I AM STUNNNED. Sincerely. I am absolutely shocked by the events of tonight’s episode. I should clarify that 4/5 of the episode was fairly predictable -- the Adore redemption arc was blatantly telegraphed, as was Darienne tanking the challenge -- but the identity of the Bottom 2 and the eliminated queen really threw me for a loop. I consider this one of the more shocking eliminations in “Drag Race” history. Let’s discuss.
We were down to the Final 5: Adore Delano, Ben DeLaCreme, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, and Darienne Lake. The mini-challenge was the by-now-familiar puppet-insult bit. All of the queens did well here, except for Courtney, who struggled in her parody of Darienne. While Ben won the challenge for his manic, mega-chompered version of Bianca, I thought Adore really slayed Ben with his impression. (The mini-challenge wins this season have seemed especially random to me.) Not that it matters: the “prize” for winning was assigning the queens colors for the main challenge, and the show didn’t even bother to show us that.
That main challenge was the annual “ball,” this one themed vaguely around glitter. Each queen had to create three looks. The first was banjee girl (for those not in the know, a banjee girl is that girl down at the corner, trying to get your man), executive realness (I love me some executive realness!), and bejeweled eleganza. The colors were assigned thusly, but they really had very little bearing on the actual results: Adore got diamonds, Ben got rose quartz, Bianca got sapphire, Courtney got ruby, and Darienne got topaz. On a purely stupid note, I’m surprised we had two red-colored jewels and not, say, emerald. But whatever.
In the work room Adore had a breakdown, crying to RuPaul that she’s trying to get back the momentum she had in the middle part of the competition. She was visibly struggling with letting Ru down week after week. With just about any other queen I might find this cloying or manipulative, but call me a sucker (*ahem*): I believed Adore to be quite genuine in that moment.
Meanwhile, Ben eyed Broadway costumer Bianca as the big threat for this challenge, and set a goal of snatching the win away from her. Bianca helped Adore create her eleganza look -- because Bianca really is the best -- and Darienne flailed mightily. You knew she was in the weeds when she abandoned her original dress and started on a whole new concept at what looked to be fairly late in the game. We saw almost nothing of Courtney in the work room, which I found odd for an episode with only five queens.
The queens were also thrown a “twist” when they had to perform a choreographed number to open the show. I use quotations marks because I believe that has been the case with almost all the ball episodes since Season 2. That’s not to dismiss the stress it puts on the queens -- that is a lot to accomplish in what appears to be a very short window. But the show really does need to freshen up its formula a bit. At least one of the competitors had to have seen this coming. Anyway, the bit was fine, and it was Darienne who actually stood out as the best of the bunch.
The same could not be said of her runway looks, each of which had serious problems. Darienne herself admitted that she missed the mark on almost every aspect of the challenge, and there’s just no denying that. She has struggled on the runway more often than not this season, and I feel for her. Big girls DO have it harder when it comes to finding couture-level frocks, and let’s just say it: Rochester is not renowned for its high fashion. Have you ever been to Ontario Beach Park in the summer? Have you seen what the people there are wearing? Lord Jesus, kill it with FIRE. Regardless, Darienne bombed this challenge and she knew it. Her place in the Bottom 2 was more or less assured, and not helped by every other contestant calling her out as the one who should go home. I thought she handled that situation extremely well in “Untucked,” and all that time I’ve been bitching about Darienne’s edit this season -- that was the lady I expected to see on this show. She admitted her failings, expressed a desire to do better, and was mature about the whole thing. There was no shade to be found there. But people are STILL going to hate her after this episode.
Adore won the challenge for several reasons. 1) Her banjee-girl outfit was totally perfect, and she sold it to the judges. 2) Her eleganza look was surprisingly strong. 3) She cried, showed vulnerability, and took Ru’s advice to heart, so of course she was going to be rewarded. That’s not to say she didn’t deserve the win. I believe she did. But I also think the show was laying it on just a tad thick. While the idea was good, the executive-realness look was pretty sloppy. And Michelle Visage even noted that she was tripping all over the place during the opening number.
Bianca was called safe, which had to be somewhat disappointing for her in a sewing challenge. I thought her banjee girl was a welcome change of pace for Bianca, and I thought the executive look was fine. I do agree with guest judge Bob Mackie’s disdain for Bianca’s eleganza gown. Great color, but all the ruffles were fussy and we have seen that silhouette way too many times from Bianca at this point. (That point came up several times this episode from several sources.) The other interesting note from Bianca was that Ben called her out for “sailing through” the challenges, which Bianca found offensive, as though it suggested that she wasn’t really trying. Ben apologized, but it was interesting to see how that barb really stuck in Bianca’s paw.
