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RuPaul’s Drag Race ditches the red carpet for robes and rollers as the queens reunite over Zoom

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i ditches the red carpet for robes and rollers as the queens reunite over Zoom
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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The tremendous cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 has had a rough go of it this season, their consistently strong work overshadowed by the actions of a certain eliminated queen as well as wider global events. In a different year, the show’s tradition of shooting its reunion episode and lip-sync finale months after initial filming has ended would have been a relief. No need to worry about trying to de-Sherry the finale. But with much of the world sheltering in place, the prospect of filming an in-person finale spectacular and reunion show went out the window early this season. Forced to get creative, the producers turned the same solution as many working from home right now: a Zoom conference call.

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Ru and the producers re-imagined the season 12 reunion show as a slumber party, with the queens in sleepover drag and Ru donning a beauty mask and comfy hoodie. It’s a good call, giving the proceedings an air of familiarity and intimacy that helps paper over the queens’ distance. Even better, it makes them feel relatable, engaging with the elephant in the room and turning what is usually a rigid and carefully edited series of interviews into a slightly less rigid, but still carefully edited kiki. These queens were never going to deliver the drama Ru and the producers always seem to be after in these reunions. They’re far too cordial. Instead of chasing that, the producers go for a gabfest feel, and deliver a charming and fun reunion.

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The episode starts out strong, with all 12 queens lip-syncing to “The Shady Bunch,” a campy original song setting up the format of the reunion. That goodwill screeches to a stop when Ru comes onscreen in a simple purple hoodie and what looks like it’s supposed to be a skin care mask, but reads more luchador than luxurious. Ru’s delivery is stilted and that, combined with the underwhelming look, gives the impression that Ru couldn’t be bothered either to do a second take, or to put together even a simple ensemble. Thankfully any trepidation caused by Ru’s underwhelming look is forgotten when the season 12 queens pop up. They all look great, rocking everything from robes and rollers (Jan and Widow) to slinky night gowns (Aiden, Jackie, and Jaida, who takes it up a notch with a coordinated pillow and a few Zzzs) to Ebeneezer Scrooge (Crystal). They look comfy, but fabulous, they’re beat for the gods, and they’re clearly excited to be there.

Ru introduces each of the queens and checks in with how they’re faring during quarantine. With queens everywhere from Maine to L.A., there should be some lag, but it surprisingly isn’t much of an issue, with queens jumping in to react to each other’s one-liners. It’s a testament to the work of the episode’s sound and video editors that everything flows so well. The video quality and lighting are also excellent, a rarity in the video calls that have comprised much of late night these past few months. The care given this episode is a very good sign for the finale. With the reintroductions out of the way, Ru dives in with Heidi, touching on some of her memorable moments, giving Heidi and Gigi an opportunity to squash their beef, and ultimately handing the floor to Heidi for an announcement. After much deliberation, she will be sticking with her original name, Heidi N. Closet. Ru doesn’t agree with her choice, but that thankfully ends the topic, at least for now.

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Next is Nicky, and Ru tries to stir up some drama by asking about her elimination. Most of the queens do not take the bait, though Nicky is still sore about it. Things threaten to get tense, but Nicky pivots to Pepé Le Pew, asking why she keeps getting tweets about him and getting all of the queens laughing. For Jackie’s segment, Ru pulls up a supercut of Jackie directing the queens throughout the season. This is a new but apparently very accurate depiction of her, and the queens have a blast shading her for her Bossy Rossy attitude. Before moving on, Ru throws to a video message from Lisa Rinna, who complements Jackie’s Snatch Game performance, and even calls Harry Hamlin over to say hi.

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i ditches the red carpet for robes and rollers as the queens reunite over Zoom
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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The segment likeliest to bring tea and strife is Aiden and Brita, who each get some love from Ru before they address their conflicts. The queens still have a lot to say about Aiden’s ball challenge garment, and Aiden still stands by it, but on the whole, everyone brings a lot of maturity and perspective to their reflections on the season. Having some distance from her time in the season, Brita shows self-awareness here and that, along with the testimonials from Jan and Jackie, are likely to win her back some fans.

After a quick tuck inspection—from their reactions, one the queens weren’t warned about—Ru moves on to one of the season’s themes: tears. Dahlia and Rock M.’s emotional eliminations are shown, and they both get a few moments to talk about their experiences. Prompted by Ru, Rock shares that her mother is currently sober, and a big supporter of her drag. Jackie later gives a similar update. She’s come out to her mom as a drag queen and been accepted. Her mom even wrote in with a letter praising Jackie, and Ru reads it out loud, paired with photos of Jackie and her mom. It’s a beautiful coda to both queens’ familial struggle storylines this season.

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For Widow and Jan’s segment, Ru keys into their later episode difficulties, and like Brita, both of them show a lot of healthy perspective on how they handled the strains of the competition. Widow and Jan confirm their fellow queens’ assessments at the time, acknowledging the cracks in their confidence that led to their most emotional moments. Then Ru shares Jan’s Kris Jenner lip-sync from her audition video to close out the segment. Her Bernadette Peters was good, but maybe Ru was right, and her Kris would have gone over better. After a quick round of Toot Or Boot—the queens rightly toot Jaida’s ball look and Gigi’s finale look and boot Aiden’s ball look and Heidi’s Michelle Visage runway—Ru rights a wrong from this season. The library is officially open, though only for a few quick reads. The distance from shooting seems to have sharpened their skills; the queens are funnier here than they’ve been most of the rest of the season.

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i ditches the red carpet for robes and rollers as the queens reunite over Zoom
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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Ru finishes out the reunion with some fan questions, read by Miss Vanjie. They’re fun, but the highlight is definitely Carole Ann’s question, asking Widow if she’ll freestyle rap a bit. Whether or not she was actually put on the spot, Widow absolutely crushes a few bars, showing what might have been had she made it to the top five. After check-in with the queen’s families and some new clips of this season’s best guest judges, Ru finishes the reunion by turning to the top three queens. She dubs Crystal the Creativity, Gigi the Uniqueness, and Jaida the Nerve, each of them bubbling over with Talent. A quick poll of the eliminated queens shows the cast divided on who they’re rooting for, but there’s clear appreciation and love for all three finalists. The finale is going to be a battle.

Fans are likely to be forgiving of “Alone Together.” It ticks through everything viewers expect in a reunion: creative new looks, more time with queens who were eliminated early, and reminders of the season’s juiciest drama and tea. It doesn’t need more than Zoom-friendly static, tightly-framed close-ups to work. The same cannot be said of the finale. It will need movement and storytelling, and hopefully the producers have something creative up their sleeves to compensate for the queens’ inability to interact to each other on stage. Ru plays coy about the format, but teases five lip-sync battles in the finale. Will they use a round-robin format, followed by a final one-on-one battle for the win? Or individual, separate lip-syncs that will be judged ballroom style, followed by a group sing-off and final two show down? Speculating on the structure that marries three queens and five lip-syncs should keep fans busy for the next week, and it promises reassuring levels of specificity and at least a couple surprises ahead.

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Stray observations

  • Hey Porkchop!
  • Ru loves to throw out a rhyme, and I was particularly fond of, “It do take nerve to flatten the curve.”
  • Nicky did Pete Davidson’s makeup for his character Chad’s drag transformation on SNL? She crushed it, he looked great.
  • The fact that they had even more terrific Leslie Jones material that they left on the cutting room floor shows just how worthy she is of a return visit to the judges’ panel.
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