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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”
Photo: RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
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Roasts feel like a staple of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but there have actually only been a handful of them throughout the show’s run. They’re tricky to pull off and can easily backfire, so the producers have been more sparing with them than other signature challenges. Like many of the show’s more popular challenges, though, the answer to a satisfying and memorable roast is not solid performances across the board. That’s a bit much to ask for, and it can get boring. Instead, the goal is a combination of creative reads and big swings. “Nice Girls Roast” manages this, combining legitimately funny roast performances with surprise successes, spectacular failures, and laugh-out-loud moments from both the queens and the judges. Throw in some of the clearest and most satisfying judging of the season, and you have one hell of a strong episode.

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The episode begins with the queens returning from the runway and reacting to Tina’s elimination. From the jump, there’s a disturbance in the Force; the show has turned on Utica. Rather than supportive, complementary scoring, Utica’s emotional reaction to sending Tina home is contrasted by a sting of silence and skeptical, active scoring. This is followed by not quite the rattle of shade, but not far off, when Utica asks her fellow queens what they thought of her lip-sync. She’s angling for compliments, as she did after her previous lip-sync, and the other queens do not have the bandwidth for it. They’re excited to have made the top six, but very aware that there’s no place left to hide. Either you’re in the top or you’re in the bottom. And as the final queen without at least one maxi challenge win, Kandy is feeling the pressure. It’s time to deliver or get sent home.

The next day, the queens head into the workroom and are almost immediately summoned over by the RuMail siren. RuPaul comes in wearing yet another fabulous, colorful suit—a geometric print with shades of blue and bright orange accents—and introduces the mini challenge. The queens will be doing a live makeup tutorial, promoting the new Anastasia Beverly Hills Norvina makeup palette. It’s named after the President of the company, who will be on hand for the mini challenge. There’s a twist, though: The queens will be working in pairs, with one person presenting and being the face of the group and the other providing the arms, doing their partner’s makeup blind. Think Whose Line Is It Anyways?’s Helping Hands game. The queens partner up—Rosé with Kandy, Symone with Olivia, and Gottmik with Utica—and scramble to get ready, only given nine and a half minutes to get into quick drag.

Rosé and Kandy are up first. Rosé nails her tutorial persona, Samantha, and Kandy goes for it, beating that mug with setting powder, eye shadow, and lip gloss. Kandy doesn’t waste any time and Rosé “Yes, and…”s her way through the demo with aplomb. Olivia and Symone don’t quite match Kandy and Rosé’s timing, but they’re a blast as well, super game. Utica’s reach becomes a significant advantage for Mik as they work together, and Utica’s expressive gestures complement Mik’s descriptions well. Norvina has a lot of fun with Ru and both seem tickled pink by all three groups, but the win ultimately goes to Rosé and Kandy. They each win $2500 worth of cosmetics and the power to set the lineup for the maxi challenge.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Back in the workroom, Ru announces said challenge: It’s time for the roast. They’ll be celebrating, and shading, former Miss Congenialities Valentina and Nina West as well as the current title holder, Heidi N Closet. Some of the queens are excited—Kandy, Rosé, and Utica—but the rest are hesitant. Comedy is not their bag and they know it. Kandy and Rosé sidebar to discuss the order and ultimately decide to take the toughest, but most memorable positions themselves. Kandy will open and Rosé will close. They also seem confident in Mik, even if he isn’t, and they figure he’ll buoy the middle if he goes fourth. That leaves Symone second, Utica third, and Olivia fifth.

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Symone is surprised Kandy and Rosé have taken on the riskiest placements, but he’s mostly relieved he doesn’t have to go first or last. Olivia is worried about being too sweet for a roast, which Utica enjoys shading. The episode is Team Olivia, though, cutting right from Utica reassuring Olivia that he’ll do well to a talking head of him detailing why he expects Olivia to struggle. It’s exactly the doublespeak Olivia complained about after the Snatch Game. The episode returns to the queens preparing in the workroom, bantering and trash talking back and forth. This is a solid warmup for the roast, and Rosé and Kandy are in fine form. The others will have their work cut out for them just keeping up.

