A few rucaps ago, I dismissed the acting chops of the girls on this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. I surmised that, much like Marilyn Monroe’s Miss Casswell in All About Eve, they ought to consider heading back to the Copacabana School of the Dramatic Arts for some remedial classwork. Apparently they did, because the long-awaited Snatch Game episode not only boasts some truly fine performances, but also brings all things dramatic into razor-sharp focus.
Snatch Game is the most specific and iconic of Drag Race challenges, and one of its unyielding joys is in seeing just how many different ways the queens can fuck up crystal-clear instructions to “be funny.” This season, some of the queens do so, and then toss in a bonus demonstration of how to just plain fuck up in life. It’s a dazzling roller coaster of an episode that begins with the slow, anticipation-ramping ascent of the show’s most iconic mini-challenge. That’s right, the library is open. And some reads are long overdue.
Speaking of anticipation, the taciturn Marlboro Ma’am Kameron Michaels seemed to presage that he’d have to use his words this week, wearing a “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” stocking cap and coming out of the gate with a dig at Monét X Change: “Exchange? Ru, I would’ve asked for a full refund.” Miz Cracker cracks, “Aquaria, people don’t appreciate how much money you have to spend on make-up when you’re covering two faces.” And The Vixen twists the knife with relish, telling Kameron, “I think I speak for all the girls here when I say we’re really gonna miss you next week.”
To The Vixen’s chagrin, it’s Eureka who wins, not so much for breaching etiquette by speaking on behalf of us all and begging Kameron to fuck her, but more so for short-circuiting the very aspect of the reading mini-challenge that threw Alexis Michelle off her game last season. “I can’t wait to hear your reads about me being fat,” Eureka mocks, effortlessly turning the mirror on herself (if you can’t read yourself, et al.) and at the same time decimating the rest of them for not coming up with anything better than cheap fat jokes.
Back to remedial acting classes, Ru herself seems aware that this group is going to need some extra coaching to make this Snatch Game stand shoulder to shoulder with past iterations. So she invites Bianca Del Rio to, as Bianca puts it, “say everything hateful that RuPaul won’t.” True to form, Bianca comes on like a lion but dries down to a kitten when it comes to offering legitimate advice to the queens as they waffle over which characters to choose. Eureka test-runs her first choice, Divine, and quickly discerns from Bianca’s side-eye that her rendition wouldn’t cause the infamous season-seven Babs Johnson trio of Pearl, Miss Fame, and Violet Chachki to lose any sleep, much less winner of the John Waters challenge, Ginger Minj. Ru and Bianca’s coaching goes from implicit to explicit pretty quick as they make the rounds. Monique Heart is weighing options between Empire’s Cookie and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Ru asks her to answer a simple question in character, and Monique gets caught mimicking voice patterns but forgetting to supply a punchline. “That ain’t funny. Make it fucking funny, bitch,” Ru sighs.
Asia O’Hara is circling on Whitney Houston, and Ru immediately warns against any sight gags involving powdered sugar under the nose. Asked if she can use her Texas accent to her advantage, Asia suggests Beyoncé. If the soundtrack’s shade rattle could go Dolby Atmos at the suggestion, it would. Beyoncé is legendarily Snatch Game kryptonite. Every queen who’s attempted to bring Sasha Fierce to the panel has fallen on her Sasha face. Ru puts Asia to the same “answer me this” test she gave Monique, and Asia’s flat answer is even worse and hardly worth quoting. “That was not funny at all,” Ru says, and Bianca sagely interjects, “Either she tells you now or she tells you later.” Ru suggests that playing jealous versions of either Michelle Williams or Kelly Rowland would be much funnier. Asia decides that she can break the Beyoncé curse by playing off The Vixen, who has enigmatically chosen to play Blue Ivy Carter, and just like that we’ve got a reunion of the team that didn’t bother to rehearse for “The Bossy Rossy Show” challenge, right as acting chops are about to undergo the closest scrutiny they’ll get all season.
Spoiler alert: Asia and The Vixen take each other down, again, and much harder than before. For reasons that no one seems able to figure out, Asia interprets Beyoncé as a ruthless stage mom just barely shy of Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford, and The Vixen’s Blue Ivy is an incorrigible, spoiled brat. (The editors make sure to slip enough shots of her giving Eureka’s inspired Honey Boo Boo the stink eye that you understand it’s less a character choice on The Vixen’s part than it is a warning of an off-stage volcano set to blow.)
