Every reality competition series has its own version of making risotto on Top Chef—a move that has to come off absolutely perfectly, or else it’s getting someone set home. For RuPaul’s Drag Race, the equivalent of making risotto is marketing a spray of some sort in the branding challenge. Seems easy enough but in actuality, any queen’s branded spray almost immediately becomes a Designer Imposter of Katya’s iconic Krisis Kontrol, “a moisturizing body spray” that renders its wearer both unconscious and immune to elimination. Season 12's “Droop” challenge once again asked the queens to invent a branded product and create a commercial to showcase their ability to capitalize on their personalities and also sent all the Katya copycats, including last week’s tops, straight to the bottom.
The episode opened with Jan demonstrating some textbook displacement, blaming her obvious frustration and anger over losing last week’s Madonna tribute challenge on grief that her friend Brita was sent home. Listen Jan, any other week I might have rolled my eyes like your competitors did, but this weekend I spent an hour crying into some bread dough pretending it was because the Dixie Chicks song “Travelling Soldier” popped up on Spotify—when in reality I was crying because everything is shit and I want to go outside. Freud knows that if crying feels right in this day and age, go on and do it, then blame the whole outburst on Brita, the Dixie Chicks, Vietnam, bread dough, or literally anything else in sight.
Mini challenges have been pretty thin on the ground this season, but week eight’s subscription box shade challenge, wherein the queens had to subtly insult one another while giving each other gifts, was hilarious. Jackie and Gigi together were so fantastic at passive-aggressive compliments they could be Southern grandmothers (a compliment I do not give lightly) and, once this season is over, should really consider a podcast dedicated solely to sweetly insulting other people.
In the Droop maxi challenge, some queens seemed to know instinctively which products would best showcase their strengths as performers. Jackie Cox did a play on the magic carpet with an I Dream of Genie-inspired “Magic Carpet Merkin.” Crystal Methyd put that mullet Ru loves so much to work with a “Magic Mullet.” But not all the ideas were magic. The competitors who seemed to expect to sail through the challenge easily—last week’s top two Gigi Goode and Jan—both opted for branded sprays, called Goode Night Bitch and Sure, Jan, respectively. Widow Von’Du also attempted to bottle her magic with a spray called “Throaté,” which put her in danger from the jump. The badly branded Drag Race product graveyard is littered with products relying on vaguely French pronunciations for comedy to mask a cloudy concept—just ask Coco Montrese about her poorly executed Ru Animal.
The runway category was “Black Wedding,” and there was not a single bad look on the stage. Crystal Methyd earned bonus points for her meticulously creepy Tim Burton bride concept complete with greyscale paint and beautifully drawn black lips—not to mention her obvious delight with the outfit in the confessional when she proudly and adorably explained that she’d cut the fingers off the gloves because fingernails apparently grow to perfect stiletto points in death.
Heidi also looked lovely in a well-tailored, dramatic wedding gown, which is even more impressive since she revealed in the workroom that she’d made just $9,000 last year at her job as a gas station attendant. Speaking of death, I will go to my grave preaching the profound unfairness of asking someone earning less than the price of an Hermès handbag in a year to bring 12 weeks of ballgowns to a reality competition show and then bitch on the runway that those gowns aren’t pretty enough. My personal “Rosebud” will be “Put up or shut up, Michelle.”
In the finished commercials, Gigi, Jan, and Sherry Pie all leaned heavily on Katya’s example and borrowed quite a bit from her Krisis Control commercial. For example, where Katya said her product was made of Thorazine, Gigi substituted horse tranquilizers but left the concept—a body spray that renders one blissfully unconscious—essentially the same. The difference was Katya’s greater point was that her insecurities were holding her back in the competition, an astute self-analysis that made the bittersweet joke as profound as it was funny. Gigi’s overarching message seemed to be that she’s very pretty, easily winning the competition, and is perhaps tired of it.
The spot for “Sure, Jan,” inexplicably began in the kitchen, even though the product is supposed to make the user good at suicide dips in the club and coming in second place at singing challenges. There seemed to be no reason for the kitchen backdrop other than the fact that Katya’s ad also began in a kitchen. Additionally, Sherry Pie featured a kitchen setting nearly identical to Katya’s, though she was selling something called “Aura Pie,” which even the commercial admitted does nothing and has no point. Even if Sherry were not being heavily edited out this season, I’d be angry that the judges let her slink by with these half-assed efforts additionally stained with bad contour. Widow Von’Du’s “Throté” at least didn’t plagiarize Katya, though her insecurity in front of the camera and the fact that she seems to be letting those insecurities derail her most brought to mind Katya’s actual All-Stars crisis.
On the top, Jackie Cox’s 1960s-inspired Magic Carpet Merkin was every bit as clever, whimsical, and vintage-cool as Jackie is proving herself to be. Plus, guest judge Chaka Khan now knows what a merkin is, so a valuable public service has been rendered. Crystal Methyd’s Magic Mullet was also enchanting, finally showcasing the fact that Crystal’s out-of-drag personality is utterly charming. However, it remains a bit concerning that Crystal can only seem to get fully into character when the wig and the gowns come off. And at last, my darling Heidi managed to put the costume queens to shame with her natural comedic instincts in her Heidi Hydratation spot (which should have simply been called Heidration, and I’ll take my 2.3 percent now). She managed to laugh, cry, whistle, and tell a fart joke in but a few brief seconds, all while wearing a Talbot’s blazer, winning the challenge and stopping Gigi’s streak in its Louboutin-clad tracks. Goode night bitch, indeed.
In the bottom were Jan and Widow after the dreaded “Which queen would you send home?” question revealed that everyone in the competition thought Widow had the weakest ad. However, I beg to differ, since Sherry’s commercial not only wasn’t funny by the judges’ own admission, her product also had absolutely no purpose or connection to her persona, per her ad’s actual script. I’m beginning to wonder if Sherry has incriminating photographs of Ross or something because the judges seemed to have gone out of their way to ignore her faults long before editors chopped her footage.
Jan was always going to be at a disadvantage lip-syncing against Widow Von’Du, as Widow appeared to have been waiting her entire life to perform “This Is My Night” for Chaka Kahn. And Jan’s hyper grand jetés around a centered and focused Widow had the unfortunate effect of making Jan look like a pomeranian yipping at her queenly feet, lending Widow even more magnetic gravitas. However, despite her very obvious posturing over Brita’s departure at the beginning of the episode, Jan is incredibly talented and sweet as she can be. A rare “Shantay, you both stay,” would not have been unwelcome in this particular instance. But despite having a lackluster week, Widow did outshine Jan on the runway fair and square.
Apart from Sherry, whose departure would be more than welcome, we have officially reached the home stretch of the race in which I am sincerely rooting for everyone. That being said, this week’s clear frontrunner is Chaka Khan for at long last finding the mot juste to succinctly describe a pussy wig.