The Latest Snatch Game Falls Flat On RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars
You'd think a group of seasoned vets would be better prepared for this perennial challenge, but honey, you'd be wrong.
Gurrrl, Drag Race gaveth last week, and you'd better believe she taketh away now. While certain elements of this episode work, there's an awkwardness in almost every scene that ultimately makes for disappointing television. But whatever. We can still have a good kiki about this mess, like we're two old gals clinking daiquiris and detailing the uselessness of our latest boyfriends. As in: Bryce. Don't even tell me he's worth your time, girl. HE IS NOT.
On the subject of time-wasters: Milk. Like Thorgy before her, she leaves a nasty note on the mirror, saying, "Love you girls, but ya'll know this is bogus." And yes, she incorrectly spells it "ya'll." The word is a contraction of "you all," so the apostrophe goes after the "y." If you're going to come for someone, Milky darling, then please come correct. Or rather, "correctly."
And also? I realize some people love the manufactured drama of reality television, but I find it exhausting. When Alyssa and Coco spent a season fighting or Phi Phi spent her All Stars run being crazy, it just distracted from the good work. The same is true for the elimination bullshit that's clogging up this season. In my memory, the last batch of All Stars didn't kvetch this much when they chose a loser every week, but maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. The way your mind played tricks on YOU when you decided to give Bryce another chance. WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT HIM?
In the workroom, we learn that Ben would've sent ChiChi home, and ChiChi isn't mad about it. She knows she needs to bring it harder.
Meanwhile, Trixie expresses concern that she might be eliminated for not being close enough friends with the other girls. (It's no accident that it's Trixie who says this, but we'll get to that.)
When the queens come back the next day, Aja says, "Sis, we up in this room!" And have you noticed that "sis" is clearly the new drag slang? I'm into it. For instance, I might say, "Sis, Bryce didn't just 'forget' to text you last night, and he didn't 'accidentally' end up across town eating Mexican food right where Tracy works."
When Ru arrives in a green-and-white gingham suit, he announces that this is Snatch Game week. This is often, as Shangela notes in an interview, the challenge that separates the chickens from chiclets. Or something like that. My point is: buckle up.
Trixie, who didn't make it to Snatch Game in her original season, says that she's planning to do RuPaul. And a cold wind blows through my soul. That is...a dangerous idea. First of all, RuPaul's entire persona is built on knowing self-mockery, so aping her is especially tricky. Second, they've already done a RuPaul Roast episode, which means a lot of the good jokes about her have been made. Third, RuPaul's ass is going to be right there in front of you, upping the pressure. I'm not saying this can't lead to success, but it's a hard road. When Trixie confidently says that all her friends looooove her RuPaul impersonation, I'm reminded that Celine Dion's weekday maid apparently loved Milk's Celine impression. And how did that turn out, sis?
ChiChi is giving Maya Angelou, and here I'd like to note that Maya Angelou was one of my recurring characters in my college improv troupe. Ben is doing Paul Lynde, and since Kennedy won her original Snatch Game playing Little Richard, I guess nobody's gonna say boo about contestants who perform in male drag. Nor would I, in this case. Paul Lynde is perfect for this show, because you know RuPaul loves him, despite how out of date he is.
We then take a pause from announcing Snatch Game characters so that Shangela can suddenly discover a note Thorgy left for Trixie, saying that Shangela is a shady bitch. Trixie's all, "I didn't think it would be problematic to hang that up!" And Shangela's all, "I am going to have an episode-long meltdown about it." You wanna know how I am? DUBIOUS. This smells like some planted, producer-generated drama. For one thing: the note is prominently displayed on the wall, and you're telling me it took Shangela this long to finally see it?
I'm not buying it, and I'm not having it. For ANOTHER thing, both Shangela and Trixie are wooden as hell while they try to pretend this conflict is real. PLEASE STOP WITH THIS. But of course, no one is going to listen to me: this lunacy will define the rest of the episode, and it's all just the worst. Even worse than the cologne Bryce wore in my car when we all went to Chili's that time.
