"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: Bitter, sweet symphony


Confession: I spoiled myself on the results of tonight’s episode earlier this afternoon after some idiot posted the first 10 minutes of NEXT week’s episode right on the Logo website. I watched it and knew who won tonight’s challenge, who was in the Bottom 2, and who went home. But even if I hadn’t gotten the sneak peek I wouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome. This episode played out exactly as it should have, with the most deserving Final 3 and a fourth-place finisher who arguably shouldn’t have even made it this far.

The Final 4 -- Alaska, Detox, Jinkx Monsoon, and Roxxxy Andrews -- had a “bitch fest” mini-challenge in which they had to make drag puppets of one of their competitors and read them for filth. It was literally the exact same challenge from S4, and I kept waiting for Logo to pimp its bizarre new show “Felt,” in which actual couples-therapy sessions are reenacted via puppets. Alaska won this handily (see what I did there?) with her genuinely funny jabs at Roxxxy, while Roxxxy veered into cruelty with her take on Jinkx. It set the tone for a generally sour Roxxxy for the entire night. Guess with Coco gone the show needed a new villain -- although Roxxxy’s been getting increasingly nasty over the past few weeks, especially when it comes to Jinkx.

While Roxxxy was soaking in bitterness, all four of the queens were asked to embrace sweetness for the main challenge, the Sugar Ball. This was again an exact replica of the Final 4 episode from seasons 3 and 4, with the queens tasked with coming up with three looks based around themes. The first look had to be “Super Sweet 16,” so young and bubbly; the second was a take on Executive Realness (I LIVE for Executive Realness and clapped like a monkey when RuPaul said it); the third was Candy Couture. Although the whole challenge ostensibly had a candy theme, only Roxxxy incorporated candy into each of her looks. I found that extremely weird. What exactly is the challenge in walking out in off-the-rack clothing? How does that test anything besides who has the bigger budget?

Here’s how each queen performed, top to bottom (rankings, I mean; I don’t know their lives):

Alaska won the challenge, and I’m frankly not sure how. Her Candy Couture outfit was fantastic, no doubt, and that was even after clumps of the cotton-candy base fell off in the work room. But the other two looks were beyond plain. Her teen look was a basic black prom dress with a cheap bow in her wig -- standard Alaska at this point -- the business outfit was a basic black, fitted suit with some well-deployed props. She sold the looks, I guess, but Alaska has rarely wowed us on the runway this season, and this episode was no exception. That said, I really like her and I’m glad she made F3. I just don’t think she should have won this challenge. The nod should have gone to…

Roxxxy Andrews, who really embraced this challenge and clearly brought a lot of thought and attention to detail to her looks. Some of the judges (including guest judge Bob Mackie!) found her teen outfit to be too risqué, but I didn’t see it. Roxxxy is a naturally sexy queen and that’s going to translate into the outfit. Also, have these people seen 16-year-olds lately? I’m just saying. Roxxxy’s mannerisms were very spazzy teen, and I appreciated the marshmallow details. The business outfit was her weakness, as she once again relied on the tear-away reveal and the outfit underneath wasn’t even remotely professional looking. Still, the gummy bear details were a nice touch. Her rainbow-licorice couture dress was frankly stunning and required a LOT of work on her part, and showed a level of craftsmanship that none of the other queens displayed. She was dinged for the dress not obviously reading as candy, but…is that not the point? Aren’t they supposed to elevate the unconventional materials? Perhaps I’m confusing it with “Project Runway.” Anyway, Roxxxy should have won based on the work presented and overall polish, but I think the producers wanted the F3 queens to all have two wins going into the finale.

Jinkx Monsoon has been getting the underdog edit for weeks now, and poor thing really needed it this episode. As the pageant girls had been saying for a while, Jinkx has been very lucky that there were precious few design-based challenges this season. And that’s true. Jinkx is not a seamstress, and her personal wardrobe is limited and very schticky. That works with the character she has developed, but it’s a tough sell for this kind of challenge. Jinkx weirdly seemed fixated on incorporating a Christmas element to her couture look -- I’m guessing this was because of the candy canes she was using -- but it overshadowed the candy itself. She also wrestled with her narcolepsy as she apparently wrecked the massive hoop skirt she’d been embellishing because she could barely stay conscious while working on it. The end result was Jinkx coming out in a red-and-white reindeer-esque outfit with very little candy, which judge Santino Rice objected to because he wanted to see candy glued all over everything. We know, Santino. We watched you on “Runway.” You love glue! Jinkx’s other looks were very throwback and kitschy, which is perfectly Jinkx, but not in the spirit of the challenge. She was forced to lipsynch for her life to a kooky song that was very much in her wheelhouse, and which she nailed. The fact that THAT song was used for this episode, when Jinkx just HAPPENED to be in trouble, is awfully coincidental to me. Also coincidental that the other three queens named her as the weakest on the runway, when two episodes ago they all considered her their stiffest competition. They saw an opportunity to push a major threat off a cliff, and they tried their damnedest to give her the heave-ho.

But getting her wig snatched wasDetox, who got her third B2 appearance for her output, which was really…not great. She nailed the 80’s power-bitch for Executive Realness, and was obviously going for a “Grease 2” thing for the teen drag. But her couture creation did not read as candy at all, it was ugly, and she could barely walk in it. Not a great strategy when you have literally a 50 percent chance of being in the Bottom 2, performing for your continued presence in this competition. But truly, Detox had very little shot of making it to the finale. RuPaul told her point blank in the work room that the judges had certain expectations of Detox that “have not been met.” Boy, howdy. That’s Detox’s run on this show in a nutshell.

I was thinking about it earlier, and Detox even making Final 6 is a little unfair, much less Final 4. She simply has not turned in a level of work that justifies making it this far -- at least, not that the viewer has seen. Even in the one challenge she won, the kid’s show, other queens made more of an impression -- I can’t even remember what her chicken character did/said. And so much of Detox’s output this season in general has simply been unmemorable. I suspect that six months from now I’ll look back fondly on Jinkx, Alaska, Roxxxy, Alyssa, and even Ivy. I will still seethe with frustration over Coco and even Serena Cha-Cha. But Detox? She was just there. Not bad. Not unlikable. But she simply did not break through, and that makes no sense.

Because on paper, Detox has what this show is looking for: Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. But for whatever reason none of that was connecting here. Her talking heads were occasionally amusing, but her performances were almost always flat and her runways were routinely slightly off. Her lipsynch, which she is so proud of, was a big bag of nothing. The lip wiggle was old the first time she deployed it and BEYOND tired after the third time out.

I’ve read theories that suggest that Detox was holding back because of her friendship with Roxxxy (doubt it), that Detox didn’t really want the win, just the exposure (certainly plausible), that she was overwhelmed with pre-show expectations (possibly, but the same could be said of Alaska), and that Detox simply isn’t a competitive person and thus a poor fit for a reality-television competition. I suspect that last one is closest to the truth. Detox has a fuck-you attitude; we saw it on the show several times (“I’m over it” is her catchphrase for a reason). I suspect it’s very difficult to have that approach to life and yet operate in a situation where your success depends entirely on what other people think of you.

I think Detox is a great drag queen. I bet she’d be fun to have drinks with. But she was not a great contestant for this show, and I suspect that she and the producers were as surprised to discover that as the rest of us. Because she definitely went in as a pre-show favorite. It just didn’t click. At least, from what we saw. Detox has voiced issues with her edit on social networking. I'm curious to see how she handles herself at the reunion, which I assume is taping next week.

Next: the Final 3, Judge RuPaul, and Gloria Allred! Seek legal representation now.