Why did Valentina not want to take off her mask? That's the question fans of RuPaul's Drag Race's season nine Latina queen hoped they wouldn't need to ask. After season four queen Phi Phi O'Hara all but confirmed a bit of spilled tea on Drag Race's subreddit — that Valentina would refuse to take off her mask during episode nine's lip sync for your life — the lead-up to Friday became a waiting game. Would the tea be scalding in its truth, or turn out to be nothing but some dishwater with lemon?
Even knowing it's coming, watching Valentina keep her mask on as she lip syncs to Ariana Grande's "Greedy" is harrowing. RuPaul, Michelle Visage and guest judge Noah Galvin get frustrated with Valentina's choice, questioning it over the music. RuPaul even stops the lip sync — an unprecedented move in Drag Race's herstory. It's already rough. Then, after Ru tells Valentina to remove her mask, the queen says she'd rather keep it on.
"It's a lip sync," Ru says, barely a drop of compassion in her voice. "What part of that do you not understand?"
The drama is gasp-worthy. Though Valentina finally does relent, watching her refuse a direct request from Ru is shocking. She's so clearly in the wrong, and thus she blows what should have been a cakewalk lip sync for her.
Valentina is up against Nina Bo'nina Brown, a formerly promising contestant who has failed to impress the judges for weeks now (besides a minor bump during Snatch Game). Her work and Valentina's work in this episode's challenge — to conceive, write and shoot TV pilots — is disastrous. Nina's club kid-inspired runway also pales in comparison to Valentina's look. By all criteria, this should be the Atlanta queen's time to sashay away.
But Valentina makes a scene of removing her mask, and once she finally does, she can't even remember the words to "Greedy." And forget trying to fake it well. Nina wipes the floor with her, even though her own performance is merely fine. Valentina leaves in unprecedented, embarrassing fashion.
It's kind of difficult to feel badly for Valentina. Yes, she's been thrilling all season, but a scene like this isn't something you can come back from easily. How she handles herself after the season ends will determine how viable her return in All Stars season three will be. As she leaves, Ru is clearly annoyed with her; it's going to take the charm Valentina showed earlier in the season to get back into Drag Race's good graces.
Nina, meanwhile, remains as frustrating a presence as ever. Her show with Valentina, Nina and Tina, is a non-starter, as the queens don't even have a script when they walk in to shoot. Her conspiracy theories about the other girls talking smack about her — first aired in the last episode of Untucked — makes her something of a loner this week. Her former champion and ally Shea Couleé feels particularly put out, and decides to distance herself from Nina a bit. The way things are going right now, Nina is going to leave Drag Race with zero friends — a sad state of affairs for a once-promising queen.
Shea, on the other hand, continues to rise in Ru's eyes. She takes her third win this week alongside her former Good Morning, Bitches partner Sasha Velour, who claims her second victory. Their pilot Teets and Asky, a blaxploitation-spy thriller mashup, is hilarious, delivering on both the performance and writing fronts. It's the kind of show I actually want to watch, and the fact that they created it themselves speaks volumes.
Shea and Sasha are both intelligent queens, and their creativity wins out. It's that kind of ingenuity that makes for a successful queen in the age of self-promotion and branding online, and both are making a strong case for the win. At this point, Shea's case is stronger, because she's yet to fall into the bottom three and has a solo win along with her team wins with Sasha. But Valentina's elimination creates a real vacuum at the top, and Sasha could easily slide into that third slot.
The other queen showing what it takes to go far is Trinity Taylor. From the Drag Race challenges to her personal Twitter, Trinity is proving time and again that she has a charm and sense of humor that belies her pageant queen training. Whereas past pageant queens have struggled with comedy, Trinity once again proves it to be her strong suit, hamming it up as a campy nun in the pilot she does with Peppermint and Alexis Michelle, Mary, Mother of Gay.
Peppermint also acquits herself well, and if anyone's challenging Sasha for that top spot, it's her. Her runway is my favorite of the week, not just winking but all-out screaming her personal brand (she's a literal peppermint!) with a real sense of whimsy and style. She tops her personal best look from just last episode — if she continues to grow, she's got a real shot at the top rungs.
Meanwhile, Alexis continues to falter. She once again comes off too bitchy, making unnecessarily pointed suggestions while filming and even dismissing her teammates' efforts in the writing and production of their show on the runway. She tries to frame it kindly enough, even emphasizing that she doesn't want to throw Peppermint and Trinity under the bus. But saying you don't want to do something doesn't matter much when you do it anyway, and Peppermint quickly rebukes her.
If Alexis were turning out sickening performances and looks, her villain edit might be more disingenuous. But she's clearly down with Nina at the bottom of the pile. She's talented, no doubt; her Kris Jenner remains one of the season's all-time great performances. If she outlasts someone like Peppermint or Sasha, however, there will be hell to pay.
This is a season-best episode, with sickening fashion, strong performances and some truly charming workroom moments. (How nice that the queens don't have to force any very serious discussions of LGBTQ issues while preparing for the runway!) That said, it's Valentina's elimination that will stick in the mind. It's nigh-impossible to argue with Ru's choice, but watching one of the season's front-runners go down in seventh place is still a shock. Shea and Trinity best watch their backs; the third slot in the top rungs is wide open now.
The top six of RuPaul's Drag Race season nine will battle it out again come May 26 at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.
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