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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race focuses on the season’s endgame with another questionable elimination

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race focuses on the season’s endgame with another questionable elimination
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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Rigga morris—Alyssa Edwards’ iconic term for judge and producer shenanigans, particularly around eliminations—is nothing new to RuPaul’s Drag Race. The competition is important, but it’s never been paramount to the producers; their focus is creating a compelling, arced piece of entertainment. This can put the editors in a tricky position when RuPaul is ready to eliminate a given queen, but the material to justify that choice isn’t readily available. Such is the case with “Pop! Goes The Queens.” It’s the second episode in a row with an elimination that feels like a foregone conclusion, rather than one merited by the queens’ actual performances.

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The episode begins with the queens reacting to Denali’s elimination and celebrating Symone and Utica’s win, and with Olivia processing the fact that the rest of the cast picked her as the queen to sashay away. She’s very diplomatic, aware she needs to step up her game. As Kandy points out, this has been a season full of fluctuations. Everyone but Mik has been in the bottom at least once. Symone and Mik look to have clear paths to the finale, but any slip-up is enough to send the other queens packing.

The next day, the queens dance into the workroom, excited to have made the top seven. After some entertaining and engaging conversation—math is not Kandy’s strong suit—the RuMail siren goes off and Ru comes into the workroom, looking fabulous in a blue and black suit. He introduces the mini challenge. They’ll be playing Are You Smarter Than The Pit Crew?, answering Drag Race trivia questions posed by underwear-clad Pit Crew members. Whoever can focus, buzz in first, and answer the most questions correctly will win. This is a fun exercise in silliness and Drag Race herstory, and Kandy earns the win and a $25,000 $2,500 gift card from JJ Malibu.

Ru then introduces the maxi challenge. Fresh off last episode’s twist on the makeover, they’ll be tackling another branding challenge. The queens need to come up with a soft drink, deciding on its name, flavor, design, and even a jingle. Then they’ll produce and star in a 45-second commercial for their soda, selling the product and themselves. The queens get right to work, sketching ideas and putting together their storyboards. 45 seconds doesn’t seem like much, but without appropriate planning, their ads will feel like an eternity.

Welcome back, Wintergreen!
Welcome back, Wintergreen!
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Tina has a clear concept for his soda, playing on spicing up his protagonist’s love life. Rosé is engaging with the judges’ critiques over his perfectionism. Utica is going in a decidedly Utica direction, with a lickable, flavored can. It’s strange that no one mentions the pandemic in the room, but Utica is so enamored with his concept that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Gottmik hits on a concept he likes with his delusion-inducing soda, but he quickly seems to be in the weeds. He needs to film his shots out of order and he’s having trouble keeping the progression clear in his mind, let alone explaining it to others.

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The queens are interrupted by another RuMail siren, but as in “Social Media: The Unverified Rusical,” they needn’t have feared a twist. Season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall has stopped by remotely to chat with the queens and share her perspective on the branding challenge. Jaida looks flawless in an orange dress and pared back makeup and hair, and the queens are excited to chat with her. She encourages the queens to have fun with their challenges, to get out of their heads and stay present. The more they worry about their missteps, the more mired in them they’ll become. Rosé in particular seems fired up by Jaida’s pep talk and the queens head over to film in good spirits, raring to go.

Ross and Carson are on set to help direct and keep the queens moving. Tina is up first and her commercial seems complicated, but she has a clear idea of what she’s doing. She stumbles over her dialogue, a bad omen this season, but otherwise seems happy with her work. Rosé is next, rocking a Jantasy robe and going broad as a hung-over and bleary morning-after version of herself. Olivia is selling positivity in a bottle, but despite Ross’ attempts to nudge her in the right direction, she struggles to keep her megawatt smile at bay until the product reveal. Symone, in contrast, knows exactly what she needs to do. She nails each of her takes and takes direction well, and both Ross and Carson comment on her confident execution.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race focuses on the season’s endgame with another questionable elimination
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

The production team managed to get a cow for Utica, but that may not have been for the best. Apparently when her soda is fed to a cow, the cow’s milk acts as an anti-depressant? Like Olivia, Utica’s emotions are heightened, but not specific enough, resulting in a narrative that’s hard to follow. Kandy’s commercial connects to “Alone In The VIP,” with her soda making drinkers feel like they’re in the club, no matter what. Hers is the most difficult to follow shoot, but she seems confident it will come together in the edit. Last is Mik, who looks gorge but is not able to communicate her vision to Ross and Foley artist Carson. Without a stronger sense of what she’s going for, Carson and Ross can’t help her execute her concept. It’s always hard to tell from the shooting montages, but she may well be in trouble.

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The next day, the queens prep for the runway and talk about their brands outside of Drag Race. Rosé and Tina spar about being New York comedy queens—both consider themselves much funnier than the other—but the more interesting conversation is from Kandy, who opens up about being bullied and gay bashed when he was in middle school. He still has a big scar from where three guys beat him and broke his arm, resulting in his needing surgery. Rosé remarks on how vulnerable Kandy has been over the competition, letting his more emotional side through. This has been essential to his success on Drag Race. Without that willingness to emote, Ru would not have saved him.

