Be it an overabundance of grey wigs or a contestant who seems to have brought nothing but a suitcase full of bikinis, Michelle’s complaint of boredom with too much repetition and demand to be shown something else from queens who have fallen into a pattern is Drag Race canon at this point. And in a show where sameness, even adequate-to-good sameness, gets one sent home, it’s especially frustrating that RuPaul’s Drag Race has devolved over the past few seasons to become RuPaul’s Relentless Musical Variety Hour With Special Guest Snatch Game.
In the 14 episodes of Season 12, there were four challenges focused on performing musical numbers. In Season 13, of which eight episodes have already aired, there have already been four musical challenges, not even counting the first episode in which the queens did nothing but lip-sync. For fans of musicals, this season is likely a delight. But for fans of drag, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a weekly obligation that needs fulfilling before letting oneself head over to Drag Race UK to watch drag artists tell jokes, act, make costumes, and perform in all manner of ways that do not involve watching drag queens scramble to perform pre-written and choreographed lip-syncs that, as Olivia Lux rightly pointed out in last week’s installment, resemble nothing so much as theatre camp.
Episode 8's installment of Camp Ru offered “Social Media: The Unverified Rusical.” In the workroom, Rosé and Denali bickered over who would get the part with the most singing and the queens suggested they audition for it. Rosé blew Denali out of the water to get the part, which was pretty much the high point of the episode’s action, as the rest was devoted to rote documentation of rehearsals, with the single tension being that this was the week Symone finally lost her nerve and let the fact that she is not great at musical theater land her in the bottom for a shrinking violet performance.
But the point of “Social Media: The Unverified Rusical” was not about showcasing the contestants’ strengths and weaknesses (sorry to Rosé who did do a fine job). It was likely about, like all these musical numbers, selling drag as a fun activity for the whole family to viewers at home who might perhaps be interested in purchasing some tickets to Ru’s Vegas show of the same theme. “Social media” is an excellently vague topic for this very purpose, and the toothlessness of the pre-written lyrics were hand-crafted not to offend anyone’s slightly homophobic father who might be persuaded to buy a ticket for a couple of hours spent watching the “female impersonators” at Caesar’s Palace or wherever so long as they didn’t say anything more inflammatory than “Donald Trump’s tweets are bad,” agreed that “cancel culture” is a real thing that happens, Russians are the reason everyone’s grandma suddenly seems so racist, and that the best thing for all of us right now is “unity” since everyone is equally right and wrong in their own way.
Earlier in the episode, special guest Anne Hathaway called drag a “transgressive act of joy,” which is a beautiful and very true statement in many cases. This bullshit summer camp pandering is not one of them. That being said, Rosé emerged as a serious contender this week, while Gottmik and Denali also proved that they each have a serious drive to do what it takes to excel in this competition, and Symone, despite absolutely destroying the runway and lip-sync in typical Symone fashion, revealed that she too is fallible, even if it is only her own lost nerve with the power to take her down.
And finally, after a lip-sync that Symone clearly won by any metric, Ru, perhaps as a nod to the dangers of cancel culture, refused to send anyone home yet again, meaning Kandy survives at least to Snatch Game in a season where it seems at this point that the winner might just be “everyone,” “musicals,” and “no-stakes joy.”