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The strong queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 meet their match in “Snatch Game”

Illustration for article titled The strong queens of iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i season 12 meet their match in “Snatch Game”
Photo: VH1
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Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race has a deep bench, and the producers know it. They’ve pushed the cast by requiring more looks than ever and they’ve moved demanding challenges like the improv and ball challenges to earlier in the season. For the most part this tactic has paid off, and the queens have shown themselves well. The producers’ luck changes with “Snatch Game.” Pushing up the show’s signature challenge backfires, resulting in an overstuffed dais full of likable, prepared queens, but few memorable moments.

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A 10-queen Snatch Game can work. Season six had arguably the strongest overall showing, and they had the same numbers. They also had a lot of queens who could handle improv. While this is a good cast, improv is not their strong suit, as was made abundantly clear in “World’s Worst.” Without that grounding, and without more interactions between the queens, 10 is just too many for the format. Drag Race UK delivered a particularly entertaining Snatch Game last year, and it was helped tremendously by only having to balance seven competitors. Here, the attempt to juggle 10 queens results in a disappointingly fleeting experience, with many of the queens’ performances glanced past to make room for the handful who end up in the top and bottom.

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The episode begins as the last several have, with more tension between Aiden and Brita. While Aiden is frustrated with the criticisms she’s getting from the other queens, she’s actually coming across better than Brita at this point. Brita’s getting the delusional edit, and it’s not a good look. There are undoubtedly many Drag Race fans who agree that Aiden should have been up for elimination for the ball challenge, but Brita’s constant pestering of Aiden only highlights that Aiden has exceeded many viewers’ expectations and Brita has under-performed. After what feels like an age of build-up, this episode finally pays off their friction, but since neither queen has come off that well this season, the result isn’t particularly satisfying.

The episode starts in earnest when Ru enters the workroom the next day, announcing that it’s time for the Snatch Game. The queens are thrilled, and their enthusiasm is contagious. The queens buzz around the workroom, positively giddy as they talk about their characters. As has become tradition, Ru brings an alumnus along for the walkthrough to give advice and offer another perspective on the Snatch Game. Unlike previous iterations, though, the guest is not a past winner, but Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, now officially re-branded as Miss Vanjie. Ru spins this as a “Dos and Don’ts” session, with Ru offering the Dos and Vanjie the Don’ts, but really it’s just an excuse to hang out with the charismatic queen and let her riff off this season’s contestants.

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Vanjie does have some solid advice to offer—her note to be careful before committing to a voice for your Snatch Game character is particularly sharp. Ru’s advice, on the other hand, is surprisingly suspect. The episode only shows a handful of conversations, but in three of them, Ru encourages the queens to change their character and go with someone they barely know, but whom Ru has decided they’d be better at. Heidi shouldn’t do Leslie Jones, but one of the Atlanta housewives, despite the fact that Heidi doesn’t watch the show. Jan should do Kris Jenner, despite her clear preparation for and love of Bernadette Peters, and Crystal, well of course Crystal should do El DeBarge, who she hadn’t even heard of before Ru first mentioned him to her earlier in the season. Ru is correct that too many queens put layers of stumbling blocks between their comedic instincts and Ru’s attempts to banter with them, but throwing away their preparation and winging it is not a good solution.

Vanjie takes her leave, wishing them luck, and it’s time for Snatch Game. Ru welcomes guest judges Daniel Franzese and Jonathan Bennet, two of the stars of Mean Girls, and they’re off. Just about everyone does well with their introductions. Heidi is Leslie Jones, complete with blue sequins and props to spare. Jackie is Lisa Rinna, actress and Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. Jaida is Cardi B, Jan is Broadway legend Bernadette Peters, and Widow is Tina Turner. In the front row, Gigi goes conceptual as Maria the Robot (more on this in the strays). She sets the tone for a strong Snatch Game right off the bat with her robotic greeting to Ru, “What’s up, bitch?”. Aiden is The Rocky Horror Picture Show actor Patricia Quinn, Brita is Broadway star Jennifer Holliday, Crystal is enigmatic artist and YouTube star Poppy, and Sherry is Katharine Hepburn.

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Illustration for article titled The strong queens of iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i season 12 meet their match in “Snatch Game”
Photo: VH1

The Snatch Game goes quickly, with only three questions from Ru. Jackie does well, volleying with Ru and interacting at least a bit with the other queens. She’s delightful as Rinna, and a clear standout. Gigi is also a hoot as Maria. She’s very prepared and combines physical comedy with excellent vocal work and timing. The other queens make much less of an impression. Heidi gets a few solid bits in as Jones, referencing her hilarious interaction with Widow on Untucked. Sherry has good timing as Hepburn. Jan is likable and prepared, but her Peters is too nice and too niche for this challenge, and Widow and Jaida don’t get enough time to make their mark. Brita is decidedly one-note, but she isn’t entertainingly bad either, and Crystal runs into the same troubles here that she did in the improv challenge, staying in character instead of going for the joke. At least her Poppy is memorably strange, putting her a notch above Brita.

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Down at the bottom is Aiden, who is out of her depth with Snatch Game. Her Quinn lacks humor and specificity—Michelle later calls her on skipping Quinn’s British accent. Aiden could have done much better with a quirkier choice, but she went with a celebrity she felt comfortable with, having actually met Quinn in the past, and didn’t plan beyond the base level of the challenge. Snatch Game is an impression challenge, but it’s also a writing, improv, and design challenge. It requires both preparation and spontaneity, and the confidence to know when to throw the character out the window and go for the gag. Aiden isn’t ready for this kind of challenge, not yet at least. None of the queens this season flail when they run into trouble, there’s no Romper Room fuckery,” to quote the great Latrice Royale, but that also means the potential benefit of a larger cast—more queens to interact with—never materializes. What the audience is left with is a group of competent, but glazed-over performances, two strong comedic turns, and a few weaker ones.

