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RPDR RANT: Season 8, Episode 2

Aedan Roberts

Let me get this out of the way: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK. SO FUCKING GOOD. YAS. YAAAAAAAAS . . . (Thank you, Ru).

Like so many people have said before me: this episode gave me LIFE! It had everything- bombastic personalities clashing, drama out your ear-to-eye-holes, an entertaining mini challenge that allowed the queens to showcase their personalities, and what is (in my estimation) the best Musical challenge this series has ever seen. Hands down. It was so much fun, and created so many brilliant moments that I would be happy to see a Pitch Perfect-Themed musical challenge every year from now on. Don't get me wrong, I know full-well the quality of this challenge is most likely due to the ridiculous level of talent Ru has bestowed on us this season, but still- the idea was also ripe for fantastic performances.

As a final quick note before the breakdown I want to express an observation I had while watching last night: this season not only has one of the strongest cast of personalities and talent RPDR has ever seen, it also has something that was lacking in Season 7- and it may be one of the major reasons that season fell relatively flat. And here it is: the camaraderie and overall motherly nature many of the queens seem to possess. In Season 7 there were amazing queens chalk full of talent (and in Minj and Katya's cases, personality as well)- but there was no Bianca. There was no "oh hey girl I'll help you out because when you look good I look better." There was no Joslyn Fox pulling fellow contestants aside and whispering encouraging words into their ears. Katya was a ray of light- but it was a manic kind of energy that was too consumed by self-doubt to offer proper comfort and aid to her fellow contestants. The closest we got was Miss Fame, and only then once or twice to her fellow Sober Queens In Need.

In contrast we are barely two episodes in and already seeing these queens not only offering comfort and encouragement to each other (on top of the plentiful mounds of Shade and Drama: here's looking at you Betty) but actually giving sound advice and genuine support. It's . . . brilliant. Bob, Thorgy, Kim Chi and Cynthia have all become phenomenal Givers Of Shade and/or Mother's Of Sage Advice. FOUR QUEENS! Even season 6 had, at most, one or two of that combination. And the amount of respect these girls clearly have for each other seems to elevate the proceedings to a level not seen before. The ability to call out when someone is acting the fool without coming off like an asshole, and then immediately follow it up with genuine compliments to fellow contestants? It's something Bob and Thorgy seem especially good at.

ANYWAYS! A quick rundown of the challenges:

• For the Mini-Challenge we had a lovely Dance Party guest hosted by an EXTREMELY sexy latin singer AB Soto who created the song "Cha Cha Bitch." Each girl would have her chance in the center ring to strut their stuff and whoever danced best would become Team Captains for the Maxi Challenge . . . 

• Which is to say "Bitch Perfect," a lip-synch performance/musical that draws inspiration from the Pitch Perfect music competition movies. One team would be The Lady Bitches (The Sweethearts of Dragapella from the Lace Front Institute of Technology) and the other would be The Shady Bitches (The Bad Girls from the Lake Titicaca Academy of Braids, Weaves, and Waffles).

Now with that quick rundown out of the way here is the breakdown of the girls! In no apparent order:

Acid Betty: Miss Betty is definitely living up to her introduction (wherein she openly stated she's a huge bitch). Her Full Acid Betty Mean was out in force this episode. She was shady, she was sarcastic as fuck, she was rude. But then again . . . she was kind of right. Do I think her group could have done just as well without her constant undermining? Totally. If there's one thing that's become extremely clear so far it's that Chi Chi knows dance. Down. However: unlike previous Assholes in RPDR Herstory I didn't absolutely despise Betty for doing what she was doing. In fact I was kind of living for it. While I'm firmly in the Chi Chi corner when it came to this particular head-to-head, her bitchiness did end up helping the group. On top of that Miss Betty's shade was the source of some of the more intense, well-edited, exciting moments of the episode. Hell, it even gave Thorgy the opportunity to have some fantastic Talking Head moments where she discussed her experiences with Betty in the NYC scene.

Acid Betty seems to be Pure Bitch: she lacks (so far) the heart of gold that distinguished Bianca's brand. However it's also a bitchiness that's coming from someone who (so far, again) has proven herself to be one of the more talented and seasoned queens in the competition. She did a really fantastic job this episode (in both the Mini and Maxi challenges) and deserved her spot in the Top 3. I even enjoyed her Runway (though it had its rough edges: the base was clunky and the butt was extremely ill-fitting. Rough edges are proving to be Acid's M.O.). So from what I can tell she's going to be around for a while and I have to say it's probably for the best. Acid brings the DRAMA and thank god for it. We'll just have to see how long that serves her until she implodes.

