Tonight’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race is incredibly strange and ends with a heartbreaking elimination, but it’s by far the most entertaining hour of this entire season. Am I disappointed that Katya, one of this season’s frontrunners for the title, is going home? Very much so. But when she’s sent home after a lip sync of that caliber, the only reaction I can muster is the same one Violet Chachki howls when Katya and Kennedy finish:

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!

The best episodes of Drag Race get my heartbeat racing intensely by the end through a mix of suspense, spectacle, and comedy. The runway portion of this episode is the hardest I’ve laughed at a TV show in quite some time (and I watch a lot of funny TV), but the moments leading up to the elimination are full of tension that is stark reminder that no matter how much fun these queens are having, somebody has to pack her bags. And I should be sad. Katya is an incredibly clever queen that has been responsible for keeping a lot of my attention this season, but it’s impossible to feel gloomy when I just watched an hour of drag queens being inspired by Hello Kitty.

The collaboration between RuPaul and Sanrio confuses the hell out of me, and I don’t see how Hello Kitty ties into drag, but “Hello, Kitty Girls!” is so delightful to watch that it’s easy to accept the madness and just enjoy it. There’s always been a big element of RuPaul vanity in this series (much of it poking fun at Tyra Banks’ vanity on America’s Next Top Model), and this entire episode is built around Ru’s “Hey, Kitty Girl!” catchphrase, which gets a lot of action on her podcast “What’s The T?” with Michelle Visage. RuPaul knows her brand, and that’s what she wants the queens to think about this week, giving them a client and seeing if they can fulfill the client’s needs while still delivering their own personal style. The queens are asked to construct a couture runway look using Hello Kitty supplies as well as create a big-headed cartoon BFF for Hello Kitty, and some of the season’s strongest queens collapse under the immense workload.

Violet is thrilled when Ru reveals that they’ll be working with Hello Kitty this week, and she clearly has a strong understanding of what that brand entails and how she can apply it to her own style. While a lot of the other queens panic about constructing their outfits, Violet is ecstatic at the opportunity, and it shows in the gorgeous Hello Kitty couture she wears on the runway. She comes out in a hot pink number that takes influence from the ’60s with the mod Barbarella look, but also pays tribute to Hello Kitty’s native culture by bringing in some of the more eclectic styling of Japanese Harajuku girls.

It really looks like something that would come out of a high-fashion Hello Kitty collection, and while the headpiece isn’t practical by any means, it’s one of those accessories that works incredibly well in a runway setting. Violet’s Hello Kitty BFF isn’t the most memorable of the group, but it’s the one that fits the Hello Kitty aesthetic best, which is a very big part of this challenge. The silent Hello Kitty is a special guest on the runway, and her major role is telling the judges whether or not she would be friends with the drag queens. She’s excited to see Hello Violet, and would likely have a great time with her self-absorbed frenemy.

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The strength of Violet’s runway performance plus her natural confidence positions her at the top of this week’s episode, and she rightfully wins the challenge. Violet hasn’t had to lip sync once, and now she’s winning back-to-back challenges. The cockiness that made her so unlikeable at the start has softened into an endearing, unbreakable self-assurance that is very much what America’s Next Drag Superstar should have. She knows what her strengths and weaknesses are, and her talent for the runway has been consistently strong enough to overcome her weakness as an actress. There’s no denying that Violet Chacki is a fierce queen, and if she can bring the intensity of her fashion to her lip sync performance, she could very well be the winner of this season.

Violet and Pearl are the two queens that have experienced the biggest personality changes over the course of the season, with Violet working to become less of a bitch while Pearl tries to bring more energy and passion to her drag persona. They’re both succeeding, and Pearl kills it on the runway this week, showing a huge amount of character with Hello Pearl, a.k.a. “Banjee Beatdown.” The character is a little too racy and aggressive for Hello Kitty to want to be her friend, but the judges are heavily amused by the Madonna-inspired look and the fact that it looks like, once again, Pearl is having a lot of fun out there.

Pearl follows that up with a striking couture number that reminds guest judge Santino Rice of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo’s styling for his iconic desert photo shoot with model Veruschka, completely covering the body and the head so that all attention goes to Pearl’s gorgeously painted face. Michelle thinks it looks like a blanket, and she’s not wrong, but Pearl works that tight blanket dress, and does something that has more imagination than a lot of her competitors, who make standard outfits that are then covered in Hello Kitty details. All that “sleepy Pearl” business at the start of the season has made a lot of people underestimate her, but she’s becomes a legitimate threat to rest of these queens over the last few episodes.

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Ginj explicitly states this week that she is not a costume designer, but it’s a flat-out lie. I’ve been investigating Ginj’s claims on this series because they contradicted the things she said at the Chicago season 7 premiere event, and surely enough, a Google search of Ginj’s real name led me to this StageClick page that features some very interesting resume credits: six for costume design, and two for choreography. I don’t expect reality TV personalities to be honest, but Ginj’s narrative hinges on her being unable to sew and dance and overcoming those obstacles, and a very quick Internet search pokes a lot of holes in that story.

Ginj is a very talented queen, but it’s hard to cheer for someone who is pretending to be weak when there are other queens who are legitimately struggling. In the opening scene, Ginj tells the other queens about how she breaks down and cries when she goes home every day and then puts on her game face when she heads back into the work room, and I would like to see her show more of that side of her rather than downplaying her skill to create drama. I’m sure that Ginj has some very real obstacles in this competition, and I want to see what those are, because her professional theater resume suggests that they aren’t sewing and dancing. Or maybe she’s a costume designer that can’t sew and choreographer that can’t dance and this is all bunk.

If the elimination were determined solely by runway performance, Katya would definitely still be in the competition. Kennedy’s Hello Kitty BFF is uninspired, her Hello Kitty couture is very simple, and when the judges give her these critiques, she doesn’t reply with any of the confidence that they like to see. She says that she doesn’t have the creativity of the other girls, but the judges know that she does, otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten this far in the competition. The judges see the potential that Kennedy doesn’t, which is a tried and true way of bringing some vulnerability to her narrative before she goes all-out with a powerful lip sync to Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

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Katya doesn’t have a bad episode. She doesn’t leave the show a failure. She has trouble coming up with her main runway concept and that shows in the chaotic finished product, but her Hello Kitty BFF is hilarious and a perfect cartoon representation of Katya’s nasty appeal. She just has the horrible luck of going up against Kennedy in a lip sync, and Kennedy isn’t wearing a tight, restricting dress like the last time she was in the bottom. Kennedy can move like no one else in this competition, but Katya keeps up with her for much of the lip sync. And then Kennedy throws down by jumping off the runway and landing in a splits. Katya reacts by using some of her more acrobatic dance moves, but Kennedy has already wowed the judges and is now performing on a completely different stage than her opponent. Literally.

Katya is up on the runway while Kennedy has all of the judges’ attention on the floor below, and Katya should follow Kennedy down there and find a way to feed off her wild energy by interacting with her. She stays up top and lets Kennedy stomp her way to safety, delivering the season’s biggest upset thus far, but it’s not that upsetting because Kennedy deserves to stick around after that lip sync. Kennedy doesn’t offer as much to the competition as Katya does in terms of wit and personality, which could prove very detrimental to the entertainment value of the final episodes, but “Hello, Kitty Girls” is a fitting goodbye to a queen that will have a very fruitful career thanks to her time on this show. She won’t be around next week, but the world definitely hasn’t seen the last of Katya Zamolodchikova.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s minichallenge features the return of the Drag Race puppet show, but it’s a very abbreviated segment. It’s clear that a lot of footage has been cut and will be posted at the Logo website, but I would much prefer an extra minute spent on the queens performing in the minichallenge than an extra minute of manufactured drama, which is essentially what the opening scene of every episode is.
  • Guest judge Rebecca Romijn is having a lot of fun on the panel, and she really tries to get on the level of the other judges when it comes to pussy puns. Good for her!
  • I was really hoping this week’s lip sync would be to Robyn’s “Konichiwa Bitches.”
  • Violet and Santino flirting made me as uncomfortable as it made Ru. Get a room, guys.
  • Violet really is the MVP of this episode. She looks sick on the runway, has that amazing reaction to the lip sync, and kills the housefly that is buzzing around Ginj during the judges’ critiques.
  • Hello Kitty covers her mouth when RuPaul yells “Silence!” and the judges laugh because they realize all at once that this entire episode is totally absurd.
  • “Glory hole-lelujjah”
  • “I’m gonna go smoke something. Meth.”
  • “Well I wanted to figure out what was beautiful and completely worthless. A chachki!”
  • “The key to capturing my essence is capturing my scent. Visually.”
  • “Santino Rice walks through that door, and I plug my basement, bitch.”
  • “Violet looks like a human gaydar, bitch. What the hell?”
  • “Just because you dreamt it doesn’t make it any less real, Pearl.”
  • “It’s really impossible to serve face in this head.”
  • “Oh, you know, I’m ready for a pussy party!”
  • “Everyone loves my bad breath.”
  • “I feel like my socialist side will balance Hello Kitty’s decadent capitalism.”
  • “She woke up like that. Actually she literally slept in that.”
  • “I’m giving you ’60s housewife as a stuntwoman, maybe in space, could be an aerobics teacher.”
  • Santino: “Why you gagging so?” Ru: “She bring it to you every ball!”
  • “Ask Hello Kitty what she thought about how she used all those bows!” ASK HER!

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