Eleven Thoughts On RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season Nine, Episode Four

I hate to be the one who has to say it but I think we need to have a serious talk about this season. This isn’t the type of talk where you have to put a creature out of its misery (Not yet!) but it is the type of talk where we need to be completely honest without any hurt feelings.

This is to say: I’m concerned. Things are going well with Drag Race season nine! Maybe too well. No boats are being rocked yet all boats are being rocked. Nothing is exciting but everything is. The show is so painstakingly vanilla that I’m starting to wonder what is the reason to watch. Yes, it’s queer and cute and fun but there is no WOW factor. The snake is still dancing but the snake neither has venom nor that cool rattle that made it beautiful but scary. It’s now just a scaled flesh tube that could be confused for an elegant worm.

Let’s hash it out to understand why with eleven thoughts on episode four, based on how many queens are still in the competition.

11. Drag Battle Royale
From the gates, this episode positioned itself to be queen versus queen versus queen versus queen. There was EVERYONE versus Valentina. There was the NYC queens (Aja, Alexis) versus LA queens (Valentina). There was Trinity versus Eureka, a rehashed Coco versus Alyssa storyline that has yet to actually bear orange fruit. There was Charlie versus Cynthia, the suffocating harbinger of their demise. There was Sasha versus Eureka, the closest thing we had to an actual fight. Everything was a battle! Or, well, that’s what we were told.

10. Apology Central
Here’s the problem about everything being a battle: nothing was a battle. Everyone showed some skin and screamed to immediately apologize or pull the cutesy “JUST KIDDING!!” card to renege their hate. Remember that dancing snake? This is the example of why its dance isn’t fun anymore: there is no risk or fear or frights of repercussions to the action(s). Everything is so safety netted be it the queens’ doing or the producers’ doing. Whatever the cause is, there is very little fun going on by way of cattiness because everyone is at the ready to pounce and then pet the other person. The Trinity and Eureka fight gave you a glimpse at something real with the hand raising shenanigans but that ultimately fizzled for a main stage tiff that—Again.—fizzled. It kind of got juicy in Untucked but there was no epic meltdown. Sasha and Eureka came close too. Sasha eventually gave up the fight and Eureka is too dumb to actually fight back. We ended up with drama blue balls all around.

9. Change The Channel
This challenge. It wasn’t awful! But it was not good. We’re four episodes in and half of the challenges have been these silly group working projects that get old fast since the show is so sliced and diced to show you everything and nothing. You don’t see any process nor do you really understand why problems are problems: you’re just given everything on a platinum platter and expected not to question anything. The Good Morning Bitches team was good but felt too much like a real show. The Valentina and Aja drama was again blue balls, Alexis and Farrah’s outfits and personalities were so fucking boring and old, and—Thankfully!!—Sasha and Shea saved the day with their great sexual tension. Those two were having fun! Nobody else was though. Not On Today was, in some ways, better because they tried to have a point of view. Their being too polished made them unpolished (Peppermint, Trinity, Charlie) while the people who embraced themselves instead of the show succeeded (Cynthia, Nina, Eureka). Naya Rivera also deserves some sort of pat on the back for dealing with such boring talent too. She was entertaining! Unfortunately the entire cast is too in their damn heads to be fun to watch. I feel like I want to throw a pool of water on all the queens and yell, “WAKE UP PEARL!!!!” (And, as a reminder of how exciting the show once was, watch this. Nothing on this season comes close to any of those moments.)

8. Eureka!
We’ve touched on this a little bit but Eureka is a loose canon so packed in on the opposite end that she’s exploding in her own face. Pairing being young (26) with being potentially deaf is creating this pee colored Tootsie Roll™ monster with a loaf of bread on her head that barrels from person to person trying to make drama. I appreciate Eureka trying to stir shit up! Why? Because she is unapologetically starting shit. Unlike the rest of the cast, she shoots off her mouth and doesn’t ask questions or self-censor. This will not get her far because everyone else in the cast is so eager to make friends instead of compete. Perhaps her last name—O’Hara—will bring about the ghost of Phi Phi. Please, please, please let her get possessed by a diva monster and tell someone to go back to a suburban strip mall store where they belong.