Bob The Drag Queen: Bob's wonderful-ness was more of a periphery sort of thing this week. Her Talking Heads were as enjoyable as always, her workroom antics were endearing and her performance was great (although I'm going to call out that Blonde Wig she wore in the Maxi Challenge. Did she not bring a blonde wig of her own and happened across one of Dita Ritz's leftover thirsty wigs in her scramble to find one?). Anyways, due to the fact that she was in the group with far less butting-of-heads and she wasn't ever really part of the drama (which was pretty much entirely dominated by Chi Chi's group), she sadly didn't have as prominent screen-time as some of her competitors.

Even with all that said, what she is becoming cements her as my Top Pick. Bob, more than probably any of the other queens this season, seems to possess that magical combination of intelligence, confidence, eloquence and empathy that Bianca Del Rio used to such potent effect in her own season. Most importantly what I am seeing in Bob is a willingness to genuinely support and help her fellow girls in their times of need. Her pep talk with Laila in Untucked where she was giving genuinely good advice and even a few fun moves is not only a good show of character, it's also good evidence of her shrewdness as a competitor.

And can we talk about that runway for a second? The girl may not have been Top 3 this week (though I blame that more on being forced to be one of the boring, basic preppy girls in the Maxi Challenge), but that Runway was Top 3 material. It was sexy, it was refined and elegant, and DAMN did she work the fuck out of it. She was everything on that runway. Her and Kim Chi were my favorite looks of the night. Just look at her up there! Anyways, TEAM BOB! WOO!

Chi Chi Devayne: when Ru released her Meet The Queens for Season 8 I was less than impressed with Chi Chi. She was cute and seemed genuinely sweet, but she was kind of giving me Middle Of The Road vibes. I have to hand it to her: she proved me DAMN wrong. While her style may not be as refined as Kim, Bob, Acid, Naomi or Thorgy she can beat a mug like there's no tomorrow. The girl absolutely transforms when she's in drag. And her performance ability? Don't even get me started. The last time I saw someone dance with such effortlessness on RPDR was Season 5 with Alyssa Edwards. She's driven and, most shockingly of all, extremely competent at playing the game. She also made a damn good Team Leader, able to hold her own and match death-stares with Acid without wilting into the background. Was she perfect? Nope. Her inability to take suggestions- even from less bitchy queens like Thorgy (who knows her comedy shit, people)- was definitely a weak point, but overall she handled that team better than most.

As for her performance and runway? Her performance was stellar and earned her a (very much deserved) win. It was so good it allowed the judges to overlook what was a relatively tame, generic runway (though while I agree with Michelle Visage that it was basic and not up to snuff with the other top queens, her face was STUNNING). In the end I have completely warmed up to Chi Chi, and while I still don't think (or want) her to make the Top 3, I do think she will go very far this season.

Cynthia Lee Fontaine: Miss Fontaine Blank is another ray of sunshine this season. She's funny, silly and all her weird wording and accidental catch-phrases seem genuinely off-the-cuff and unrehearsed. I know people are getting tired of the "cu cu" thing, but it's not all she is providing in terms of memorable lines- and even when she does use "cu cu" she finds ways to keep it fresh. A good example of this is when she said her "heart fell out of her cu cu" in response to Kim Chi falling: the bar I was watching RPDR at was definitely living for it. Miss Fontaine Blank has this wide-eyed sense of awe for everything around her that is extremely infectious. She also treats everyone with kindness and is one of the quickest to provide her fellow contestants with comfort- and that is extremely endearing. Even her performance on the Maxi Challenge was great, heel flying off mid-kick and all (speaking of which: what a Jerry Blank moment, am I right? And good on her for managing to continue on with only one heel!)

That all being said I'm not really into her looks. They have, thus far, been some of my least favorite. And her hairline for the runway? It was climbing higher than Kennedy Davenport's forehead scaling the Himalayas. I don't know- the best comparison I can make between Cynthia and a previous contestant is probably Joslyn Fox: she's cute, she's sweet, she's funny in an often unintentional way, she's genuine and competent but completely outclassed by her fellow contestants and bound for Middle of the Road status. HOWEVER: If Thorgy makes it to Top 3 like I'm hoping she does, Miss Fontaine is a SHOE-IN for Miss Congeniality.

Derrick Barry: I don't have much to say about Derrick this episode. She did a competent job in the Maxi-Challenge (though, for a girl whose entire career is lip-synching and dancing to Britney Spears music, she was easily overshadowed by over half the other girls. Ouch.) and her Runway was pretty generic/terrible (I mean oh my lordy jeebus did she really think an ugly, cheap brown wig would distance herself from Britney when she left every-goddamned-thing else EXACTLY THE SAME? Girl- you can do a female illusion without looking like Britney- it's called painting your face differently (something Bob correctly pointed out in last episode's Untucked)! Derrick seems to have a single kind of makeup application and absolutely no flexibility - but instead of recognizing it as a skill issue she blames her face (which, by the way, does not look like Britney sans-makeup.))

