We're in the home stretch of RuPaul's Drag Race's ninth season — and you'll be forgiven if you're starting to feel worn out. The previous full season was only 10 episodes long, while All Stars season two was a scant eight. This, however, is the eleventh episode of the season, and we've still got three to go.
The longer seasons of Drag Race tend to wear down both contestants and viewers — just look at season three — but it's a testament to the five remaining contestants that they've still got some fight left in them. When pressed to come up with three different looks for this year's Gay Pride Ball challenge, they more than rise to the occasion. Well, most of them do, at least.
The Ball is one of the show's signature challenges; it's appeared in every regular season, and generally serves as one final push for these girls to be as creative as possible. While there are other things happening in this episode, from the beloved (but this year, relatively tame) puppets reading session, to some mild workroom drama, to a rhythmic gymnastics routine before the runway, none of it matters as much as the Ball.
It's been a minute since we last ranked the queens, so let's get one final judging session in before the crucial final four episode. We've assigned each girl scores for all three of their looks: their rainbow flag-inspired look, their unicorn design and their Village People eleganza. Since there are so few, we'll list them alphabetically and total up the scores at the end.
Rainbow: "Inspired by the rainbow flag" does not mean "literally wear the rainbow flag," Alexis. 2/10
Unicorn: Is it possible for a unicorn costume to be basic? Alexis Michelle bravely took on that question and answered it with a resounding "yes." 3/10
Village People: Ugh.
So as you can tell, it's clear throughout this episode that this is Alexis' time to go. She's a better queen than she's been given credit for this season; she deserved the win in the Kardashian musical challenge, and her lip sync to "Baby, I'm Burning" was surprisingly strong.
But this is a tacky, stereotypical, straight-up ugly take on the Native American person in the Village People, and Alexis' complaints about it do her no favors. (All the love in the world to Michelle Visage, who shuts down Alexis' protestations about how long the bodice beading took with a simple "Still underwhelmed!") It's a terrible final week for Alexis, and this look sums up just how bad it was. 3/10
Rainbow: See Alexis' note, but read it with approximately 10% less sass, since Pep did try something kind of different with her rainbow flag. 3/10
Unicorn: It doesn't really fit, so points off for that, but this is really clever on Peppermint's part. It fulfills the prompt well and manages to serve something more creative than any of the other queens' unicorn looks do. Had Pep resolved the bagginess issue, this would have been one of the week's top looks. 7/10
Village People: I really liked this leather look at first blush, but it doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny. The overall impact is strong, but it gets a little too messy in the details.
This, if anything, is the key problem with Peppermint. From afar, if you're just measuring sheer impression, she's one of the most impressive queens this season. If you're looking at the details, she's clearly fourth of the remaining girls. 6/10
Rainbow: Delightfully quirky, with the reveal of a small house mounted under Sasha's hat providing an extra bit of wow factor. 8/10
Unicorn: This felt overpraised. It's a strong look, but then you remember that the prompt is "sexy unicorn." Beyond the hooves and the horn, this looks better suited for an entirely different challenge. 6/10
Village People: Sasha's cowboy-inspired look hews a little literal, but the actual design work is so subtly great that it's easy to overlook the flaws. Sasha's strength is in presenting fashionable looks that still read as drag, as she did during the makeover last episode.
Hold that thought for a second. 9/10
Rainbow: I get why the judges go for it, and god knows I love Shea, but the praise for this look — that, as Michelle noted, is not in any way on-theme — is bafflingly overstated. 5/10
Unicorn: It's perfectly Shea, and probably the chicest unicorn I've ever seen. But for such a playful prompt, it's a remarkably simple look. She could've gone further with it. 6/10
Village People: Shea's other outfits mostly missed for me, but this is a home run. It takes a second to break down all the elements of her construction worker-inspired look, from the yellow lip that matches the helmet to the gorgeous, intricate cape she stitches together from flannel shirts.
It's rare that such a capital-F Fashionable garment walks the Drag Race runway, and frankly, if the judges wanted to disregard everything else and give her the win for this, it would be deserved. 10/10
Rainbow: We'll get back to this, but the judges were wildly inconsistent in whether a design looking like it belonged in a club was a bad thing or not. This look, they decided, was too club, and thus they discounted how mad cute it is. 7/10
Unicorn: This outfit mostly just looks like that ubiquitous green-and-purple styrofoam cup design. Other than that, it's totally mediocre, and like Sasha's, feels separate from the unicorn theme. Credit to Trinity for selling the shit out of it on the runway, though. 4/10
Village People: Top to bottom, Trinity's police officer-inspired gown is stunning. Trinity represents a more traditional kind of drag than either Shea or Sasha, and thus this can't help but feel slightly underwhelming in comparison. It's costume-esque, albeit not trying to be anything else, but it's playing in a smaller sandbox than Shea and Sasha's.
Unless Peppermint surprises next week, the top three will almost certainly be Trinity, Shea and Sasha. Crowning each of them sends a different message, but in particular crowning Trinity would be such a clear signal of what Ru sees Drag Race as. Considering what she says tonight — again, more on that in a second — it's becoming easier and easier to imagine a Trinity win. 8/10
When we average the queens' scores, here's how they shake out:
5. Alexis Michelle (2.7/10)
4. Peppermint (5.3/10)
3. Trinity Taylor (6.3/10)
2. Shea Couleé (7/10)
1. Sasha Velour (7.7/10)
It's a close contest between the top two, but RuPaul ultimately chooses Shea for the win. Again, if she and the judges had just pointed at the final look as all the evidence for the win needed, it'd be hard to argue with them.
But they don't, and in fact, they cite that Sasha's looks are more "fashion," while Shea's really capture the essence of a Ball. Frankly, that sounds like crap, because Shea's strongest look is the most fashionable of them all, and it's Trinity who serves the most Ball-worthy looks of the night. In fact, the most underground-ready of hers was criticized for being too club!
With this win, Shea ties season four winner Sharon Needles' long-held record for most challenges won in a season, with four. (Alaska also technically accomplished that in All Stars season two, but the multi-winner format of that season makes it a hard parallel comparison.) There's no question that Shea has put on a master class of how to win RuPaul's Drag Race this season. Her tying the record is an appropriate reward for her performance.
But this is not the first time all season that Ru has to really stretch to justify the judges' decision, and it's once again at Sasha's expense. At this point, either Shea's record is going to bring her the crown — or, if Ru doubles-down on that love for old-school drag, we may see Trinity Taylor win it all.
Only one main challenge remains before the reunion and finale of RuPaul's Drag Race season nine. That challenge will air Friday, June 9, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.
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