles. If everyone else had bombed, I would get it. But there were two very good options for that win that, from what we saw, had very few issues and, again from what we saw, were funnier on the whole. This result put the “she” in “shenanigans.” More on that in a minute.

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Nymphia Wind: This is a tough one to parse. In the challenge, Nymphia decided to take on an exaggerated Asian stereotype. She absolutely got laughs, but did she need to rely on ethnic jokes to get there? I think she’s better than that, but increasingly it feels like Nymphia does not think she herself is. I honestly don’t know what is going with Nymphia and her edit at this point. Previously my take was that she was a clear frontrunner in the beginning, disappeared for a while, flopped Snatch Game, and was entering into an unexpected underdog phase. But what we’re getting is someone who is clearly very talented in many areas, with a few glaring weaknesses, who seems to be getting crushed by the pressure and borderline giving up instead of committing to each challenge. And then pulling it off, more often than not. I can tell you that from our viewing parties, people are pretty exhausted by it. Early in the season Nymphia’s exasperation seemed like an act, but at this point it feels like a major character flaw, and it’s increasingly hard to root for her. She looked great on the runway in Grace Jones-inspired look. And she didn’t give us anything to do with bananas or yellow, which is probably wise at this point, because people are pretty over that, too.

Dawn: Dawn was partnered with Mhi’ya Iman LePaige for this challenge, and that was more or less a death sentence. From what we saw, Dawn was basically solo-ing this mission, and I think she did…OK. The material was not great, and it completely lacked focus (and significant laughs). But given the massive handicap she had for this in the form of Mhi’ya, I think she did about as well as she could. On the runway, Dawn gave us an in-your-face punk look that did not read 80s to me, but RuPaul immediately clocked the outfit as something a specific punk group would wear. I’m going to defer to the erstwhile lead singer of WeeWee Pole here, so good for you, Dawn.

Morphine Love Dion: Morphine was on the same team as Nymphia and Sapphira, and I was going to say she was the weakest of that team — but they really didn’t work as a team at all. It was more akin to people in a roast just going one after another than an actual team performance, which we got from both other squads. Morphine not only flubbed her material, she also called attention to it. I get the self-deprecating humor. I do it myself. But this was not the place for that, and the judges — including gorgeous guest judge Joel Kim Booster, who could do whatever he wanted to me — correctly called that out. On the runway, Morphine looked the worst she has all season. Sad, deflated hooker in “Jem” cosplay is not the way. She was Bottom 2 for this challenge.

Mhi’ya Iman LePaige: It was clear from the beginning that Mhi’ya was going to struggle in this challenge. She’s quiet. She has anxiety. She is not a strong writer or public speaker. When she’s not dancing, she has a very hard time pulling focus. But honestly, given Mhi’ya’s extremely narrow talent lane, virtually ANY non-dancing challenge would be a struggle for her. In the work room, Mhi’ya gave partner Dawn basically nothing to work with (that we saw), and then when she came bounding down the stage for the presentation she dropped all her cue cards. At first I thought it was a comedy bit. I’m not convinced it was. I think Mhi’ya actually meant to have those cards with her, and the joke was that she was late because she was at the after party. Comedy, ladies and gentlemen. It didn’t get any better. This was a total flop for Mhi’ya, as so many of her challenge performances have been this season. And yet she’s Top 7, because she can lipsynch. Her runway this episode, also like most of her runways, was dreadful. A body suit with loofa shoulder caps and a detached taffeta half-skirt. Go on, girl, give us nothing.

The queens were gagged when Sapphira was given the win, and Q in particular was fully cracked by it. Which is, I think, exactly why they did it. Giving Plane the win would have been the easy, arguably correct choice. It wouldn’t have upset the apple cart. By giving the win to Sapphira, the producers have an instant drama inflection, and more specifically they’re winding Q up for another meltdown. This is precisely the same maneuver they did in Season 14, giving Jorgeous the win for her cookie-cutter napkin dress solely to push Daya Betty over the edge and into fury. We’ll see that fallout next episode, but for the record, Q was correct to see it for the bullshit that it was. We’ll see how she navigates it next week. (I suspect Plane will be smart enough to keep her mouth shut about it.)

That left a Bottom 2 of Mhi’ya and Morphine. Mhi’ya had one shared win to her name, a surprisingly successful Snatch Game, and a slew of flops. Morphine has been solidly mid for the entire competition, and at F7, that’s a lousy place to be (see also: Dawn). The lipsynch got heated when Mhi’ya threw off her skirt and flung it directly onto Morphine, who handled it like a pro. Morphine weirdly starting throwing her fake tits around — I have no idea what was happening there — and then Mhi’ya settled into her by-now expected bag of tricks (flip run) while Morphine gave us a solid lipsynch and a spectacular delayed split moment that was genuinely impressive.

Ultimately, Morphine won and our Queen of Flips was finally eliminated. Listen, I know I’ve been harsh on Mhi’ya in these recaps. I’m sure she’s absolutely lovely in person. I am confident I would be wowwed at her in a bar or club. I would almost certainly tip the doll. And I heard through the grapevine that a designer screwed her while she was preparing for this season, so most of her looks were last-minute scrambles. I am sure there is truth to that, but I will maintain that her aesthetic is very limited, and not particularly pleasing outside of the Miami market. My frustration with Mhi’ya is that other queens, with a wider range of talents and a more developed sense of self and drag persona, have been going home for weeks, while she has been slipping by almost entirely due to her strength in the lip synchs. The lip synchs are a crucial element of this show. No doubt. But as a viewer, watching some flop week after week and continue because they’re really good at one specific thing, is not compelling television. What was a bug for early-season queens has become a feature in recent seasons, low performers who keep getting pushed until they run out of lives. It’s predictable.

Miss Our Previous S16 Recaps? Here They Are:

Episode 10

Episode 9

Episode 8

Episode 7

Episode 6

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Episode 1

We’re Also Recapping “UK vs. the World” S2 and “Espana All Stars.” Find Those Recaps Here!

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