Vaaaaanjie!
Photo: VH1

Asia learned a hard lesson in “The Last Ball on Earth”: the pride of helping the rest of the queens execute their visions is nothing next to the dread of elimination, or the shame of presenting a look you can’t stand behind to one of your childhood favorites (in Asia’s case, Tisha Campbell Martin). That lesson is hammered home in “The Bossy Rossy Show” as one after another, the queens Asia helped in the previous challenge balk at his frustration that no one thought to ask if he could use a hand in return. And just like that, Asia’s newly adopted role of workroom Mom evaporates, gone with the sisterly gratitude the other queens were happy to lavish upon him when they were in trouble. This is an episode that leaves several of the queens reevaluating their choices, and Asia won’t quickly forget his reverse Little Red Hen moment the next time a sewing challenge beleaguers his fellow competitors.

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After the dust clears, it’s a new day in the workroom and RuPaul’s back for another politically-inspired mini challenge. After years of avoiding political hot-button issues, as much as a show about and featuring drag queens possibly can, Drag Race’s trumpeting of issues like the importance of voting and the certainty of climate change is a welcome change. The queen’s military-inspired quick drag may not match the bizarre comedy of the candy bar auditions in “Tap That App,” but it’s empowering to watch the queens celebrate their fellow LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the military and strut their stuff in fatigues. The Vixen’s fierce walk wins her the mini challenge and after some light scheming, she pairs everyone off for the episode’s improv comedy maxi challenge.

For the maxi challenge, each pair of queens is given a premise by Ru for a segment they’ll film of a trashy daytime talk show, The Bossy Rossy Show, with the queens expected to work on their characters and improv a scene with host Ross Matthews. It’s a fun and creative challenge, with the loose format giving everyone plenty of room to play while still giving them a specific energy and comedic tone to shoot for. Matthews is terrific, as expected, and while his absence is felt on the judging panel, at least the producers found a creative way to incorporate him during one of his off weeks.

How now, brown giraffe?
Photo: VH1

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At first blush, most of the queens seem confident. The Vixen actively pairs Eureka and Aquaria together hoping they’ll sabotage each other, but the other pairings are not maliciously meant and everyone seems to collaborate well. There’s decidedly less drama with these pairings than there have been with the larger group challenges and for the most part, everyone puts their heads down and gets to work. First up are Blair and Monique, who play the wife and girlfriend of a cheating cactus. Blair starts well, but has trouble reacting to Matthews’ improvs and Monique quickly starts to steal the show. Once Blair is able to modulate and go bigger with her character, however—once the Vanjies start flying—the two deliver, building on the trust they established by planning a safe word ahead of time should one of the two feel insecure or overshadowed in the scene.

Next up are Monét and Kameron, playing queens dealing with unusual addictions (eating hip pads and sniffing tucking panties, respectively). Monét, confident heading into the challenge due to her hosting and stage experience, struggles quite a bit. These queens may be at home reacting to a crowd and holding their own on the mic, but the character work required to sell Monét’s hip pad addiction is something entirely different. Kameron commits to her character and goes big, pulling Monét through the scene, though not enough to save her from the bottom two. Mayhem similarly struggles and never fully relaxes into her portrayal of a woman with a debilitating fear of pickles. Miz Cracker is much more at ease and has a strong sense of who her character is, a doctor (who is actually a giant pickle) brought in to cure Mayhem of her phobia. As with Monique and Kameron, Cracker knows to go big and commit fully to the ridiculousness of the scene. She also makes sure she’s prepared, giving her character some backstory and ready with a list of pickle puns.

Up next are The Vixen and Asia, whose scene is by far the most anticipated and has the potential to be a deliciously shady highlight of the season so far. The Vixen plays a woman convinced Asia is copying her look and style and the pair draw inspiration from the season’s early Aquaria and Miz Cracker drama. Unfortunately, as tantalizing as that set up is, the two utterly fail to do their homework, seeing their Aquaria/Miz Cracker lightbulb moment as the end of their prep work, rather than the beginning. Neither is ready with specifics and The Vixen in particular gives a one-note performance, having lacked the curiosity required to flesh out her Aquaria caricature. Once the pair get away from their starting point and start pulling wigs, though, they build some energy and manage to end on a high note. This sets us up for the last pair, Aquaria and Eureka, who the laws of reality TV editing tell us must succeed, if only to hoist The Vixen by her own petard. Aquaria and Eureka play adults who live as sexy babies and who each insist they are sexiest. Once they discover they share a two-timing lover, all bets are off and Eureka in kills, excelling in a challenge that is suited to her strengths. There may have been a few less than stellar turns, but overall the maxi challenge is a lot of fun and hopefully it’s a format the show will return to in the future.

