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The winning queens give RuPaul’s Drag Race a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere

Illustration for article titled The winning queens give iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere
Photo: RuPaul’s Drag Race/VH1
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RuPaul pulled out one hell of a twist to open season 13 of Drag Race, pitting the cast against each other in instant lip-sync battles and delivering “The Pork Chop” to half of the queens. While this made for an entertaining and suspenseful premiere, it’s a hard act to follow and “Condragulations” suffers from having to finish up the premiere’s lingering business before starting its main action. Sticking with the Porkchopped queens, with a quick tease reassuring viewers that the elimination is not quite what it seemed, would have made for a more cohesive and satisfying narrative. Aside from this, “Condragulations” is a rather straightforward half-cast spotlight episode. Not all of the queens shine as brightly as they did in “The Pork Chop,” but there’s a lot of talent in the workroom and season 13 is still poised to be one to remember.

The episode begins right where the premiere left off, with Joey, Denali, Tamisha, Utica, Rosé, Kahmora, and Elliott stewing in the Porkchop Loading Dock. They don’t like the position they’re in, having to vote one queen out, but as Joey says, they did sign up for this. The first vote is a tie, with Elliott and Utica the unfortunate winners. That means it’s time for a runoff. The anxiety builds as the queens vote again, but as viewers will later be informed, the tie-breaking vote is unanimous: Elliott has been Porkchopped a second time. Defeated and emotional, Elliott walks out in a daze. A few of the queens look troubled, but Rosé is already going for a cutthroat edit, celebrating having one fewer queen between her and the crown.

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Over in the workroom, the winning queens skip in and react to the start of their first full day. The winning queens already suspect the others may be back at some point, but they’re happy to consider themselves the official top six of season 13. As any alumnus would tell them, it’s not so easy. The RuMail siren goes off and Ru teases the upcoming episode before heading into the workroom in a fabulous cream animal print suit and Stetson. The queens are less than thrilled to hear they’ll be joined by another contestant: Elliott with 2 Ts. Elliott’s entrance is treated as a reveal, but because only Tina has met him previously, and in drag, no one recognizes him. It’s a minor blip, however, and the episode moves right along.

Ru gives a speech about none of the over 160 queens who have competed on Drag Race being losers, shouting out first-ever eliminated queen Victoria “Porkchop” Parker, as well as prominent first-queens-out Shangela and Vanjie. “Don’t let anyone make you feel like a loser” is a wonderful sentiment, but it rings rather hollow after what Ru and the producers just put half the cast through. With his speech out of the way, Ru introduces the first mini challenge. The queens will be putting on a runway show, modeling two looks each: a lady-like daytime look and a sexy nighttime look. The queens spring into action, excitedly taking their places at the mirror and getting ready to paint.

Illustration for article titled The winning queens give iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Gottmik is living his Drag Race fantasy, enjoying actually being in this moment that he’s dreamed about. Kandy sets up his station next to Symone and LaLa and immediately brings up Elliott’s return. These queens do not trust him, suspecting a spy in their midst. Tina later addresses this, getting the full tea about how Elliott wound up with their group. If they knew he’d been voted out by the Porkchopped queens right from the jump, he likely would have received a warmer reception. Instead, he gets off to a shakier start, stirring up some drama by poking Kandy about the history of queens with drag family ties to past contestants getting eliminated early. The shade hits a bit too close to home and Elliott has even fewer fans in the workroom as they finish getting ready.

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On the runway, the queens start with Daytime 2021. Gottmik looks fantastic in a bright latex dress, sky blue with clouds on the top, a rainbow on the skirt, and carrying a sun clutch. Kandy’s look is puzzling, a red dress with puffed, off-the-shoulder sleeves, a gauzy train, and gold and silver embellishments around the neckline. Nothing about it says daytime, but she’s definitely feeling herself. LaLa looks fabulous in a flowing halter dress with an autumnal, green and white fabric and dark brown to platinum braids. Olivia is a blast from the past in a ’60s-inspired butter yellow and lilac dress, red high-pony wig, and cute triangle glasses. She’s carrying another tiny purse, so it looks like this may be a staple of hers. Next is Symone, who works the runway in a bold, ’90s-inspired look. It has blue, pink, yellow, and brown horizontal stripes and she’s serving the combination blazer, skirt, pants, and cape. Her hair is a bit much, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re strutting like she is. Tina’s back in her traditional orange and red, a cute and flirty part tutu, part Dior outfit with long sleeves and a big bow. It’s far more stylish than her entrance look and she looks great. Last is Elliott, in a long red dress with puffed sleeves, a black corset, and a red beret over long, blonde hair. She looks good, but a definite step down from some of the others.

