Confidence and commitment are the key elements to success on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and these two words that are repeated throughout “Bitch Perfect,” an episode that puts the queens through a performance gauntlet that tests how well they can stand out in a crowd. You don’t really get a solid idea of just how much these queens have to learn until you see the final “Bitch Perfect” product, an elaborate stage show that has the queens performing a significant amount of choreography while lip syncing to a cappella arrangements of RuPaul’s greatest hits, but most of the queens rise to the challenge.
Drag Race is known for over-the-top writing, and the script for this episode is especially cartoonish thanks to the “Bitch Perfect” concept. From RuPaul’s initial descriptions of the two teams—The Lady Bitches are “the sweethearts of dragappella from the Lace Front Institute Of Technology,” The Shady Bitches are “bad girls from the Lake Titicaca Academy of Braids, Weaves, and Waffles”—to the voiceover narration and dialogue of the “Bitch Perfect” show, the writers have a ball using drag lingo to create hilarious dialogue. RuPaul is also clearly delighted with the challenge this week, and I especially love how she puts a twist on her catchphrases by playing with the pitch of her voice.
The contestants’ performance skills are immediately tested with the minichallenge, which welcomes musician AB Soto to help Ru judge the queens’ dancing and lip of syncing his song “Cha Cha Bitch.” Cynthia Lee Fontaine and Chi Chi DeVayne are the stand-outs thanks to their fancy footwork and sharp sense of rhythm, but Acid Betty also does good work starting the challenge off with energy and Thorgy makes sure she’s noticed by spasming in time to the music, a move she returns to later in the episode. Derrick Berry is surprisingly lackluster given her experience as a Vegas showgirl, but she makes a wise decision not a wear a blonde wig, making her move away from the Britney Spears persona that defines her.
Bob isn’t much of a dancer, but she makes up for it with an evocative character choice, and she passes this knowledge along to Kim Chi later in the episode when Kim worries about her lack of dance skills. She’s easily the worst performer of the group, but after winning last week, this is the exact kind of narrative turn that will benefit Kim in the long run. At this point, she has the most dimensions of all the contestants this season, and the amount of time the show is dedicating to her backstory suggests she’ll be here for a while. After confessing last week that her mother doesn’t know she does drag, Kim reveals this week that she used to weigh 350 pounds and always felt like an outsider because she was the “weird fat art kid with a strong lisp and accent,” and while Acid Betty and Dax ExclamationPoint follow that up by showing pictures of themselves as overweight kids, their stories don’t have the emotional punch of Kim’s.
I don’t know how aware Kim is of how well she’s playing the Drag Race game, but she absolutely kills it in this episode despite being one of the bottom queens. After surprising the group with her backstory, she shocks them further by revealing she’s still a virgin, which brings her lots of attention from the cameras, but also the rest of the queens, who rally behind her to show support and affection. Kim is also the only queen to take advantage of the new Shade Tree confessional room (at least in any sort of meaningful way that the show’s editors choose to include in the episode), and she shows a level of vulnerability in that scene that highlights the value of a confession room. Having a place for the queens to express their thoughts in the moment allows for more honest emotion than the talking heads that are filmed afterward, and Kim Chi uses the Shade Tree to bring even more depth to her story. She’s getting a lot of attention, and if Kim can continue to work the cameras while nailing the runway challenges (she looks incredible this week in her cherry blossom nymph drag), she may be able to avoid lip synching for her life, which would surely be her undoing.
Split into two teams led by Cynthia (The Lady Bitches) and Chi Chi (The Shady Bitches), the contestants start to turn up the drama as they vie for screen time, with Acid Betty leading the charge by immediately undermining Chi Chi’s authority. Thorgy has known Betty for 10 years, and she’s very familiar with Betty’s attitude. “Because she’s so artistic, she gets away with being a fucking asshole,” Thorgy says, and surely enough, Betty is a fucking asshole for most of the episode. Betty’s behavior might be acceptable if Chi Chi wasn’t on the right track as a leader, but Chi Chi has a firm grip on being leader. Chi Chi has choreographed for the girls back home, and she knows her process works, but Betty wants to be in charge so she becomes aggressive and antagonistic very fast.
Betty always needs to do what she wants to do while making the current agenda seem pointless, which makes her look selfish and needlessly rude. She wants to start doing choreography before Chi Chi and the rest of the group understand the basics of the performance, but Chi Chi is in the right here. It’s good to have some choreography, but it’s most important that they know what they’re doing before they jump into action or else it will be even sloppier. Betty continues to condescend when the group is talking about shoes and makes their concerns sound trivial, but when you’re going to perform in heels, you need to talk about the kinds of shoes that work best and will be the most comfortable.
Chi Chi isn’t wasting time, she’s addressing the issues that a choreographer has to deal with because she’s done it before, and she knows that it’s not all about having dance steps planned out. They have a professional choreographer, Jamal Sims, who will help them put the dance together, and the rehearsal brings out even more of Betty’s bitchiness as she talks about how she’ll gladly throw Chi Chi under the bus if that’s what it comes to on the runway. She’s the opposite of a team player, which makes everyone surprised when Sims says he admires how much Betty cares about the group and making everyone look good.
