Review: RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9, Episode 5—”Reality Stars: The Musical”


Positive vibes rein on a feel-good episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race that also includes a musical about the Kardashian family.

Drama makes for good TV, and last week had a lot of it. Eureka butted heads with Trinity, there was a heated debate about the political correctness of an eating disorder joke, and it all climaxed with a supremely awkward lip sync where the talented Charlie Hides decided to just go through the motions until Ru sent her home. It was occasionally uncomfortable television, but it was also gripping.

This week is different. Yes, there’s drama. The girls are lip syncing to Kardashian: The Musical, and not everyone loves their parts. Peppermint wants to play Kim, but gets assigned Britney Spears. Cynthia, for some reason, doesn’t want to play Kim (wouldn’t that role dovetail nicely with her ceaseless plugs for her cucu?), and Farrah Moan can’t get her clapping choreography right.

But those are minor bumps. We spent more time on stuff like Eureka O’Hara bravely fighting through the knee injury she sustained back during the cheerleader challenge. It was impressive when she pulled off the split that gave her the injury, but to see her now, pushing through the pain and using crutches to hobble around on stage in her frilly pink neon number while keeping a positive attitude, is downright inspiring.

She also clears the air with Valentina and Sasha Velour, with whom she clashed over that eating disorder joke last week. I’m still of two minds on this — I don’t like the idea of anyone having to apologize for a joke if it wasn’t meant to offend. And I particularly don’t like it when it happens on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has made a reputation on pushing the envelope.

But there’s a difference between apologizing for a bad joke and apologizing for bad behavior, and Eureka did get awfully defensive last week. It was decent of her to step up. It also gave Sasha, Valentina, and Shea Couleé an opportunity to talk about their struggles with anorexia and bulimia. It’s probably safe to assume that most people think of those disorders as affecting mostly women. But research suggests they also “disproportionately impact some segments of LGBT populations,” and Drag Race performs a public service by drawing attention to that. This show pulls this kind of thing off all the time — it’s a campy, goofy show about swimsuit selfies and Kardashian musicals that also sneaks in serious discussions about homegrown terrorism and emotional disorders. That flexibility of tone may be its greatest strength.

Plus, it’s great to get more insight into our cast of characters. Valentina, in particular, has often come across as a cipher — a beautiful, talented, personable cipher, but still: distant. Learning more about her past further rounds her out as a competitor, and can only bode well.

Shea didn’t need much rounding out. She’s always stuck out as competent, but when season 9 is over, we may look back on this as the moment she started her march to the crown. As Blac Chyna, she was the only performer who made a strong case for why this challenge needed to exist in the first place. True, she was one of the few girls to get a solo, but she also had fewer lines than her competitors, and she took full advantage of every moment. She bucked and dropped and shimmied like someone who knew every eye in the room was on her, and they were. Enjoy your win, Shea.

I just don’t see Shea ever getting tripped up. Thanks to this challenge, we know she can dance and lip sync with the best of them. She works well with others, designs and crafts her own stunning outfits, and is clever and witty in her cutaways. In what circumstance would she be in the bottom two? I’m not sure there is one.

As for the rest of the number…look, the lip sync extravaganzas are always going to be more or less fun depending on whether you’re interested in the material. For example, I really enjoyed the “Baddest Bitches in Herstory” lip sync from All Stars season 2, because I’m that kind of dork. I don’t know a thing about the Kardashians, but I could still tell which contestants were stepping up and which were fading into the background. I could tell that Aja, as Kourtney, was loosening her body language to inhabit a character. I could tell that Alexis Michelle, by taking on the mom role, was setting herself up to nail a bunch of jokes about being overbearing and lame, which she did. And I could tell that Peppermint was giving perfect Britney, despite not looking a damn thing like her. The tousled hair, the teeth, the poses…this was a great example of how to fight through dissatisfaction and commit to a performance. After a mostly quiet run on the show so far, Peppermint earned her place in the winner’s circle.

