We’ve reached the beginning of the end for Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which our hearts have been broken by at least one unexpected departure and our allegiances have most likely radically shifted—queens we hated have become queens we love and vice versa. For example, Jeff Goldblum surprisingly became a contender for Season 12's villain, and Heidi (now) Afrodite has emerged as America’s new best friend. And after building that considerable momentum over the past 10 weeks, the roller coaster abruptly paused for a zero-stakes “regular person” makeup challenge, giving us all moment to catch our breath before returning to our regularly scheduled programming of hoping against hope that someone will notice that Sherry Pie is a one-trick pony with bad contour in advance of the finale she’s been disqualified from.
The late-season episode where the queens must make over people unused to drag is sometimes the most surprisingly moving of the season. Previous years have seen contestants transform grooms for drag weddings, gay military veterans, and their own family members. This year the challenge was simply to work with “Drag Race superfans,” all cis women and only two of them WOC, an odd choice for a season ostensibly focused on challenging ideas of who gets to proudly call themselves American. However, watching the delight of newbies seeing themselves transformed by drag for the first time is always sweetly fun, something that this season, which has been overshadowed by its controversies, sorely needed.
In the workroom, the pairings couldn’t have been more perfect. Jaida got to pick since she won last week’s drag president debate challenge, and she was benevolent in her pairings, putting Crystal Methyd with the sweet-natured kindergarten teacher, Jackie Cox with a spunky little firework, Heidi with a lovely woman who needed an equally lovely Lemurian pep talk, Gigi Goode with a California-issue blonde person, and, unfortunately, dooming a very cool-seeming woman named Janet the Planet to happily work with Sherry Pie in complete with no way of knowing the stories that would emerge about Sherry being an awful person out of drag.
Since there is always a regular person challenge, many queens come to the competition armed with some costumes that can be quickly altered to make a person of any size or gender quickly blend into their drag family. Most of the Season 12 competitors were no different. Sherry Pie just happened to have a second clownish tulle petticoat at the ready, and Gigi also by lucky coincidence had two nearly identical fur hats with matching capes, one black and one white, packed away in her gigantic couture costume closet. Only Heidi, my dear sweet country little Heidi, came with only one sequined disco jumpsuit and spent her time in the workroom mostly having important but time-consuming conversations with her partner about body image and confidence.
There often isn’t very much to this type of episode beyond the normals talking about their understanding of drag, which ranges from “no prior knowledge” to “I personally celebrate Alaska’s birthday.” Again, it seemed a bit odd in a season aimed at declaring that drag is an important part of American history and culture to listen to a cis white woman talking about how drag teaches her daughters to live their dreams, or another very conventionally attractive white woman talking about how the show introduced her to queer culture and gave her a confidence boost. But despite being paired with Sherry Pie, Janet the Planet got plenty of screen time and was a gem, explaining that at six feet tall, she’s long been harassed by people assuming that she’s in drag, which had the effect of fostering a lifelong love of drag along with a legal name change to “Janet the Planet” as a reminder to never take herself too seriously. Likewise, Heidi’s partner, Nicole, spoke frankly about the fact that bullying and fear of being mocked online has caused her to avoid wearing shorts or skirts for the majority of her life. “People suck,” she told Heidi, a gay Southern black man. “Oh, trust they do,” Heidi responded, in one of those lovely moments of finding common ground in shared experience that always makes this type of episode a tearjerker no matter how oft-repeated the formula.
The runway for the non-drag queen drag challenge always forces judges to attempt honest critiques that also don’t hurt the regular people’s feelings. But this time, all the competitors did at least OK at inducting their regular people into their drag families. Crystal Methyd’s Bert and Ernie-inspired look could have been a complete disaster, but because Methyd’s partner was so simliar in personality that they could have been actual siblings and the fact that Methyd has a better fashion sense than she’d been given credit for, the look was as adorable as a refrigerator full of a kindergartners’ artwork. But it was also incredibly well planned and executed, right down to the matching belts and gumball machine jewelry. Unfortunately, Sherry Pie did a great fucking job with the challenge, turning her drag sister, Tara Misu, into a 1950s soda shop waitress who could have been an actual identical twin. The name of their imaginary family business was “Just Desserts,” an unintended bit of schadenfreude for an audience that knows how Sherry’s story ends.
Heidi, poor Heidi, once again didn’t bring enough clothes, and while she did Honey Almighty’s makeup better than she did her own, she also committed the cardinal sin of this challenge—never let your regular person’s costume look sad next to your own. The giant bell sleeves on Heidi’s rose gold-sequined disco jumpsuit were fantastic and she looked straight out of Studio 54. Honey, unfortunately, looked like a friend who dropped her off out front before attending a picnic in a perfectly nice summer mini-dress from Kohl’s. During the judging, Heidi revealed that she borrowed the dress from another queen and did absolutely nothing to make the outfits cohesive despite knowing how to sew, basically inviting herself into the bottom.
Also at the judging, Jaida revealed that she’d made both of the stunning crimson numbers worn by herself and her perfectly made-up drag sister (also stunning). Likewise, Gigi revealed that she’d “made” her black and white fur capes in the sense that she and her mother bought them from a fashion designer. The fact that Gigi’s main talents seem to be her mother’s connections in the fashion world and her clothing budget is starting to become nearly as grating as Sherry Pie’s penchant for performing elderly, disabled women characters. Seeing the two of them square off in the bottom would be a highly improbable but sorely needed pick-me-up in the final episodes of Season 12.
In the end, Jaida won a second week in a row, and I am rooting for her to end up in the final rounds, not just because she is blindingly beautiful and a very clever competitor, but also because I need her hilarious confessional asides to counterbalance the bitter taste in my mouth left by the fact that she will likely be there alongside Sherry and Gigi.
Jackie was relegated the bottom two the second week in a row, which was tough but fair. Her disco-inspired looks were completely adequate, but in the end, sequined jumpsuits have been done nearly to death on the runway. That being said, Lil Snacky Cox clearly won the lip-synch to Ru’s “You Wear It Well” against the other superfans despite Ru calling a six-way tie.
Speaking of ties, Ru called the 14th Double Shantay in Drag Race history after the lip-sync, leaving both Jackie and Heidi to join the workroom at least one more week. While I am delighted that they will both stay, the clear lip-sync winner was Jackie, as Heidi’s giant sleeves and floppy wig rendered her difficult to see during much of her performance and Jackie’s disco psycho character was maybe the funniest thing she’s done all season. However, Jackie does seem uncomfortable doing any schtick that she can’t turn into comedy, and I wonder if that will hurt her in coming challenges.
All told the ultimately no-stakes nature of the challenge made the whole enterprise cute but inconsequential, the reality TV version of a bottle episode place-holding until we get answers to the question that’s been bogging down the entire season: Given the current covid-19 situation and the Sherry Pie allegations, what the fuck are Ru and Vh1 going to do about the finale? This week’s frontrunners were Lil Snacky’s lip-sync split and the existence of a passport that presumably reads Janet the Planet.