RuPaul’s Drag Race is back to its traditional format after a surprise exhibition premiere, but “She Done Already Done Brought It On” suffers from some unfortunate decisions, mostly in the editing department. I’ve long considered the editing on this show to be one of its strongest features, but the editing on tonight’s episode makes the main challenge very unbalanced, strips the tension from the storytelling, and ventures into offensive territory during one particularly cringe-worthy scene.

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Before we jump into the main content of this episode, I need to bitch about Lisa Kudrow’s appearance. I am a huge fan of HBO’s The Comeback (I wrote a “One Season Wonders, Weirdos, and Wannabes” and did weekly recaps of the second season), so the prospect of Lisa Kudrow visiting Drag Race had me extremely excited. Would she be a guest judge? Maybe a coach for an acting challenge? Turns out she just makes a quick cameo at the beginning of this episode after RuPaul runs into her on the studio lot, and he has her show up in the workroom to say some classic Valerie Cherish lines like, “Hello, hello, hello!” and “Well, I got it!” As happy as I am to see Kudrow, her minute on screen is very disappointing, and it’s a shame that she’s not here for an episode-long ode to Valerie Cherish in the vein of Amy Sedaris’ Jeri Blank-centric challenge in season 8. I hope that the show corrects this injustice in the future by having Kudrow on in the bigger role she deserves to have, because her appearance in this episode feels like a total waste, especially since she was used in publicity materials.

The challenge this week has the queens split into two teams for a cheerleading competition: RuPaul’s Glamazons and The B-52 Bombers (named after this week’s guest judges: Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson, and Fred Schneider of The B-52s). It’s a lot of fun and very demanding as the queens have to do tumbling, jumping, and stunts while still giving exaggerated drag performances, and it takes a lot to stand out in the chaos of the cheerleading stage. The challenge is the best part of this episode, and the high level of difficulty quickly establishes who is a top competitor and which queens are on the bottom.

Cynthia Lee Fontaine is the returning 14th queen, and I’m happy with this reveal. I had a chance to interview Cynthia at last year’s season 8 premiere party in Chicago, and I felt like she had a lot more to offer the series than what we got the chance to see. (That said, she deserved to go home for her horrible roller-skating hoedown look.) There’s the obligatory bit where the queens bitch about competing against someone that already knows the game and Cynthia gets the opportunity to talk about her stage-1 liver cancer diagnosis and being in remission, but otherwise she’s not a major presence in this episode. That’s because her team, The B-52 Bombers, barely gets any attention during the preparation stage.

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RuPaul’s Glamazons, led by last week’s winner Nina Bonina Brown, get the spotlight in this episode, most of it focusing on Jaymes Mansfield’s struggle to be a more energetic, compelling performer. She is originally assigned the role of Floozy but doesn’t bring any sex appeal to that part, so then she becomes Snoozy, which may seem like a good fit given her drowsy Gaga runway character last week, but is still underwhelming. The main issue with Jaymes is commitment, and as the judges say later, she gives about 20 percent when she needs to be at 100.

Jaymes is completely overwhelmed by being in this competition, and she’s one of the few queens I’ve felt genuine pity for on this series. She should not be on Drag Race at this point in her career. RuPaul says her audition tape was funny and she totally understood the schtick, but I think Jaymes coming up through vlogs has made her very weak when it comes to live performance. I don’t know if Jaymes has experience performing in clubs, but she looks uncomfortable when she’s in front of people, and ends up shrinking when she should be bigger and bigger because that’s what a comedy queen needs to do. (Drag vlogger Charlie Hides has similar trouble making an impression this week, and ends up in the bottom three.)

This show isn’t very subtle when it comes to winner and loser cuts, but the elimination of Jaymes Mansfield is telegraphed especially early. Kimora Blac also ends up in the bottom thanks to a lackluster cheerleading performance and a too-busy runway outfit that loses the White Party theme in unnecessary accessories, but it’s obvious that Jaymes is the queen sashaying away. There’s a sequence of Kimora being really annoying about having to bedazzle her clothes that puts her in a negative light, but she’s not totally lost like Jaymes. Kimora is a whiny snob with an inflated view of herself, but at least she’s confident whereas Jaymes is unsure of herself all the time.

