A drama-filled Drag Race reunion special gives fans all the acrimony they were missing from season 9. Hooray?
No one knows their way around a catch phrase like RuPaul, and there may not be a show on TV more geared toward developing new catch phrases than RuPaul’s Drag Race. The ninth season produced a few good ones, from “Take that thing off your mouth” to the entirety of Aja’s “Linda Evangelista” rant. But the one that arguably sums up the season best came from Sasha Velour, said after Eureka made a dumb joke about eating disorders.
Drag is intrinsically subversive, so the idea of one drag queen stopping another drag queen from making a politically incorrect crack, however unfunny and in poor taste, rubbed some fans the wrong way. That sort of taking-the-high-road approach reigned throughout the season, with the queens generally playing nice rather going for blood. It was an odd fit for reality TV, which thrives on drama and rivalry.
Well, we got a metric ton of those things tonight on the season 9 reunion special, which is in and of itself a novelty. RuPaul’s Drag Race had cast reunions for the first few seasons, before it could afford to hold a big, splashy finale in a proper theater. We’re getting one of those next week, but first, the queens join RuPaul on stage to look back on “this season’s biggest escándalos,” and they pour out much of the venom they conserved during the season proper. Does this make for challenging television that educates and inspires? Not really. Is it entertaining? God yes.
To be fair to the queens, the whole thing is set up to drill down on their worst moments and basest instincts. Notice that RuPaul doesn’t devote a segment to Alexis Michelle’s winning performance as Liza Minelli in the Snatch Game — instead, he goes straight for the time she got upset when a couple of the queens made fun of her weight during the reading challenge. RuPaul clearly wants Alexis to say that she understands that the point of reading is to good-naturedly mock each other and that she’s ready to take things less seriously and that love is laughter and laughter love, etc. But she doesn’t. Alexis doubles down and maintains that her weight should be off limits, although she’s assumedly free to free to mock Shea Couleé’s teeth or insinuate that Farrah Moan is a prostitute.
Charlie Hides does the same thing when RuPaul asks what happened during her pitiful lip sync performance against Trinity Taylor, where she stood in one spot and pointed while Trinity bucked the kicked around the stage.
At the time, Charlie said she phoned it in because most of the acts in her hometown of London sing live, but tonight, she claims alternately that she was performing with a broken rib, that she was interpreting the song’s risqué lyrics, and that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Later, when Nina Bo’Nina Brown is called out for accusing the other girls of talking behind her back without proof, she joins Alexis and Charlie in doubling down rather than giving Ru the conciliatory response he’s fishing for.
It’s interesting to see the queens so assiduously avoid giving Ru the answers he wants. Of course, these are drag queens — they’re stubborn by nature, and being confronted with their missteps on camera isn’t going to help them loosen up. But it makes you wonder why, when there was this much drama bubbling under the surface, season 9 has gained a reputation for gentility. However polite they act, these queens clearly have bones to pick. I don’t know if it’s good for the culture at large, but it’s great fun to watch them gnaw at them.
Valentina, probably the season’s most fascinating figure, fares better when confronted with her own disastrous lip sync, possibly because her answer rings more true. When Ru asks her why she didn’t know the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy,” she admits that she just froze and went into shock. Her interplay with Aja during a performance of Adam Joseph’s “Linda Evangelista” also helps put that awkward moment to bed in the most enjoyable way possible, although the queens had to drag some contrition from Valentina regarding the behavior of her fans following her elimination.
Valentina has always operated at something of a remove. During the competition, she was composed almost to the point of affectation — you never quite knew if this naive young starlet bit was an act. It made her stand out, and judging by their behavior during the reunion, not all the queens liked that. The most dramatic moment of the special comes at the end, when Valentina is awarded the title of Miss Congeniality. Aja, her mouth agape, objects, calling into question whether there’s anything congenial about Valentina. And somewhere, a World of Wonder executive dies of happiness.