Adding to the nightmare is Shangela's pot-stirring insistence on claiming she's been capital-W wounded. Okay, drama queen. Simmer down. And you can stop saying that Season 3 Shangela would've gone off, while Modern Shangela is a model of forbearance. Calling attention to your new maturity is the same as being immature, ya dig?
Eventually, Marc Jacobs shows up in the workroom to walk around with Ru and talk to the girls. He never comes back and doesn't offer much advice, but hey...why not?
Marc seems especially proud of himself for guessing that Bebe is doing Grace Jones. (If you believe my doorman, Grace Jones lived in my building in the 90s. Which I guess is probably true? That would be a pretty weird thing to lie about. Still, it's hard to imagine! My building is nice, but it's across the street from a mixed salad place. However, it is also down the block from Studio 54, so maybe Grace wandered away from a party one time and just decided to rent a two-bedroom.) Snatch Game didn't exist in Bebe's original season, so she's excited to try it. Aja doubts that Grace Jones can be funny and not just an attitude.
Shangela is ALMOST going to do Miss Cleo, but since her Jamaican accent sounds Irish, she correctly pivots to Jenifer Lewis, currently star of TV's Black-ish. According to Twitter, the blue fur that Shangela's wearing in the workroom is the same one Jenifer herself wore in VH1's deliciously campy mockumentary Jackie's Back. Apparently Shangela and Jenifer are friends, which tells you how much has changed for the contestants since the early years of this show.
Kennedy is going to be Phaedra Parks from The Real Housewives Of Atlanta, and like Marc Jacobs, I don't know who that is. But apparently, she's a religious lady who secretly likes to get freaky? There's potential there.
In the midst of this, Trixie and Shangela have a stagey apology session. The best part is when Shangela recalls a time in Season 3 when all the girls said she should go home. We get a vintage clip of Raja and Manila both reading Shangela from the runway, and while the Booger-Heather drama of that year ultimately made it my least favorite season of this series, this shit is pretty funny. Plus, I miss Manila! As my fellow contributor Joe Reid pointed out to me, this clip reminds us that Manila insisted on saying "Aleloo" not "Haleloo," which tells you everything about America's class war.
When we get to Snatch Game, we meet our contestants -- Carson Kressley and Michelle Visage -- and we learn that Kristin Chenoweth is sitting in as a panelist. I love this! K-Chen is a national treasure who should be in every Broadway show, and her performance on American Gods surely deserved Emmy attention. She also understands the quotation marks tone required to have fun on Snatch Game, and when she's introduced, she says she's mostly there because she got tired of waiting for one of the queens to impersonate her. Imagine how great it would've been if someone had done Idina Menzel this week! Alexis Michelle is probably kicking herself.
During the Snatch Game roll call, when RuPaul introduces every contestant, Trixie does a solid job with her Ru impression and lands a good joke about how Ru shills his music at every possible moment. But really, the day belongs (yet again) to Ben, who is glorious as Paul Lynde. "Hi there, Ru," he says, in a perfect impression of Lynde's nasal delivery. "I'm glad it's you. For a second, I thought somebody had gift-wrapped Flip Wilson." That is such a perfect '70s-era joke that I don't even know what to say. If it weren't for Ben, Shangela, and Aja, this entire segment would be a lost cause.
Aja, by the way, is playing Crystal Labeija, a legendary drag queen who is remembered for reading people for filth in a 1967 documentary. Apparently, Crystal's fury about being poorly judged at white-dominated drag pageants helped create the ballroom scene for queens of color. That's a huge deal, and it's meaningful for Aja to portray her. However, I learned all this from the bonus clips of the show that are floating around the internet, because the episode proper doesn't mention this at all. Why Aja's historically interesting drag was cut in favor of Shangela's whining is beyond me.
Importantly, Aja is GREAT at this impersonation. She's haughty and pissed, and I get the feeling Crystal is where Aja draws a lot of her own drag inspiration. (She wanted to play Crystal in her original season but was talked out of it. This led to a subpar Alyssa Edwards, so I'm glad Aja got to shine this time.)