7. The Emancipation Of Aja
This 22 year old queen’s storyline went from being a non-listening diva to being the expert listener. That was fast, wasn’t it? Barely did she let her Valentina drama bear fruit before nipping all the problem’s buds. Good for Aja? She may have lodged herself into queer canon (“You’re perfect, you’re beautiful, you look like Linda Evangelista. You’re a model...Did you stone those tights?“) but she already checked out of the bitch spot. What a shame! She had real potential to be a great villain all to be dashed by my beloved queen sunshine Valentina swaying her away from the dark side. I want everyone to get along in real life, yes, but I don’t appreciate them playing nice on television. As Lashauwn Beyond famously said, “This is not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race.” Oh wait: I guess it is now.

6. Raven VS. Mathu
Here’s some drama the fandom has been discussing that I cannot stop thinking about whenever I see Ru on the show: Raven from the second season of Drag Race is apparently doing Ru’s makeup. This job was formerly done by acclaimed makeup artist Mathu Andersen. Andersen has gone radio silent while remaining a creative producer on the show and Ru’s looks have gotten a little less devastating…or have they? The fans are throwing shade on the matter while Raven dodges the matter. What’s your truth, Ru’s face? This is an unfolding drama that is certainly some of the most exciting ancillary content of this season.

5. Ranway
This runway was fine: Shea and Valentina were beautiful boudoir babes while Charlie was equally as beautiful in her huge heels; Cynthia’s non-nightie was cute but totally a Monet; Nina slayed with her savage dead hottie; while Sasha looked goofy but good; and the rest looked more or less looked like your mom trying to be sexy. The thing that was strange about this runway—And like many of the runways, recently.—is that it has zero connection to the challenge nor do we see any of the thought process of what goes into the look. So why do we care about the runway if it’s simply wallpaper around conversation? The act of showing off looks on the runway is getting more and more tenuous and makes you think they should cut it out of the show given how irrelevant and disconnected the process is.

4. Ye Olde Flatliner
Charlie’s lip synch was the shuffle heard around the gay world. It was so awkward. It was a new high of awkward. It wasn’t that it was sad but that it was so thoughtless. Do you know how many queens would kill to lip synch for their lives? So many. Props to Trinity for not dropping below 100% the entire song and made me like her a lot more for committing to her over-the-top Brit Brit performance. The thing with Charlie’s performance is that it kind of epitomizes this season for me: who is having fun here? Charlie wasn’t. Was Trinity? She looked pained. Is anyone having fun in the cast? Everyone is too busy being doubly conscious to actually be present or genuine or fun. Perhaps this is why we love Valentina because she seems like she is actually in the moment and a true talent. Everyone else? It feels so overdone, like we’re getting backwash instead of the first bite. Everything is a thought that came after an initial thought. Filters over filters over filters. There is no truth. One thing I will give Charlie credit for—despite it being a paltry excuse—is that he implored older queens in his Whatcha Packin interview to apply. He hopes to open a floodgate for queens his age to go on the show and do better. I hope that is true! I want to see a season of all older queens or classic, older queens akin to Lady Bunny competing with new, young girls like Valentina. That would be great. I just want everyone to be real and something like old queens seem ripe for realness.

3. Gay History X
Charlie’s conversation regarding AIDS should have been a sign that he was going home but, like the episode before, the talk was a Gay History For Dummies moment that was so obnoxiously pandering. Two weeks in a row don’t make these scenes flukes but facts. We do not need to explain to straight people for an entire act why AIDS was so devastating for the queer community! I understand the intention but half-done queens moping around a sad subject in a show that is mostly laughs on laughs feels so forced. It’s transparent. Being queer on primetime is enough! We all see what’s going on and, despite good intentions, no one is actually going to learn that much about what actually happened. Like the participating queens, it feels so staged and the antithesis of genuine. If it had stuck to Charlie’s living beyond her friends, that would have hit the note and been all we needed. Instead we got a lecture about why we all have to remember AIDS. Thanks to other queens like Sasha waxing poetic, the subject got drilled in. Boring. We fucking get it.

