At its worst, RuPaul’s Drag Race is an immensely entertaining TV show. When it has an epic episode like “RuPaul Roast,” it becomes a reality TV high that lingers long after the lip sync, leaving the audience in desperate need of an Untucked cool down. This is an episode to remember, with a return trip to the library, a roast in front of a live studio, and a lip sync that will go down in the annals of Drag Race herstory. It’s filled with all the over-the-top personality and reality TV manipulation that make this show such a joy to watch, and “RuPaul Roast” is the perfect gateway for anyone looking to get more people to join the ever-growing cult of Ru.
After this week’s episode, Alaska is the only queen to not win a challenge, yet she’s becoming more and more of a frontrunner. It’s safe to say that Alaska is one of the smarter contestants in the bunch, and the first thing she does after last week’s elimination is remove herself from Rolaskatox. She makes the cut quick and obvious, exclaiming “Alaska!” after Roxxxy and Detox yell their group name out loud when they walk into the workroom the next day. Her exit dissolves the clique, although the other two try to keep it up with a brief moment of Rotox. Just kai kai and get it over with. (Unless they already have…)
The splintering comes at just the right time, as this week the girls are asked to give each other a good reading. When the girls get She-Mail telling them that the library is open, one of this show’s most beloved mini-challenges begins: #ReadingIsFundamental. In the tradition of Paris Is Burning, the queens read each other to dust, and this season these bitches come prepared. As with the Snatch Game, the queens should know that they’re going to have to go to the library and should immediately start creating material once they get to the competition. Jinkx showed that she’s all about preparation with her Little Edie, but she’s not the only queen that rocks this minichallenge. In fact, this may be the best Reading Is Fundamental this show has ever had; everyone delivers at least one laugh out loud dig, and all the crap is edited out. These are not stray observations but fundamental reads, so I’m going to list the best ones:
- “Roxxxy Andrews. Congratulation on the weight loss, but to me you’re still boxy…Mandrews.”
- “Alyssa, overbites are very in this season. Too bad your performance here has been so…underwhelming.”
- “Sharon Needles. What?!”
- “Roxxxy Andrews, there are two types of peanut butter: creamy and crunchy.”
- “Detox, you won the challenge. You can take the chicken mask off now.”
- “Coco Montrese, for someone who calls themselves a top, you sure do like being on the bottom.”
- “Alyssa Edwards…never mind.”
- “Ivy Wenters. I can’t do it because reading you is like reading the Walt Disney book. It’s just too easy.”
- “Coco, you must be blind, because it looks like you’re using Tang for your highlights.”
- “Miss Alaska, I think you should wear a mask for every challenge.”
- “I don’t want to read these girls, I love them sooo much—alright let’s go.”
- “Alyssa Edwards, Miss USA—oh wait.”
- “Detox, you’re so seductive, but unfortunately it’s illegal to do it with you because most of your parts are under 18 years of age.”
- “Long story short, the season of the fish smells like trout.”
It’s a close call between Jinkx, Alaska, and Detox, but Alaska takes the win with her blend of razor-sharp wit and scathing critiques, walking that delicate line between clever and mean that is essential to a good read. It’s the line that the queens are going to have to tightrope when they receive one of this show’s toughest challenges ever: roasting RuPaul. This season has had some ingenious challenges (dumpster-dive couture, children’s TV series, dance Rutine biography), but asking the queens to read the Grand High Bitch Herself is on another level of difficult.
In the broad spectrum of reality TV competitions, RuPaul’s Drag Race is really fucking hard, testing a huge skill set while asking contestants to bring to life a fully fleshed out alternate personality on stage. Character comes into play in a lot of reality competitions, but not in the way contestants are challenged on Drag Race. When they get on stage, they should not only look like flawless women, they should be able to think fast and speak with charisma and poise. The roast forces them to write a lot of jokes in a very short amount of time, and there’s a clear line between the queens that have a knack for comedy and the ones struggling to land a joke. RuPaul doesn’t make it easy, either, inviting guest judges Leslie Jordan (gayer than the Fire Island production of Rent) and the ever useless Jeffrey Moran of Absolut to be on the panel for the roast.
