Last week ended with a cliffhanger: who was it on the phone with RuPaul? We had a double elimination (RIP In Peace Dax ExclamationPoint), so was someone returning? Was it just a fake-out, and merely Santino as a guest judge again? Shangela 3.0? No, it was the only other eliminated contestant: Naysha Lopez. (No wonder she was in such high spirits during our interview two weeks ago!)
For the mini-challenge the queens had to do the mirror image of last year’s prison challenge. Instead of serving orange jumpsuit realness, they put on judge’s robes and wrote a funny (or rather “funny”) line about what had put their judge character on the map. The jokes don’t make any sense from a legal perspective but were still more hit than miss, and universally goofy.
For no reason that can really be determined Naomi Smalls wins the mini-challenge and is named team captain alongside Naysha. The two teams will act in a send-up of Empire—a show which is already fairly over-the-top to begin with. Shockingly (and without explanation) Naysha doesn’t pick her “sister” Cynthia Lee Fontaine. We can only assume this will be addressed on this week’s Untucked, where last week we learned all about the mechanics behind Derrick’s polyamorous relationship.
To no surprise Robbie “Old Hollywood Glamour” Turner has an acting background and she gets to work teaching her team some spot-on acting techniques. Unlike last year’s Shakespearean tragedy of performances, this episode’s contemporary and campy scripts are much easier for the queens to act out. Watching Faith Evans teach Kim Chi how to SMH and SMT is really one for the ages in terms of the series, on par with Madame La Queer being unable to cringe correctly. Kim couldn’t even get a tongue pop correctly at first! (Lord help us if she tried to say “Okurrrr.”)
The next day the girls get ready to do a roller-skate runway. At one point we get one of Drag Race’s patented poignant moments. Many of the queens draw from their pain to get to their performances, much like stand-up comedians. When they reveal their secrets on the show, the moments are almost always sincere and touching, and not handled in an exploitative manner. This time, Thorgy discusses how her family kept her mother’s dying from her until literally the last day. Thorgy’s anger and inability to get closure over the choice they made for her is something that inspires pure sympathy. It’s no surprise that—again, like a stand-up—she’s one of the funniest queens this season by far. She’s really feeling more like this year’s Katya every week.
The runway looks are very fun this week, as the roller skates inspired the queens in many ways. Thorgy really had a 1979ish look on point, down to the tube socks and shorts with white seams. Derrick went another direction, looking more like an ice skater in a big bubbly skirt. For some reason Bob the Drag Queen came out in an android bodysuit (why would an android have skates?), but she sold the look anyway. Of all the queens, Robbie really nailed the feel of the roller-skating era with her jumpsuit and 1970s curls. She’s obviously a queen who knows her fashion history.
Then it was time to view the scenes. Despite the edit to make it seem like the casts were having a tough time, the actual skits are perhaps the funniest—and most professional—the show has ever seen. No doubt it’s become clear what sorts of challenges are coming as the seasons have gone on, causing more queens to come correct for the competition.
For Neysha’s team, Kim Chi very smartly turned her bad acting into great overacting. It’s hard to make slapstick funny instead of cringey, but watching Thorgy beat Naysha with a broom was hilarious—especially with the absurd reactions from their teammates. Naomi’s team was just as funny. Though Naomi’s take on the character was more realistic than Kim Chi’s, it was still one of the team highlights. But by far the funniest thing we have seen so far this season was Bob the Drag Queen taking the identical character as Thorgy to a whole new level. She pretty much channeled Martin Lawrence and especially his Sheneneh character to hilarious effect. Apparently many of her lines were ad-libbed, and amazingly so.
One of the frequent problems with these challenges is that there’s one character in the scene that is difficult to make work. In this case, both Derrick and Cynthia failed as Ginger Snap (who barely had any lines, and no really funny ones). Robbie also got way into her own head, and the trained actress ended up more like a mini-trainwreck. Bob gets the very well-deserved win, and it is Cynthia and Robbie who are left to lip sync.
The two are given a choice as to whether to perform in heels or on wheels. Robbie shrewdly chooses wheels and literally dances circles around Cynthia. This is perhaps the first moment since the season began where we got to understand why Robbie is given so much time in the confessionals (implying she goes far in the competition). Rather than just being a retro queen, she killed that lip sync. This, despite it being Faith Evans’ “Mesmerized”—clearly a song totally outside her normal repertoire. For someone who billed herself as hilarious, Cynthia fell way flat and rightly sashayed away.