After starting strong, with an engaging group of queens and lots of potential in the air, season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race petered out in its closing episodes. To make up for its underwhelming late-season lip-syncs and controversial eliminations, the season needed to deliver with the finale. While this episode doesn’t come close to the high bar set by season nine, it’s a far cry from season 10 and its dubious three-way final lip-sync, not to mention the infamous butterflies. Season 11’s finale delivered solid lip-syncs, a number of striking looks, and most importantly, a satisfying and interesting winner. This is unlikely to go down in Drag Race herstory as one of the best seasons, or most memorable finales, but “Grand Finale” is fun, and a nice way to head into the much-needed hiatus.
The episode opens with Michelle introducing the eliminated queens. While fans got a waist-up glimpse of the queens’ post-season 11 looks in the reunion episode, it’s always neat to see what they bring to the finale. They’ve had months to prepare and a much higher profile since filming the rest of the season, and that means most of the queens have much more money to work with than they did before Drag Race. The extra time and care is evident in their looks. Everyone looks terrific, but a few stand out. Plastique looks amazing in white, Shuga packs three lovely looks into one, and Nina has a cheeky reveal that the various finale promos somehow managed not to spoil. After the eliminated queens, Ru makes her entrance, in neon green, and the show gets underway.
Ru takes a moment to thank the audience for supporting the show and bringing drag even further into the mainstream, and then introduces the first finalist, A’keria. This time around, the final four queens each get an introduction video, combining an out-of-drag interview with shots following them on the streets of L.A. They’re silly and over the top, and entirely appropriate to the venue and occasion. Rather than have famous fans film or call in support to surprise the queens, this time each of the final four shot a brief sequence with a guest star from earlier in the season. A’keria banters with Fortune Feimster, who’s dressed up as her L.A.D.P. character, calling to mind A’keria’s breakthrough moment in the second improv comedy challenge. Her finale look is dramatic and very on-brand, a green corset, pants, and gloves, with giant black wings and feathers adding to her silhouette. Ru takes a moment to interact with and greet A’keria’s mother and grandmother—who look great, by the way—and then keeps the episode moving.
After a brief educational segment on Stonewall and LGBTQ rights, stressing the importance of voting, the finale returns to the top four, this time focusing on Brooke. She’s paired with Tiffany Pollard for her guest star banter and Pollard is delightful and very game. Brooke’s on-the-street segment is funny and she looks great in a red and gold look, complete with massive blonde wig. For her finale look, Brooke returns to white and nude, going full Queen of the North. Her mom is there, and when asked by Ru, she opens up about raising a gay son, and the ways she’s learned from being Brock and Brooke’s mother. It’s another sweet exchange, and fortunately, part of the finale formula Ru holds to each season.
Viewers are treated to a quick remix of “Oppalance,” featuring Mercedes and Kahanna, along with the finale dancers, and a brief In Mammorium tribute to Michelle’s breasts—due to health concerns, she had her implants surgically removed earlier this year—before the episode continues to the third of the top four queens. Silky spends some quality time with Ts Madison, Silky’s Snatch Game choice, and twirls her baton in a cute gold look on the street. Madison is the only celebrity not previously featured in season 11 to interact with the finalists, but given Silky’s Snatch Game win, this feels like a technicality. Her finale ensemble, a pink, roach-covered look, tears away to reveal her actual finale outfit, a black and silver fringe look, and she continues the roach theme with lovely roach-shaped pins in her hair. Silky’s mom and big brother are in the audience, and it’s nice to hear from one of the queens’ siblings. It’s clear in his few moments talking with Ru that Silky’s sense of humor and big personality runs in the family.
For the next transition, Christine and the Queens perform “Sissy That Walk,” while various Drag Race alumni walk the runway. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces and be re-introduced to a few that may have slipped from fans’ minds. Mostly, though, this is filler. There are only three short lip-syncs in the finale and 90 minutes of runtime. That makes for a lot of space to fill. One of the most entertaining examples is the next segment. Vanjie hits the streets with a camera crew, talking to people and interacting with fans, while making her pitch for a five-way lip-sync battle in the finale. As in the reunion episode, the producers know they have reality TV gold in Vanessa Vanjie Mateo. She may not be competing in the finale, but she’s there and making an impression. Until All Stars, Miss Vanjie.
The final segment is for Yvie, who commits to weird and creepy right away. She’s wearing a black, red, and white bodysuit for the video, and a spiky blue angler fish costume for her queen on the street shoot. This immediately sets her apart from the other finalists, who are all pageant queens. It’s smart and bold, and indicative of what Yvie will be serving throughout the finale. Her official look is based on a skinned person, with exposed musculature and again, it’s striking while still beautiful. Yvie’s mom and dad are in the audience together and Ru takes the opportunity to ask Yvie’s father about his attempts to get his motorcycle club to watch Drag Race. Perhaps another installment of the Chris Pine-Bobby Moynihan mechanics-watching-Drag-Race SNL sketch is in order?