The queens have quick rehearsals with Nadya Ginsburg, Deven Green, and Bruce Vilanch, which are edited to show us only the horrible stuff. It becomes clear just how blurry the line between cruel and clever is, and catty queens Alyssa and Roxxxy struggle because they’re just shooting out insults instead of roasts. Surprisingly, this season’s other big bitch Coco does pretty well, but that’s because she’s found a way to strengthen her routine with a character rather than turning to cheap shots. Surprising no one, the sweet, good-natured Ivy is nervous and doesn’t have very good material, but she’ll be able to pull it together just a little bit tighter once they get on stage.
Thankfully, the roast is a relatively smooth production and one of the less awkward comedy challenges this show has had, with a bevy of hilarious jokes from mostly Alaska, Jinkx, and Coco:
- “You all know Leslie Jordan? (Applause.) Don’t lie. No, you don’t.”
- “Leslie Jordan is the only man on Earth to have fucked more gay men than Michelle Visage.”
- “Michelle Visage. You can take the girl out of New Jersey, but you can’t keep the girl from giving blowjobs to homeless men on the New Jersey turnpike.”
- “RuPaul, you’ve been in the industry a long long long long long long long long time.”
- “RuPaul is so old that the Hindenberg disaster nearly destroyed her Bat Mitzvah.”
- “RuPaul is so old that her colostomy bag is made of wood.”
- “RuPaul is so old that when she opens her legs, all you hear is puuuuh.”
- “She’s done music, movies, television, and I just have one thing to say: Please. Stop. Immediately.”
- “That’s Roxxxy with three Xs, just like her dress size.”
- “You knew Michelle when Michelle was Michael.”
- “Girl, you look like the black Pee-wee Herman. Pants so high, he look like he in New Orleans at Hurricane Katrina, girl.”
- “It’s gonna be hard to top Coco, but look at her. Who would wanna top Coco?”
- “Michelle Visage is so full of semen. Period. No, seriously. She’s a whore.”
- “Ru, what I admire most about you is your ability to look at these tired queens and always find a compliment for them. You’re so full of shit, the toilet’s jealous.”
- “Whenever Michelle farts, a fairy gets her wings.”
- “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t he delightful? God bless him, he tried his hardest.”
- “Michelle’s favorite movie in the world is Showgirls, and much like Nomi Malone, she relies on the talents of her black friend.”
- “I hope you’re having the time of your life, because you don’t have much time left.”
No one talks about Jeffrey Moran because who cares, and it’s clear that Alaska’s sentiment about Leslie Jordan’s popularity is how most of the queens feel. The judges are unreasonably harsh on Alaska, and judging the edit she gets during the roast, Alaska’s performance is on par with Jinkx and Coco. The judges love those two, and Michelle even praises Jinkx’s runway look. After disappointing in the previous comedy/acting challenges, Coco is this week’s surprise success, using the character of Ru’s cousin from the Brewster projects to roast her way to her first win.
Having to lip sync three times pretty much guarantees elimination, and when a queen has been in the bottom twice, they take one of two paths after. They either decide to step their game up harder than ever before (Jujubee, Alexis Mateo) or they continue to plummet (Akashia, Delta Work, Jiggly Caliente) and Coco shows just how fierce a competitor she is when she gets on stage as Ru’s cousin. It’s a genius strategy, and putting on a mask makes it easier for Coco to attack RuPaul while establishing a relationship with the host that grows throughout her performance. Yet while Coco is a great performer, she’s absolute poison in the workroom and Untucked, and I’d rather have her go home than stick around and stir the shit. No wonder she was such good friends with Jade.