What neither Asia nor The Vixen realized in teaming up is that Snatch Game is first and foremost about the individual performance, making your caricature clear space around itself and pull focus from everyone else. With the exception of Monique’s tepid, one-note Maxine Waters, the rest of the panel is well up to the task, though Miz Cracker’s smart but milquetoast Dorothy Parker disappointingly end ups on the lower end of the curve (her jokes are just a shade too tasteful to hold up against the competition). Kameron’s Chyna proves canny, not just because Kameron is nearly as muscular as Chyna, but because she nails the buzzing, bulldog-on-helium androgyny of the late wrestler’s voice. Eureka’s Honey Boo Boo is the dictionary definition of taking the path of least resistance, but any scenario that ends in a drag queen drawing all over herself with a marker is a commendable one.
Aquaria’s Melania Trump and Monét’s Maya Angelou are victory lap-worthy achievements. Aquaria scores the best ad lib of the night (“No wonder why my husband is complaining about [China] all the time!”) and Monét finds fresh material from a well-worn comedy target. Certainly this could’ve been a double-winner proposition, but Aquaria’s highly editorial mermaid lewk on the runway—sopping wet in a latex oil slick—puts her over the top and she gets her second win, tying her with Eureka for the season. (A moment, please, for the ingenuity of the mermaid challenge, which forces each queen to get wheeled down the runway in a wheelchair pushed by a Pit Crew member.)
Miz Cracker and Kameron are declared safe and the latter, for the first time, looks oddly disappointed in the result. Disappointed she might well be, since being backstage means that she misses the fireworks show of the season when Ru asks the queens that fateful question of which one most deserves to go home. Eureka’s answer is pure pageant; she chooses Asia, with the caveat that she chose her because she’s “my biggest competition.” It’s a dodge made out of sheer diplomacy. The Vixen’s answer is the diametric opposite. She comes for Eureka, accusing her of being unprofessional for pulling focus all the time. Which is the challenge. Which is the fucking game. Eureka saying Asia should go home because she’s her “biggest competition” is a generous, coded way to lift up a worthy queen who had a rough week. The Vixen saying Eureka should go home because she actually deserves to go home, when all the evidence on display suggests otherwise, is a transgression. And even from a queen who’s built so much of her persona around dismantling the systemic racism within the gay community by being that bad bitch—calling her audiences out on their white guilt and taking their money in the bargain—The Vixen gravely miscalculates her strategy when she turns her anger on the judges, saying, “It baffles me that you enjoy her so much.”
In an early episode of Untucked, The Vixen brutally identified how audiences would see a crying Aquaria and automatically read The Vixen as an angry black woman. Many did. This writer didn’t. But that’s a card that you only get to play so many times, and it’s upsetting to see someone as smart as The Vixen is when it comes to regarding optics hand Eureka the golden opportunity to let that dynamic play out on the main stage. Eureka defends herself, The Vixen interrupts her to point out that she’s been interrupted, Eureka cries, and The Vixen’s prophecy becomes self-fulfilling self-sabotage. The Vixen is shown attacking literally the one person on the whole stage who doesn’t identify her as the queen who should go home this week, swerving dangerously close to Phi Phi O’Hara levels of obliviousness. How The Vixen chooses to deflect her failings this week is a study in contrast against her Snatch Game confidante, Asia, whose fish-headed interpretation of a mermaid (she’s serving up DayGlo Shape of Water realness) is a master class in distraction that ultimately saves her from having to lip-sync for her life.
Ironically, in that same Untucked episode, Monique warned that The Vixen’s righteous anger will stand in the way of presenting her gifts. As right as Monique’s prediction is proving, she probably never bargained on being put in a position where The Vixen’s gifts would end up sending Monique packing. Nor did she learn from the epic downfall of Valentina in season nine. The editors may have decided to find The Villain in The Vixen, as Aquaria joked during the reading mini-challenge. But no producer “narrative” is going to stand up against a queen lip-syncing for her life and not knowing the words to the song. Sadly, Monique would have been outmatched even if she weren’t up against a competitor like The Vixen, who even being forced to sing a lily-white Carly Rae Jepsen ditty has no problem cutting to the feeling.
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This article was originally published on The House Next Door.