“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 16, Episode 5 Recap

February 3, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

Time for the girl-group challenge! This week the remaining 12 queens split into three teams to write and perform verses to songs from RuPaul’s most recent album, Black Butta. This was an episode where a lot of things started to click for me regarding this season. Overall, almost all the queens did well in the challenge, and also on the runway with the theme Faster Pussycat, Wig, Wig (basically: pussycat wigs). The episode also demonstrated just how well this season was cast, and how well that cast is gelling, There are so many fascinating relationships between the cast members already playing out, just five episodes in. And it also made it clear how brutally a queen will be shoved out the door if the Powers That Be have decided they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Before all that, a quick mention of the mini-challenge, in which the queens had to do quick-drag versions of their own autobiographies, in conjunction with RuPaul’s upcoming memoir. I thought this was cute and there were several genuinely funny entries. While Sapphira Cristal won, I would have given it to Q. But Production is really committed to the mental and emotional torture campaign against that poor queen, where she’s always *thisclose* to a win but never quite gets it. The Marquis de Sade could take notes from the producers of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” I swear. (I kind of mean that as a compliment.)


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On to the girl-group challenge. The teams were picked gym-class style by three leaders: Sapphira (winner of the mini challenge), Plasma (winner of last week’s main challenge), and Geneva Karr (survivor of last week’s lipsynch). The only truly notable element of this is that Megami was picked last, and you could tell the poor gal was really going through it.

I’m going to break down each team’s performance in the challenge, in order of when they took the stage.

Team 1: Sapphira, Q, Morphine Love Dion, Dawn doing “Star Baby.” First let me say that most of these verses were solid to downright good. This was a great episode for Morphine, who really showed up in a big way as a talking head, in the challenge, and on the runway. She took control of the choreography and I was quite impressed. I had been waiting for Morphine to do something to catch my attention, and she did this episode, multiple times over. The “Batman Returns”-inpsired Catwoman look was hot, too. Dawn was effortlessly great in the challenge — I was not expecting her to be such a compelling dancer/performer, but she proved me wrong yet again. Her runway was…OK, but I really do need to see Dawn give me different make-up at this point. Others with less out-there make-up styles have been dinged for that in the past, and the fact that Michelle only called out her elf ears is curious to me. I thought Sapphira was good in the challenge, but T.S. Madison noted that she seemed in her head, and the other queens commented that Sapphira was not her usual dynamo self, so I guess there was something to it. I LOVED her runway gown — those sleeves, that breast shelf — but I didn’t get what was happening with the wig until she removed it to reveal it was an ACTUAL PUSSYCAT and the whole look was a Dr. Evil homage. BITCH! Absolutely deceased, loved it. Q got by far the worst critiques for her performance, which was called stiff and robotic. I thought the verse was solid and the criticisms seemed overblown to me. Her runway was good — I loved the bejeweled sword — although it was reminiscent of a few looks we have seen over the years. Ultimately I think they really leaned into the Q criticisms this week to produce a Loosey-esque meltdown.

Team 2: Plasma, Xunami Muse, Amanda Tori Meaning, Plane Jane doing “Courage to Love.” Plasma took control of this group and never let up. She won me over last week and this week she proved she’s got IT. (If you have not yet checked out her video for “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” please do so; she is really one to watch.) Good verse, excellent choreography, more stage presence than anyone else in that group. Her Hermes-inspired runway was…interesting, but I’m glad she’s giving us variety and not staying fully in her mid-century lane. Plane was fine in the challenge — she did have some great lines in her verse — although I didn’t love her runway. Amanda had a good verse and was great in the performance, although she wrestled with a wig that kept flying in her face. I’m also going to say it: I thought her runway look was a fun idea, in which she took the pussycat wig and turned it into one-half of an egg in a nest. It was bold, it was clever, it was conceptual. Xunami was marked present in the challenge but I could not understand a single word of her verse. She has a HUGE issue with her monotone delivery and I don’t understand how she is seemingly not getting any notes about it — same thing was true in “RDR Live” where she just droned on. The judges fawned over her matador-inspired runway. Was it chic? Absolutely. Was there a pussycat wig? Sure. But I was getting boy, specifically the charming rogue in an anime.

Team 3: Geneva, Mhi’ya Iman LePaige, Nymphia Wind, Megami doing “ASMR Lover.”