After Yvie’s segment, the build-up is complete; it’s finally time for the lip-syncs. Cheyenne Jackson turns up, briefly, to explain the rules: two queens lip-sync, the remaining two lip-sync, then the winners battle it out for first place. Ru spins the giant wheel of faces and Silky is up first. As the person chosen to lip-sync first, she gets to choose her opponent, and Silky goes with Brooke. After the obligatory Pit Crew appearance and box jokes, it’s revealed they’ll be lip-syncing to Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” It’s a fun and energetic song, and one either queen should do well with. After a bit more fanfare, the track starts and we’re officially on our way.
The first lip-sync is, well, it’s fine. Silky has several reveals, but none pack a particular punch. Brooke, on the other hand, pulls on some chains connected to her shoes to reveal that her boots are actually pumps with point shoes hiding within. She goes on point, but manages to make it work with the song, timing her bigger moments well. Silky certainly does a better job than last time, but her splits and other tricks fail to build much momentum. The gag of Brooke’s shoes tops anything Silky is doing, and it’s not surprising when Brooke moves on.
Second are A’keria and Yvie, performing to “SOS” by Rihanna. This lip-sync is also a bit by-the-numbers. A’keria looks fantastic in blue, while Yvie has an over the top, more crafty look. A’keria has one minor reveal, but Yvie sticks with her voluminous outfit throughout. When she wins, it’s a nice reminder that not every lip-sync needs a reveal or a gag to win. Yvie’s bold look and dramatic backbend are enough, and she moves on to face Brooke in the final. As we head into commercial, Love Connie dances up the aisle, a final exuberant celebration of season 11.
Before the final lip-sync, there’s some business to attend to. Monét comes out to help Ru present the award for Miss Congeniality. There are a few people in contention, but given how beloved she is by her fellow queens, it’s no surprise when Nina West is the winner. She gives a fun and playful speech, calling back to Ru’s, “meh” reaction to her and Silky’s lip-sync and renewing her calls for kindness. Next, Ru summons Aquaria, the reigning season 10 champion. She makes a hell of an entrance with a stunning, phoenix-inspired look, complete with winged arms, and she’s ready to hand the scepter and crown to the next queen.
It’s time. Brooke will be going up against Yvie, to Lady Gaga’s, “Edge Of Glory.” Both look to be dressed to the nines, ready for reveals on reveals, but in the end, it’s Brooke who pulls of her “REVEAL” smock to show a sparkling, mirrored gold and silver look. Meanwhile, Yvie is in a brown and gold gown. It’s interesting, but not particularly striking on its own. That’s good, because anything too dramatic would draw attention from her face, and Yvie’s headpiece is the single best element of the finale. It’s a series of shaped mirrors set up by her face to reflect her profile, so that when she looks straight at camera, she calls to mind images of multi-headed deities. She’s her own Janus, looking forward and back, plus straight ahead, right at the audience.
The headpiece is gorgeous, and only improves when Yvie turns around to reveal—that’s right, not every reveal needs to be a tear-away outfit or wig—a face on the back of her headpiece, allowing her to back-bend and switch from one face to the other. It’s gag-worthy, and that moment by itself is enough to earn her the win. Brooke twirls and spins, feeling the music and taking advantage of her dance background to maximum effect. Yvie mostly stays put, knowing Brooke will out-dance her and instead taking a Trixie approach, projecting emotions right to the back of the room. After her headpiece reveal, however, Yvie starts doing a few spins of her own, going from one face to the next and again drawing the viewers’ eyes. Brooke does a good job, but Yvie’s headpiece shows more creativity and is a more intriguing concept, and in a race this close, that’s enough to hand her the win.
Ru wisely does not stretch things out, naming Yvie the winner and sending her down the runway with her scepter. Brooke fought valiantly and will undoubtedly be back before too long on All Stars. She may have had a better overall record, but if recent seasons have cemented anything, it’s that the way to win in the Drag Race finale lip-sync extravaganza is to go big and create a moment. That’s what Yvie did, and that’s why she won.
- Thank you for following along with The A.V. Club’s coverage of season 11. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, but I have a feeling a lot of the queens this season will return and show themselves very well in the next few seasons of All Stars.
- Most of the tweaks to the finale formula worked well this time. There was a bit too much padding, but the songs were fun, it was nice to see some of this season’s terrific guest judges back, and giving the queens a taped segment, instead of a longer in-person interview, kept things moving at the theater.
- I’m ultimately happy with Yvie’s win. She may still be rough around the edges, or at least she may have been until very recently, but she has shown that she can bring a lot more polish and glamour to her looks. She’s the least predictable of the top four and the most creative, and seeing Ru reward that over a more traditional queen is exciting.