BY Eric Rezsnyak
I am really loving this season of UK. I may keep saying that over and over again in these recaps, but it’s true — I love the queens, I love the energy, I love the vibe. I feel like the show is back to the high bar set by seasons 1 and 2, and it’s such a welcome return.
This episode gave us a stupid-but-funny mini-challenge and a solid presentation-based main challenge that has tripped up queens in the main U.S. franchise (Season 10’s Drag Con panels and All Stars 6’s Pink Table Talk were very similar). But I thought more than half of the remaining 9 queens did well or better this week.
For the mini-challenge, Ru brought out Raven for, I assume, contractual reasons so that Raven could photograph the queens in butch male quick drag in an advertisement for a fake protein drink named SPNK. Most of the girls were very funny in this, but I literally could not stop laughing the entire time Tomara Thomas was on camera. It took me a few episodes to warm up to Tomara, but now virtually any time she is on my screen, I’m howling. She’s completely un-serious in the best way, and I just cherish her. Ultimately, she won the challenge and was given the “prize” of assigning the teams for the main challenge: taking a page from RuPaul’s MasterClass program, in teams of three, the queens had to present their own “DisasterClass” on Work, Party, and Love.
Tomara quickly picked Ginger Johnson and Michael Marouli as her partners on Team Party. Tomara’s reasoning was that 1) she had wanted to work with both of them, and 2) they were all Northern gals who know how to have a good time (read: slags). Team Love — Cara Melle, Vicki Vivacious, and Banksie — thought this was poor planning on Tomara’s part, as their team contained everyone who has already won a badge this season. Meanwhile, Team Work featured Kate Butch, DeDeLicious, and Miss Naomi Carter, with Kate and Naomi both falling into the “leftover” group for a second week in a row.
At one point in the work room, one of the queens flat-out asked Kate if she thought she was coasting, and another queen (I don’t recall who) stated that aside from Naomi’s bum knee, there really aren’t any weak queens left. I agree with that completely. It was only a cast of 10 (well, “10” given the scandal…), but it’s a very strong group overall. Some have very specific strengths, and we got to see some real weaknesses this episode. But none of the remaining girls feel like filler queens to me — especially not after this week’s elimination.
At the main challenge, Team Work was up first. DeDe was very solid, honestly better than anticipated given her age and relative lack of experience. But Gen Z-ers tend to be quite self possessed, and know how to present themselves in public — and that was really what this challenge was about. Kate absolutely nailed this challenge, her well-honed hosting skills carrying her to a spot as best in team. Naomi struggled a bit with her delivery, repeating herself a few times and also not bringing much if any comedy to her bit. But overall, 2/3 of Team Work did well.
Unfortunately for them, Team Party was up next, and it was a total knockout. This was a MasterClass, not a DisasterClass, as Michael, Ginger, and Tomara did not miss a stitch in their hilarious, polished presentation. I’m not sure I could even rank them, because they were all excellent. Michael had the more central role as host, but Tomara added in some physical humor, and Ginger’s delivery and comic timing was impeccable. That whole segment was flawless, literally zero notes.
And then there was Team Love, the group featuring all the previous winners. It was an almost immediate failure to launch, as moderator Banksie whiffed the introductions, and it didn’t get much better from there. Banksie has a very flat line delivery, that I think can work well as a side commentator — but as a host? I don’t know. Vicki had a completely different energy than the rest of her group, giving us a character that verged on manic. I honestly don’t know what was going on with Cara. I suspect her challenge performance was even worse than what we saw, because the judges commented on her visible issues with nerves. She had a few good lines in there, but again, it was clearly not working. At one point she seemed to be eating food and spitting it out? Very confusing. As excellent as Team Party was, Team Love was equally terrible.
On the mainstage, the runway theme was Slaycation. That’s a super broad prompt, and I thought most of the interpretations were unexciting. At least one-third of the girls went for a ski-inspired look; of them, Banksie’s was the clear winner, giving us rich bitch in head-to-toe leopard print. Expensive! Cara’s was also apparently a ski reference, but I didn’t really get how. That said, it was absolutely stunning. The feathers, the crystals, the various textures, and that wig and make-up — I was absolutely captivated by Cara’s beauty tonight. Kate went for a scuba look that looked very clumsy, and the rhinestones did not read on camera at all. Ginger went for a well made but baffling cosmic camp look. I usually think Vicki looks impeccable, but I agreed with Ru about her boxy Country Western look — I was waiting for a reveal, because as it was, it looked ungainly or unfinished. Michael Marouli was adorable in a 50s pin-up style beach look with a massive postcard attached to her back. I continue to have issues with DeDe’s style. She is 20 years old but dresses like a 50something woman with oddly exaggerated elements. Is it a signature aesthetic? Yes. Do I think it’s exciting or interesting? Sorry, I do not.
Team Party justifiably won the challenge, and Michael, Tomara, and Ginger each got a Ru Badge. The remaining 6 queens were deemed the “bottom” queens of the week, but that is a bit misleading. It is clear that Kate and DeDe were at least safe based on the challenge, although both were criticized for their runway presentations.
I was honestly quite surprised by the Bottom 2. Naomi seemed to be getting overall positive comments from Ru, and yet she ended up lipsynching for her life. Meanwhile, Team Love immediately began the bus-shoving, and Banksie took the brunt of the blame. Based on the critiques and the challenge footage we saw, I was certain it would be Banksie in the B2. Instead, it was Cara, who must have been much worse in the challenge than we saw. Even then, I think her runway should have saved her from the B2.
To be honest, it felt very much like the producers wanted two of the stronger lipsynch queens of the season to end up in the B2. This show has been accused of doing that to queens of color over and over again — Tayce in S2, Vanity Milan in S3, Baby and Black Peppa in S4 — so it was not a great look, from where I was sitting. Also, it was not a terrific song for either of these performers. I love “The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz, but it’s not a song that really builds to big dramatic moments. The chorus is great but it’s repetitive, and this particular mix seemed to end crazy abruptly.
Ultimately, Cara won the lipsynch — her third lipsynch in four weeks, but only the first one with her in the bottom — and Naomi became the second official elimination of the season. I do think Naomi was one of the worst in the challenge, but I do not think Cara should have been down there with her, and I think Naomi could have potentially beaten Banksie, possibly Vicki. But when you factor in Naomi’s bum knee, this felt like the right decision in the grand scheme of things. She seems lovely, but this season is stacked.
Next: the Rusical! Michelle says it’s one of the best they’ve ever had! With this cast, I believe it!
International “Drag Race” Round-Up
I watch all the international seasons so you don’t have to!
I’m a little behind this week and need to catch up on Brasil and Germany, but the premiere of Italia Season 3 saw a very welcome change in the judging panel (GOODBYE TOMASO!), Priscilla looking the best she has ever looked, and new sets that screamed BUDGET, honey. The Talent Show with 13 girls went by way, way too fast, and I feel like we got each queen for less than a minute each. If you’re going to do an Episode 1 talent show — which makes a lot of sense! — the episode either needs to be split in half or extra-sized. At first blush, this group seems like it has very obvious front-runners, and very obvious filler queens. But we’ll see. Overall I was pleased with the premiere, and if you tapped out on Italia after or during Season 1 — the undisputed worst season in Drag Race history; yes, even worse than Down Under 1 — I urge you to give it another try. Season 2 was very good, and I am excited to see where this one goes with the judging changes and the obvious infusion in cash. And unpopular opinion: Priscilla is a very good host, people are unfairly harsh on her.
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