This season, man. This season. Whoo-wee. I mean KAPOW- am I right?! Or maybe Bob says it best: ka kaka ka kaka kaka POW!
Season 8 looked like it was going to be one for the ages from the very second the roster was announced. And it is, quite possibly, turning out to be the best season ever. After the dip in quality that was Season 7 it is shocking how perfectly everything has come together. Even the eliminations I disagree with *cough*-THORGY-*cough* seem to only help the season reach legendary status.
And "RuPaul's Book Ball" continues this trajectory, managing to top "Shady Politics" (what I previously would have called the best episode of the season). This 90 minute Shade-stravaganza was jam PACKED with everything that makes this show some of the best television out there: drama out your eye and ear-holes, tender moments and genuinely sweet interactions, tear-jerking confessionals, FANTASTIC guest judges, fun performances, brilliant runways, a LSFYL for the ages, and one of the more satisfying eliminations ever (and not even in the schadenfreude sense I initially thought it would be. More on that later.)
For now lets get into the list of challenges:
Mini-Challenge: the Reading Challenge was simply not enough for Miss Ru, mostly due to one major factor: no puppets were harmed in the making of the Reading Challenge. So we get a sequel dressed up in the guise of a Saucy Puppet Show. Each queen gets a "random" puppet (IE: chosen by Ru for maximum drama) representing another queen still in the competition. They are then tasked with dragging the puppet and creating little skits where they talk to the fuzzy little doppelgängers. Hilarity, shade and EXTREME BITCHINESS ensue. The winner, it is later revealed, gets to choreograph the performance part of the Maxi-Challenge.
Maxi-Challenge: This is the always-highly-anticipated (by me) Ball Episode. Every year, around this time in the competition, RPDR tasks their girls to create three distinct runway looks along certain themes, culminating in the final look being composed of unconventional material. Last year was the Hello Kitty Ball, my previous favorite was probably Season 3's Money Ball, and this year (my new favorite) is the Book Ball (where the looks are to be constructed out of Books.) The first look is "Drag Baby Realness," the second is "That's My Momma Realness" and the third uses those pages in a Book-based Runway Extravaganza. Before the runways begin, however, the queens are also tasked with performing a choreographed lipsych homage to Jerri Blank from Strangers With Candy (due to the guest judges being the LEGENDARY Amy and David Sedaris). The second this was ruvealed my heart went out to Miss Cynthia Lee Fontaine Blank- if this challenge could have occurred in the first or second episode we could have seen the very best, most accidentally accurate Jerri Blank impersonation ever. Oh well.
Now lets get the fuck into this! In no particular order:
Bob The Drag Queen: Bob actually did quite well overall in the episode. Her Saucy Puppet Show with PKC (Puppet Kim Chi) was only second to ChiChi's, her performance in the Strangers With Candy Dance was the best of the bunch, and her runways were all easily as strong as her other, better-judged competitors. Her only weakness ended up being the lack of book materials in her final look (she used mostly cardboard instead of book pages).
At this point, however - with the ridiculous level of talent still in the competition - ANY weakness will be enough to get you slapped into the bottom. And, sadly, that is exactly where Bob wound up. In the end, though, it felt more ceremonial than anything else. There was no way, with the quality of Bob's efforts in comparison to Derrick's (not to mention Bob's otherwise fairly flawless track record), that Bob was going to be eliminated. Like I said above, Bob actually did about as well in this episode, averaging all factors, as ChiChi, Naomi and Kim. Derrick's efforts were so massively short of the other girls that it would have taken Bob jumping up on the Judges table, squatting down and taking a giant dump right in front of Ru for her to go home.
There is a silver lining with making Bob take one for the team, too: we FINALLY get to see her Lipsynch skills. And she does NOT disappoint. This season has already had a lot of legendary moments, so I didn't think it could manage to find itself with yet ANOTHER Greatest Lipsynch Of All Time. And yet here we are. Fresh off the heels of The Necklace Snap Heard 'Round The World we get Bob slaying the LSFYL. Leave it to Bob to make being stuck in the Bottom 2 actually help her chances of winning the crown. And while it's always an amazing feat to make it to the end without ever lipsynching- in doing so you tend to lose a great opportunity to further prove yourself as a performance powerhouse. This may be my bias talking (it is)- but I'm thrilled Bob got to showcase her phenomenal lipsynch skills before Top 4 (which is always a RuPaul Track and tends to be less engaging).
