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RuPaul's Drag Race builds an exceptional challenge from DragCon promotion

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RuPaul has changed the drag economy over the past decade, and RuPaul’s DragCon is a major part of that landscape. It’s an event that connects drag professionals and fans from around the world, and for Drag Race alumni, it can be a major money maker if queens are able to create a marketable brand for themselves. “Drag Con Panel Extravaganza” has the contestants getting into groups of three to put together panels on the topics of hair, face, and body, and it’s a maxi-challenge that tests a lot of skills. They get to pick their own teams, so they don’t have anyone to blame but themselves if the group dynamics are off, and they need to be organized in how they set up their discussions and demonstrations. There’s a tricky performance element in that they need to educate the audience on their topics while also delivering an entertaining drag show, and this is an opportunity to really show off their knowledge and bolster their drag personas.


There have been a lot of quick-drag mini-challenges this season, but “Drag Con Panel Extravaganza” gives us an out-of-drag, very silly mini-challenge with “Sitting On A Secret,” in which the queens are blindfolded and asked to identify objects by feeling them with their asses. They sit on a fax machine, eggplant, traffic cone, bag of potato chips, porkchop, fish, and frosted cake, and it’s really a comedy challenge to see how many laughs they can get from their physical humiliation. I’m sad that I won’t be able to see it in a bar because it is just the right mix of playful, crass, and ridiculous, and this season has really shown the value of having a mini-challenge that eases the viewer into the episode with light-hearted competition. Asia is the winner because she guesses the most correctly, but all of the queens fare well, and it loosens them up before they step into a difficult maxi-challenge.


RuPaul’s energy has been pretty low over the last few weeks—it seemed like she may have had a cold at the start of the season—but she’s back to her usual exuberant self for tonight’s episode. She’s hilarious during the mini-challenge as she delivers very serious anal sex double entendres, and is passionate about educating the queens about the opportunities of DragCon and how to make the most with your time there. In the workroom, Ru makes it very clear what the judges are expecting to see from each panel, and gives the groups wise advice to guide them in the right direction.

When Asia says she’s going to talk about technique because she was a makeup artist for Chanel, Ru reminds her that she still needs to convey the joy of putting on makeup while breaking down the process. Ru looks offended when Cracker says that DragCon is just a big excuse for drag queens to hang out, and she wants Cracker to realize that is the wrong mindset for both this challenge and her career. She needs to look at DragCon as a networking event that can have significant financial gains if she’s committed to her brand, and given Cracker’s high position in this season’s competition, she should be thinking about how she’s going to capitalize on her growing fame. (Three words: Dr. Dill plushes.)


The most interesting thing about Ru in this episode is how she interacts with guest judges Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the husband-and-wife duo behind last year’s comedy hit, The Big Sick. They are both huge fans of Drag Race, and Ru gives them her best, including a Cher “woo!” when she’s describing the DragCon panels. You can sense RuPaul’s glee when she knows she has superfans of the show on the judges panel instead of indifferent celebrities who are looking for exposure in the gay community, and she invites Kumail and Emily to be active parts of the panel from the very start by keeping the introductory banter going longer than usual. Kumail and Emily offer thoughtful critiques, and it’s always nice to have judges who look past the surface spectacle of drag to really break down the pros and cons of the performance.

Eureka dominates this episode, and being in the bottom two lit a fire that has grown more intense each week. Eureka has been to DragCon as a Drag Race alum, so she has context for this challenge that no one else does. I don’t know if she was on any panels, but she’s far and away the best panelist of all the queens. She’s the moderator for “Proportionizing: Creating The Perfect Silhouette,” and she keeps the audience engaged the entire time by balancing useful information with jokes and banter. The other groups think “proportionizing” is obnoxious, but Ru wants the queens to think of buzzwords and catchphrases that will become associated with their brands. The audience walks away knowing exactly what proportionizing means, and a lot of the interactions with the crowd involve them repeating the word.


Kameron doesn’t have the electric personality of Eureka or Monét, and while it looks like she’s getting no response from the audience, Kameron works well in this group dynamic. You don’t necessarily want everyone to be at a 10 on a panel because that can become chaotic, and Kameron is calm but still charismatic. There’s a clear personality there, it’s just a softer personality than Monét and Eureka, who are both trying to prove themselves on stage. Kameron has been consistently safe, and that can put a queen in autopilot while the contestants in the top and bottom are motivated to push harder. Eureka won last week, and it’s given her a huge confidence boost. She wants to stay in the top, and she’s going to take charge to get there. Monét is in the opposite position, and after being in the bottom two twice in a row, she needs to show the judges why she deserves to stay in the competition. She accomplishes that by being confident, enthusiastic, and clever, and the personality we’ve seen in the workroom and Untucked finally comes through in her drag.

Monique takes the stage to moderate the “Painted For Filth” panel and introduces herself as “the heart of season 10,” a catchphrase that she should use for promotional materials. She’s certainly the heart of this group, and she takes full advantage of the extra spotlight given to the moderator. Aquaria and Asia also have very good showings, but they get lost in the demonstration portion, where they jump between two different tutorials rather than taking the audience through the process one at a time. I don’t know if that is planned or if Aquaria jumps in when Asia is leading, but they need to take their time and make sure that the audience is absorbing the information, ideally by having all three queens emphasizing certain details of the process in their banter.


