The loss of The Vixen last week arguably robbed season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race of its one undeniable narrative thrust, forcing the show’s cast to go from loudly debating the most outspoken queen of the pack to quietly tiptoeing around the doggedly silent elephant in the room. Though The Vixen’s elimination restored oxygen to the workroom, “Breastworld” sees most of the remaining hunties, well, hunting for ways to kick-start their own storylines, especially as the competition has rounded the clubhouse turn.
And despite her mildly surprising win last week, no one is in more need of a boost than taciturn Kameron Michaels. Perhaps already sensing that this week’s episode would turn into a referendum on Kameron’s ability to go as far as similarly snoozy thirst trap Pearl did three years ago, and figuring now would be a good time to establish a visual motif to accompany the show’s pivot toward the muscle queen, RuPaul brings out an army of underwear models for the “give ’em what they want” mini-challenge. It’s the board game Concentration, Slutty Underwear Edition. (Countdown to gay-blog clickbait articles pointing out which of them have done porn starts in three…two…)
It’s always diabolic fun to see RuPaul forcing the sex-starved queens to test their memory with 16 packages and 36 engorged pecs staring them in the face, and as always, the show’s editors give this mini-challenge a little more time than usual. Aquaria, the youngest of the remaining queens, is also the quickest. She matches up the matching pairs of fundies in the least amount of time, though Asia O’Hara makes it pretty clear that she’ll cut her losses if it means spending more time absorbing all the eye candy.
Aquaria’s win gives her the right to put everyone’s fate in her hands by casting them in the roles they’ll play in “Breastworld,” Ru’s proudly adolescent parody of HBO’s Westworld. Aquaria, in this week’s pre-credits sequence, worked the other remaining five queen’s last good nerves by admitting that she’s rooting for them to all lose so she can take the crown, uttered moments after The Vixen’s exit and right when everyone likely felt a glimmer of hope for genuine sisterhood. And so it goes that Aquaria attempts some damage control by letting everyone tell her which parts they want. Of course, without being allowed the benefit of a table read, they’re all basically grasping around in the dark in hopes of landing the juiciest part. Making things even worse for herself, Aquaria lets everyone pick their parts before she assigns herself, ensuring she’ll end up with the least worthwhile role, at least on paper.
Not that a read-through of the script would’ve ultimately done much to help the queens pick their roles, as it’s an utterly incoherent piece of satire. Kameron and Monét X Change are pleasure-seeking tourists being greeted at a largely cybernetic Hamburger Mary’s-branded resort by concierge Miz Cracker. Eureka and Aquaria are Breastworld hospitality staffers, always on the verge of malfunction as they call Bingo and deliver stuffed cocks—as in chickens—to guests. And in the last few minutes of the skit, Asia shows up as “Parah Salin,” a moral crusader and, judging by the spoonerized name, failed vice-presidential candidate. It’s the type of script that lives or dies by the level of performances given by the queens and, regrettably, few rise to the challenge, so much so that it’s actually a pretty genuine crapshoot which of them will get the win thanks to the vacuum at the top.
The opposite end of the spectrum, on the other hand, is painfully evident. By this point in the competition, Kameron’s guarded persona is absolutely a liability, and the other queens justifiably can’t connect with someone who can’t even admit to being happy with a challenge win. Kameron’s role in the skit, that of a repressed conservative who finally learns the value of cutting loose, should have been a perfect fit; the out-of-her-shell monologue is handed to her on a silicon platter. But she botches it completely, coming off more robotic than the queens who are actually playing robots.
If The Vixen’s hyper-awareness of how Drag Race’s producers could choose to portray her turned into her downfall, Kameron is clearly the opposite side of the coin. One of them burned, the other froze over. Kameron’s inability to give herself over to a moment of realness is so pronounced that it overshadows a minor-key variation on the same theme going on in Miz Cracker’s corner. Cracker is desperate for her first win, and the judges can only see the gears turning in her head. Monét, in contrast, succeeds by giving the judges her unapologetic personality, warts and all, at precisely the point in the competition where star quality is the most important thing.
Between the underwear models, a cameo by Stephen Colbert, and Broad City stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as guest judges, this episode of Drag Race bends over backward to give fans a great show, and the queens’ runway challenge efforts meet the series halfway. The queens imagine what they’ll look like 50 years in the future, and Aquaria’s youthful naïveté alone is worth the price of admission: She comes out looking like a runway model who used slightly too much spray tan and recently took spacers out of her earlobes. Eureka also seems too self-conscious to really get ugly for her art, and Monét’s sandbag breast gag, while funny, gets read for being too on-the-nose. That opens up Asia’s blasé cornrow’d nursing-home realness for the win. Eureka lands in the bottom and, despite utilizing all the intricate latex money can buy, Kameron unsurprisingly joins her. It would be a cruelly ironic twist for stone-face Kameron’s old-age mask to get in the way of her ability to serve a fierce LSFYL performance, but in reality, Patti LaBelle’s “New Attitude” seems to give her a jolt of energy that puts her right on Eureka’s level.
As it was with Asia and The Vixen’s Deee-Lite-ful performance last week, this one looks almost too close to call. The fact that the judges, while deliberating, admitted that they read Eureka a little harder than the others because of how much they know she didn’t live up to her potential proves critical. So while Kameron has been spending the whole season coasting just barely above her potential, her lip-sync performance indicates she knows just how much more the judges want from her, and finally seems ready to deliver. When RuPaul tells Kameron “Shante, you stay,” the tears of gratitude are already falling down her wrinkled cheeks. Eureka stands in resigned disbelief, but Ru informs her “Shante, you stay too.” Ru wanted them both to sweat, but wanted Eureka to sweat a little bit harder. Call it their shared “Wake up, Pearl” moment.
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