The ‘Drag Race’ Challenge That Needs to Be Eliminated Forever
I have a few choice words for RuPaul Andre Charles, known colloquially as simply RuPaul, and host of the titular reality competition program RuPaul’s Drag Race. The first word is “Why,” the second being, “Liar!”
Let me back this bus up for a second—yes, it is still running. It’s not that I would’ve wanted to see any of the fabulous Top 4 remaining contestants of Drag Race Season 15 go home. Quite the contrary, I’d like a four-way reign. I even let out a real-life sigh of exasperated despair when it came down to this week’s final lip-sync, knowing that one of two incredible queens had to go home. After all, it was mentioned no fewer than three times during this episode alone that every week leading up to the grand finale would have an elimination. And that was a promise that Ru had, so far, made good on.
For years, we’ve been subject to the ever-changing whims of someone with poor eyesight and a penchant for tailored, patterned suits. Double shantays have been doled out a bit more liberally than they usually deserve (I can only think of three that really deserve it). And frankly, we need more unexpected double eliminations! But given the show’s history, I should’ve known by now that anything RuPaul says can’t be trusted. And while I’m happy that each of the four remaining Season 15 queens has a solid shot at the crown, I don’t appreciate being strung along.
And I especially don’t like being misled when the final decision comes down to such a tired final challenge. This week, the queens had to write and record their own verse to Ru’s single “Blame It on the Edit”—which is surely coming for the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100… Songs by a Drag Queen Who Hosts a Television Show chart—as well as star in its music video. Sure, this has been the final assignment for years. But even when the results are great, like they were tonight, I can’t help but feel this challenge has long since passed its expiration date.
One thing the music video challenge serves to do is stretch the pre-finale, which is innately a filler episode, into a full-length spectacle. To think, we’ll never see the dozens of minutes that were cut from this season to make time for The Real Friends of WeHo, but thank goodness we got to see the music video choreographer scream “#JusticeForJanet”? Which, yeah, but all of this time would surely be better spent on a challenge that utilizes the queens’ Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent in a more compelling way.
But first, the queens have to go through the motions for the rest of the episode. This means a few minutes spent writing their verses in the workroom, followed by the ceremonial orange Tic-Tac lunch/psychotherapy session with Ru and Michelle Visage to unearth long-buried traumas. Just in time to send the queens back into the world, emotionally raw, for eight months before the reunion and finale taping!
The lunches range from sweet and funny to all-out sob-worthy. At Anetra’s, Ru and Michelle praise the lip-sync dive heard around the world, with Michelle calling it her all-time favorite lip sync. High praise, but would it be enough to save Anetra when it came down to the finale? During Mistress Isabelle Brooks’ and Luxx Noir London’s respective lunches, the two judges lauded them for transcending difficult childhoods while staying true to themselves and bringing a delicious dose of drama to the season.
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Then it’s time for the Sasha Colby meet-and-greet. Here, we learn that Sasha’s father died by suicide six years prior, and left their family’s generational land in Hawaii to Sasha. It’s a shocking moment, even coming from Sasha, who has lent so much of her vulnerability to the competition. But it’s also a happy ending. Sasha says that “it felt like Pops’ seal of approval,” after she spent her whole life craving that recognition from her mother, and never getting it. Even if Sasha doesn’t take home the crown in two weeks, she’ll get to keep that knowledge with her, and an everlasting legacy only emboldened by her run on Drag Race.
Once enough tears have been shed, it’s time to touch up the waterproof mascara and get these queens on their music video set. There, they’re tasked with learning choreography in what looks to be about five minutes. Surely, they had more time during the actual filming process (and, to be fair, the choreography isn’t that difficult), but Michelle chiding Mistress for not instantly picking up the moves was obnoxious. Not everybody learns the same way. I know this is the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as they love to remind the queens and the viewers, but I don’t think that needing an extra couple minutes of rehearsal is enough to qualify as a poor performance in the challenge.
Except, we’re led to believe it should be, which is frustrating when Mistress can’t quite step up to the level of the other three queens. For a moment, we’re made to sit with a nervous pit in our stomachs. We have to think that one stray arm flail move could mean curtains to one of the most delightfully shady—and uber-talented—queens that the franchise has ever seen. I became genuinely nervous that the queen who I said deserved to win for an entire recap weeks ago would now be unjustly sent home. Yes, this is reality television, and the stakes have to come into play somewhere. But perhaps if this challenge didn’t seem like a glorified way to get RuPaul some extra YouTube royalties from one of his original songs, someone’s slip-up might actually warrant an elimination.
Of course, none of this matters anyway, since it was all a ruse. Whether or not RuPaul always intended for a double shantay this week is something we may never know. But just think of an alternate reality where Mistress, the first ever big girl in the original franchise with a real shot at winning (sorry, Ginger Minj), got knocked out by an ill-timed shoulder shimmy. It’s outrageous!
This is why I formally propose that we fight for the final challenge to be a main stage affair. Let Ru have his fun, and have the queens lend their verses to his songs. But let the choreography, performance, and lip syncing all play out live. Part of what made “Read U Wrote U” such an instantly iconic final challenge in All-Stars 2 was that each of the queens slayed so hard in real-time—no revisions, no effects, no extra polish. How ironic, they couldn’t blame it on the edit!
But I’ll give credit where it’s due, the final video is decently rad, even if it’s designed to be a ripoff of Janet Jackson and her brother’s song, “Scream.” (No, I don’t feel he deserves his name here!) Plus, it gave us the chance to see Sasha Colby in an unclockable Barb Wire tribute look that even Pamela Anderson would be proud of. And their individual verses? All phenomenal, even if Luxx’s was far and away the best.
Despite my aforementioned anger at being tricked into expecting an elimination, the final lip sync of the formal season was indeed worth every minute. I tend to gay gasp a little too frequently—and in many different timbres—when it comes to this program, but the sound that dropped from my mouth when I heard the opening, twinkling piano synths of David Guetta and Kelly Rowland’s “When Love Takes Over” was one for the books. I’ll say it: It was worth it for Mistress to fall into the bottom just to see this. We need to give her the crown just based on how many times she’s made me laugh with her trademark boob twitch-and-thrust.
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So, that’s it! There are four queens and two episodes remaining. My god, this show is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. But it’s nice knowing that, by the time America’s Next Drag Superstar is crowned in two weeks, we’ll be entering the warm embrace of spring. Well, maybe not so great for these queens. With the number of shady divas reuniting next Friday, there are sure to be plenty of lasting, third-degree burns that will need to stay out of the sun.
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