So here's to Bob- my original pick for Winner of Season 8, a pick that has only been cemented over the course of this wonderful season. I look forward to seeing her in the Top 3 and I will be rooting for her/campaigning for her to win the crown.
Kim Chi: Kim Chi went into this competition as another favorite of mine. And in this episode she got to showcase why she deserves to join Bob as the only other girl destined to be Top 3 (barring some MAJORLY bad slip-ups in next week's episode). If anything Miss Bob and Miss Chi are perfect compliments to each other: Bob is the living embodiment of Performance while Kim embodies Aesthetic. Don't get me wrong- Bob is also aesthetically polished as fuck and Kim is obviously a fun and quirky performer- but the areas they truly excel at over anyone else in the competition are obviously the one's I stated above. When it comes to this episode: all three of Kim's runways were fairly flawless. Her Baby Drag may not have been my favorite (I preferred Bob and ChiChi's myself) but her Momma Drag and final Gardevoir-esque Book Extravaganza looks were EVERYTHING. Her face, across the board, was a work of art as well and I am SO happy for this lady.
And now Kim has a second win under her belt! This puts her right smack-dab into second place (in terms of wins) while ChiChi and Naomi are currently holding third at one a piece (NOTE TO READERS: I understand this isn't a real metric that you can judge RPDR on. Kisses.). She is also the only queen left in the season who has never lipsynched- which, in Kim's case, could be both a good thing or a bad thing. In terms of it being a good thing: the only other girls left are all extremely good performers (Bob and ChiChi especially) so there was very little chance of her surviving a LSFYL against anyone except, perhaps, Naomi- and Naomi wouldn't be an easy fight. Then again that may actually be the biggest problem with Kim Chi's viability. Maybe it WOULD have been a good thing for Miss Chi to win a LSFYL at least once. Her biggest weakness so far this this competition has been dance and performance. If she had managed to do a LSFYL and do it well that would have stopped people questioning her ability to actually perform and make her much more of a threat to Bob.
Regardless of any of this, however, Miss Chi has done an exceptional job throughout the season and I'm SO happy for her win and her (hopefully) inevitable slide into the Top 3 along with Bob.
ChiChi Devayne: Miss Devayne was a delight this episode and gave us, in my opinion, the best Book Extravaganza look of the night. She definitely redeemed herself from the "Wizards of Drag" fiasco a couple episodes ago and sailed flawlessly into the Top 4. Her Jerry Blank performance was second only to Bob's, her puppet performance was hysterical (although, as many have already pointed out, almost a carbon copy of Ben Dela's Bianca Puppet from Season 6), and I feel a little burst of happiness every time I see ChiChi's sassy Smile And Snap Confessional.
The only reason I would say that Miss Devayne isn't an immediate shoe-in for the final slot in the Top 3 would be her track record. While she did win a challenge with "Bitch Perfect," she has also been in the bottom the most out of any girl left in the competition (not to mention the only one to LSFYL twice). Does this immediately disqualify her? Absolutely NOT. ChiChi is a treasure, and even though her work hasn't been nearly as consistent as, say, Bob or Kim Chi, she has more than proven what a talented, multi-dimensional queen she is. And I would also argue that a Top 3 with Chi Chi, Bob and Kim Chi would cover the most bases: Bob is the perfect Performance and Comedy Girl, Kim Chi is the perfect Look Girl, and ChiChi is the perfect Dance Girl. She offers something that none of the other girls left possess (her dance skills) and that (along with her EXTREMELY winning personality) can be the ticket she needs to claim the final Top 3 slot. Bob may be a fantastic dancer, but even SHE has to take a backseat to the graceful, POWERFUL, acrobatic efforts that ChiChi effortlessly pulls off.
In the end I would be extremely satisfied with ChiChi making it to the Top 3, but I can easily say that of ALL the final four. This is why I'm both extremely excited and extremely anxious about next week: I love all these girls so much I don't want ANY of them to go home (even if I ultimately want Bob to take the crown).
Naomi Smalls: Naomi also hit it out of the Park this episode. All three of her looks were great (even if the Mom wig was a little . . . off and her Extravaganza look was strikingly similar to her Scarecrow look). Then there was her fighting with Derrick: it gave me LIFE and through all of it she managed to show the personality (not to mention surprising maturity for someone her age) that was somewhat absent the rest of the season. I have to admit: I have been kind of captivated by Miss Smalls ever since I watched her Meet The Queen's segment. There is a grace and fluidity in her movements that mesmerizes me and I have a special place in my heart for Raja-like aesthetics- something Naomi pulls off with skills that belie her age. All of this and more makes me so, SO happy that she managed to step her pussy up and push her way out of the background- a place she seemed unable to escape the first half of the season.