Courtney was also safe, but I argue that she should have been in the Bottom 2. Courtney totally missed on the banjee-girl outfit. That was more slutty 90’s co-ed or lot lizard at a Pearl Jam concert than banjee girl. Her executive outfit was great. I love that there’s always one girl with a cellphone. And I actually liked the eleganza look, which was quite dramatic, including the red face appliqué. But the judging panel was largely dismissive of it. Michelle Visage in particularly really seems to be gunning for Courtney now, and what I realized this episode is, Courtney’s done with it. The vibe I was picking up from her was someone who has listened to criticisms for weeks in a row, and is now realizing that nothing is going to make these people happy -- especially Michelle. She offers her rebuttal respectfully, and when that is shot down, Courtney just purses her lips and moves on. I can’t blame her. It must be exhausting going through that for basically a month straight.
And then, Ben. OK. Ben’s banjee-girl look was, I thought, fairly on point. To me it read like a 90’s hooker, but instead of a fur coat she used giant tulle sleeves. The business look was, as RuPaul noted, very Bette Midler in “Outrageous Fortune.” Again: a very specific reference, and she nailed it. And the eleganza outfit was basically DeLa’s showgirl look cranked up to 11. The main criticism was, “We’ve seen this from you before.” You’ve seen Bianca’s look before, many, many times. And DeLa did a better job amping up her personal style for this challenge than Bianca did, and yet Bianca was safe while DeLa was Bottom 2. This is not meant to be a swipe at Bianca, but to point out how baffling the judging was this episode (or really, the whole second half of this season).
To my mind, Courtney missed the mark on banjee, nailed executive, and got very mixed results for eleganza. Ben didn’t really bomb any of the looks. Her aesthetic just didn’t happen to be the taste of one or more of the judges. But to act like she failed the challenge? The show did a very poor job justifying Ben’s B2 placement.
So it was Ben and Darienne once again lipsynching for their lives, this time to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. I thought Darienne came out, uh, stronger, but Ben caught up about halfway through. Darienne also sold the ending better. But this was Darienne’s third time in the B2. It is very rare that a queen lives to lipsynch a fourth time.
And yet, Darienne did -- Ben was eliminated. There was an audible gasp at the viewing party I attended (at O’Grady’s on Church in Toronto; dear bearded ginger bartender: you are very cute). I absolutely did not see that coming. No offense to Darienne -- I am thrilled that a hometown queen has made it to F4 -- but everything seemed to be pointing to her going home this episode. Beyond that, Ben has seemed like a lock for the finale since basically the first episode. She’s been in the top or won more than half of the episodes. I can’t think of another queen who has performed more strongly going out before a finale.
That’s what makes Ben’s boot really shocking. She has performed better than literally anyone left but Bianca. I honestly believe that. I can see why she lost that lipsynch against Darienne, who is very good at lipsynching. But I don’t think Ben should have been in the Bottom 2 to begin with. The prevailing wisdom has been that Ben was screwed this season because Jinkx won last year, and they’re too similar -- a point of view I have always rejected. Ben and Jinkx may be friends and from the same town, but they are very different queens with very different styles and strengths. In some ways, I actually think Ben is a stronger queen than Jinkx.
I certainly believe Ben deserved a spot in the S6 finale. To me, she’s right up there with Nina, Raven, Manila, Chad, and Alaska -- incredibly strong runners-up who had the misfortune of contending with someone who just had an edge over them. In this case, that’s obviously Bianca. But we are now looking at a finale with Bianca vs. Adore, Courtney, or Darienne. I like all of those queens. Seriously, every one of them. Ben winning I could have accepted. Adore, Courtney, or Darienne? Great queens, but their performances this season have been VERY mixed. If anyone but Bianca wins at this point I suspect it is going to enrage fans of this show.
I’m fairly sure Ben’s dismissal will already have done that. Let’s get “All Stars 2” going so that Ben can get another shot at the tiara. In the meantime, I love that she left a novella on the mirror using what I assume is all of the ColorEvolution lipstick in the work room. I fear for Darienne’s shoulder and elbow when cleaning that up…