Image: VH1

The Drag Race makeover challenge is typically for people who aren’t used to the spotlight, but that changes this season as social media influencers are brought into the workroom. The producers get to take advantage of the extended reach of these online celebrities, but they don’t have especially interesting personal stories and don’t pose a very big challenge to the queens. Sure, these men haven’t been in drag on national television, but they are used to performing for a big audience, which takes away some of the tension of the challenge.

The mini-challenge has the queens dragging themselves in the opposite direction with hyper-masculine looks. I used to be very adamant that Drag Race should be about female impersonation, but over time I’ve come to accept drag as gender performance across the entire spectrum, and there’s room for feminine, masculine, and androgynous drag. This mini-challenge shows how fun it can be to ask drag queens to exaggerate masculinity in their looks, and it brings out a different side of their sense of humor too. Kameron goes the beefcake route because she’s obviously going to show off that body, and Aquaria, Cracker, and Asia similarly aim for sex appeal to sell RuPaul’s new fragrance, Trade. They don’t all achieve that, but everyone is having fun and giving Ru what she wants.

Monét and Eureka go full comedy for their characters, with Monét playing an old man who would fit right at home with Eddie Murphy’s The Klumps. Eureka is very funny but also shockingly convincing as a redneck mechanic with a mullet and glue-on chest hair, and she wins the challenge, giving her the advantage of assigning influencers to the queens. She talks a lot about using strategy, but I don’t know what kind of strategy she can devise so quickly unless she has a deep familiarity with all these influencers and innately knows which personalities won’t gel.

Cracker nails it when she says that Eureka picks the person who is already in drag, and with Frankie Grande, there’s also the benefit of someone who is very familiar with the reality TV process. There’s a prediction that Frankie and Eureka’s big personalities will clash, but that doesn’t cause any problems and the two of them get along just fine. In drag, Frankie looks like Cynthia Lee Fontaine with Bianca Del Rio makeup and a mini hair loaf on his head, but he’s feeling the fantasy and playing along with Eureka’s story of two drag sisters on the ’90s pageant circuit. Untucked reveals how much the other queens despise Eureka’s outfit, but the judges love it because it projects all the tackiness of that drag era.

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Eureka makes it clear that she assigns Kingsley to Aquaria because she might have trouble doing makeup for a person of color, but Aquaria has done this before and the judges actually think she does the best job with makeup this week. Where Aquaria and Kingsley stumble is in the costuming and personal connection, and their two looks don’t go together and there’s not really any story happening with their characters. We already know that Aquaria isn’t the most personable queen, and she doesn’t try very hard to boost Kingsley’s enthusiasm, which is a huge part of selling a look. Aquaria also makes the mistake of giving herself a far more eye-catching look than her partner, so there’s an unbalanced dynamic from the moment they step out on the runway.

Being open and amiable is also a challenge for Kameron, who locks up when she learns that her partner, Anthony Padilla, is a straight man. She blames this on past interactions with straight men, but Kameron has been so quiet and subdued all season that I wonder if she would have been the same way with any person she got. The two of them are separated from the other girls when Kameron is doing Anthony’s makeup, and while this is what Kameron needs to do to stay focused, I get the impression that Anthony wants to be with the other girls because that’s where the action is. Kameron and Kelly Michaels’ looks on the runway aren’t cohesive enough for the judges, but I have bigger problems with the proportions on Kelly. The padding doesn’t look great, and the exposed midriff screams man in a way that disrupts the feminine illusion.

Cracker is also working with a straight man, but Chester See has a queen inside of him waiting to break free. Cracker and Chester have a low-key start to their relationship, but they start to bond after Ru talks to them and breaks the ice. Chester See is the only influencer with a beard, so she has the most striking transformation when she becomes Miz Cookie. The reveal of Cookie in drag elicited a huge gasp from me, and Cracker does a phenomenal job with her hair, makeup, and padding, making it easy for Chester to abandon his straight male persona and become a completely different character.