Next is Nighttime 2021. Gottmik contrasts her first look with a dramatic black gown. She’s full vamp with a massive cutout over the right side of her chest and a pasty over her nipple, as well as a pearl choker and black wavy wig. She looks great. Kandy goes kooky with a fun devil-inspired look with shoulder horns and a blonde wig, more costume than fashion. LaLa’s nighttime look is terrific, a black pleather top and mini skirt with a massive chest cutout and gold mesh shirt. Her thigh-high boots and red wig complete the look, a totally different feel from her daytime ensemble. Olivia also makes sure to change up her looks, wearing a fitted, beaded burgundy dress with plenty of cutouts and a curvy, asymmetrical design. Symone goes for a gathered and draped golden outer dress for her second look, with an orange top and a short, braided wig. Tina’s second look is latex, with a bright yellow skirt, orange puffed sleeve top, and red halter and thigh-high boots. She’s the latest queen to pull out a massive braid and she goes a bit overboard playing with it as she walks. Last is Elliott, who has the same silhouette for her night look as her red day look. This time she’s in black, though, with a top hat and massive feathers and sporting bright red hair.

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Illustration for article titled The winning queens give iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Back in the workroom, the queens de-drag and Ru announces the maxi challenge. They’ll be writing original verses to Ru’s “Condragulations” and coming up with their own choreography. It looks like guest judge Jamal Sims won’t be coaching after all. Writing proves to be quite the challenge for most of the queens, but Olivia is excited. He mentioned in the premiere that he’s a pianist, but it turns out he’s also a composer. He’s practically beaming, thrilled to have been given a maxi challenge he should be able to excel in.

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On the main stage, the queens are ready to start their dance rehearsal, but no one steps up to choreograph. Apparently Elliott is the only dancer in the group and he’s in no rush to take charge after the reception he’s received. LaLa is not feeling the group’s choreography—his reactions are a gift—and as the queens continue to get stuck in the weeds, Elliott gets more and more frustrated. He finally chimes in and offers a few suggestions, to Tina’s irritation, and eventually, the group moves on. Gottmik struggles to keep up, thrown because he hadn’t realized everyone would hear his verse during their rehearsal. His lyrics center on his gender but he hasn’t had the chance to talk about it with any of the queens yet. He’s not sure how he’ll be received and this brings old insecurities rushing back, making it almost impossible to focus. He’s in trouble. Rehearsal wraps up and while this may be a fake out, the queens do not seem ready.

The next day, the queens head into the workroom and start painting, getting ready for their performance. Olivia talks with Mik about the rehearsal and he opens up about being thrown by his verse and feeling his gender dysphoria come rushing back. Olivia’s wonderfully supportive. They go over pronouns—both queens use he/him pronouns out of drag and she/her pronouns in drag—and Mik talks about how frustrating it is to have people misgender his drag persona, meaning well but missing the point. He’s just like any of the other queens in the room, and should be treated as such. As they talk, Mik settles in and feels much more himself, the confident queen from the premiere. It’s great to see.

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Illustration for article titled The winning queens give iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Elsewhere in the workroom, LaLa, Symone, and Kandy talk about shrugging off mistakes with confidence—foreshadowing!—and Tina asks Elliott about what happened with the rest of the eliminated queens. Elliott fills them all in and the winning queens start piecing together that the rest of the Porkchopped queens will be back, and likely soon. The energy darkens when Kandy reminds everyone they’re heading into elimination that evening. The queens take turns asking who they’d lipstick and send home and the there’s a clear consensus: Tina and Mik. Olivia’s a bit ruffled that she’s not perceived as a threat, and on that second bit of foreshadowing, the episode moves to the maxi challenge.

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Ru heads out on the main stage in a sequined purple gown looking absolutely fantastic. She introduces guest judge Jamal Sims, in a delightful grey and black ensemble with a red statement tie. He’s just on judging duty this episode, though based on that rehearsal, some of the queens may have preferred a guiding hand with their choreography. The performance begins and, after a somewhat random bit of large silver ball-ography, the queens dive in. Gottmik is up first and her lyrics are short, but effective. She plays with space a bit and so while she doesn’t get much out, what she does say comes through clearly. Kandy, in contrast, spits out complicated lyrics that nearly get jumbled. Slightly clearer enunciation would have helped, but she makes herself understood and it’s a fun verse. LaLa keeps a steady rhythm for her verse, which gives it a sense of propulsion and encourages the audience to bop along.

Olivia sings, immediately standing out from the others, and is the best yet in her performance. Symone follows her well, giving Olivia a run for her money. Her lyrics aren’t great, but she brings the same charisma to her performance that she brought to “Pleasure Principle” and is another clear standout. Tina, on the other hand, gets overly complicated with her lyrics. She executes them pretty well, but there are too many syllables and her verse lacks focus. Elliott is last and her lyrics, while a bit on the nose with the rhyming, are entertaining and have a clear thread. She definitely acquits herself well, matching the rest of the winners team. The choreography, well, it’s not great. But it’s okay. Most of the queens stay centered in their performances, with the exception of Mik and Kandy, who look lost and nervous at various points. The judges seem to be having fun, though, and that’s what really matters.

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Illustration for article titled The winning queens give iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i a stylish, if sluggish, second premiere
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

On the runway, Category is: Lamé You Stay. Gottmik looks fantastic in a copper lamé creation she compares to an alien. If you’re going to have a weak main stage performance, come back with a look like that. Kandy’s look is much simpler, channeling Austin Powers’ fembots in lavender lamé and faux fur. LaLa’s a vision in gold lamé, with a flounced and ruffled coat over gold pants. Olivia practically glows with Old Hollywood glam in a white and light green lamé dress and fabulous up-do. Symone stands out with a completely different take, coming out as a boxer in a red and gold lamé robe with red gloves, long blonde French braids, and even a cut above her eye. It’s a creative take on the category and one she executes very well. Tina continues the trend, ditching her red, orange, and yellow for silver lamé as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Her look is impeccable, down to her axe handbag and reveal of a bright red beaded heart inside her jacket. In comparison, Elliott’s green and blue one-shoulder ruffled lamé mini dress is rather expected, though it is lovely. These queens did not come to play on the runway and anyone who doesn’t have fashion as a strength will need to watch out.

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The judges are rather effusive with their critiques, giving only a few gentle suggestions to Mik and Kandy to find more confidence, because they’re terrific. In a performance, there are no mistakes, Jamal says. It doesn’t matter what the choreo is, if you run into trouble, you have to sell it as intentional. Kandy also gets slightly read for her day look. The rest of the queens receive varying levels of praise—the judges like Tina’s verse quite a bit more than this viewer does—and it’s hard to tell who will wind up in the top. When the judges finish deliberating, Olivia and Symone are named the top two, and to Mik and Kandy’s relief, the rest are all safe. There won’t be an elimination this episode. Instead, Olivia and Symone will lip-sync for a $5000 tip to Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart.” Both are in the zone and hungry for the win. Olivia starts to go for comedy early, but changes her mind, while Symone focuses on channeling the song’s energy throughout. Olivia is good, but her tonal back and forth is jarring, while Symone’s interpretation is more cohesive and effortless. She’s the winner, an early frontrunner and one of the top queens to watch.

If season 12 is in any indication, the Porkchopped queens will be up next episode, run through the same challenges with enough tweaks to keep things interesting. There’s plenty of talent in the workroom this season, but this premiere has shown a gap in most of the winning queens’ armor. The opportunity is there for the Porkchopped queens to out-perform them with their group number. Three episodes is a long time without an elimination, but as long as the queens keep delivering at this level, the producers should feel free to keep pushing off that first elimination.

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Stray observations

  • I mentioned Ru and Jamal’s looks earlier, but I’m also enjoying Michelle playing with her streak and Ross’ suit is once again on point. I also really liked the lip-sync song, which I wasn’t familiar with.
  • It has been a strange and very stressful week and I wasn’t prepared for how glad I was to spend some time with Drag Race, particularly a non-elimination episode.
  • I’m enjoying all the extra time with the queens, but the second group is going to need to bring it in their performance. Season 12’s double premiere worked like gangbusters because the first group performance was so strong, particularly Widow. This one gets by on personality and some excellent looks. Hopefully that will change next episode.
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