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One of the most endearing charms of RuPaul’s Drag Race is its catalog of entertaining, show-specific challenges. There’s the Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge, the makeover challenge, and the Rusical, to name just a few. Its most high-profile challenge, though, is Snatch Game. Snatch Game is not only Drag Race’s most popular and distinct challenge, it’s the show’s most difficult challenge, combining pop culture knowledge, celebrity impersonation (both acting and appearance), and improv comedy. Most queens on Drag Race are talented in one of these areas; very few can pull off all three, and it’s no surprise that queens who win Snatch Game tend to make it to at least the top five of their season. It’s also not surprising that a lot of queens bomb.

The ultimate success or failure of a given Snatch Game comes down to a bit of a math problem. How many queens did well, how many queens struggled, and what was the average? Did the heights of the top queens make up for the flailing of the bottom queens (season six, the reigning champ), or were the shenanigans of those at the bottom too distracting for the more polished performances to save (season four, despite Chad Michael’s all-time-great Cher)? While nothing in season 11 approaches the lowlights of, say, All Stars 4’s second Snatch Game Of Love, the highs aren’t particularly high either, and Snatch Game At Sea winds up as one of the least memorable installments in the series’ run. Fortunately, while the queens seriously disappoint with their Snatch Game turns, they deliver elsewhere, and the energetic, engaging runway and lip-sync salvage what was on track to be the weakest episode of the season so far.

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“Snatch Game At Sea” kicks off with the queens returning to the workroom after the explosive fights of the most recent Untucked. There’s barely a word about the departed Ra’Jah and tensions are still high between Silky and Yvie, and Yvie and Vanjie. Plastique and Nina are ready for a break and couch-fort-builder Brooke does her best to bring the conversation back around to something positive, the queens’ excitement to have made it to the top eight. There’s nothing to be done, though. The only thing that’s going to help this bad blood is time, and the episode moves on quickly. The next day, Silky is still upset with Yvie, walling herself off and refusing to interact with the other queens. This is a dramatic change from the norm of the workroom; Silky’s just as commanding with her silence as she is with her pre-mini challenge banter.

After a few beats of awkward silence, Ru comes in to introduce the mini challenge, promoting her self-help book GuRu in the process. The queens will need to get into their best literary quick drag and promote their own self-help books, complete with title, inspirational quotes and concepts, and cover photo. While not as over-the-top as recent mini-challenges, this is a fun branding challenge and the queens’ concepts are surprisingly distinct and original. Most of these queens know their brands, and it shows. Silky gets the whole room laughing with her photo shoot for Eat It: Chronicles Of The Buffet, and she’s named the winner. The prize is a credit from Postmates, and season two and All Stars 3 alum Morgan McMichaels pops by for a cameo-slash-Postmates ad as only Drag Race could do it.

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Mini challenge out of the way, Ru announces that it’s time for Snatch Game, or make that Snatch Game At Sea (sponsored by Vacaya). Unlike in All Stars 4, the tweaked title doesn’t reflect any change in the setup or rules for the challenge. The queens will need to impersonate a celebrity and answer questions à la Match Game, bantering with Ru and the other queens and doing their best to make Ru laugh. The queens get right to work and once again this episode, it seems both Shuga and A’keria will be backgrounded. When Ru does her walkthrough with guest coach—and Drag Race season five winner—Jinkx Monsoon, neither Shuga nor A’keria make the cut. Jinkx is absolutely delightful and gives excellent advice to the queens: Yvie should trust her acting instincts and draw from them as Whoopi, Brooke needs to go further with her French Canadian accent for Celine Dion, Vanjie needs to keep Danielle Bregoli funny and not just try to shock, and Nina needs to make her more obscure (to young audiences) characters funny separate from the references Ru and older viewers will get. Silky is unsurprisingly a bastion of confidence and Nina is cautiously optimistic, but Brooke, Yvie, and Vanjie are all nervous. That’s not a great ratio, and it’s an ominous portent of the Snatch Game to come.

Ru dons a captain’s hat and like that, we’re aboard the S.S. Sick’ning, setting sail for the Snatch Game At Sea with guests Clea DuVall and Tony Hale. Silky bursts out of the gate full of energy as Ts Madison, getting Snatch Game off to a great start. Nina and Plastique keep things moving as Harvey Fierstein and Lovely Mimi, but almost immediately, Yvie brings things down, stumbling over her first exchange with Ru as Whoopi Goldberg. Shuga picks the energy back up with her spot-on Charo and both Vanjie and A’keria start off alright as Danielle Bregoli and Tiffany Haddish, but despite a solid first interaction, Brooke quickly runs into trouble as Celine Dion. Silky and Plastique manage a few decent volleys back and forth, but none of the queens’ other interactions work. A’keria and Brooke talk over each other and over Ru, killing the comedic momentum, and after that, either the queens gave up on side banter or those moments wound up on the cutting room floor.