The Snatch Game ends as the episode hits its midway point. Ru announces the winner, “Registered voters!”, bringing out Vanjie with the season’s voter registration sign, and the episode moves along. The queens head into the workroom to prepare, and while they’re still excited about the challenge and upcoming runway, their reactions to the previous day are telling. Aiden is nervous, knowing she’s in danger, and both Widow and Heidi are still processing their experiences. Neither did as well as they thought they would.

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As the queens work on their makeup, the conversation moves to their celebrity choices, and Widow shares why she chose Tina Turner. She feels a strong connection to Tina, having been through multiple abusive relationships, particularly during years following her mom’s death. Widow talks about her struggles with alcohol and about dropping out of high school, and how long it took her to appreciate herself. She’s now happily married and successful in her career, doing something she absolutely loves. Widow is frank and open, and her willingness to talk about her past will undoubtedly help some of the people watching.

At the mirror, Gigi talks with Jaida about gender identity and the two bond over a shared happiness that they don’t care what others think of them. This realization as a teen has freed Gigi to be confident being herself, including self-identifying as gender-fluid. 12 seasons in, it’s easy to write off these exchanges as part of the Drag Race formula, but these are vital, powerful conversations, a far cry from the (hopefully) entertaining, manufactured drama present elsewhere in the show and as essential to Drag Race as the challenges themselves.

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Illustration for article titled The strong queens of iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i season 12 meet their match in “Snatch Game”
Photo: VH1

It’s time for the runway. Ru struts down in a cute pink wig and shiny black dress, introducing Daniel Franzese, who pulls out a fun Barney impression, and Jonathan Bennett, who later delivers a solid Valerie Cherish. Category is: Frozen Eleganza, inspired by the Broadway musical (certainly not the movie). First up is Heidi, who goes full snow queen with a cute white fur look. Jackie has a blue and silver look based on Elsa’s crown and is sporting a blonde wig. It’s a departure for her, and she looks great. Jaida is a frost queen, with a pointed crown, white wig, and lots of cutouts. Jan’s concept is Elsa as a white walker, with a white look coated in blue silicone icicles. It’s okay, but she would have made a bigger impact had she really embraced the horror. Widow is a survivor of the Titanic, in a period dress with a life preserver and icicles on her face. It’s a different take than the other queens and her whistle cements the reference.

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Gigi is cute as a button as an ice cream shop worker in a white uniform and a light blue wig. She looks great, as always, but her go-to silhouette of long sleeves, short skirt, and thigh-high boots or socks, is getting tired. Aiden comes out in a silver dress and gloves with a small yeti headpiece in her blonde wig and a mouth on her clavicle, referencing Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s a fun look, but compared to the others, it’s not enough. Brita is next, in an iridescent gown with blue, orange, and hot pink shards. She has tall, pointed shoulders, a bright blue wig, and a white fur stole, and her high-drama look is much more memorable. Crystal is last, with a full silver face and hands, slicked back hair, and white pants, jacket, and top.

The judging goes about as expected. Heidi, Jaida, Jan, and Widow are safe. Jackie and Gigi are contending for the win, with Sherry joining them in the top, and Aiden, Brita, and Crystal are in the bottom. Though it seems like the other judges may have gone a different way, Ru loved Gigi’s Snatch Game and gives her the win, declaring Jackie and Sherry safe. Ru loves Crystal’s runway look, so she avoids the bottom two, and that leaves Aiden and Brita up against each other in the lip-sync. The song is, “Let It Go,” performed by Caissie Levy on the Frozen Broadway cast album, and unfortunately, neither queen brings much originality to their performance. Partway through, snow starts falling from the ceiling and Brita saves a magic trick for the last act of the performance. Otherwise, this is a standard stand-and-sing, and Aiden is never going to out-Broadway Brita in a number like this. It’s not a surprise when Ru declares Brita safe and sends Aiden packing.

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Aiden may have her detractors, but she’s done well this season, much better than expected. Remember that before Drag Race, she was working at an IHOP and living an hour’s drive from the nearest performance venues. She was in over her head with Snatch Game, and it was definitely time for to go, but she’s undoubtedly learned a lot from her experience. It will be interesting to see how her drag develops in the coming months and years.

Stray observations

  • Shout-out to the editors for including a shot of Widow’s yellow shoes, signed by Leslie Jones during Untucked, early in the episode.
  • I’m a bit worried for Jan. She’s charming and has had a number of good interviews, but so far, her narrative is that she’s overlooked and isn’t sure what the judges want, and that’s not a good sign.
  • The broccoli strikes again! I’m very here for Dahlia popping up all season in that broccoli outfit.
  • Both Heidi and Jaida have fun talking heads as they walk the runway. Jaida’s uncertainty over Antarctica is good, but Heidi’s description of her look as “High Empress to the Yeti folk” takes the cake.
  • A note on Maria the Robot. A quick search indicates that Gigi may have conflated Sophia, a robot matching Gigi’s Snatch Game look who was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship in 2017, with MARIA, the famous robot from Metropolis. It doesn’t really matter what Gigi calls her character, she nailed the challenge, and hopefully this will encourage future queens to think outside the box.
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