5 Awesome Things from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1 Episode 5: Drag School of Charm

RuPaul's Drag Race (Photo: Logo)
RuPaul's Drag Race (Photo: Logo)

It’s the first makeover episode ever on this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s also one of the few episodes of television that brings gender theory front and center in the most unexpected ways. #nerdingout

Full disclosure: I wrote a paper in grad school about this specific episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The crux of the paper involved whether or not the outcome was justified based on the content of the episode, but it allowed me to bring in a whole mess of queer and gender theory to the mix. It. Was. AWESOME. The only problem was that it was supposed to be about 10 pages, but I was able to write three pages on just the theme sequence in the first draft. The moral of the story: there is no gender binary, suckas.

Anyway, this week’s challenge was the first in a long-standing tradition of final five challenges: MAKEOVERS! The accidental backdoor (hehe) pilot for Drag U has the contestants turn super-masculine women into female versions of their drag personas. Nina Flowers summed up the clients best: “Not fierce like drag fierce. Fierce like in threatening.” Along with the makeover, the re-made girl fighters had to perform a lip sync to “Freekum Dress” by the one and only Beyoncé. Rebecca Glasscock, who won the mini-challenge, got to arrange the pairings and did a pretty good job of making sure everyone was mismatched, including herself. Despite this handicap, Rebecca turned it out with matching wigs and black dresses, scoring a challenge win.

Unfortunately, immunity was off the table and Ongina misunderstood the assignment, causing her to appear in the bottom two. Bebe Zahara Benet also missed the full concept of the challenge and found herself up for elimination. *gasp* Then things got awesome…

“You betta sissy that walk.” One of the things I found fascinating about the clients was their apprehension to “girly” aspects of feminine normativity. Specifically, Shannel’s client Sweepea flinching at the idea of putting on makeup. She was by far the most masculine of the girl fighters, but she also had the greatest transformation after giving into makeup, a bra, and heels.

“My dogs is barkin’.” Rebecca’s client Tempele also struggled with girliness, this time dealing with high heels. Rebecca’s Mommie Dearest approach probably didn’t help, but the cries of pain coming from the fighter demonstrated what women sometimes have to go through on a regular basis. This phrase was called out for being the quote of the episode, which is totally earned.

Guest judges Robin Antin and Lucy Lawless. This choice in guest judges was probably the most brilliant casting ever accomplished by this show. At first blush, they just seem like famous people who happened to be free the day of shooting, but then if you think about their contributions to the gender discussion it makes perfect sense. Antin is one of the creators of the Pussycat Dolls, an ultra-feminine (though not necessarily feminist) group. Lawless (who now plays Mrs. Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation) is best known for her work as the ultra-masculine Xena: Warrior Princess. Ooo, something that just occurred to me: the panel was seated in a gender spectrum! Robin, Merle, RuPaul, Santino, Xena. Holy snap, I love this show.

THE Lip Sync for Your Life. The song: “Stronger” by Britney Spears. I do not recall a LSFYL with as much footage as this performance. It’s so rare when you have two equally skilled contestants battling it out, so the extended cut of the performance is greatly appreciated. This is also the first instance of wigs coming off on the show for dramatic effect, and this is one of the only times when it actually works. Both queens rocked the stage.

The Verdict. Both queens rocked the stage so hard, RuPaul had to excuse herself to consider her decision. WHAT?! I assume she left to consult the producers on whether she could keep both or if there was some other way to break the tie. Either way, there has not been a LSFYL since that has been this tough to call. However, RuPaul points out that BeBe outshined Ongina in that performance (true), and anyone who does that deserves to stay.

Such an amazing episode. The makeover challenges are the best.

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv