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RuPaul’s Drag Race medals in camp, cheese, and fun at the 69th International Draglympics

Photo: VH1
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Season 11 has been exciting and fun so far, with interesting and varied challenges and plenty of talented queens delivering both in the challenges and on the runway. Yet at episode six, we’re only to a top 10. There’s a long way to go and the pressures of competing on Drag Race are starting to take a toll on some of the queens. Stress is building, rather than energy or excitement, and it threatens to tip the tonal balance of the season. It’s time for a little fun, and that’s exactly what “The Draglympics” delivers.

Tensions are running high after the “Monster Ball” runway. Silky seems to shrug off the judges’ critiques of her inappropriately beautiful paint, and that doesn’t sit well with Yvie. As Scarlet has previously noted, Yvie’s not wrong in her criticisms of the other queens, but she tends to miss the essential “constructive” part when giving constructive criticism. Yvie picks at Silky and the other critiqued queens, including Vanjie, who laments not breaking out beyond “safe.” While Silky responds to Yvie’s criticisms with even more bravado, taking fuel and energy from their dust-up, Vanjie seems to be faltering. She’s keeping her chin up, but it’s clear the strain is wearing on her.

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The next day, the queens enter the workroom a bit more rested, but tensions quickly bubble up again between Silky and Yvie. Fortunately the energy shifts when Ru comes in and announces the mini challenge. The queens will be getting into quick workout drag and doing some Galisthenics with Love Connie, and the two queens with the best moves will win. Connie makes a memorable, highly entertaining entrance and the queens are sent scrambling to get into their best ‘80s Jane Fonda workout video quick drag. The Galisthenics class Connie runs is ridiculous, campy, and very fun. Not everyone is a great dancer, but they’re all moving and doing their best, playing with what Connie’s giving them and putting on a show for the cameras and Ru. The mini challenge goes on way too long, but when it’s this entertaining, it’s really hard to care. The queens throw themselves into the experience and the stress from the previous day is at least momentarily forgotten.

In the end, Ru declares A’keria and Plastique the winners. They’re not the best dancers, but they were very entertaining and as a producer, Ru also knows it’s time to change up the team leaders. That’s right, it’s time for another team maxi challenge. The queens will split into two sets of five, competing at the 69th International Draglympics. Both teams will perform an extended freestyle floor program, choreographed by Travis Wall. They’ll also get help from Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and both Wall and Rippon will be on the judging panel, along with Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu. There will be some flexibility to the overall program, but each queen must demonstrate fanography, voguing, and a shablam (or dip), and they’ll be performing in front of a live audience.

A’keria and Plastique snatch up the season’s best dancers right away, then choose based on personality. Representing Tuckpantistan is Team A’keria, with Brooke Lynn, Silky, Yvie, and Shuga. Representing Glamazonia is Team Plastique, with Ra’Jah, Vanjie, Nina, and Scarlet. All things considered, season 11 has pretty deep bench for dancers, or at least those able to pick up choreography. There’s one big exception: Scarlet cannot dance at all, and they all know it. The editors have a tall task in front of them, to keep the maxi challenge interesting when everyone knows Scarlet is the weak link and likely to be going home. Vanjie hands the producers exactly what they need in her next talking head. She knows she needs to step up and deliver, because she’s not just worried about Scarlet. She’s not feeling too great about Nina and despite her being one of the better dancers this season, Vanjie’s also skeptical about Ra’Jah, based on her struggles in the Rusical challenge. The challenge has been reframed. It’s no longer just about who’s the weakest dancer, it’s will Vanjie distinguish herself? Will Ra’Jah get her choreo rudemption?

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RuPaul gets ready to for Galisthenics
Photo: VH1

Silky and Yvie press pause on their personal drama, so there’s not too much for the producers to play with during Team A’keria’s choreo rehearsal. They settle on A’keria’s struggles with fanography, how Silky’s size affects her physicality and choreography, and Yvie’s growing joint and bone pain. The mood is overall rather jovial and energetic, buoyed by more terrific talking heads from A’keria and Silky’s determined, cheerful hard work. The episode comes down, however, when broaching Yvie’s Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The show’s taxing production schedule is wearing on her body, and she’s under-delivering on a challenge she should slay. In the episode’s most affecting moment, Yvie opens up to the other queens about her EDS. She’s facing down an expiration date for her drag, at least as she performs currently, and this makes her hyper aware of how precious this opportunity is. It’s no wonder she’s so forthright. She has little patience for queens she feels are wasting their time here.

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As for Team Plastique, they’re doing about as well as Vanjie anticipated. Ra’Jah and Vanjie are in good shape, comparatively—Vanjie even gets a rare, “I have no notes” from Travis—but the fanography is a mess and we don’t even see them rehearse their shablams. Scarlet is focused and doing her best to improve, but the member of Team Plastique the episode centers on is Vanjie, who has a moment in the workroom, feeling overwhelmed and like she’s letting Ru and the audience down. Upon rewatch, her emotional aside with Silky and A’keria is likely driven by anxiety over the runway. She knows her look this episode will disappoint the judges and get her blasted again. If she had another look to pivot to, she likely would, but for now, she’s stuck and she’s not sure what she can do.

