Diehard RuPaul's Drag Race fans watch RuPaul's reality show like it's a baseball season. Alliances are chosen early and often, though loyalty to those picks varies from fan to fan. Statistics are heavily analyzed, to the point where the queens themselves take the numbers seriously.
I start this episode's recap talking about stats because, by all numbers, Peppermint should be going home in fourth place. While her competitors all have at least two main challenge wins — Trinity Taylor with three, Shea Couleé with four and Sasha Velour with two — she has just one, for winning the RuPaul Roast. She's immensely likable, with a powerful personal story and has peaked in the competition at the right time, but by pure numbers, it's her time to go.
Additionally, the top four episode in every season since season six has been used for trimming lesser competitors — usually those who have managed to lip sync their way out of trouble before. Season six saw three-time lip sync survivor Darienne Lake go, while dancing divas Kennedy Davenport and Chi Chi DeVayne got booted here in seasons seven and eight, respectively. Considering she positively dominated both her lip syncs this season, the same could be said of Peppermint here.
Yet against all odds, in this final episode before the reunion and finale, Peppermint turned out such a compelling performance that eliminating her became, quite frankly, not an option. So what did Ru do? She kept all of the queens. This year's top three is a top four.
The final episode's challenge, though evolved in parts in recent seasons, has always looked at its very core the same: Have a sit-down talk with Ru (previously a Tic Tac lunch, now an episode of his podcast), learn some choreography with a dance instructor and perform one of Ru's songs. In the past, the performance and choreography were for a music video, but starting with All Stars season two, the challenge has shifted to writing a verse for a remix of one of Ru's songs.
This season's song is "Category Is," and it gives all the girls ample chance to shine. Trinity, not the season's most gifted singer or rapper, goes for comedy. Sasha goes for spoken word oddity that pays off in spades. Shea goes for a rapid flow in her rap verse that demonstrates why she's the frontrunner.
But it's Peppermint that truly rules here, as she does the entire episode. Her rap verse is smart, sexy and fun in equal measure (showing the same skill she does in the season nine New York queens' single "C.L.A.T."). Her dancing during the performance of the song is remarkably great, and her conversation on Ru and head judge Michelle Visage's podcast is a heartfelt exploration of why it was difficult for her to come out as a trans woman.
I've been critical of Peppermint this season, up to and including episode 11, because I thought a lot of her work wasn't worthy of her self-declared "legend" status. But there's no denying how hard she kills it this episode. Her speech on the runway to her younger self — a speech that sees her break into tears, then power through them — is goosebumps-inducing stuff. The whole episode feels directed toward not just Peppermint getting to the finale, but winning the season.
That said, her winning season nine would probably provoke a fan riot. While Peppermint rises this week, Shea plants a flag as to why she's the clear winner, and Sasha continues to prove her excellence across the board. Interestingly, the one who has the hardest time this episode is Trinity, and for a moment, I was worried she'd be the one going out the door. She really struggles when recording her "Category Is" verse with Todrick Hall, and she generally seems afraid of not being able to beat the other girls (particularly Shea).
Eliminating Trinity and keeping Peppermint would have been a travesty, though. Trinity won three challenges and excelled in many more. Her lip sync to "I Wanna Go" is, in my eyes, easily the best of the season. Peppermint may have done well where it counts, but Trinity has statistically out-performed her all season. It would be unfair to watch Trinity go.
So Ru's only choice is a non-elimination. Peppermint makes herself impossible to eliminate this episode, delivering the equivalent of a stunning World Series performance after a decent-but-underwhelming season. But sending home anyone else who performed better all year would've been unfair.
It's similar to the top four episode of Project Runway season three, when Uli Herzner suddenly woke up after weeks of middling performance and won the challenge. Faced with having to send home one of the other three, Heidi Klum and her judges opted to move all four forward to Fashion Week.
Of course, only one can win, no matter how many people progress. Shea Couleé is looking like the clear winner. But if this episode is any indication, no one should be counted out: This Race isn't over yet.
Two weeks remain until the finale. The season nine reunion airs Friday, June 16, at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.
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