Easily the best song of the bunch, and this team — a baffling mix of cellar dwellers and big threat Nymphia — rose to the occasion. The verses were generally good, the choreography was on point, and what this group did better than any of the others was incorporate their individual branding into the track. Megami did a hushed, “I’m a goddess”; Nymphia brought up the bananas; the girls all chanted “Mhi’ya, Mhi’ya” and she gave us her flipping; Geneva gave us basically the Cliff’s Notes version of her Talent Show song (good thing you can’t plagiarize yourself, right, Geneva?). On the runway, Geneva gave us I think the worst look of the night, which she called flapper, but nothing about that fabric pattern was close to that aesthetic. Mhi’ya looked the best she has all competition in a very basic black number that was probably the least memorable look of the night. Nymphia predictably killed in a gorgeous Chinese-inspired fantasy that ended with, ultimately, a vagina on her skull, and I don’t know what else to say other than that. I did not have any problems with Megami’s busted fairy, but I’m apparently in the minority there. I got what she was going for, and I thought she executed it. I wasn’t overly excited by it, but I don’t think it was a flop, and I celebrate her celebrating her curves. Ultimately this was the winning team. I think that was the right decision, and I also suspect that having three of the queens who have been struggling in the competition all safe with a Win left Production in a bit of a pickle, because they probably had to boot someone earlier than expected.

So let’s get to that. With 8 girls left, among them 5 of the frontrunners and most of the previous challenge winners, things were going to get gaggy. I think it’s remarkable that with 12 queens we had such consistently good performances, so that they’re already nitpicking by Episode 5. But I’m not sure I agree with the way it all went down.

To help split the hairs — and I don’t mean the ones on Geneva’s legs, which she braids, and I hate that I know that — Ru asked the group who should go home and why. I don’t know if they’ve ever dropped that bomb so early in the season, and I expected it to lead to a spicy “Untucked.” It didn’t. But we got only a handful of names thrown out, primarily Amanda — who the judges drubbed for wrinkly padding on her butt and a runway look that didn’t meet the prompt (more on that in a second) — and Q, who was the least successful in the challenge. Q threw out Xunami’s name as well, because she has yet to make any kind of mark in the competition, to which Xunami took umbrage in “Untucked.” But where is the lie, girl? Aside from mostly looking polished on the runway, Xunami truly has been a nonentity this whole competition.

So I was surprised by how glowing the judges were in their critique of Xunami especially. The runway look was lovely, please don’t get me wrong. But there were far better on that stage tonight, and truly, it read as a male-presenting look to me. Which is fine! But not the challenge nor the point of this entire competition, I don’t think. Beyond that, I would put Xunami down there with Q as the worst in the challenge. I have no idea what she said in her verse, and I thought she completely faded into the background compared to the others in her group.

But for reasons I’m not sure I understand, it was Amanda that the judges decided to stuff into the Bottom 2 this week. The wrinkly ass was apparently so egregious that it had to be mentioned several times. It felt like a reach for me. The bigger reach was the argument that her look did not fit the runway challenge. Was Amanda wearing a pussycat wig? Yes? Then she met the fucking challenge. That was such a load of horseshit. Dawn is out there with a mushroom cut with a top pony, but that met the challenge and Amanda’s did not? Girl. I’m not saying Amanda was perfect. The wig in the girl group was putting her through it, and that was an issue for the viewers, too. But the rest felt like they were finding excuses to chop her, with the overarching commentary of “aesthetic issues.”

Q and Amanda ultimately lipsynched to guest judges Icona Pop’s song “Emergency,” and I thought they both did well. I would argue it was the first decent lipsynch this season. It was very much a nail biter, but ultimately frontrunner Q was saved, and Amanda — who everyone seemed to decide was this season’s beta — was eliminated. Three eliminations and I’ve been genuinely sad to see all of them go. I guess that means the show is doing something right.

Also doing something right: Q, by not collapsing/exploding under the pressures the judges are putting her under, which have sabotaged many queens before her. I had a lot of respect for her this episode, especially the way she handled her critiques. I had no issue with her sharing that it was frustrating to be so close to the win three times but passed over — the other girls asked, she told them; you don’t want to know, don’t ask — and I thought she was quite professional in the way she handled being named by her colleagues as the one who should go home.

Before wrapping, I’d like to speak a minute on Amanda. I won’t deny that her presentation had very clear issues. It did from the jump. Nor do I disagree with the argument that she was a queen growing into her craft, on a show where you really should come full baked. (Although I would argue many of the biggest stars to come out of this show — *cough cough* Jinkx Monsoon — ALSO improved their aesthetic tremendously over the course of their “Drag Race” tenure.) But it never sat right with me the way several other queens treated her like some discount queen that was beneath their contempt. She finally got into it with Plane Jane this week, and said her peace (again), but I found it unsettling to see her repeatedly dismissed by multiple queens. I was happy they gave us the footage of the other girls basically calling dibs on all her wigs once she was eliminated, after many of them had spent episodes telling her she was a crunchy mess. I hope she did not leave those bitches a single fucking synthetic hair, and I mean that.

I would also like to note that in the past week or so, Amanda came out on trans on social media. Congratulations, Amanda! I think she’s a wonderful queen with so much charisma, humor, and inherent likability. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her, especially now that she is embracing her authentic self. Again: would welcome back Amanda for an “All Stars” season without any hesitation.

Next: it’s another design challenge!

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