I will give her this, though: I really loved hearing about her Thruple relationship. It was incredibly interesting and really went a long way to making her a more likable character. Other than that, however, I was kind of over it. Derrick is DAMN talented, don't get me wrong. But I'm kind of ready for her to sashay soon.

Kim Chi: Kim Chi is another girl who cements herself as one of my Top Picks this episode. She can't dance for shit. She has two left feet and three other feet missing a couple toes. However not only did this give her the opportunity to show some humanity and humility, it also acted as a brilliant source of drama and editing that gave her a fun, somewhat emotional arch. She also managed, in the end, to turn that weakness into a performance strength: she was extremely funny in the Maxi Challenge and was the best thing about her group. She took the advice that Bob gave to her to heart and created a character entirely around her clumsiness and fully embraced it. Because of this her messy dancing felt deliberate and comical instead of unfortunate and cringe-worthy. Pretty much if this is Kim Chi at her worst- turning lemons into lemon shots- then she is all but guaranteed a spot in the Top 3.

When it comes to her runway? Stunning. There isn't much else I can really say here. Kim's runway was fucking phenomenal. Her hair was a work of art, her makeup a gorgeous painting and that dress! Ugh. Just so lovely. Honestly when she was called to the front for critiques I seriously thought she was one of the Top 3 (which would have made it a Top 4, but still- everyone did so damn well this episode that a Top 4 would have been okay). When it became apparent she was bottom 3 I was a little flabbergasted. She did everything right, turning her weakness into a strength and having one of the best runways of the night, so it felt off when she was still placed so low (especially with such comparatively forgettable and mediocre performances/runways from some of the other queens).

Naomi Smalls: Miss Smalls made up for her lackluster showing last week with a really great, Holy-Shit-Those-Goddamn-LEGS performance in the Maxi Challenge and a Runway look for the fashion gods. The girl was on point in every single aspect of this episode and I truly believe that if she had been given a more prominent role in the performance she could have made the Top 3. However safe is fine. It makes me excited to see what else she has to offer and I'm looking forward to seeing more from her. This was a short one, but she really didn't feature much in the drama department so there was less to talk about with her this time.

Robbie Turner: Robbie is another queen who did a really good job, but was a little lost in the face of so much bombastic drama. I barely even realized she was there for most of the episode (and the whole Cynthia smashing her foot thing wasn't spoken of until Untucked- most likely because Robbie still turned it the fuck out in the performance so there wasn't much drama there). I will be perfectly honest here: I didn't even realize the blonde with the glasses was Robbie until the very end- but when I realized it the quality of her moments made more sense. Robbie is a performer. Like her fellow Seattle girls before her she knows how to mug for the audience and completely dive into the role she's been given. She's also a queen who, far more importantly, knows how to make it funny. It's kind of her strength. So it's unsurprising to me that she managed to eek out a safe spot this week.

Hell, even her confessionals and demeanor in Untucked seemed noticeably less bitchy this week- like the editors blew their entire "Robbie is a bitch" wad in the first episode and now they are sheepishly giving her a far more reasonable edit. Because, my fair and lovely readers, Robbie really isn't a huge bitch. She's sarcastic. She's shady. But she's also funny, intelligent, and professional. I'm happy she's being allowed to show that while she's still on the show, especially now that the title of Supreme Bitch has gone to who deserved it all along: Acid Betty.

My only criticism of Robbie in this episode would be her Runway look. Don't get me wrong- the dress is lovely. It was everything a red carpet dress should be: loud, classical, over-the-top, as red as the carpet itself . . . but Robbie, my dear- it's called cinching. So far (and, granted, it's only been two episodes) she's given us Hog Body every time and it's starting to look like a pretty big flaw in her otherwise polished persona (although she could also stand to be a little less harsh on the eyebrow line). But yeah, other than the fact that she really needed to cinch the waist on that gown, Robbie did just fine.

Thorgy Thor: Thorgy Thor did as brilliantly as I predicted, and her continued War on Frowns has, so far, yielded nothing but astounding victories. The girl is the living embodiment of Sassy Joy- even when she's being shady you still smile and clap along. Her performance was stand-out, her runway look was brilliant (it's always good to defy expectations and be the one to do something different than everyone else- especially when it's done well). I was actually rooting for her to take the win this week (though I am not sorry Chi Chi took it, seeing how she did equally well and had to contend with Betty). She's proving to be a smart, capable, fierce competitor, and is definitely still in my personal Top 3. Hell, I didn't even mind her crazy-dark eye makeup for her Runway. I thought it was well done and really worked with the outfit (I think the best description was a 90's Powergirl Party Promoter). Overall my feelings for this wonderful Queen haven't changed. Thorgy Thor for the win!