Betty turns it out on the runway, although I whole-heartedly agree with criticisms of the train and butt on her couture gown, but her nastiness makes it hard to root for her and it’s a relief when Chi Chi is named the winner of this challenge. Her runway look is a bit simple, but her performance in “Bitch Perfect” is stellar and she also has a compelling backstory in her gang member past, showing an intriguing new side of this season’s dim country queen. Thorgy and Naomi also have strong showings on the runway, with Thorgy grabbing the judges’ attention with a sequined jumpsuit and Naomi continuing to show that modeling is what she does best.
As a performer, Naomi Smalls is still trying to figure out how to work her gangly body in motion, but at least she tries to be ambitious. She delivers one of the show’s most pitiful death drops during the minichallenge, but the effort is admirable and she steps it up during the main challenge, hitting all the choreography and playing a defined character. All of The Shady Bitches but Dax bring a strong personality to the stage, which makes her fade even further into the background. So much of what Dax says this week involves what she doesn’t do (not a gown queen, not a disco queen, not a classically trained dancer), and her lack of versatility combined with her lack of confidence makes her a completely forgettable queen.
Laila McQueen is also fighting her forgetability, but she doesn’t know how to make herself memorable. She says she’s going to stand out when Ru visits the workroom, but Ru reminds her that there’s more strategy involved than just saying the words, and Laila isn’t a very good Drag Race strategist. She lets herself get cast as a character who is supposed to be a poor imitation of Derrick Berry, which puts her in a position where her role is working against her, and she’s not able to give that vague character a vivid personality. Laila needs to speak up during the assignment of roles and give herself a stronger character, but she stays silent and allows herself to be doomed.
Disappointing performances in “Bitch Perfect” and bland looks on the runway land Dax and Laila in the bottom two, and the judges’ expectations are very high for the queens’ lip syncs of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the quintessential Gay Lip Sync Song. The editing builds up the lip sync by showing the judges talking about what a seminal track this is, and setting the expectations so high makes it all the more disastrous when both queens fail to impress. Dax looks bored for most of the number and has no connection to the emotional core of the song, and while Laila is putting a lot more energy into her performance, it’s not focused energy, giving her lip sync a frantic sense of desperation that only intensifies once she removes her shoes and dress.
Laila doesn’t have the feminine body needed to sell stripping down to her underwear, and once she loses the dress, she stops looking like a drag queen and starts looking like a man in a wig. It’s also not an organic reveal, feeling like a planned last-ditch attempt to grab attention rather than a liberating moment that comes from a genuine emotional place. It’s a shameful lip sync, and RuPaul responds appropriately by eliminating both queens.
For Dax, this outcome is the result of a string of excuses, and instead of shutting up and showing up when the judges need her, she gives them sorry reasons for why she’s not performing to their standard. Laila’s story is a bit more tragic, and while RuPaul recognizes that Laila has a fire inside her, it’s a campfire that can’t be seen through the burning buildings of this season’s huge personalities. This is a season full of confident queens that are fully committed to their characters, and tonight’s double elimination establishes that RuPaul has lost her patience with mediocre queens. The stakes have just been risen, and it will be exciting to see how the drama builds now that the queens are feeling even more pressure to be bigger and bolder.
- Who’s Ru talking to on her phone? Maybe she’s inviting a queen from last season back to the competition? If it takes losing Laila and Dax to get Katya back, I’m fine with that.
- Robbie Turner didn’t impress me much last week with her sour attitude and underwhelming looks, but she’s much more endearing and engaging this week thanks to her strong personality during “Bitch Perfect” and the stunning strawberry red Vera Wang wedding dress she wears on the runway. She’s also not as bitchy, and I think her low showing last week has humbled her and forced her to look at the competition from another angle.
- Like being able to sew a basic garment, being able to do basic dance steps is a skill these contestants should have before going on the show. Kim Chi should have taken a dance class (or 10) right after learning she was a Drag Race queen.
- I am all about the salt-and-pepper Lucian Piane. I’d let him arrange my a cappella covers any day.
- I would absolutely watch a short film about Chi Chi DeVayne’s weekend at an all-gay New England bed and breakfast.
- Ester Dean co-wrote “Firework,” “Super Bass,” and “S&M.” Dax and Laila would have performed better to any of those songs.
- “Take that, Donald Trump!”
- “Kim Chi has two left feet and vertigo.”
- “That’s O.K. I wouldn’t want me either.” (Looks down sadly.)
- “Y’all look like flailing fishes.”
- “Kim Chi falls and just my heart drops out to my cucu.”
- “Once a year, two rival dragapella groups meet in the Boobs For Queens warehouse…”
- “Well look who’s here for an off-key kiki!”
- “I thought I smelled out of tune-a fishes.”
- “I’ve got great legs. I bought ‘em on eBay.”
- “I know some bitch is gonna wanna buy it off me, but you know what: I sleep in this. This is my pajamas.”
- “I just want to smell you.” (Kim shows Jamal her back side.)
- Lucian: “I don’t really have anything negative to say about you.” Chi Chi: “Thank you.”
- “You can’t see this right now, but he’s got a fist full of Jergens lotion.”
- “She was doing her neck ghetto style, upside down, while twerking, and never losing a word. Honey, I’ll make a Louisiana purchase one mo’ time!”
- “I just hated the shoes! They looked like…ugly shoes!”
- “Thorgy is in an abusive relationship with her makeup.”