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RuPaul's Drag Race: "Snatch Game"

Illustration for article titled RuPaul's Drag Race: "Snatch Game"
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“Snatch Game” may not be the best or worst episode of any given season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it’s always the most anticipated. Over four seasons (the first had no Snatch Game), RuPaul has turned this drag queen game show into an annual event, using the art of celebrity impersonation to determine which queens are really worth rooting for in this competition. The lines between the best, average, and worst performances in this year’s Snatch Game are explicitly clear by the end of the challenge, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if those standings match the order of eliminations at the end of the season.

At this point, one thing is obvious: The queens from the first group are the weaker bunch. Three of the four eliminations have come from group one, and this week another girl from the first part of the premiere goes home. Two queens have managed to jump ship and sail with their more talented sisters, and Adore and Dela continue to prove their value with hilarious turns in the Snatch Game. Seeing Adore’s feverish devotion for Anna Nicole Smith puts her entire personality in perspective, and her dead-on impression of Anna Nicole is so great that it’s called “performance art” by guest judge Gillian Jacobs. A superfan of the series, Jacobs also gags on Dela’s Maggie Smith, giving the huge compliment that she was using one of Dela’s quotes all day long after the Snatch Game.  


Like Adore and Anna Nicole, there’s a sense that Judge Judy is a role model for Bianca. She’s flat out says that Judge Judy is her favorite person in the world, and after seeing Bianca’s Rolodex of Hate in action, that’s easy to believe. It explains how she mastered those stinging reads, taking Judge Judy’s signature quips and covering them in sequins and make-up to turn them into ammo against other drag queens. That mutual celebrity worship gives Adore and Bianca common ground, and when they sit next to each other during the Snatch Game, their characters develop chemistry that becomes friendship when they’re out of drag.

The big criticism of Bianca is that she might be too much of a bitch, but I’ve been supporting her the whole way because of her extremely constructive cuntiness, going out of her way to make the other queens more formidable opponents. This episode continues to build up the rivalry between Bianca and Laganja, but Bianca is only going after Laganja because her Erykah Badon’t realnesss is way too excessive and desperate. She’s an attention whore but doesn’t have justification for earning that attention, and Bianca recognizes that Laganja is trying to compensate for insecurity with this exaggerated persona. Her overly rehearsed, high school beauty pageant line delivery is incredibly irritating in the little bits shown on camera, so I can’t imagine how excruciating it is to be around that for an extended period of time.

Five weeks in, Laganja hasn’t realized that there needs to be some element of “reality” in her performance, and Bianca is there to help her learn that, especially in Untucked. There are people that exist like Laganja who are always performing once they enter a group of people, but those people don’t do very well in this competition. Drag is all about putting up a mask and finding strength in that, but what makes this show so remarkable is seeing the man behind the queen and discovering how the alter ego relates to the real person underneath the padding and paint.

It’s entirely possible that Laganja’s drag persona is exactly like her boy persona, but she doesn’t understand that she needs to tone it down, because while her aggressive personality may work to grab attention in a loud nightclub full of gay men chatting and flirting, it reads as aggressively obnoxious on camera. There’s a robotic quality in the way Laganja delivers nearly all her lines with the same pitch and cadence (the only time she’s real is when she’s having an emotional meltdown, which isn’t any less annoying), and she ends up going full robot for her miserable performance as Rachel Zoe. This if after she brags about how important it is to get a celebrity’s voice correct in the Snatch Game.


At the start of the episode, Laganja and Adore are still close friends, and Laganja goes to her for sympathy when she decides to continue bitching about Bianca interrupting her moment in last week’s Untucked. Bianca is not having it, and she immediately makes it known that Laganja’s crocodile tears have zero effect. At this point, Bianca is only spitting venom at the people that really deserve it, and she not only spares, but rewards the queens that rise to her level of excellence. After noticing how funny Adore is and getting the chance to directly interact with that talent during the Snatch Game, Bianca sees the promise of this younger queen and does something that helps Adore realize her full potential.