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Nina stays very in her characters, first Fierstein and later, Jo Anne Worley, and is one of the definite standouts of the game. Silky does well too, but is a bit repetitive with her jokes. The queens never know what will make the edit, so it’s not surprising Silky went for the same “nine inches” line twice. It’s not a great sign that the editors felt they needed to use both takes. Were there no other gags they could use? Shuga is a bubbly ray of fun as Charo, but she doesn’t come up with particularly creative answers to Ru’s questions, and that’s a trend throughout. Plastique does give one of the few memorable answers, suggesting throwing Silky overboard, but even her better moments feel repetitive after her very similar performance as Nails in “Why It Gotta Be Black, Panther?”. A’keria does great with Haddish’s look and mannerisms, but she doesn’t bring much that’s new, referencing Girls Trip and Haddish’s Groupon story. As for Vanjie, don’t pull out a mix tape if you aren’t ready to demo one of the tracks! That’s an unforced error, one of several throughout the proceedings.

Though most of the queens struggle to keep up with Ru and land punchlines, the clear bottom two are Yvie and Brooke, who miss and miss hard. Both performances smack of insecurity and nerves, and both know they’re in trouble heading into the runway. The mood in the workroom is decidedly different after the Snatch Game. Yvie gives Silky her due and apologizes for her crack about Silky not being talented, but she’s not interested. Vanjie, who’s also feeling vulnerable and is aware she may go home, reaches out to Yvie, wanting to clear the air before the runway. Vanjie and Yvie’s apologies show maturity and self-awareness, particularly Vanjie’s apology to the rest of the queens for forcing them to sit through her outburst on Untucked. Let’s hope the screaming matches are over for this season.

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It’s time to face the judges. Category is: Sequins on the Runway. A’keria is up first, with a bold black and white dress, complete with tail and fabulous hair. Vanjie does her best to distract from her white and gold leotard by working her giant cape. Nina puts together a perfectly on-brand, campy patriotic look, best described, as Michelle does, as “Paul Re-queer.” Shuga looks gorgeous in an eggplant flamenco-inspired dress, prompting an unusual pun-free bit of praise from Ru. Then Brooke comes out in a chic pink and black look with an afro, only to twirl and reveal a completely different look and long, blonde wig. It’s a stunning reveal and Brooke works the crap out of it. The judges lose their minds and one can only imagine the reaction at viewing parties across the country. Yvie unfortunately has to follow this, so her bright, fun ass-less jumpsuit is merely fine. Silky looks beautiful in another pageant gown, this time turquoise, and Plastique ends the runway on a high, finally ditching the stoned tights for a blue pants-into-bustier water-themed look. Silky’s gown is expected, as is Vanjie’s ensemble, but everyone looks great and after such a disappointing Snatch Game, it’s nice to be reminded right away of just how good these queens are in other areas of their drag.

The judging goes about as one would expect, given the edit. A’keria and Plastique are safe; Nina, Shuga, and Silky are on top; and Vanjie, Brooke, and Yvie are on the bottom. Ultimately, Silky walks away with her second win, savoring not only her victory, but Yvie’s place in the bottom. Vanjie’s personality pulls her through to safe, and everyone buckles in for what promises to be an epic battle between the two frontrunners of the season, Brooke and Yvie. They’re lip-syncing to Demi Lovato’s “Sorry, Not Sorry” and from the jump, both queens fight with everything they have. They’re good on their words and they slay both the emotions and energy of the song. That’s not enough for either of them, though. They pull out all the stops, doing flips, legwork, contortions, and splits. They’re serving up attitude for days and this is without question the best lip-sync of the season. There’s only one possible answer and thankfully, Ru doesn’t disappoint: Double shantay. It would have been interesting to see the season shaken up with a surprise elimination of a frontrunner, and with those Snatch Game performances, either deserved to go. But after that runway and that lip-sync, both Brooke and Yvie redeemed themselves. They remain on track to make it to the top four, and if this is the level of lip-sync they can bring, just wait until the finale.

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Stray observations

  • Ru looks fabulous in her pink and black leotard, Michelle looks lovely as always, and Ross is a hoot with his Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. Guest judges Clea DuVall and Tony Hale are very excited to be there, and they both give solid feedback. It would have been nice to get more of them during Snatch Game—both are currently killing it on this season of Veep—but given how weak this installment was, it’s probably for the best that we didn’t see more of it.
  • If ever a one-on-one lip-sync needed picture-in-picture, it was this one! The camera wisely stays focused on the queens, letting the audience hear and feel the judges’ reactions rather than watching them, but I still feel like I missed a lot whenever the camera cut away from Brooke to show Yvie and vice versa.
  • We finally get some more Branjie action! The few shots we get of them together play up the potential for a Brooke and Vanjie lip-sync when Brooke is announced as lip-syncing and Vanjie does not yet know if she’s safe. Perhaps that’s still coming, along with the promised Yvie-Silky battle.
  • Normally, I find myself defending Snatch Game performances to fans tired of the challenge. It feels very strange to be on the other side of that argument. In a stronger group, Silky or Shuga would have been merely safe.
  • Finally, Shuga absolutely nails the runway! I’m very glad she got to hear the judges’ reactions and that her look wasn’t overshadowed by Brooke’s fantastic reveal.

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