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It’s hard to come up with new challenges for a reality show that has been around for 10 seasons (plus 3 All Stars seasons), which explains why this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race has a parody lip-sync extravaganza revolving around pharmaceutical commercials. I give the writers credit for thinking outside of the box with the concept for “PharmaRusical,” but even the queens are confused about this “musical about medicine and stuff.” The content is strange, but it brings out some strong performances from the queens, and this episode gives us a better idea of how they do when they have to embody different characters while juggling lyrics and choreography.

Having 90 minute episodes of Drag Race means that there’s room for mini-challenges and full-length runway segments, which is very refreshing after All Stars 3. Andy Cohen shows up for a quick-drag hoedown at the start of the episode, and I love these goofy challenges that show what a queen can do with minimal prep and short time in the spotlight. Asia O’Hara has the strongest showing with an adorable freckled look and some on-point line-dancing moves—she is from Texas, after all—and she’s a winner with The Vixen, making them the two group leaders for the “PharmaRusical” maxi-challenge.

One of the best things about this season is that the show is taking advantage of its veteran queens, and after bringing back a bunch of familiar faces last week, Drag Race welcomes Alyssa Edwards as the choreographer/director for the two groups. She makes the most out of her return, delivering a bunch of quotable lines but also giving the queens some great advice on how to make their performances bigger. Alyssa understands that drag should be over-the-top, and she pushes the girls to exaggerate whenever they can. Whether it’s facial expressions, hand movements, or simply walking across the stage, everything can be turned up to 11, and the results of her direction are immediately noticeable. This might be the most entertaining rehearsal session this show has ever had, and I would love to see Alyssa become the show’s resident choreographer.

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The editing for the first half of this episode leads the audience to believe that Asia’s team will come out on top, and they are way ahead of The Vixen’s team when it comes to preparation. They have choreography mapped out when they see Alyssa while the other team has pretty much nothing for her, but planning for the group doesn’t mean much when individual performances are lackluster. Having a hard time with Alyssa forces Team Vixen to step up and work harder, and they end up giving a much sharper, fuller performance when it really counts. We don’t see much of Team Vixen actually learning choreography with Alyssa, probably because they do a good job and that doesn’t work for the story the editors are trying to sell, but I also think that the queens are genuinely worried about how they will fare once they are in front of the judges.

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After performing “PharmaRusical,” the queens take to the runway in their best drag, but if this is their best, it’s very underwhelming. It’s way too early in the competition for this runway theme, and I suspect that the queens didn’t want to show off their top looks because they want to surprise the judges in the future. That said, this is also an opportunity for them to show off their most striking looks before they get eliminated, so it’s not a bad idea to come out with guns blazing. There are too many bodysuits on the runway, but of those looks, Kameron’s is the best, with a swarm of rainbow-colored butterflies ascending from her crotch. She looks gorgeous, and her bright pink wig and the pink highlights in her makeup bring the whole ensemble together. Cracker lives up to her name with a saltine-shaped hairpiece paired with a metallic gold dress, and Dusty is the biggest surprise of the evening with a black-and-white striped blazer that all the female judges want in their closet. A blazer can be a very tricky look for a drag queen to pull off, but Dusty nails the proportions and gives herself huge hair to achieve a feminine look.

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The Vixen is the big winner of this episode, both in terms of the challenges and pure screen presence. She’s quickly situating herself as the main shit-stirrer of this season, and as she said in last week’s Untucked, she doesn’t want this group to fall victim to the niceties of season 9. The Vixen co-hosted Drag Race viewing parties in Chicago, and she knows what gets a bar riled up. It’s not about being mean, but about being real, and if you have a problem with someone, you should be open about it because conflict makes for good TV. When the Aquaria/Miz Cracker drama comes up at the start of the episode, The Vixen refuses to let Aquaria downplay her issues with her former twin, and she breaks down Aquaria’s Untucked bitching for the entire group. Aquaria is not happy about it, and you can sense Aquaria’s resentment toward Miz Cracker transferring over to The Vixen. There’s going to be a lot of tension between these two queens, and while they both say that the other will be going home soon, I very much doubt that.

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Aquaria is this season’s Valentina: She serves up striking drag looks, is a cute twink out of drag, and has a villainous side that she tries to downplay when she’s called out on it. This comparison is even stronger this week after the judges say she looks like Linda Evangelista in the maxi-challenge, but that’s not a compliment when she’s supposed to be playing an old woman. Aquaria is known for her looks, but this episode tests her ability to create a distinct character outside of her usual glamorous self. She doesn’t want to give herself old age makeup, but the judges point out that there’s a lot more she could be doing with her body to make herself look elderly.

After being shut out of the top last week for her outstanding playing cards look, Monique Heart continues to get no respect from the judges, who say she gives an underwhelming performance when she’s one of the stand-out queens in her group. She never fades into the background, gives great face, hits her dance moves, and knows her lyrics, and I understand why she starts crying on the runway when the judges tell her she’s safe. She clearly put in the work to deliver a good performance, and she still ends up in the bottom three. Untucked gives us an even deeper look into Monique’s mindset, and she reveals her vulnerability when she talks about how being gay has affected her relationship with her very religious mother. Being a drag queen is heresy, and she’s putting a lot on the line by showing this aspect of herself to the entire world. The rest of the queens give Monique the emotional support she needs in that moment, and I’m glad she doesn’t have to lip sync for her life in such a distraught state.