Next, it's "Mya Angelou." Which is how ChiChi spells "Maya." A better queen would've played that off like it was part of her take on the character, but ChiChi is obviously surprised and embarrassed by her spelling error. It's all downhill from there. Like, for instance, she doesn't have an answer prepared when RuPaul asks why the caged bird sings. You'd think that would be the first joke she'd write.
Shangela is on point as Jenifer Lewis, all attitude and a tight perm wig. Then Bebe KILLS with her Grace Jones intro, asking Ru why they haven't fucked yet. This has got to be a reference to the time Grace asked a young Jon Stewart the same question on an old MTV talk show.
After Bebe's intro, Trixie-Ru pushes in to say, "Your Miss Jones was not graceful" and then does this weird chicken-head thing. Which isn't how Ru moves? And also, don't talk shit about a contestant doing well, just so you can make a pun. It's chilling to watch, like bad standup comedy. You can see RuPaul thinking, "What the hell is this?"
Oh, also! When Kristin does her intros, she specifically says, "I always thought one of these queens would do me, and no one ever did. So I decided to come here and do myself." She delivers this with her trademark perkiness, as though she doesn't hear the sexual undertones of her statement. Then Ben-Lynde snarks, "Sweetheart, none of these queens are gonna do you." Top marks!
The first Snatch Game question is about Cheno herself: "Kristin Chenoweth is so tiny that when she walks into a restaurant, the hostess hands her a...blank." Carson guesses "growth hormone," which is pretty good. Kennedy-Phaedra tries to make a dirty joke about Cheno needing a napkin to wipe up after oral sex. It doesn't work. Remember how Kennedy won this challenge as Little Richard? She won't be repeating.
ChiChi-Angelou makes a joke about the caged bird, and Ru reads her on the spot for finally answering his original question. "Maybe you'll answer this question in the next round," he adds, and despite Ru's "just playin'" voice affect, the temperature drops 20 degrees.
The next Snatch Game question: "I'm coming out with a RuPaul cookbook. It includes my famous recipe for spaghetti and blank-balls." Michelle responds, "I'm gonna go with 'tucked balls'": obviously the best answer. Bebe-Grace says some stuff about steel vaginas, but Ben-Lynde takes the spotlight by saying this is exactly why he doesn't mess with the ladies. When Bebe-Grace throws panties, Ben-Lynde says, "Carson, I've been meaning to get those back to you!" And then, looking at Bebe's black leather gloves, he adds, "I didn't recognize those gloves without the Crisco." Which is DIRTY!
Then Trixie makes yet another joke about things being available on iTunes. You can feel the entire room recoil from her like she's a snake in their birthday cake. Or like she's Bryce coming to your quiet holiday party when he's already drunk from whatever douchebag sports bar he was at.
Cheno tries to help Trxie-Ru by saying, "I wanted to congratulate you on your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame." Trixie just jerks her head around like a rooster and says, "Winner winner chicken dinner." It's disastrous. And y'all, Trixie is so much better than this. She'll interview later that Drag Race makes her so nervous, and man, it really does. This should've been her challenge to win.
The rest of the game underlines these circumstances: the bad performances continue to be bad, and the good ones continue to be good. The highlight is Aja's lengthy tirade about how she hates everyone in the room and how they're all ugly.
In the workroom, everyone reads Trixie, who is wearing a t-shirt she also wears in the on-the-street segments of The Trixie And Katya Show. Glamour isn't always paid for, honey. Sometimes, glamour is made from what you have.
Ben talks to Shangela about how embarrassed she is to have beaten Trixie last week. Shangela is almost certainly correct when she interviews that Ben is just doing this because she HAS to seem humble. Otherwise, everyone will be even more eager to bump her off, what with her constant wins.
On the runway, RuPaul emerges in a dress that looks like it's made of shiny, pink-and-green wrapping paper, and even has two bows on the right hip. She's a Christmas gift to us all. Along with Michelle, Carson, and Cheno, RuPaul is joined by actress-comedian Nicole Byer.