Blair, Cracker, and The Vixen aren’t necessarily winging it because Blair has a notebook full of plans for the challenge, but they have the messiest panel. They decide to share moderator duties, but that gets rid of a key organizational component of a panel. That single person provides the structure that keeps the panel from falling apart, and these three queens have very different approaches to moderation that prevent their group from becoming a cohesive team. Miz Cracker’s reputation as a comedy queen is weakened by her sour one-liners, and there’s a dismissive quality to her persona here that is very wrong for a panel. The judges are disappointed that none of the shade is funny, but the panel is even more unsatisfying because it doesn’t feel like the queens are passionate about their topic and want the audience to learn. Blair is too sheepish to fight back when Cracker and The Vixen poke fun at her, and she ends up getting buried under her teammates and is unable to share her extensive hair knowledge.

The hat-themed runway delivers some spectacular drag looks, and Asia O’Hara steals the show with a gigantic dandelion headpiece that gently moves as she walks. Asia has the crafting skills to bring her high-concept ideas to fruition, and she’s now given us two brilliant runway looks that are campy and loud but never venture into tacky. Monique is lucky her team is safe because she has one of the worst runway looks—which she quickly constructs in the workroom—but Aquaria delivers a cute twist on the Klaus Nomi look, even though the magician’s hat on the rabbit ear is kind of awkward. (Perhaps she could have made a skirt shaped like a magician’s hat instead?)


Eureka cements her second win with her runway look, a black-and-white houndstooth bodysuit with a wide-brimmed hat and dramatic cape. She’s proportionizing like crazy, and the hat and cape work with the padding to create an even stronger feminine illusion. Monét dons her Sunday best for her most polished look of the season, and she creates a distinct character on the runway that continues to take advantage of her personality. Kameron has a very cool spinning galaxy hat, but the rest of her look is bland from the neck down, and this would have been a great time to show that she can change her proportions for different silhouettes.

Cracker is saved from the bottom two thanks to her My Fair Lady-inspired look, and she projects elegance with a splash of that Cracker strangeness thanks to her hat made of blonde hair. The Vixen wears an entire garment made of hats, but it looks like dress has been flattened in transit and doesn’t have the volume it should. Cracker did a hat dress for the season premiere, and she did it better than The Vixen. Blair goes with a Kentucky Derby Southern belle look, and while it looks very clean and pure, it doesn’t have the wow factor Blair needs to redeem her lackluster performance on the panel.


The judges call out Blair for getting stuck in sweetness and not showing them any other sides of herself, so she tells them about the trauma she’s had to deal with and why she feels this need to be dainty. She reveals that her first sexual experience was being raped at a college party, and her bright, cheerful drag has been a way to escape the dirtiness and darkness she lives with every day. It’s a powerful moment, and Ru admires Blair for sharing her struggle. During deliberations, Ru does make a point that you can’t cover trauma with glitter and rainbows, you eventually need to confront it head-on and push past it. Being able to talk about her painful past represents a major step forward for Blair, but it also puts her in a very vulnerable headspace for a potential lip sync.

Blair ends up in the bottom two, and she faces off against The Vixen, who has already established that she is here to fight. The song is Diana Ross’ iconic gay anthem, “I’m Coming Out,” and we get two very different interpretations. Blair goes for emotion and tries to capture the relief and happiness of letting the world know the things you’ve been keeping a secret, whereas The Vixen goes for sheer athleticism and whips out all of her flips and rolls and drops. The Vixen demands attention, and while I like what Blair does and think its very appropriate for her current mindset, The Vixen’s energy is a better fit for the track. The Vixen also makes for better TV than Blair, and the producers don’t want to lose the queen responsible for so much meaty drama. The quality of the eliminated queens speaks to just how damn good this season’s contestants are, and Blair made excellent use of her time on the series. Now she has to start developing her brand to keep that momentum going for as long as possible.


Stray observations

  • Many thanks to Kate Kulzick for filling in for me last week as I welcomed a baby niece into the world! Because I didn’t cover the episode, I wasn’t able to share the story of how my roommates and I sing “Man! I Feel Like Soup” (soup broken into two syllables) when we eat soup. “Color my hair, do it again,” becomes “French onion, do it again.” It’s very very stupid.
  • The episode’s title puts a space in “Drag Con” but the official website does not, so I’m going with the official “DragCon” spelling.
  • Monique absolutely needs merchandise that says “Ooh ah ah sensation.”
  • Aquaria mouthing “throw it away” when she’s talking to Monét might be my favorite Aquaria moment.
  • What is up with the generic #DragRace hashtag? #SittingOnASecret could evolve into an active hashtag on social media!
  • How is Monique going to be bitter about being safe when she uses Untucked so well. This week she talks about her awful year in seminary school, and I’m genuinely interested in learning more about Monique’s life.
  • “Alright, brown cow.”
  • Monét: “Asia, your back is ashy, that is not cute.” Asia: “Hey, your talent is in the bottom two.”
  • “Walk up in the club, merch first.”
  • “It’s squishy, but it hasn’t exploded on me yet.”
  • Asia: “Girl, y’all got me in here sitting on a fax machine?” Ru: “Just the fax, ma’am.”
  • “You think it’s going to hurt. But if you want it, it will not hurt.”
  • “What what’s in your butt?”
  • “Girl! I’m Jewish, am I sitting on ham right now?”
  • “This is flat and a little cold, so I want to say Aquaria.”
  • “I came to this competition with glitter and Jesus.”
  • Eureka: “Girl, I wear a 52H bra.” Monét: “Wait, wait, wait. A what?” Eureka: “52H.” Monét: “That is eight letters in, bitch, OK?” Eureka: “She can count and do her ABCs.”
  • “My parents were very liberal. They named me Aquaria.”
  • “She’s Saturn on a secret.”
  • “Shhhhhhh!”
  • “Or as a shocking alternative, they could have been funny.”

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