Photo: VH1

Confidence is a necessary quality if a drag queen wants to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but once you get on the show, that confidence is going to be tested over and over again. Some queens have an endless supply because they recognize that believing in yourself is a key aspect of success, but others struggle with it and begin to question if they have what it takes to win. Aquaria is the former, clueless about her weak performance last week and refusing to believe that she did anything to land her in the bottom three. Kameron and Cracker are the latter, and this week they both let their nerves get the better of them when they’re asked to do something different than what they had planned for the “Breastworld” acting challenge.

This week’s mini-challenge of “Pants Down, Bottoms Up” is a disappointment after some very creative games in the past few episodes, and while I don’t mind the beefcake, the matching underwear challenge doesn’t showcase the queens enough to be really worthwhile. Aquaria wins, and she gets to assign roles for the “edgy, slightly confusing” new show, “Breastworld,” a responsibility she assumes with surprising deference to the wishes of the other queens. Aquaria has become increasingly cognizant of how the other queens perceive her, which gives her clues about how the general public is going to perceive her when the show airs. She’s not going to let go of her confidence, but she realizes that she could make a bigger effort to be friendly and uses her mini-challenge win to show that she can be generous and considerate of what other people want.

Aquaria ends up with one of the smallest parts in “Breastworld” because she’s so focused on letting the other girls pick their roles, and Ru asks an important question when they talk in the workroom: “Do you want them to like you, or do you want to win?” Aquaria is so young that she doesn’t really knows what she wants, but you get the impression that she wants to be a part of a drag sisterhood and take advantage of Drag Race as an opportunity to make that happen. She’s risen through the drag scene largely thanks to her social media presence, but she’s discovering the value of non-digital relationships and wants to show the world that she can have friends, not just followers.

Last week I wished that I could hear more of the lyrics to the Cher songs because they seemed like they could actually be funny, but “Breastworld” is a reminder that the writing on this show can be really shitty sometimes. The writers could have done something much more clever with a drag Westworld, and the entire bit feels very stale and dusty. Is it because the performances are underwhelming, or because the material isn’t very good? Asia O’Hara is the winning queen this week for her 11th-hour performance as Parah Salin, a riff on Sarah Palin, but this character does nothing for me. Sarah Palin isn’t the most timely reference, and she’s become such a pop culture punchline that its lazy for the writers to use her as inspiration.

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Aquaria laments that she has the smallest part, but at least she’s a regular presence in the scene instead of showing up at the very end like Asia. Aquaria ultimately does very well as a robotic servant, easily making changes to give the directors exactly what they want. Aquaria may seem like she’s above it all, but when she needs to pay attention, she makes sure she’s listening and rolls with whatever is asked of her. The best performance in “Breastworld” comes from Monét, who is relaxed, energetic, and confident enough in her characterization that she feels free to ad lib. Monét has been steadily rising after her second lip sync, and one of the things I’ve been really enjoying about this season is that the lip syncs feel more like wake-up calls for potential winners than showdowns between two losers.

Kameron and Cracker are both dealing with the weight of expectations, and they’ve inherited behaviors that prevent them from being vulnerable and fully opening up to the other contestants, the judges, and the cameras. In Untucked, we learn that Kameron’s emotional response is inherited from her late father, who never dealt with his feelings publicly, and she tries to stay consistently cool because she thinks expressing emotion is a sign of weakness. She doesn’t want to appear excited when she’s doing well or dismayed when she’s stumbling, and she always assumes failure so that she’s mentally prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised when that doesn’t happen. She accepts failure without letting it shake her focus, and always knows the words for every lip sync song because she doesn’t actually know how well she’s performed until the judges tell her what they think.

Kameron doesn’t want to set lofty expectations for herself, but Cracker has come in with the bar set high because she’s had a first-place mentality ingrained in her since childhood. She’s talked up her comedy queen status, but after underperforming in recent comedy challenges, she’s questioning her greatest strength. I’ve had a feeling that Cracker is on a Katya path, where she’s an extremely promising contestant who gets trapped in her own head because she’s beginning to doubt her talent and lets those feelings cloud her focus. She struggles with taking direction, and you can feel her growing nerves as the judges ask her for the same thing over and over again. Cracker is still better than Kameron, whose character has the same shrill delivery for every line, but I’m getting very nervous about Cracker’s staying power in the competition.

