Although the first part of the seventh season dragged, RuPaul’s Drag Race is back in the driver’s seat as it heads toward the finish line.
For most long-running reality shows, it takes a little more simmering before the fun and games start to boil. For example, on Survivor, most of the worthwhile action to talk about happens around the time of the merge. For season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the show got out of first gear with a different kind of merge: conjoined queens.
First, let’s start with this year’s installment of Snatch Game. Part of what makes Drag Race so successful is its adherence to formulas but the openness to tweak things. Case in point: Kennedy Davenport winning the challenge portraying Little Richard. Normally male drag is considered a cardinal sin on the show, but Kennedy’s twisted interpretation of the flamboyant performer could be fodder for a master’s thesis on androgyny in popular culture. Next year I expect to see Tilda Swinton or Glenn Close realness.
However, the season truly turned itself around with the next challenge, where the seven eliminated contestants were paired with the seven remaining contestants for a chance to return to the show. First, this was a welcome re-interpretation of the “we’re bringing back a former contestant and I don’t care about your whining” trope, as it forced the contestants to earn their way back into the competition. Second, we got to see some perspective on how personalities have changed over the course of the competition. For example, Miss Kasha Davis commented on how much Violet Chachki’s attitude is a lot less stank than it was when the show first started. Overall, we got to see that this cast respects each other and hasn’t devolved into the petty rivalries that developed in previous seasons (Comedy Queens vs. Pageant Queens, for example). Third: we were treated to a four-person Lip Sync for Your Life to “I Think We’re Alone Now” that included a quadruple mastectomy. God bless television.
This week’s challenge featured another staple of the series: Reading is Fundamental. One of the things to appreciate about this segment is that RuPaul always namechecks Paris is Burning when introducing the challenge, acknowledging the film’s role in moving LGBT experiences one step closer to the mainstream. This history was further acknowledged by devoting an entire episode to the transgressive work of guest judge John Waters(!) and the legendary Divine. This episode was without a doubt the best of the season and quite possibly one of the best of the series.
So the queens we have left are Trixie Mattel (brought back as co-winner of the twins challenge), Pearl, Violet, Katja, Ginger Minj, and Kennedy. This might be the strongest final six the series has produced. There are queens I respond to more than others, but all six bring strong skills to the table. Katja has been my favorite since she walked through the door in a Russian military uniform, but Ginger and Kennedy have been incredibly good in the challenges.