When Cheno gets introduced, Ru refers to her as Oklahoma's #1 Kristin Chenoweth impersonator, which is awesome. When Cheno responds, "I've been snatched," Ru replies, "Thanks, Dr. Zizmor!" That joke is only funny if you rode the New York subway in the '90s and '00s, when Dr. Zizmor's ads were everywhere, but Ru doesn't care if you don't get that reference. She expects you to keep up. This is why I love RuPaul.
Then we get a super-brief runway, with barely ten seconds spent on each look. Again, why spend so much time on workroom drama? I'd much rather take a longer look at the "flower power" dresses that give this runway its theme. Aja, for instance, is wearing a very demure twin-set covered in white flowers, topped with a long yellow wig and a flower crown. It's a different style for her, and I like it. Shangela comes out in a brilliant recreation of Beyoncé's pregnancy glamour shot, with flower array, long veil, and bulging belly. Trixie's is serving Southern Church Lady Fish, complete with pink parasol and enormous corsage. Kennedy's look gets dissed by the judges, but I like it: her dress is covered in yellow daisies, and there's a matching one on her eye. It looks like petals are growing out of her eyebrow and lower eyelid. It's very Kim Chi, but with Kennedy's usual elegance.
Ben and Shangela are, naturally, the top two. This means Ben is the only queen to win Snatch Game twice, thought that strangely goes unremarked. But as undeniably brilliant as they were, Shangela and Ben's victory is another reason this episode is disappointing: we've seen this exact pairing before, and we're only on Episode 4.
Aja gets praised for the gods, and I think she should've been in the top this week over Shangela. (Although we've also seen an Aja-Ben winner's circle already too.) Bebe is given praise for her runway look -- an array of black flowers circling her body in a sinuous curve -- and her Grace Jones is correctly clocked for starting strong but drifting into vague posturing. Kennedy is read for her weak Phaedra, and ChiChi catches HELL for her M(a)ya Angelou. Nicole, however, says that, in her tight white runway dress, ChiChi looks like "a nice slutty teen who's getting married."
Michelle tells Trixie her RuPaul wasn't funny, and she's the one who gets Trixie to admit that she's panicking on this show. Kristin tells her to love herself, and she says it so passionately that I want to stand up and cheer. That's why Kristin's a star, y'all. She makes you BELIEVE.
ChiChi, Kennedy, and Trixie are named to the bottom three, which sets up the chance for Shangela to cut Trixie as "revenge" for Thorgy's note. Naturally, this creates workroom drama too. I'm going to continue my protest against this portion of the show. Just know this: Trixie cries about her insecurity, and ChiChi continues to be at peace with her imminent doom.
Ben and Shangela lip sync to Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," which is one of my most-hated hits of the 2000s. Stop trying to be so "shocking," Katy. Only someone who's immature or narrow-minded would think it's rebellious to flaunt a sapphic smooch. Why don't you really startle us and sing in tune? At least Shangela's lip sync look is perfect. She's serving us sexy '50s nerd, in a knee-length black dress with white polka dots and a flouncy skirt. She matches that with white cat's-eye glasses, cute black heels, and black tights. It's fresh and retro at the same time.
During the lip sync, Shangela strips off this prim veneer one accessory at a time until she's writhing around like a harlot. Eventually, Shangela and Ben kiss, which is the only acceptable outcome of this particular lip sync. Meanwhile, Ben has been serving it as well, rocking a flirty pink dress with a incredibly flouncy skirt of her own, meaning both girls have gone for the "wholesome and pure" look as an ironic commentary on the song's raunch. Ben seems to have exhausted her bag of lip sync tricks, but her performance is still great. What makes this lip sync work is the interaction between the two. Before that final kiss, they chase each other around the stage in a ludicrous seduction ritual that at one point involves Shangela tossing Altoids at Ben.
Ultimately, Ru splits the win between both girls, so they both have the potential to send someone home. But guess what: they both choose ChiChi. I'm sure we'll get more of the Trixie drama next week, just like I'm sure Bryce is going to forget your birthday, despite his "guarantee" that he put a reminder on his phone.