Just as the episode is starting to dip into heavy, fraught territory, it’s time for the performances. The Draglympics are presented with all the fanfare and silliness one could hope for, with Michelle and Adam providing color commentary and Love Connie appearing briefly on the beam and vault. The queens’ routines are set to the delightful, catchy “Shade” and “Serve The Children” by DJ ShyBoy, and after all that buildup, both teams do a great job. A’keria’s team has more special skills to draw from, with Yvie contorting, Silky working her batons, and Brooke drawing on her ballet background, but both performances are infectiously entertaining. Yvie injures her ankle during her routine, but otherwise, everything seems to go off without a hitch, with a little creative editing carrying Scarlet and the weaker dancers in both groups over the finish line.

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It’s time for the runway. Category is: All That Glitters. The looks are solid overall, with a few standouts and an obvious last place. Vanjie was anxious for a reason. Her look—a golden robotic rabbit, ie a gold corset, gold body paint, and glittery bunny mask—is clearly the weakest and if she hadn’t delivered so completely in the challenge, she’d be lip-syncing. A’keria, on the other hand, looks amazing in a stunning gold and white beaded and feathered gown, while Yvie adapts her look post-injury to be a stylish but grouchy, hunched, gold-toothed grandma. Again, she serves personality and that sets her runway apart from several other more straightforwardly beautiful looks. As in “Diva Worship,” Ru quickly names the top team and awards the win to A’keria, as team leader. Unlike the acting challenge, however, she makes sure to complement both teams on a job well done.

Photo: VH1
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After the judges’ critiques, including the anticipated read of Vanjie’s look, Ru asks each queen who they’d send home, and the vote is (almost) unanimous: Scarlet. In the end, Ru declares Scarlet and Ra’Jah (Scarlet’s pick) the bottom two. Ra’Jah danced well, but still is under-delivering on personality, the same critique she got for the Rusical. Scarlet just can’t dance, and this ultimately was a dance challenge. Though Scarlet tries her best in the lip-sync, pulling out all the stops and memorably snipping off her gown to reveal a gold catsuit, the song is Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” Scarlet does a terrific job with the emotional slow opening, but once the tempo picks up, she can’t keep up with Ra’Jah. This season, it only takes one misstep to get sent home and strong as she’s been in the past, Scarlet surviving a dance challenge was always going to be a long shot.

This is the first episode of the season to be able to relax and take its time, and that breathing room serves both the episode and the season well. Without three runways or an overstuffed workroom, we can sit with the queens a bit and get a stronger sense of what they’re experiencing. There’s time for Yvie to open up, and for Silky and A’keria to reassure Vanjie, and for the editors to let the strong dancers shine in choreo and show the weaker dancers working hard to improve. And there’s time for Love Connie to have an exit as dramatic and entertaining as her entrance, as is only right. The Draglympics are a blast and hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of them.

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Stray observations

  • Glad to see Travis Wall back choreographing for Drag Race. He did a great job and was a lot of fun as a guest judge, as were Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon.
  • The producers seem to have learned from the fiasco that was the injury-inducing season nine cheer challenge. Each of the required elements of the floor routine are low-impact and the queens seem to have plenty of rehearsal time. We’ll see how Yvie’s injury plays out. It’s hard to imagine the producers returning to this kind of group dance challenge if a second queen has to bow out of the competition due to an injury.
  • After not delivering on the Ariel/Silky drama, I really hope the producers and editors are planning to pay off the Silky/Yvie trash talk with a lip-sync down the line.
  • I appreciated the inclusion of A’keria’s point about Vanjie’s runway critiques. What’s a queen to do if you’re being read on your looks, but you aren’t much of a sewer? Crafty queens and those with more sewing experience may be able to whip up new looks on the fly, but if you aren’t a quick sewer and you only brought certain pieces with you, how do you adjust?
  • It’s interesting that the judges have increasingly backed away from critiquing queens who paint the same face each runway. I wonder if, over time, they’ll also get more lenient about queens serving up the same silhouettes.
  • Yvie’s shablam demonstration is a nice moment, and Brooke’s, “death drops terrify me” underlines the skill and specific technique that goes into them. I’m definitely not the first Drag Race fan to mistakenly call a shablam a death drop, and after a little research, I’m glad to now know the difference. However, it seems that the actual name of this move is a dip. “Shablam” is certainly more satisfyingly onomatopoetic than “dip,” but why not use the original ballroom term?
  • The scoring for the choreo rehearsals is always fun to note. When the editors and producers are looking to gin up a solid team’s potential for dance disaster, they score dance solos with the wrong tempo or style of music. Here, Brooke and Vanjie get music exactly right for what they’re doing, and they look great.
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