In a moment of sisterhood that puts the rest of these bitches to shame, Bianca offers Adore her extra cincher so that she can finally give Michelle the silhouette she’s been asking for on the runway. Adore is uncomfortable with her “hog body,” and having her torso cinched tight boosts her confidence on the runway, giving her the presence she needs to overcome any fashion missteps. Michelle rags on Adore’s dress and wig, but she applauds her cinched waist, which she wouldn’t have with Bianca’s help.


Offering Adore a cincher is the perfect move for Bianca at this point in the competition, showing that she has a soft side after she’s spent three episodes going after the competition. She uses the Snatch Game as a stage for her bitchery by playing Judge Judy, a decision that gives her total license to fill in any silence with a biting comment, but showing that there’s a kind, generous, nurturing side of her personality invalidates any claims that she’s a one-dimensional insult queen. Bianca has just given Adore a huge advantage, but she can also take it away at any time, a truth that Adore recognizes. She begins to shift her allegiance from Laganja to Bianca, and by the end of Untucked, Cincherella has fully sided with her new stepmother over her overly emotional, irrational friend.

What sets Bianca and Dela apart from Adore is that there is much more strategy at play in their work on this show. RuPaul’s love of Judge Judy is well documented (especially if you follow her on Twitter), so I’m dubious of Bianca’s claim that she doesn’t know that fact going into the competition, but saying that she doesn’t helps give her story higher stakes this week. It’s entirely possible that she’s unaware of RuPaul’s love and is legitimately worried that she won’t live up to expectations, but her performance is so self-assured and sharp that it’s also entirely possible she shows up to the competition knowing she will give an outstanding portrayal of one of RuPaul’s idols, but also knowing that she’ll put up a mask of ignorance for extra drama.


That exceptionally clever confidence is also present in Dela’s Maggie Smith, creating the impression that her workroom anxieties about struggling to make the woman funny and not being able to do a British accent are put upon for the cameras so that her performance is even more impressive. There’s nothing immoral about lying for the cameras in this competition; these people are performing at all times, and if Bianca and Dela can control the flow of their narratives, then more power to them.

Playing Smith’s Dowager Countess mixed with a spoonful of Mary Poppins, Dela wows Snatch Game contestants Gillian Jacobs and Chelsea Lately’s Heather McDonald by playing her character as a refuge of the early 20th century confused by the trends and terminology of modern times. The queens are asked to name what part of Cher was given a new Twitter account, but Maggie Smith doesn’t know what Twitter or Cher are, so she goes with her gut and writes “songbird” in flowing cursive because she believes she heard the word “twitter” in that sentence. When the queens are asked what Chelsea Handler is adding to the new flavored liquor she’s releasing, Dela has the perfect response: “I’m unfamiliar with the work of Lady Handler. However, I did think it would be rather amusing if there were libation flavored with Citrus! Can you imagine such a thing?”


Dela’s period humor combined with a talent for interacting with the other queens without making her comments seem like attention grabbing interjections puts her at the top of the Snatch Game, and she claims her second win by rocking this week’s runway challenge, which asks the queens to embody a specific era of RuPaul for “A Night Of 1000 Rus.” Certain queens like Dela, Gia, and Courtney have an advantage here because they have dresses modeled after famous RuPaul looks, and Dela channels RuPaul harder than Bianca and Adore to snatch this victory. (It’s nice to see the runway look as the deciding factor this week after the runway was overlooked so heavily last week.)

It’s confusing why Courtney chooses to impersonate Fran Drescher instead of playing the most obvious choice of Olivia Newton-John, giving her the opportunity to use her natural accent. (Newton-John may be obvious, but it also gives her a lot more material to work with than Drescher.) She gets a few laughs, but she’s in the middle ground with Darienne, who gives a similarly adequate performance as a not-racist Paula Deen. They’re both safe, along with Trinity, one of the weakest Snatch Game contestants, and Joslyn, one of the strongest. Joslyn says that she could do a better Fran Drescher that Courtney and proves it with a spine-tingling “Mr. Sheffield!”, followed by a laugh that will haunt your nightmares with its horrific accuracy.