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Eureka is in a unique position for a Drag Race queen, and while she’s not the first to return, she is the first to return after leaving the competition due to an injury. She hurt her knee during the second episode of last season, and she’s overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that she’s going to hurt herself again this week. It doesn’t help that the other queens don’t really like her because she’s obnoxious, and no one picks her for their team because they know she’s going to talk too much and get in the way of the work. As the last queen standing, Eureka gets to pick which group she’ll join, and she goes with Team Asia because she’ll be with her big girl sister, Kalorie.

The Eureka/Kalorie friendship is pretty shallow at this early point in the season, but they’ve bonded over their struggles with their weight, which get extra attention when Kalorie talks about how she was mercilessly teased in high school for weighing 340 pounds. Kalorie is at her most likable when she’s talking about how seeing Jujubee on Drag Race completely changed the way she lived her life, and she turned to drag in order to find that confidence and beauty within herself. I love hearing how drag helps people discover their true potential, but Kalorie still has a ways to go before her drag is on the same level as the other queens this season.

Asia has no patience for Eureka, and when they go to rehearsal, it becomes clear that Eureka is a liability because of the stress she’s under. She has a lot of trouble keeping up with Alyssa’s direction, and she breaks down in tears when Alyssa asks her what is going on. I get where Eureka is coming from in this episode, and she’s haunted by what happened in the past and doesn’t want to do anything that could risk even greater injury. Eureka makes a living as a drag queen, and if she damages her knee again, that can have huge consequences on her future. It makes sense to be afraid of activities that have hurt you in the past, but Eureka needs to overcome that fear if she’s going to stay in the competition.

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Eureka ends up failing miserably this week, and because she’s so worried about the dancing, she doesn’t learn her lyrics. Her performance lands her in the bottom with Kalorie, and the two face off in a lip sync to The Emotions’ “Best Of My Love.” It’s a mediocre showdown considering this is an A+ lip sync song, but Eureka has a bigger flame burning under her performance. There’s a weird anger to Eureka for a song that should be very happy, but she’s working through some shit right now and even if it’s the wrong emotion, it leads to a more forceful lip sync. Kalorie doesn’t have the fight she had last week, and her tepid performance sends her home. Eureka is going to have to step up her game if she doesn’t want to join her sister, and she’ll have to do it fast because this season’s queens are not messing around.

Stray observations

  • This episode starts on a great foot with the reprise of Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s now-infamous “Miss Vanjie!” exit line, and she may have only been on the show for one episode, but she made a definite impression with the queens, judges, and fans. I hope “Miss Vanjie!” becomes a recurring joke this season, because the scene of Michelle teasing RuPaul with it is hilarious.
  • Miz Cracker is always careful to add “on purpose” when she talks about how she would never steal another queen’s looks. Sure, she might steal sometimes, but it’s always totally unintentional!
  • Thank god Dusty doesn’t do circles all over her face when the judges told her not to do that. But will she do it next week? I think the smartest thing is to find new ways to incorporate her signature circles into her looks, like the speckles around the eyes that she does on the runway.
  • Why does Blair get to use the pit crew for a hoedown partner but no one else does?
  • Halsey and Padma Lakshmi are very good guest judges. Halsey has funny one-liners and a strong rapport with Michelle, and Padma is brutally honest, like when she matter-of-factly says that Kalorie is out of her league on this season.
  • I am living for Asia’s hatred of Monét’s sponge look. It really was very ugly.
  • Monét sounds so much like Bob The Drag Queen that it is distracting. I like her quite a bit, but I want to see her stand out and establish herself as more than a Bob clone.
  • “Vixen, shut the fuck up!”
  • “I just did a look that I know for a fact she’s never done: It’s called being on top.”
  • “Usually I like thick but this time it scares me.”
  • Ru: “How is your leg?” Eureka: “No complaints.”
  • “I’m so glad we didn’t have no Charlie Hides in this group.”
  • “Take it all the way to Nicki Mi-na-na-naj.”
  • “You think you’re clever, don’t you?”
  • “I really think Michelle’s gonna love this.”
  • “Is there an anal option?”
  • “I can only wish I was as stoned as she is right now.”
  • “My eyes are up here.”
  • “The bottom is made out of a homosexual sasquatch.”
  • “If it’s in the closet, it’s not going to help you.”
  • “When I saw you back for season 10, I was ready to strap on…the Eureka express.” Michelle: “This is not that kind of show, Ross!” Ross: “Let me finish! The Eureka express, and ride you all the way home.” Michelle: “Still!” Ru: “Well I guess it is that kind of show.”
  • “I’ve seen the trailer, I’m ready for the full-length. Uncut version, preferably.”

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