One by one, the queens head to the main stage to rehearse and get notes from Michelle Visage and returning guest judge Loni Love. Kandy is excited, but he listens carefully to their feedback, writing down notes and doing his best to take in their advice. Mik leads with his insecurity, which Michelle and Loni advise him to reel in. They like his material, but he needs to be confident for it to play. Olivia is similarly timid, with overly long setups. He has a few good ideas, but there isn’t enough there there yet. Rosé crushes the rehearsal, with an easy, presentational tone and some good stings, while Symone struggles, overly reliant on reference-based punchlines that don’t land with either Michelle or Loni. He has a lot of work to do.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

So does Utica, who throws out several jokes he’s convinced are great but that either don’t make sense or are more cutting observations than actual humor. Timon (of Lion King fame) rhyming with Symone is the start of something, not a joke in itself and calling Michelle motherly—or old? Maybe his “you look like a mom” crack was supposed to be an age thing?—isn’t a joke at all. The whale line is mean, particularly when he doubles down to Loni, but at least it’s a joke. Both Loni and Michelle try to explain to Utica that he needs to do more than just say mean things. He’s trying to go for insult comedy, but he keeps stopping after the setups. Michelle’s so old that… Nina’s so big that… The creativity and wit comes from the punchline, and without it, a roast turns mean-spirited quickly.

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Back in the workroom, Utica is spiraling. Rather than taking in and processing his critiques, he gets defensive and doubles down. Kandy tries to draw his attention to his previous decisions to ignore the judges’ advice before Snatch Game and his commercial, but Utica isn’t open to hearing it. Instead he continues forward with confidence, determined to have a successful roast. The next day, Symone is more centered, though still uncertain of what will happen. Rosé is decidedly more certain, in one of the episode’s better edits. The prescribed mirror talk about using comedy to get through tough situations doesn’t really catch, but the queens pivot back to shade and that keeps things flowing until they head to the runway.

Ru comes out to the main stage in a frankly disappointing look, a gray leotard with a tulle skirt, gloves, and a big blonde wig. Her body looks great, but that outfit would be read in an instant if a contestant trotted it down the runway, let alone Ru. Michelle looks great in a simple black dress with statement earrings and a curled up-do. Ross is in a brightly patterned suit, the fuchsia details popping nicely against the black background, and Loni again looks terrific in sequins. Ru kicks off the roast by introducing the honorees: Nina West, staying on brand in a dress that pays tribute to several pride flags; Valentina, in a glam blue gown with bright flowers and sleek hair; and Heidi N Closet, in a fun Michael Jackson-inspired look, part white suit part blue bra.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Kandy comes out first, wearing a ridiculously cinched black strappy gown. She wasn’t kidding when she said she was serving fish for the roast. She does a great job kicking things off, warming up the room and peppering her reads with enough honey to keep things friendly. She also makes sure to read herself, a key aspect of roasting that most of the other queens overlook. It’s hard to overstate how well Kandy does. This really is a triumph for her, an overdue and needed bit of validation of her place as one of the top six queens this season. Symone looks fantastic in gold, but almost immediately, she loses all the good will accumulated over Kandy’s set. She has the same issue Utica did in rehearsal. She has set-ups, but no punchlines. In the words of the fabulous Trinity Taylor, where are the jokes?

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Utica, looking chic in a lavender coat and colorful skirt, unfortunately has to follow Symone. She manages to land a couple jokes right at the top, adjusting her Timon and Pumbaa joke to be about Ross instead of RuPaul—because he’s fat, get it? That only lasts so long, though. Utica’s unable to build any momentum, bombing harder the longer she goes. Eventually, in desperation, she leans on meaner and meaner statements, hoping that will translate. It doesn’t and eventually, Loni starts heckling back, saving the segment with her deliciously timed, “You’re the one bombing.” Then Utica seemingly forgets what show she’s on and asks RuPaul to stand so she can read her look, an unforced error if ever there were one. Ru flips Utica off, with a smile, then gestures something that VH1 blurs enough to get through Standards and Practices, but not enough to obscure the meaning of. Get out of there, Utica, you’re done.

