The ball episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race are consistently some of the strongest because they put a lot of pressure on the queens at a late stage in the season, so it’s a small group that is already tense, exhausted, and fiercely competitive. The queens have to have a distinct look for three different themes, one of which they have to construct themselves, and also choreograph and learn a dance number. There’s so much that needs to be done, and the queens have run out of patience with each other and are getting cattier with each new day.
This is the Gayest Ball Ever, but I have so many questions surrounding the Village People theme for the queens’ final looks. The first one: Why? I understand that they’re an iconic music group in gay culture, but they are men and this is a show about drag queens. Why pick a group with six members when there are only five contestants? If you need a quintet of five women that gays love and who each have their own clearly defined schtick, why not go for the Spice Girls? And why did the show keep the most problematic theme, Native American, when someone could have worked with the far less uncomfortable G.I. theme? The Native American theme was going to screw over anyone that got it, and wearing any cultural identity as a costume is going to be a bad look, even on an irreverent show like Drag Race.
Sasha steals the show during the “Everybody Loves Puppets!” minichallenge, and I should really stop being surprised when she ends up being really funny. Sasha has successfully created this intellectual persona that downplays her sense of humor, but when needs to make people laugh, she knows what to say to make it happen. She’s doesn’t overthink her jokes, and when she finds a structure that works, she sticks to it. Nina Bo’Nina Brown is not going to be happy about the jokes Sasha cracks at her expense during his routine with Puppet Trinity, but they get the job done and make everyone (including Ru) laugh.
Sasha gets one of those bad wins and is forced to choreograph the rhythmic gymnastic routine at the start of the ball, and the rehearsal session becomes the major source of drama in this episode. Sasha wants to keep the number simple, but she doesn’t establish herself as an authoritative presence so Shea and Alexis chime in with their own ideas. Alexis gets really huffy because she feels that Sasha is ignoring her suggestions while listening to Shea, and it continues to both Alexis when they get to the workroom. Sasha clarifies that she didn’t appreciate Alexis or Shea stepping on her toes as the choreographer, and you know things are getting rough when Sasha starts getting mad at her bestie in the competition.
Sasha has been the second runner up two weeks in a row, and she deserved a win this week for having strong looks across the board. No one else did as well as her across all the themes, although the judges do have a point that she tends to lean toward high fashion rather than drag fashion, which is much more exaggerated. Her Wizard Of Oz-inspired rainbow look is bright, imaginative, and very chic, and I appreciate that she takes a more sinister approach for her unicorn, which sets it apart from everyone else. I don’t love her cowboy look as much as the judges, but it’s a well-constructed garment that has a lot of character. She satisfies the criteria of each theme with wit and imagination, but she doesn’t have the showstopping theatricality of Shea, who is less consistent but more dramatic.
Shea’s rainbow garment looks great but doesn’t scream rainbow, and her unicorn look is a pretty basic variation on the bodysuit with big heels that she’s worn before. Her performance is fine, and then she struts out in her construction worker ensemble, which wows that judges with a patchwork flannel cape/train. That’s the signature piece of the look, but it’s filled with little details that show how much thought Shea put into the entire outfit: the yellow boots and lipstick, the tool belt, the wife-beater, the bedazzled helmet, the flannel collar and turban. It’s an incredible look, but I’m not sure if the strength of that one look is enough to earn her a win over Sasha, who still hasn’t won on her own.
Trinity is the queen that falls in the middle this week, and her cop look is definitely her strongest. The judges don’t care for her rainbow look, and while I liked it more than they did, it doesn’t show very much creativity on Trinity’s part. It’s a rainbow variation on the kind of revealing, bondagey outfit Trinity whips out a lot, but she’s so good at selling it that it works for me. Trinity is really good at creating clear characters for each of her looks, and there’s a strong shift from sexy rainbow to giddy unicorn to authoritative cop. I don’t have a strong idea of what Trinity Taylor’s specific persona is when she’s in drag (I don’t think it’s that much different from who she is out of drag), but her ability to assume different characters has really helped her sell whatever she’s wearing on the runway.
Peppermint also gets praise for her performance with her leather daddy look, and the judges love how much control she has over the space. The judges are typically in the position of power, but Peppermint embraces the leather daddy persona and shows them that she’s in charge now, and it brings out a lot of confidence and passion in Peppermint’s performance. Her rainbow dress definitely looks like something that has been worn at a few Pride parades and the fit of her unicorn costume is off, but she still fares better than Alexis, who disappoints the judges and then once again gets angry at the other queens for not telling her that she looks bad.