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Afterward, the queens head back to the workroom to get ready for the runway, where the simmering tension between The Vixen and Eureka, which came to a boil in the previous episode of Untucked, returns to the forefront. Untucked has prompted some of the season’s most compelling and challenging discussions, especially the past two episodes’ confrontations between Aquaria and The Vixen and then Eureka and The Vixen. The editing throughout “The Bossy Rossy Show” responds to this, and to the events of this episode, by outlining a clear narrative for The Vixen and Eureka. The Vixen is the villain, overreacting to criticism and trying to hobble Eureka’s chances, while Eureka is the put-upon heroine. Not only is that an over-simplification of Untucked’s more interesting dynamic, it’s undercut by the heartfelt conversation the two have while painting. Both The Vixen and Eureka come across well here, opening up and actually listening to what the other has to say, being honest about some of their sensitivities and where their defensiveness over their voices comes from. The best part of all is the lack of resolution. Eureka is ready to hug it out by the end, but The Vixen isn’t there yet, and that feels far more genuine. Both of these queens are on a journey, and they’ll likely be renegotiating their relationship for as long as they remain on the show.

Throughout season 10, the runway has been reliable, with most of the queens delivering fierce and fabulous looks every week. Unfortunately, the theme of denim and diamonds leads to the weakest runway yet, with most of the queens turning out looks ranging from forgettable to regrettable. Denim can be a difficult fabric to work with, stiff and heavy, so it’s not surprising so many of the queens opt for similar looks. Only two queens opt for non-blue denim, and while Miz Cracker is complimented for her light pink ensemble, Mayhem is knocked, with the judges questioning whether she even used denim for her bright pink Judd family-inspired look. The high drama, high concept looks of the previous runways are nowhere to be found and frankly, the less said about the runway, the better.

After a quick round of judging, and a welcome chance for the safe Kameron to geek out at childhood idol Shania Twain, Eureka is named the winner, with Cracker a close number two, and Monét and Mayhem stand ready to lip sync for their lives. Monét absolutely slayed the previous lip sync, but being in the bottom a second week in a row has her off her game and neither she nor Mayhem are all that suited to the song, Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”. Mayhem, who also destroyed in her previous lip sync for your life, opts to embrace the warmth of the song, beaming with joy and bubbly energy. Monét goes more comedic, and while neither are that convincing, if you can wring a few laughs out of the judges, as Monét does, you’re likely to skate through.

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Despite a strong start, fun mini and maxi challenges, and some quality mirror conversation, it’s hard not to leave this episode underwhelmed. The two most consistent and exciting aspects of the season so far have been the runways and the lip syncs, and both disappoint this time (air guitar, Monét? Really?). Hopefully this will prove to be just a blip in what has been an otherwise excellent season.

Stray observations:

  • Hello, all! Oliver had to sit this one out for happy, but time-sensitive reasons. I’m grateful to have been able to sub in and talk about a show I absolutely adore, but rest easy; Oliver will be back next week.
  • I chose to use masculine pronouns in my review when referencing the queens out of drag and feminine pronouns when referencing the queens in drag. If I have mis-gendered any of the queens, let me know in the comments and I will rectify the mistake as soon as possible.
  • Season 10’s extra runtime has made the mini challenges a weekly occurrence and it’s hard to overstate how much better the show works when the audience gets to see the queens thrown off balance and forced to think on their feet with these quick drag challenges. Their personalities shine through, as do their priorities. Any of these queens can look amazing with hours to paint and who knows how long to work on their looks before arriving. Seeing what they can throw together in 20 minutes (or less!) highlights just how talented and creative these queens really are.
  • Usually by this point in the season, we have a strong sense of the interpersonal dynamics, but many of the queens are in flux right now. Asia is recalibrating her place in the workroom, The Vixen appears humbled and wary, Eureka has done a 180, and Monét is shook. Even Kameron is starting to open up—who knows what we’ll discover once that strong, silent queen starts talking.
  • Speaking of, the conversation that starts to happen in Untucked around the queens’ sexual histories and sexual experiences with women is interesting, particularly Kameron’s revelation that he only slept with women after years of sleeping with men.
  • The specter of Miss Vanjie returns, yet again. At this rate, an All Stars appearance or Shangela-style re-do season for Vanessa Vanjie Mateo feels inevitable, and this viewer, for one, cannot wait.

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