Is it sour grapes? Maybe. As the queens point out, Miss Congeniality is awarded based on a fan vote, and whether Valentina deserved the title or not, she got the most votes, which can’t sit well with a group of people who all want to be the star of the show. Trinity, addressing Valentina, puts it like this: “Regardless of what anybody thinks about you, you are fan favorite, and that’s the true winner of the season.”
It’s hard to argue with that assessment. As the cliche goes, Valentina didn’t come here to make friends, and that’s one of the ingredients necessary to become a great reality TV star. “I wanted to win,” she says. Congenial or not, she’s the biggest thing to come out of season 9, and I look forward to seeing what she does next…hopefully All Stars 3.
But more importantly, note that the attacks on Valentina didn’t happen in a vacuum. They came while she was accepting her trophy for Miss Congeniality, usually a time reserved for polite applause and solemn nodding. RuPaul let Aja (and Farrah Moan) come at Valentina during this time, because of course he did. The point of this special was never to highlight the queens’ talents. There was nary a question about Shea’s acting abilities, or Sasha’s unique design sensibilities, or Peppermint’s epic lip sync skills. The special existed so a group of people uniquely qualified to tear each other apart could tear each other apart, and I loved it.
Next week, we’re getting a proper finale, with a twist: the final four queens will face off against each other in “a sudden death lip sync smackdown for the crown.” Why? Because, according to RuPaul, “This season proved that lip syncs have never been more important.”
Considering that I’ve used words like “pitiful” and “disastrous” to describe some of the lip syncs this season, it’s hard not to read this as Ru’s attempt to reassert the importance of lip syncing so the season 10 queens make sure to bring their A game. And it’s bound to make the finale more interesting. RuPaul is nothing if not adaptable, and he going to have to shake this competition up every now and then if it’s going to last another nine years.
- RuPaul: “This won’t air, but Lady Bunny and I used to do acid together.” She was making a point about reading here, but I just like that they kept the “This won’t air” part on the air.
- For me, Trinity was the most entertaining queen up there tonight. As usual, it was because of her unapologetic confidence, which she demonstrated when she read Alexis for looking “like a honey-baked ham” moments after they’d talked about Alexis’ body image issues.
- Charlie to Aja: “I love your costumes. That’s why I call you the Joan of Arc of drag. Great ideas, badly executed.” Well, that’s just amazing. A shame Charlie didn’t make it to the reading challenge.
- RuPaul: “This was a season of shocking eliminations, and I’m not talking about what goes down between you and your Squatty Potty.” In addition to being the queen of catch phrases, RuPaul is also the queen of plugging sponsors no matter how ridiculous it sounds.
- Trinity, after the girls talk about how fortunate it was for them that Eureka, a strong competitor, had to leave the competition early due to injury: “And I still hope you lose season 10.”
- Eureka was engaging the whole night, and seems to have the mix of talent, intelligence, and charisma that could take her deep into season 10. And I loved how quickly she responded to Ru’s “How’s your knee?” prompt. Eureka: “My head’s great. They always ask for seconds. And my knee’s pretty good. I’m back to sucking dick.”
- Valentina on Aja’s rant: “I loved it. I’m currently working on a number where I just literally come out and stand there in a diaper and smile.”
- Hearing Kris Jenner compliment Alexis Michelle for her impersonation was a nice up-with-people moment amidst all this rancor.
- Shea on accusations that her construction worker couture wasn’t convincing enough: “I think I looked like a construction worker.” Trinity: “You do look like a construction worker. All the time.”
- The montage of never-before-seen moments with the guest judges was, predictably, a waste of time. Michelle talking about “slicing vulvas” with her nails was an eyebrow-raiser, though.
- Trinity on Shea’s rainbow look: “It kinda looks like gay birds shit on her arms.”
- Farrah on Eureka’s hair loaves: “I absolutely loaved it.” RuPaul: “Farrah just made a very funny joke and she delivered it really beautifully. Give her a big round of applause.”