Utica’s spectacular fail actually makes Mik’s job a bit easier. She looks fantastic in a sparkling green dress and reads Utica right from the jump, getting her set off to a strong start and building from there. It’s an impressive turnaround, a second strong comedy showing from a queen who came into the competition assuming it would be her Achilles’ heel. Olivia is up next. She looks lovely in a sunrise-inspired dress and bright orange hair, but her halting delivery undermines her timing. This bashful approach could work, but it needs workshopping and tweaking. She manages a couple decent reads, putting her far ahead of Symone and Utica, but she’s nowhere near Kandy or Mik.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race balances the sweet and the salty with the “Nice Girls Roast”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Last is Rosé, whose’80s-inspired look is a definite choice. Fortunately, her set is strong, with specific and entertaining reads of each of the honorees. Like Kandy, she tempers the sour with the sweet and pokes fun at herself in the process. She’s also one of the few queens to tweak rather than repeat a line from her rehearsal, streamlining her joke about Heidi’s makeup brushes. The rankings for this challenge are clear, but before the judges’ critiques, Heidi, Valentina, and Nina get their turns at the podium, rounding out the roast and sending it off on a high note.

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The judges’ comments aren’t particularly surprising. Kandy killed—Loni compares her to Don Rickles—while Symone flailed and Utica went mean instead of funny. The judges are shockingly gentle with both Symone and Utica, perhaps anticipating and attempting to head off a strong audience reaction, at least to Utica. Ru compares Mik to Phyllis Diller, massive praise for such a comedy neophyte, while Olivia is critiqued for being overly apologetic with her posture and delivery. Michelle commends Rosé for delivering her set without cards, no small feat, and Loni calls her the Joan Rivers of the evening. Both Loni and Michelle feel Rosé did better in rehearsal than the performance, but she still delivered.

When the queens return from Untucked, Kandy gets her first win and a cash tip of $5000, Rosé and Mik are in the top, and Olivia squeaks out a safe. That puts Symone and Utica in the bottom, lip-syncing to Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry.” They strike a pose and emote their way through the opening, all face. When the beat kicks in, they start moving, strutting around the stage. Utica’s performance is good, but this is her third lip-sync and she’s not serving anything Symone isn’t. Symone’s charisma beams through in her performance and she has a much stronger track record than Utica. Ru gives Symone the shantay and bids a fond farewell to Utica. She may have had a few rough spots this season, but Utica shone in her runways and in both the ball and makeover challenges. She’s had a terrific season, and is leaving at the right time, with her head held high. The season is finally down to a top five—or more accurately, a top four plus Olivia. She may be able to pull through to the finale, but after Kandy’s strong showing in the roast, Olivia has her work cut out for her. Regardless, it’s a pleasure to watch such a well-structured and satisfying episode. Bring on the top five!

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Stray observations

  • I loved the facemask gags from Ru about Valentina, “Thank you, Dr. Fauci!”
  • Symone and Kandy reacting to Rosé talking to himself is the kind of gag the earlier episodes didn’t have space for. The workroom feels pretty empty at this point, but it’s nice to see some of these smaller moments.
  • Welcome back, Valentina, Nina, and Heidi! It was nice to see all three, and they were good sports throughout the roast.
  • Rosé, you should not be reading Nina for her shoulders in those puffed sleeves.
  • This episode has a bunch of terrific judge moments. Loni booing Utica (in lieu of a more nuanced critique) was delightful. Reader, I cackled. Michelle comparing Rosé to Bianca Del Rio stood out as well—that’s incredibly telling. And Ru’s “Tin roof, rusted” to Symone was withering, but on point.
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