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The lip sync to “Love Shack” is lousy and neither queen gives the ecstatic performance that the song deserves, but Kimora clearly fares better than Jaymes, who can’t bust out of her shell. Jaymes may be the most tepid comedy queen this show has ever had, but I guess that’s the risk of sending in a great audition tape when you’re not ready to be on the show. She gets a profile boost by appearing on Drag Race, but it’s not a flattering presentation of what she can do as a drag queen.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Shea Couleé, Trinity Taylor, and Valentina, who impress the judges with their cheerleading performances and runway looks. Shea is the best tumbler of all the queens, grabbing attention with her spectacular acrobatics, and her White Party look serves up retro-futurist Barbarella-inspired realness that is simply stunning. Shea gets a lot of attention in this episode with her video interviews, and I’m proud of my Chicago homegirl quickly establishing herself as a major force in this competition. Trinity has a lot of pep in the cheerleading routine, and she’s also owning her self-proclaimed role as this season’s body queen, wearing a White Party garment that accentuates her assets while still serving up that drag drama we expect on the runway.

Valentina is shaping up to be one of this season’s most fascinating contestants, and despite only doing drag for 10 months, she is absolutely killing the game. She’s the last queen picked for the challenge because she’s still a drag newbie, but she shows everyone that her lack of experience doesn’t mean a lack of talent. Valentina nails it this week, but she’s also at the center of my least favorite moment, not by any fault of her own. The scene involving the queens asking Valentina about her Virgen De Guadalupe candle is flat-out disrespectful, and it really irritates me that Valentina’s faith is treated like this completely alien, goofy practice. The mariachi music in the background is what really makes me shake my head, and it’s a tasteless addition that makes me root even harder for Valentina to kick all these other queens’ asses.

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And that’s exactly what she does. More than any other queen, Valentina understands that she needs to be wildly over-the-top at all times during the cheerleading routine, taking the enthusiasm of a cheerleader and blowing it up so it becomes a drag caricature. You can’t take your eyes off her because she’s so effervescent, and then she gives us a completely different character on the runway as she walks out in a gorgeous wedding dress. She’s serene and soft and radiant, channeling a bridal spirit that makes it look like this is the happiest moment of her life.

Valentina has been doing drag for only 10 months, but I have the feeling she’s been developing her drag persona and refining her style for much longer than that, taking her time so that she could make a huge impact when she hit the scene for the first time. All of her runway looks have been outstanding, and this week she reveals that she has performance chops to go with her modeling skills. She’s the main competition and she hasn’t even been doing this for a year, which is sure to make the other queens hate her. I predict that the hate will push Valentina even harder to keep wowing the judges, and at this early point in the season, I’m most excited to see how the Drag Race gauntlet will elevate her drag.

Stray observations

  • Cynthia Lee Fontaine has come back with a new arsenal of hashtags, including #justiceforcucu and #kickingcancerinthecucu. I bet she has even more stored up in her cu-cu.
  • Now that Cynthia is back, I hope we get to see her do Charo for the Snatch Game. I also think Valentina could probably do a great Charo too, especially because Valentina’s look has a very heavy Charo influence.
  • I wonder if Keith Strickland’s decision to stop touring with The B-52s is the reason why he’s not part of the group in tonight’s episode. He’s more of an auxiliary member now.
  • The queens’ cheerleading coach, Dom Palange, is engaged to dancer Travis Wall, who showed up on All Stars 2 to choreograph the All Stars Supergroup. They are a very cute couple of very athletic men.
  • Aja’s makeup is busted and I need Trinity to follow-up on her promise and clock her for that. Better yet, the judges should read her for it.
  • I’m pretty sure Sasha does Valerie Cherish prayer hands while bowing to Lisa, although her hands are out of frame.
  • I expected more from Peppermint in the cheerleading challenge given she was the captain of her high school’s cheerleading team, but she does get some valuable screen time as she shares the story of being beaten up by a member of her school’s basketball team when she was a teen.
  • “We are feeling the pressure, and the burn…although the burn might be something else.”
  • Dom: “You’re gonna get a faceful.” Shea: “That’s not a problem.”
  • “It smells like queen spirit! I’m actually literally gagging!”
  • “You should go retire in a private Ida-hooooooo!” This is such a great line.
  • “Hungry, hungry hip-pads.”
  • Michelle: “Where’s my fava beans and chianti?” Ru: “I believe that’s a whitening strip, actually.”
  • “In white, you got read for being too blue.”

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