As Joslyn predicted, she’s become the dark horse of this season, a queen that is consistently safe, charismatic in front of the cameras, and critical of her competitors but still good-natured. She’s the definition of Miss Congeniality, which is exactly what she set out to be from the beginning. The surprising thing is that strategy is working in her favor. Being safe means that she gets a lot of time in Untucked, and the goofy charm of her on-camera persona compensates for a polished but unremarkable fashion sense. She’s so endearing that it’s hard not to like her, and the hidden depth of her talent has made her one of the more unpredictable queens this season. Between “prostitution whorses” and “cum-in,” Joslyn’s Theresa Giudice gets a lot of laughs, and she does some very impressive work setting up a punch line with her rambling opening speech about how to pronounce her last name.

Trinity is wise to not try Beyoncé for Snatch Game because Tyra already did that in season two (and it sucked), but she decides to copy another queen’s strategy by doing a wig change as Nicki Minaj. Unfortunately, Trinity is nowhere nears as smooth as Chad Michaels, and doesn’t get the opportunity to write down a response for one round because she’s changing her hair. Trinity is safe, but only because there are queens that are worse than her. She’s a big ball of nerves, freaking out during Untucked because she thinks Santino makes fun of her voice, but there’s another component to Trinity’s sensitivity beyond insecurity.


Trinity reveals in Untucked that she is HIV positive and wants to use this platform to raise awareness, but in order to achieve that, she has to disclose her status on national television. That has to be a scary thing to do, which is probably why it’s taken her three episodes to do it, but now that she’s revealed her status she doesn’t have to continue the competition with the added pressure of a secret. She can be the advocate she’s set out to be, and after getting a pep talk from her mother in the Gold Room, Trinity has even more drive to succeed.

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy: “Milk was a bad choice.” It’s interesting to see someone that isn’t familiar with this series compete on it, but Milk’s unawareness of the Snatch Game proves that the queens who know this show make better contestants. She doesn’t quite understand what this challenge entails, and her general lack of personality and wit is revealed in her dull, lethargic Julia Child. She has an interesting point of view in her style, but her reluctance to embrace the glamorous side of drag doesn’t stem from her dedication to a genderfuck aesthetic, but from a fear of showing vulnerability.


After getting read by the judges for going down the runway in male drag as workroom RuPaul, Milk admits that she doesn’t want to do glamorous drag because she’s worried that she’ll stand out for the wrong reasons. Milk doesn’t want people to laugh at her if she can’t laugh at herself, which explains the wacky caricatures she brings down the runway, but RuPaul says that it’s hard to like someone that isn’t willing to show that vulnerability. Milk says that she’s trying to stay true to her style of drag, which is something that Gillian admires but also recognizes as an omen that the queen will be going home soon.

Sharon Needles realized that going from genderfuck to glam isn’t betraying your style; it’s showing that you’re able to take direction and are capable of giving people in positions of power what they are looking for. Some people just aren’t interesting in sacrificing their ideals to serve authority, but they have no place on this competition, where RuPaul is a higher power than the self. Milk is disappointing, but she’s at least built herself a narrative with this conflict between her established aesthetic and the judges’ expectactions, and that’s what leads her to safety, leaving Gia and Laganja to face off in a lackluster lip-sync of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “Head To Toe.”


The show should direct some funds from Michelle’s wig department to the music rights fund, because these queens deserve better than B-list singles like “Head To Toe.” Maybe Drag Race could get another sponsor so it can afford “Baby One More Time” or “Rhythm Nation” or “Just Dance.” Laganja is clearly distraught before the lip-sync, but she immediately picks herself up once the music starts, showing off the dance moves that are her redeeming characteristic. Her bodysuit gives her the range of motion that Gia lacks in her tight evening gown, and Gia’s sluggish strip is a lousy reveal that does nothing to elevate her performance. I’ve seen Gia perform live and it was excellent, but Laganja is a highly trained dancer that can do things with her body that Gia can’t, giving her the extra boost that allows her to sashay to safety.

Ultimately, ignorance is Gia’s problem. She got extremely defensive when Joslyn called her out on it in last week’s Untucked, and that reaction is probably ingrained in Gia because she’s been called out on it in the past. She’s unwilling to accept/respect other types of drag and doesn’t respond well to criticism, always assuming that she knows what’s best for her. She’s told that it’s a bad idea to switch her celebrity last minute from Selena to Kim Kardashian, and while it’s doubtful that her Selena would have been better than her flat Kim, changing her entire approach when she’s in the process of applying her make-up guarantees that she won’t be prepared when the game begins.