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Cookie hams it up like crazy on the runway, twerking and bending down so the judges can get a look at her ass, which Ru compliments before it even gets padded. Michelle calls her a “straight female whore,” and Cracker finally snags her first win thanks to Cookie’s magnificence, which wouldn’t be possible without Cracker’s transformation skills. Aquaria and Cracker have been compared to each other all season, but Cracker beats Aquaria at her main game this week, which will probably do a lot for her confidence right when she needs it the most.

Asia lets her partner, Raymond Brawn, guide their looks, and when Raymond sees an extravagant jacket of tattered fabric, he immediately wants to wear it. Asia makes herself another jacket because she can sew crazy fast, and the drama of those jackets plays a huge part in creating a connection between the two of them on stage. Asia also gives America O’Hara a paint job that reinforces their bond, which is where Monét has her biggest misstep with Tyler Oakley.

I don’t agree with the judges that there is no family resemblance between Monét and Shor’ Change, but as is usually the case with Monét, they could use a lot more polish. Their looks pair together much better than Aquaria and Capriciacorn, and the judges are being very nitpicky with her even though the personalities are on point. Granted, that’s been Monét’s issue all season, and at a certain point the judges want a person’s craft to be at the same level as their character. They do love that Monét finally gives herself some big hair, but it’s not enough to keep her from the bottom, where she lip syncs against Kameron Michaels to Lizzo’s “Good As Hell.”

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This lip sync pales in comparison to last week, but both queens put on a good show. Monét makes a deeper personal connection to the song and embodies the music in her demeanor, whereas Kameron knows all the words and performs them with precision and the occasional gymnastics move. The biggest obstacle Monét faces is that this is her third lip sync, and the vast majority of queens don’t make it past this point. She takes a risk in exiting the runway during the lyric “walk your fine ass out the door,” but her running splits-slide isn’t sharp enough to justify breaking up the momentum of her performance. That said, I’m still shocked that Monét is sent home because her performance has so much spirit than Kameron, but Kameron has the better track record and consistently surprises the judges while Monét has had a much rockier time on this series. I would have preferred to see Kameron go home because Monét has brought more to this series out of drag, but she had a lot of memorable moments that will ensure she has a healthy career after Drag Race.

Stray observations

  • Ru took a handful of happy pills before walking into the workroom to talk to the queens and their partners, because she’s downright goofy in her interactions. Is she just in a good mood, or does she really like this season’s queens and feels comfortable to be sillier and more playful with them? Maybe it’s both!
  • This episode goes on a Frankie Grande’s Balls tangent that gives us an extremely awkward extended close-up of Grande’s crotch. Watching that moment solo is uncomfortable, but I have the feeling it will play very well in gay bars. I also don’t mind the show engaging with the challenge of big testicles for an aspiring drag queen.
  • Ru loved Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen, and I have the feeling we will be seeing him as a guest judge on a future season of Drag Race.
  • Miles Heizer is an incredibly boring guest judge, but Lizzo definitely compensates for his low energy. I love her bedazzled bangs!
  • Part of the challenge involves the queens and their partners making a DIY dance video to RuPaul’s “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent,” but it has very little impact on how the judges ultimately rate the queens. It mostly just feels like a way to fill out the 90-minute running time.
  • Ru cracks up on the runway because of “Vanjie.” I wonder if we’re going to get a full Vanjie musical number in the reunion.
  • “A bitch can’t even get a second chance around here ‘fore some salty ass ho make it about her.”
  • “All T, all Trade.”
  • “Trade. Spray it all over your face, just don’t get it in your mouth.”
  • “You could be America’s Next Chopped Model.”
  • “Just ‘cause I feel like I would watch that video.”
  • “No, the front cover is the ass.”
  • “That girl’s got more nuts than face.”
  • Tyler: “What was your strategy with the assignments, Eureka?” Eureka: “Um, to lead anyone I could possibly lead to their demise.” Tyler: “Including yourself.” Grade-A shade from Tyler Oakley.
  • “She opened the oatmeal container, pulled out all of the oats individually, and felt them all.”
  • “I always forget: which one’s Tia and which one’s Tamera?”
  • “Would you fuck yourself on the first date?”
  • “Down with the thickness.”
  • “That bitch was feelin the fiiiiish.”
  • “Eureka: you and Eufreaka were on fleeka.”

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