I could also tell that Farrah, as Kylie, wasn’t demonstrating much presence, never mind her inability to see where her hand is in space, and that Cynthia was screwing up her lines like crazy. I mean, what happened there? Cynthia doesn’t strike me as the type to slack off, but something has to explain that pitiful performance.

We don’t get much insight into that. Instead, Nina has another memorably melancholy moment on the main stage when she admits to being paranoid that the other girls are out to get her. (She wanted to play Blac Chyna, but Alexis assigned her Khloé, and she carried that grudge throughout the rehearsal process.) I’ve been worried about Nina for a while, and I’m afraid this kind of stuff is going to continue. She’s extremely talented — with her crazy proportions, she was still a memorable figure during the lip sync extravaganza, even if her performance wasn’t particularly inspired — but her insecurities are starting to get the better of her. The fact that she hadn’t bothered to unpack much of her drag said it all: she suspects she’s not cut out for this. I hope she wises up soon, because I want to keep seeing her on the runway — her Mary J. Blige-inspired look, complete with frilly boots, a long fur-lined coat and a shock of blonde hair, was terrific. But believing in yourself is a process, not a switch, and I’m afraid she won’t be able to work through it in time.

Still, she’s safe for this week, as an emotional Farrah and a nervous Cynthia square off to “Woman Up” by Meghan Trainor. (Who was there. As a judge. Hi, Meghan Trainor.) They do…fine. Cynthia strips to her bra, panties, and boots, always a crowd-pleasing maneuver, and Farrah catches the beats and has more interaction with the lyrics. I honestly don’t know who Ru would have chosen to go home had she not called out Eureka instead.

Yep. Never one to miss an opportunity to milk a dramatic moment, Ru summons Eureka to the stage and tells her that, given her injuries, she cannot in good conscience allow her to continue in the competition. (Adorably, Farrah clasps her hands together and shouts “No!” to the heavens.) Ru also gives Eureka an “open invitation” to season 10.

So this is an ending that everyone can feel good about. Eureka had to leave, sure, but it was for her health, and she’s all but guaranteed to be back for season 10. Farrah and Cynthia get to stay, the feud between Trinity and Eureka is diffused, and the lingering awkwardness of the eating disorder joke is confronted and dissipated. Apart from Nina’s insecurity, “Reality Stars: The Musical” dialed down the drama.

The final question: is that a good thing? Does less drama mean less interesting TV? For an answer, we go back to the show’s flexibility of tone. RuPaul’s Drag Race is made of elastic stuff, and can stretch from confrontational to inclusive in a single snap. As long as it keeps giving its talented contestants interesting stuff to do, it’ll stay interesting.

And on that note, next week is Snatch Game. The word “interesting” doesn’t begin to cover it.

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Random Ruflections

  • This was the strongest week Alexis has had yet on the show, but she still isn’t really standing out. Maybe she can bring some of the campy energy she brought to Kris Jenner to her Snatch Game performance next week.
  • You gotta love how Trinity wastes no time whatsoever in erasing Charlie’s message off the mirror after the lip sync.
  • Towards the beginning of the episode, RuPaul introduces a model named Yadir. “As in, frankly Yadir, I do give a damn.” Then everyone laughs uproariously. What do they think will happen to them if they don’t?
  • Mini-challenges returned this week in the form of a selfie-off. My favorite selfie was Valentina’s, who gave us “cholo homeboy” face while rocking Miss Venezuela hair and body.
  • Shea: “When life gives you lemons…” Eureka: “…you take rhinestones and cover up that lemon.” #DragQueenWisdom
  • The runway theme tonight was “faux fur.” Besides Nina, standouts included Shae, who came out in Muppet drag, and Sasha, who rocked a sexy take on a Russian winter, complete with a simpler version of that squatting dance they do.
  • Ru keeps giving Nina nicknames. This week, “Nina Bo’Nina Brown Kennedy Onassis” stood out.
  • Eureka makes one last fat joke for the road: “I finally feel like I’m a part of something that’s bigger than me, and I don’t know how the hell that’s possible.”