2. Season Seven All Over Again
I hate to say this but the writing is getting bright and brighter on the walls of the show for season nine: this feels like season seven all over again. The “rival morning show” challenge was not only recycling from season three (Which did it better and didn’t force queens to work together in pairs.) but it was a refashioned Shakesqueer challenge from season seven. From the increasingly boring queens to challenges that stand in the way of individuality, this season is quickly becoming exhausting and not-fun. Come on, season nine: let’s get it together and out of your damn head so that I don’t have to keep talking about “Remember when??” because this is not forging a path toward sickening.

1 .Untucked Is Drag Race
Have you noticed that most of this season’s biggest moments weren’t even on the show but on Untucked? From Charlie’s “Could you shut up a second?” to Aja’s Linda Evangelista meltdown to this week’s Nina Bonina Mood Board Brown, the real show is happening online. You get the fights and the drama and the emotions. The queens are only lightly produced, are drunk, and aren’t being fed talking points like AIDS and Orlando. They’re real. How else would we know that Alexis is boring but catty? How would we know that Trinity is a diva about to boil over? How would we know that Aja wants to be Naomi Smalls? How would we know that Nina is such a lovable goof? We wouldn’t know any of this if we were to guess by the VH1 show alone. Untucked is required viewing not because you get to see more content but because that’s where the show and the talent actually shine. The memorable, fun moments are happening on the small screen. This is a win for hashtag content but a huge loss for the show, television, and fans. Why? Because you have to run through a fucking gauntlet of boredom on Friday nights before being rewarded with thirty minutes of something good so you can reconcile that this season is floundering. The fun of fighting for this show to be good is wearing thin.

Exhale. As they say, “it gets better.” I hope so! Because, if the show has a kumbaya moment and talks about bullying next episode, I’m going to smash my head through my television to show straight people what it feels like to be bullied into caring about something by a television show.

Let’s move onto the adjusted power ranking.

14. Jaymes Mansfield
13. Kimora Blac
12. Charlie Hide (Down three—and out. I’m actually surprised she left so early! But, obviously, it was all about that lip synch. Charlie wasn’t that bad of a queen and, in some ways, she is much better than Trinity. She just “doesn’t lip synch” and she will never fucking live that down.)
11. Alexis Michelle (Down one. The hump of mediocrity has dissolved all over many queens and is pushing Alexis “Not Roxxy Andrews!” Michelle further down the line toward the exit.)
10. Cynthia Lee Fontaine (Down two. Cucu is funny and cute and had her “time to shine” this episode but her runway look was a callback to how terrible her outfits can be. She will only stay on this show by the wings of her cucu.)
9. Farrah Moan (Up three. It’s sad when this slice of vanilla bread is so high up. Farrah is so that girl you went to high school with who always looked kind of like a mess but was super smart but completely boring but always looked beautiful when she had to. If I see Farrah in sweatpants one more time…)
8. Aja (Up two. Please be the bitch. Join the darkside. Stop listening to Valentina.)
7. Trinity Taylor (Down three. Ditto. Kill Eureka. We will all appreciate that!)
6. Peppermint (Maintained. Untucked also discussed this but Peppermint is a legend. She doesn’t come across as such because she barely gets screen time amidst the fluff but she is iconic in the NYC drag community. I hope her looks get better because that’s the only thing that will hold her back.)
5. Eureka (Up two. She will not make it this far but her and Nina’s great showing this week paired with her bitchiness make her interesting. I guess this power ranking is becoming less about actual ability-to-win and more about “Are you entertaining to watch on this show?” Ouch. Another bad sign for this season.)
3. & 4. Shea Couleé & Sasha Velour (Collectively maintained. They’re slightly boring with their edgy schtick. But their sexual tension? I’m here for that. They’re also cute too so long as Sasha isn’t being so annoyingly “I’M ARTSY!!!” about things.)
2. Nina Bo’Nina Brown (Maintained. Nina is going to get in her own way but I hope, I hope, I hope she can make it to top three because she is just so cute and unique. Her mini-breakdown on the main stage was so sweet too. Perhaps it was a ploy to get in the judges and our hearts but, regardless, it worked.)
1. Valentina (Maintained. She was kind of absent from this episode, right? She was still very winning and her runway look was appropriately devastating. Too bad runway looks weren’t really accounted for this week.)

Thoughts? Am I making up drama because the show is so devoid of anything sensational? Let me know. I’m dying to get out of my echo chamber of critique.

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