When it comes to her viability: with the third-best track record amongst the final girls Naomi could easily win a spot in the Top 3. She may be more of a look queen (something that Kim Chi kind of already corners the market on) but I would argue that her aesthetic is so vastly different from Miss Chi's that her inclusion wouldn't feel redundant. She's streamlined, high-fashion and elegant whereas Miss Chi is editorial, avant-garde and high-concept. Miss Chi paints to look like an animation where Naomi paints to look like Hollywood Glamour. So while Naomi's inclusion may not result in as well-rounded a Top 3 as it would with ChiChi, it would still be the goddamned strongest Top 3 in SEASONS, if ever.
Derrick Barry: Miss Barry. I've been wanting her gone for MANY episodes now, and her performance here was a fairly perfect illustration why. There is NO WAY she should have made it further than Thorgy given how shockingly basic her painting/costuming is, not to mention how her performances (outside her fantastic job in "Shady Politics") have always been either middle-of-the-road or one of the worst. There was simply nothing this entire season that justified her longevity in the competition and I truly believe it had to have been a contractual thing for everyone involved to excuse the obvious lack of ability. Every week I got increasingly frustrated with her- not only because she kept moving forward past much more deserving queens, but also the fact that her attitude was always so shitty. I HAVE to believe that something huge was lost in translation (because most of the queens, outside Acid Betty, have nothing but glowing things to say about Derrick) but to the average viewer she was an unintelligent, defensive, egotistical, and (in this episode especially) delusional individual. The part in Untucked where she said she wouldn't be surprised if her Eleganza look was put in a RPDR museum was so baffling in it's ridiculousness that we had to pause the video to laugh for ten seconds.
So let's break it down really quick: her attitude in the workroom this week was . . . unfortunate (but then again she's kind of had it in for Naomi since the very beginning, around the time someone said Naomi was prettier than her in Untucked), her puppet was Roxxy Andrews levels of Not Funny Bitchy (though she DID get a couple good zingers in there), and her runways? Dear god. It was one epic, painful miss after another. It even surpassed Darienne Lake's disastrous ensembles from Season 6's ball. And the attempts by the judges to give Derrick credit simply went too far. Yes, she tried to change up her makeup- but all that really did was emphasize the limitations of her ability to paint. Her face was EXTREMELY unfortunate in every single look, and the looks themselves were rather busted as well. And her final look? A FUCKING BATHING SUIT WITH SHIT GLUED TO IT. A BATHING SUIT. A BATHING SUUIIIIIIITTTTTTTT. Derrick Berry's CONSTANT, horrifying reliance on Bathing Suits is FAR more scandalous than six Kimono-gates put together in my opinion. And the looks that weren't bathing suits were overly simple and uninteresting (though they were polished at the very least). In the end Miss Barry was a welcome addition to the cast (for simple drama factor alone) but she never truly felt like she was a part of the competition and I'm ultimately satisfied that she was justifiably eliminated here, in an episode where every single one of her weaknesses were put on full, cringe-worthy display.
But here's the thing: after all the angry, mean things I've said about her I want to make one thing perfectly clear- I don't hate Miss Barry. Not at all. In fact the only redeeming thing that could be said about her baffling longevity on the show is that we got to see little glimpses here and there of the sweet, kind, lovable Barry that Bob, Kim Chi and Thorgy all say is the real Miss Derrick Barry. The moment in Untucked where she was holding hands with Naomi? She looked like a scared little bunny and I felt nothing but empathy for her. And outside the show? She is a fierce, wonderful celebrity impersonator whose career I can only hope will benefit from her time on the show. I know her makeup skills certainly have! (check out her instagram- she posted a picture of herself now versus her final look in this episode. Night and day.)
Every single girl this season deserves our love and admiration, and Derrick is no exception. She may not be my cup of tea, but I applaud her for the things she does - because she does them extremely well. So best of luck to you Miss Barry! And congratulations on getting as much as you could out of your experience on Drag Race- especially the life-long friends in the form of your fellow former contestants.
Next week is the final episode before the Finale. I'm both painfully excited and horrified at the prospect of needing to wait months and months for another Drag Race fix. See you then. Hugs and so forth.