Creating binaries also creates false allegiances to categories that are ultimately arbitrary, and week three of RuPaul’s Drag Race was an excellent demonstration of this phenomenon. As the episode opened on the seven queens who competed in week one at long last meeting the six queens chosen to compete in week two, the two groups seemed to believe that their separation had formed two distinct “teams” from which one winner will be chosen. All that being said, week one’s team was better, and I have also begun sorting the queens into two groups of queens to root for and queens to root against.
And if the audience wasn’t already aware that it’s time to start ranking the queens in order of most to least talented, Ru had the winners of weeks one and two, Widow Von’Du and Jaida Essence Hall, do just that. In preparation for the maxi challenge, Widow and Jaida arranged the groups formed in weeks one and two from top to bottom based on their first impressions. With a few exceptions—Dahlia, Heidi, and, to my mind at least, Brita—looks were not deceiving. Widow immediately singled out Sherry and Jan as her top two competitors and placed Aiden on the bottom. Estimating Dahlia as more of a threat than Rock M. Sakura was a mistake, but Aiden Zhane is inexperienced and seems intimidated, and it shows. Had Sherry Pie not been disqualified after the season filmed due to off-camera allegations that she posed as a casting director to solicit sexual videos from former acquaintances, she would have been the one to beat in the workroom following a win in week two.
Meanwhile, Jaida seriously underestimated the queen known prior to this week as Heidi N. Closet. She named Gigi top and Brita the penultimate. Maybe the queens are heretofore privy to some information about Brita’s talent that I am not, but thus far, I’ve found her to be aggressively average with an inflated sense of her own place in the competition, but then again, those very qualities have landed queens in the top three during seasons past. Placing Nicky ahead of Jackie was also a mistake, as I’m assuming Jackie is going all the way to the finals unless some BenDeLaCreme-style fuckery happens.
In a classic Drag Race swicheru (that couldn’t be avoided), Heidi and Aiden became team leaders alongside Widow and Jaida for an improv challenge that turned out to be as painful and embarrassing to watch as pretty much all improv always is. However, this challenge also taught us some valuable lessons about the way the rest of this competition is likely to shake out.
First off, Aiden and Heidi are both queens who are willing to learn and listen despite their relative inexperience, something that has served queens like Shangela and ChiChi in the past. Aiden chose Sherry and Brita, who immediately went full Roxxxy Andrews, weaponizing Aiden’s inexperience so that they could take the lead on the team and steamroll her ideas. After the challenge, they teamed up again to gaslight Aiden into taking the fall in case their team was at the bottom, insisting “We carried you,” when what they really did was speak over her, quite literally, since their team’s improv shtick was attempting to speak in unison, using Sherry’s loud voice as the lead. However, in the style of Jinkx Monsoon or Sharon Needles, Aiden was able to identify the mind games for what they were and persevere. But Sherry and Brita are clearly teaming up to be the bullies this season, which is historically a strategy that works on the show, to a point: mean queens make it to the top three, but they almost never win.
Heidi’s team, on the other hand, showcased Jackie Cox as the team queen of this season. Instead of weaponizing it, as Sherry did with Aiden, Jackie used her theater experience to patiently show Heidi and Gigi the ropes of improv, teaching them “yes and,” the cornerstone of off-the-cuff performance, and taking them around the workroom in some college Intro to Acting-style warmups. Good for Jackie, and good for Heidi who clearly came to learn. Jackie’s patience will most likely pay off. In past seasons, Chad Michaels and Bianca del Rio both won after acting as mentors to the younger performers in the workroom (even if the network did have to invent All-Stars, then rig it to give Chad her due). And while the official motto of reality TV remains “I’m not here to make friends,” if Bianca and mentee Adore’s Instagrams are any indications, the name of the game is sometimes RuPaul’s Best Friends Race, so I have high hopes for the potential alliances budding in the current workroom.
And much like warm-up exercises in a freshman acting course, the improv challenge was hard to watch and best forgotten. On the runway, Ru granted my bodysuit wishes in a snake number paired with matching over-the-knee boots and hip ruffle that, coupled with the print, gave her the appearance of a recently-fed python halfway through the digestion process. Most of the queens interpreted the runway category, buttons and bows, as “dress as a Depression-era child vaudevillian and ham it up like mommy needs money for her medicine.” Thankfully, Gigi Goode carried much more than her own fashion weight in 1970s Halston resort wear made of 25,000 orange buttons.
Nicky Doll’s reimagining of Cinderella, complete with blonde button wig and taxidermy mouse still adding finishing touches to her gown was also inspired. Meanwhile, Sherry Pie in full Whatever Happened to Baby Jane mode remained particularly creepy in light of real-life allegations, though she won this challenge in addition to last week’s. My sweet Heidi was also blessed and highly favored by the judges for a job well done.
Last week, I worried that labeling oneself a look queen whose only talent is talking shit is most likely an indicator that a contestant is not quite Race-ready. I mention that mainly to point out that I was right, and after a lip-synch with Nicky Doll that mostly consisted of lackadaisical stage pacing, Nicky stayed and Dahlia huffed off without thanking anyone. Ignoring one’s weakness in Drag Race is a much greater misstep than having them, and Dahlia’s defeat versus Heidi’s success is an excellent reminder of the fact that part of the show’s appeal is that it’s absolutely lovely to see an open mind and a willingness to learn pay off in real-time, especially when our current news cycle very frequently makes a case for the exact opposite being true.
This week’s frontrunners were Carson’s white suit embossed with an oh-so-subtle skull and crossbones print along with Nicky’s dead rodent couture, gentle nods to our current darkest timeline made fashion.