Dax Exclamationpoint: Dax was the quintessential Self-Fullfilling Prophecy this week. She fell into every single No-No Trope RPDR has established so far and it all came crashing down in an extremely unfortunate way. I don't even think her performance during the Maxi Challenge was that bad! She was managing to hold her own in a group full of massive talent and personality, and didn't flub any of her parts. Sure she was a bit stiffer than someone like Chi Chi or Naomi, but those girls are more in tune with dance and performance to begin with. For someone who likely does those things about as much as Kim Chi she did just fine.

But that's the extent of what she did right. Everything else from her Runway look (which was a bit of a mess) to her responses during the critiques, to her overall attitude during rehearsals were all painfully wrong. Kim Chi may have mentioned her lack of dance skills (although her lack of dance skills probably did that for her)- but after they got started she buckled down and proceeded to attempt to learn the steps. She may not have been all that successful, but she was trying and not making any noise about it. Dax, on the other hand, seemed to be a constant source of excuses, stress, anxiety and talk-back. So much so that it couldn't have been shady editing alone. And I get it, I really do: when I find myself doing something I don't immediately master I get EXTREMELY frustrated and vocal about it. It's a character flaw I've been working on for years. So I, more than most, can sympathize with Dax's reactions in this episode. She probably not only felt like she was letting herself down- she had the added stress of holding everyone else up (and drawing the ire of the Supreme Bitch herself, Miss Betty).

And then to be read to filth- not only on a performance that honestly didn't deserve the negative feedback based on what was shown, but also her Runway look (which actually did deserve it)- it was probably too much for an already frazzled ego to handle. So she falls into what I like to call The Point Of No Return: she started making excuses. Unfunny excuses. If you really want to defend yourself on RuPaul's Drag Race you need to be able to spin it into a comedy routine or your words will fall on extremely unsympathetic ears. When Jinkx was criticized for the thirstiness of her red wig she responded with a deflecting "I tried to tease it but just pissed it off" and honestly it probably ended up really helping her in that critique. But Dax, sadly, did no such thing. She just talked about what she doesn't do: she doesn't dance, she doesn't do choreography, she doesn't wear gowns . . . it was a lot of No when the only thing the judges want to hear are "I'm sorry- this was a massive whoopsie and I have the drive to make it up to you. KISSES!"

That, and an honestly unfortunate LSFYL pretty much guaranteed this wonderful Cosplay Queen had seen her last challenge. Sure I would argue she did a better job than Laila, but it was honestly not THAT much better. She simply looked very much out of her element, and she seemed to be having trouble figuring out how to properly embrace the song (not to mention perform in that gown. When you're used to the full range of leg motion a restrictive dress can really fuck things up for you). In the end the silence in the bar, coupled with a few dour "oooooo's" was as much an indication of what Ru was about to do as you could get. And while it's sad to see these girls go in such a soul-crushing way they have both managed to gain at least one fan (me) from their exposure on the show. Because when all is said and done I will always have a soft-spot for well-done Cosplay Queens (shout out to Erika Klash!)

Laila McQueen: I have a lot less to say about Laila than I did with Dax- the girl just got far too deep inside her own head. She's extremely talented. Every single thing I've seen of her (including the various Premier Looks) indicates she had a whole fuck-ton more to offer than what she gave us in the first two episodes. But she wilted harder than a cartoon daisy being exposed to extremely bad breath- the sheer level of talent and experience she was up against hit her far too hard and never relented. And that's a shame. However it was her time to go (and what a way to go! I would argue that the only reason ANYONE remembers who Vivenne Pinay and Honey Mahogany are is due to their double-elimitation. And both Laila and Dax are a hell of a lot more memorable and talented than either of those other girls on top of that!). Laila is going to be fine. I wanted to give her a big ol' hug and tell her everything will be okay, but I'm sure she'll come to realize that once her fan base really kicks into gear- and I'm sure it will. Farewell, sweet Laila! See you at the reunion.

One last note before I euthanize this over-long, useless think-piece: I am so excited to see who Ru was talking to on the phone. There is no way they could AFFORD a double-elimination with so few Queens to begin with, so I'm excited to see who is brought into the show to take the 10th slot. Will it be Katya? (GOD I would love that). Will it be Shangela? (I mean why not? This season is all about revisiting the Grand Herstory of RPDR- what better way than to bring Shangela in for yet another stab at the title she will inevitably lose). Will it be that other queen who was rumored to be on this season but apparently didn't make the initial promotional cut? Who knows! Lets all speculate together and continue to thank the Drag Gods for what a phenomenal Season they've given us so far!