Alexis wants to balance tribal with ready-to-wear fashion in her Native American ensemble, but a ready-to-wear look has no place at a drag ball. The judges often tell people that they can’t just come up with something that looks like it came off the rack, but there’s a risk in going too over-the-top with a Native American look and appearing insensitive. Not necessarily to the judges, but to the Drag Race viewing audience. She plays it safe and focuses on stoning her top with turquoise, but it leaves the judges completely underwhelmed. I’m shocked that the judges didn’t read her for that ridiculous bow in her hair, but at the same time it’s the one thing about her look that really screams drag, as stupid as it looks. That Native American outfit combined with a too literal rainbow jumpsuit and an uninspired unicorn look lands Alexis in the bottom against Peppermint, and Peppermint shows why she’s considered a legend when they face off.
Village People on the runway is more acceptable that Village People in the lip sync, though, and it’s always disappointing when the queens have to lip sync to a male vocalist that isn’t RuPaul. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened twice this season with “Love Shack” and now “Macho Man,” which turns out to be a lousy lip sync song. Thankfully, Peppermint knows how to please a crowd when it comes to performance, and she does miraculous work considering what she’s dancing to. Peppermint commits to the cheesiness of the song at a level that Alexis isn’t able to reach, and Peppermint’s cartoony movement is intentional and precise while it feels like Alexis is cycling through the lamest dances that pop into her head.
Alexis reads as very manly during this lip sync with her stiff movement, flat wig, and unshapely garment, and Alexis is done once Peppermint pulls off her wig to reveal a shorter wig underneath. This sends Peppermint into overdrive, and the judges can’t take their eyes off her. I’m not sad to see Alexis go, and she hasn’t performed well enough to justify her attitude on the show. She expected everyone to be a lot nicer than they needed to be, and would get very whiny when people weren’t behaving the way she wanted them to. It never felt like Alexis was genuinely interested in pushing herself in this competition, and she wanted to be praised for making small improvements when the judges ask for big upgrades. I’m probably being overly harsh on Alexis, but as someone that talked herself up a lot, she didn’t deliver on the goods she promised.
- RuPaul humping his ribbon loop is a .gif I need immediately.
- As fun as it is to see Andie MacDowell as a judge, Joan Smalls is the guest that really engages with the queens and gives them deeper critiques. She has very clear expectations for what she wants from RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, and she focuses on the details.
- I don’t think Valentina’s coming back. I was so confident that she would be the queen that gets a second chance this season, but Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s return at the start got rid of that late-season tradition.
- We don’t see the queens pick their themes, which makes me doubt the claim that they were very diplomatic about who gets what.
- The queens are asked to choose who they would send home this week, and you can feel that Peppermint wants to say Alexis but doesn’t want to hurt her New York City sister.
- The NYC queens this season released a song, “C.L.A.T.”, which is solid on it’s own, but even better in this edit that speeds up the song by 2 percent every time they say “New York.” And they say “New York” a lot.
- Trinity has a phobia of tiny bugs, specifically gnats, but she lives in Orlando. That must be a hellish existence.
- “Free the tuck, honey! Free the tuck!”
- “I’ve learned a lot about drag since I’ve been here. It isn’t just about silicon. It’s also about Restylane, Botox, and this new thing called hot glue that I’m just filling myself up with!
- “I like fisting, glory holes, horseplay—that’s where you have sex with Nina Bo’Nina Brown—couch play—that’s where you have sex with Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s padding)—jelly play that’s where you have sex with me—heeeeeeey!”
- “Trinity’s ass floats to the top again!”
- “Police brutality! It’s too close to home.”
- “I think my girls are doping.”
- “I’m filing for Section Great.”
- “I think this is a period costume.”
- “Her safeword is Winter Green.”
- “Riveting! No, that’s what she was doing earlier.”
- “Little house on the fairy.”
- Alexis: “I nearly went blind stoning this thing.” Michelle: “Got it. Still underwhelming.”
- Joan: “I need to take myself to the gym after this.” Trinity: “No, just the doctor.”
- “Your Native American couture left the judges with…reservations.” *Groan*