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The runway theme is Silver Foxy, and the queens are asked to imagine themselves 50 years in the future. The results are very mixed, with some queens doing their usual schtick with silver wigs and slightly aged makeup, and some using their imaginations to show how their drag would change over time. Asia is the winner, but the judges are harsh on her look even though it’s a thoughtful and funny vision of who she’ll be in half a century. She does a good job justifying her choices to the judges by saying she’s a tired old showgirl roaming the DragCon parking lot trying to get people to buy her fanny packs, but I get that story from her rough appearance and expressive performance on the runway. The other top queen, Monét, has a similarly conceptual, unglamorous look, coming out as a sick, elderly woman who tears away her hospital gown to reveal two breasts sagging out from her undergarments and dangling around her waist. It’s a crass idea with a dark sense of humor, but it works for this runway challenge, which asks the queens to tell stories with their ensembles.

Cracker serves Upper East Side rich bitch realness, and Kameron plays the tattooed sister of the Six Flag dancing old guy, jittering across the stage as she takes her daily pills. Kameron’s runway look is so good that it should save her from the bottom, and she goes above and beyond with her old age makeup to fully transform herself in a way no other queen does. She’s unrecognizable as Kameron at first, but the more you see it, the stronger the illusion becomes, especially when she gets emotional in Untucked. You get a lot of close-ups of that makeup when Kameron breaks down in tears after being overwhelmed by all the emotion she’s kept bottled up, and this week’s Untucked is a big one for Kameron, who continues to be steely and distant and rightfully assumes that she’ll be lip syncing for her life.

Eureka and Aquaria have the two looks that don’t give the judges a clear narrative for where they see themselves in 50 years, but Aquaria gets a big bump from her “Breastworld” performance while Eureka gets shot down by hers. Eureka soared to the top after lip syncing in the second episode, but with her momentum dipping the last two challenges, she’s sent back to the bottom two to reignite her winners’ spirit for the final leg of the competition. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the lip syncs this season, but Kameron and Eureka facing off to Patti Labelle’s “New Attitude” is the first one that belongs in the Lip Sync For Your Life Hall Of Fame.

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Kameron is the big question mark going in, but she makes it clear early on that she is not going down without one hell of a fight, setting herself apart by bringing back the character she played earlier on the runway. This emphasizes the specificity of her look compared to the generic quality of Eureka’s, who wears a big flowing jacket on the runway because she likes it and feels like she can get away with wearing it for this challenge. Eureka showed up as her current self with glasses and a silver wig, but Kameron showed up as a completely different personality, and it awakens a side of her that the judges have been waiting to see. They want to see Kameron let loose and have fun and go as big as she possibly can, and pitting her against Eureka forces that out of her.

Eureka does her usual thing and she does it very well, and she’s overcome her fear of injuring herself based on the high kicks and splits she whips out on the runway. It takes some time for Eureka’s performance to build, but Kameron starts off at full blast and never lets her energy dip. The most impressive moment is when Eureka and Kameron jump into a splits at the same time, with Kameron doing a full-on Chinese splits, showing off the benefits of that intense workout regimen. It’s an exhilarating lip sync, and the queens fight so hard that Ru keeps them both.

This is a middling episode, but the final moments leave the audience with a feeling of excitement for the rest of the competition. Now that we’ve seen what Kameron can do in a lip sync, I feel like her chances of getting to the finale have increased, and I have no idea who is next on the chopping block. There are only two queens who haven’t been in the bottom yet, Aquaria and Cracker, and they have the kind of history that makes them perfect opponents in a lip sync. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I have my fingers crossed.

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Stray observations

  • There’s no new episode of Drag Race next week, and the rest of the season will unfold over the course of June with the final two competition episodes, a reunion, and then the finale on June 28.
  • Broad City’s Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer are the guest judges this week and you can tell it’s a dream come true for them to be on the panel. I wish they were also the “Breastworld” directors, because it would have been great to see them interacting more with each other and the queens.
  • The queens talk about getting older, dating, and learning from their elders while they prepare for the runway. Now that The Vixen is gone, this really does feel like a big group of friends sharing their experiences.
  • I really like Ross’ comment about Kameron wearing gloves to cover up her tattoos for her “Breastworld” character because they create all this visual chaos when her hands are by her face. He probably could have brought that up during filming.
  • “I would have more respect if it said ‘Eureka is a bitch. I hate you.’”
  • “I can’t get these off my hand. I wish I had a friend to help.”
  • “Googly moogly.”
  • Ilana: “Ru, my clitoris is engorged to be here.” Ru: “Well thank god it’s not prolapsed.” Ilana: “You and me both.”
  • Abbi: “I feel like I’ve officially died.” Ru: “But at least your clitoris isn’t prolapsed.” Abbi: “Nope!”
  • “Sissy that walker.”
  • “I been tryin’ to not eat potato chips for the last 50 years and now I’m like fuck it, I’ma do whatever I want.”

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