On the main stage, Ru comes out looking fantastic yet again in a black dress with lace-like designs and cutouts. Michelle is downright subdued in a powder blue blazer and makeup to match, while Carson and Ross are in dark patterned suits, Carson with white flowers and Ross with dusty rose palm trees. Category is: Beast Couture. This is the most adventurous theme of the season so far, and the queens (mostly) do not disappoint. Utica looks glamorous in a black fur gown with tufts of burgundy and yellow. Kandy’s look is befuddling, dressed as an alien in a neon green body suit with a green fur bikini and bright paint, and carrying a purple shipmate on her back. Tina for the fourth runway in a row steps away from her red, orange, and yellow aesthetic for a patchwork monster look, part doll part creature. Her proportions look good andwhile it’s not couture, the beast part of her design comes through clearly.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race focuses on the season’s endgame with another questionable elimination
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Symone takes Tina’s fur idea a step further, coming out in a complete fox suit with thigh high boots, gloves past the elbows, cut-off jean shorts, and a white cut-off tank. She’s rocking some gold jewelry and working her tail, and she looks great. Mik plays to her strengths with her purple monster look, experimenting with shape and proportion. She looks completely distinct from the rest of the queens and blends camp and silliness with beautiful paint and a fun up-do. Olivia’s look is the most expected for the category, a blue and lime green beast that looks like a fashion take on Where The Wild Things Are. Her makeup is great and her suit has plenty of texture, giving interest and dimension to her look. Rosé’s look is similar, but even more dramatic. She’s all in red with striking paint and twisted red horns made of hair. Her prosthetic ears look great and her furry suit incorporates long, thin feathers that give movement and extend the reach and impact of her look. This is Rosé’s best runway yet.

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Ru goes down the line of queens, showing their commercials before giving their critiques. Utica’s commercial is disjointed and doesn’t work to sell her product, though it does capture her personality well. As for her look, Michelle damns her with faint praise: “It’s pretty.” Ouch. Kandy’s commercial isn’t much better than Utica’s, but at least it’s direct. Her soda is a milky party in a can. The judges love her personality, so they’re willing to go with her for the commercial. Not so much for her runway. Tina’s commercial has the opposite problem—she over-explains her setups and over-hypes her soda’s catchphrase while all but ignoring its actual name. The judges like her runway, but they’re tired of her brand and are looking for something new from her.

Symone’s ad is a hit with the judges, simple and direct but with plenty of personality. Her branding is clear and memorable—her soda will rot your teeth, so you get a free gold tooth with proof of purchase—and the judges love her runway too. Gottmik is less successful. Her video is overly complicated and doesn’t land as it should, failing to clearly demonstrate the soda’s selling point. At least the judges love her look. Olivia’s in a similar position. Her runway is terrific, but her commercial needs a clearer narrative and more emphasis on the purpose of the drink. Rosé doesn’t have this problem. Her commercial is the only one besides Symone’s that captures what the judges were looking for: Plenty of personality and a clear brand. Plus the judges have nothing but praise for Rosé’s devilish runway.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race focuses on the season’s endgame with another questionable elimination
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Based on the critiques, Symone and Rosé are the clear top two, Kandy is safe, and the rest are all about even. Ru gives the win to Symone, then surprises everyone by naming Rosé a winner as well, giving both of them $5,000 cash tips. They both did much better than the rest of the queens, but this double-win feels like a stretch, motivated by the producers’ desire to not give Symone an insurmountable lead. Olivia is safe, buoyed by her strong runway and past performance, and that leaves Utica, Tina, and Mik in the bottom. Of the three, Tina had the best commercial, but it’s not enough to save her. The judges are tired of her, so she’s up for elimination, joined by Utica.

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Utica and Tina take their positions, prepared to put on a show to Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.” Tina jumps into action, taking advantage of her oversized outfit to emphasize her movements while Utica plays into her look, going spooky with her performance. Utica does well and peaks in her energy toward the end of the song, but once Tina pulls out the Funky Chicken, she seems to have this in the bag. It’s a genuine surprise when Ru tells Utica to shantay, eliminating Tina. Like Denali last episode, this elimination feels much more driven by Ru’s dwindling interest in Tina than anything specific Tina did this episode. Ru can still imagine Utica surprising her, so she lives to slay another day. As for Tina, she’s had a surprising journey this season, from front-runner to also-ran. It will be interesting to see how her experience on Drag Race shapes her drag moving forward and how she adjusts her style and brand should she return for All Stars. A lot can still happen, and goodness knows Ru loves a twist, but the season appears to finally be entering its endgame. If Ru and the producers are this focused on building to their preferred finalists, regardless of challenge performance, the sooner we get there, the better.

Stray observations

  • I enjoyed the Rosé, Tina, and Kandy shade at the top of the episode. Their banter will be missed.
  • Hello there, Sarge! It would have been great to hear from him during the COVID special to get his take on how filming season 13 was different from past seasons.
  • Am I the only musical theatre fan who went to an Into The Woods place with Utica’s commercial?
  • It was fun watching the queens paint for the runway not knowing the category, particularly the more extreme designs.
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