Roxxxy and Alyssa end up in the bottom two and it’s nice to see two of this season’s mean girls get their comeuppance. They’re both flat-out mean, with Roxxxy calling Alaska a tired, boring, weird second-rate version of her husband and Alyssa comparing Santino to Coco because they’re both runners-up. Roxxxy’s delivery is all kinds of janky, and the editors have a lot of fun with her stilted roasts. Example: “Michelle Visage, with that much make up, all your wigs, and (music cue + pause) light on you…maybe we should call you (music cue + pause) Michelle Mirage.” Alyssa is this week’s big shitshow, though, leaning over and clutching the microphone so close that she creates feedback and at one point even turns off the mic.
Roxxxy is a disappointment but Alyssa is a trainwreck, and ultimately they find themselves facing off in one of the most epic lip syncs this series has ever seen. The lip sync music has been spectacular this season, and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” is the exact type of high-energy song that forces strong performances from the queens. Roxxxy starts by taking off her leggings and dropping one hell of a gauntlet: pulling her wig off to reveal another wig underneath. Double wig, bitches!!! This second wig is glued on so that she can whip her hair back and forth and whip her hair back and forth whip her hair back and forth, and by the end of the number she has Shaken Drag Queen Syndrome. Major symptom is a spontaneous breakdown as she remembers when her mom left her and her sister at a bus stop, and the fact that Roxxxy throws that down at the very last possible moment to save her ass shows that she’s got some major balls tucked away down there.
It’s a strategy Roxxxy needs to deploy, because when Alyssa realizes that Roxxxy has done a double wig trick, she goes into overdrive and starts throwing down everything she’s learned in the dance studio and in front of the mirror. Roxxxy has the hair-whipping down, but Alyssa is giving the better lip sync, making sure that the judges can see her face while she whips. Her momentum builds, pulling her down to the floor until she’s basically convulsing, which is the kind of passion that RuPaul wants to see from her queens. With a double elimination earlier in the season, it was a given that there would be a week where RuPaul would save both contestants in the bottom, and Roxxxy and Alyssa deserve to shantay to safety after that lip sync. When you go that big, sometimes the reward is just as large, and hopefully this encourages the queens to continue going all-out for their lip syncs. They’re going to need to, because RuPaul doesn’t repeat herself. Someone is going home next week, and at this point in the competition, absolutely no one is safe.
- This week on Untucked: Everyone is sick and tired of Alyssa and Coco’s drama and their denial of said drama, politely asking them to shut the fuck up and stop bringing it up. We then get a bunch of adorable baby pictures of the queens, which incites a stream of tears as Jinkx and Roxxxy talk about their childhoods. Roxxxy’s runway breakdown makes more sense after watching Untucked, and it’s fascinating to watch two queens who are very aware of the game they’re playing have a pity-off. Also: #DragBabies
- For any Drag Race fans who are really into numbers and statistics, Alex Hanna of Bad Hessian has created this incredibly detailed survival analysis. I straight up failed my high-school statistics class so a lot of it looks like ancient cave markings to me, but it’s pretty damn cool to see what kind of discussion this show fosters.
- Could you write five Ru reads? Post them in comments!
- #NarcolepticDragQueen. Missed hashgag opportunities: #CrunchyPeanutButter, #Puuuuuh, #BlackPeeWeeHerman, #DoubleWig
- Rupaul is serving She-Hulk realness at her roast.
- Santino didn’t wear a hat so that the queens could roast him on his baldness, and no one took the bait. Sad.
- RuPaul’s forced smile scares me.
- “At a drag show, when you don’t bomb, you don’t just hear crickets, you hear shotguns getting cocked.”
- “Ru, your music is so Auto-Tuned you make Cher sound like Susan Boyle.”
- “She tell it like it T.I. is, and she don’t apologize while she pattin’ her weave.”
- “Santino, will you please shut the fuck up with your no drag knowledge. Now. HAWHAHAHAHAHA!”
- Coco: “Ms. Jinkx. Standin’ over there lookin’ like the Mad Hatter right now. What’s this challenge? Alice In Wonderland?” Jinkx: “Coco, why you still doing your ventriloquist-dummy makeup?”
- “I am ready to get ribbed for her pleasure.”