That combination of ignorance and confidence can have nasty results, and Gia leaves the show with a toxic attitude, telling her fellow queens that they are “all still dudes,” then using “dudes” again in her lipstick goodbye before she refers to them as “male cross-dressers” in her exit interview. As she leaves, Gia suddenly decides to demean the art form that she was fighting so hard to represent just a few moments before. Her reaction stems from anger and frustration at being eliminated when another contestant was safe for doing male drag, but her comments aren’t aimed at just Milk; that extra “s” directs that “dudes” at every man in this competition, and at Gia in the process. In those final moments, Gia Gunn sheds her dignity like a pair of uncomfortable heels after a night of lousy tips, making it very easy to watch her get swept back to the Windy City. 

Stray observations:

  • Tonight on Untucked: RuPaul makes a rare interruption to explain what happened with Santino’s Trinity comment on the runway. “I’ma take my back wings and I’m gonna fly!” Trinity makes her big reveal, then gets a message from her mom that Bianca isn’t there to diminish. “Girl, if I wanna come for you, I’ll come to your room at night and cut your fuckin’ wigs up.” Adore continues to get better by calling Laganja out on her shit. “Pretend it’s gas. Just leave it in the hallway.” Gia gives her competitor a pep talk and goes home because of it.
  • If you didn’t read last week’s TV Roundtable on Drag Race season 3’s “Ru Ha Ha,” go do that now. There are some great insights on this show in that piece.
  • RuPaul looks stunning on the runway this week. That is a beautifully structured garment with incredible colors.
  • I love that any displays of RuPaul narcissism on this show always come across as digs at Tyra Banks instead of any sort of blatant egotism.
  • I understand that Gillian is doing one of those silly Alyssa Edwards “point at where you’re going next” poses at the start of the episode, but her arm’s not low enough so it ends up looking a bit “Sieg heil.” Such a Britta move.
  • Heather McDonald is a fun guest judge, but it’s hard to compete with Jacobs’ huge enthusiasm.
  • Ben’s mean-spirited impression of Alyssa Edwards is one of her few missteps in the competition.
  • Bianca’s puppet of Officer Byrd is amazing, especially with all the Franklin memories it conjures up. And throwing the puppet at Gia after her horrible “big black dick” response is an utterly brilliant move.
  • Laganja sure is tense for a queen that loves marijuana so much.
  • Gillian’s ingenious suggestion for Gia’s Kim Kardashian: Start every sentence with a K.
  • Hey Gia, drag kings exist. They are women that impersonate men. They are not a new thing. “Drag” is not impersonating women. “Drag queens” impersonate women.
  • “Need help packing? Beat it, queen.”
  • “Of course, Miss Attention Whore, Weeping Willow, is wearing a macramé pot holder on her goddamn head because she needs more attention.”
  • “Don’t piss on my leg and say it’s raining.” “Bologna!” Bianca starts with the classics.
  • “Am I to understand that one rips one’s telephone right out of the wall and carries it with them?”
  • Gillian’s favorite quote: “Excuse me! We originated the language!”
  • This space is for all of Adore’s incredible, mostly incomprehensible lines as Anna Nicole Smith.
  • RuPaul: “Instead of horses, their policeman ride…” Gillian: “Bears.” That is how you play the Snatch Game!
  • “Beauty fades! Dumb is forever!”
  • “Vodcuh.”
  • “I’m gagging on your eleganza!”
  • “Girl, why it gotta be black?” RuPaul saying this makes me laugh every single time.
  • “Eyes wide shut. Legs wide open.”
  • “First she steals Michelle’s identity, then she steals mine.”
  • “It does help that I’m a judgmental bitch.”
  • “I can feel my heart in my throat and it tastes amazing.”
  • Michelle: “I should know about tight Snatch Games.” RuPaul: “I don’t think so, Michelle.”
  • Michelle’s take on Gia’s face: “Crack. Ho.”
  • “We all know reveal in French means ‘take that shit off.’”

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