This season of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been one of the most perfectly manufactured and manicured blocks of reality television I’ve ever seen, and “The Fabulous Bitch Ball” is a narrative tour de force. Think that’s an exaggeration? “Hyperbole” is just another for “truth” on Drag Race, and “The Fabulous Bitch Ball” is where all the season’s storylines converge into one big, sopping doggy biscuit of comic insanity and catty drama. Each of the contestants’ stories is at the forefront, from Latrice’s troubled past to Chad’s polished but-low-key personality to the ongoing rivalry between Sharon and Phi Phi.
For the episode’s mini-challenge, RuPaul announces that they’re going to have “a good old fashioned bitch fest, and we’re going to do it… with puppets!” How many reality-show challenges would benefit from having “with puppets!” added to the end of them? The queens pick out puppet versions of their fellow contestants out of a gloryhole (genius), and have 20 minutes to get the puppets in drag. Chad sprays her Phi Phi orange. Latrice puts her Sharon in all black. Sharon turns her Chad Michaels into a burn victim. They then take each other to the puppet library, and Chad reveals the shade that lies deep within. She has a lot of material to take down her Phi Phi puppet, and after a few missteps, she whips out the big one: “Maybe you can get the help to help you out next time, Phi Phi.” From there on it’s a steady stream of shade, culminating with one of the episode’s best laugh lines: “I’m sure America is just going to love you.”
Phi Phi does surprisingly well with the puppet challenge, and she wins big points for recreating Latrice’s broken jewelry runway mishap, but Chad is the mini-challenge winner. Victory means that she gets to pair the queens off with their partners for this week’s challenge: dog fashion. The girls have to create an outfit for each category: daytime dog-park realness, pooch-in-a-purse party-girl, and canine couture. The pit crew enters with four adorable puppies, and the camera makes sure that they get a lot of screen time (especially on Untucked). It’s incredibly silly, but the absurdity is there to mask the difficulty of the challenge, which requires the queens to have three different looks as well as perform a “Broadway style” number. Think Cats, but with dogs.
Chad pairs Babyface the Pomeranian with Latrice, Callie the poodle with Sharon, Hunter the bloodhound with Phi Phi, and takes Filan the Chinese crested for herself. Giving Phi Phi the frumpiest, least feminine dog of the bunch seems like intentional sabotage, but Phi Phi would do the exact same thing if she were in the same situation, although she would target Sharon before Chad. The challenge itself is total cruelty from RuPaul, and her expression of glee as she watches the girls with their dogs fills me with joy.
I wonder how differently this season would have turned out if Phi Phi was never in the competition. She can’t take advice or a joke and doesn’t let things go, and as the other queens form a family, Phi Phi won’t stop playing the game. Chad, Latrice, and Sharon have the mindset that the fiercest drag queen will win, and that it doesn’t have to be a vicious fight to the top. They want to see each other succeed, because being there is honor enough. Not for Phi Phi. She’s there to win, and attacking her fellow contestants is a way to knock them off their game. Phi Phi’s big cry for sympathy was her bullied past in Texas, but she’s become a bully herself.
The Phi Phi/Sharon rivalry has simmered and boiled over many times already, and this episode showed off both performers’ strengths and weaknesses. Sharon’s big flaw is that she can’t sew, and while the editing makes a big deal of it in the workroom, the judges don’t mention anything about her clothes. I’m not quite sure how much of a garment the queens have to actually sew, but it looks like all Sharon does is hot glue some fur to her boots and that’s enough. Phi Phi’s weakness, other than her proportions, is her inability to follow directions and work with a team. She can’t just let Chad direct their performance rehearsal, and she wastes time that could be spent on their outfits.
There’s no problem with playing to win, but someone like Willam differs from Phi Phi because Willam has a sense of humor. In Untucked, Latrice offers Phi Phi the advice to pick her battles, and Willam knew when to fight back and when to stand down. When Willam was a bitch, it was part of a strategy—but Phi Phi just sounds like a dog that won’t stop barking until it gets what it wants.
I don’t know if Ru is wearing patent leather or black PVC on the runway, but her dress is fabulous tonight, although I could do with a different wig. She’s joined by a charming Rose McGowan and maybe-tranquilized Wynonna Judd along with Santino and Michelle, and they all get a front row seat to the Bitch Ball. I’m assuming the queens’ song “At The Bitch Ball” is another masterpiece from Ru’s producer Lucian Piane, and while it’s a completely wacky number, it’s still a whole lot better than that “so much better” fiasco a few episodes back.
Sharon easily dominates the runway, with three distinct looks that show off her incredible versatility. Her daytime doggy-park realness is young, light, and chic, the kind of spring dress that would be great to wear to the dog beach. Her puppy-in-a-purse party-girl look draws inspiration from Lindsay Lohan with grungy bleach blonde hair and an ankle monitor, and her final canine-couture outfit matches her dog better than anyone else. The judges say Sharon looks like she stepped out of an Italian Vogue and could Liza Minnelli and Gene Harlot’s baby put in puppy boots. It’s high praise, even though it’s unclear what Sharon created beyond the shoes.
Phi Phi gets a lot of praise, too, and I just don’t get it. Her Nicki Minaj dog-park look is bold but doesn’t make sense in context, and the proportions on her other two outfits are just plain odd. I wonder if any of the other girls have offered Phi Phi some advice on fixing her padding and she’s just ignored it, because that seems like a big problem that should be fixed. The judges generally love Phi Phi, and once it becomes clear that Phi Phi and Sharon are safe, the episode kicks into high gear.
The judges like Latrice’s party-girl look, but her other two outfits miss the mark and are either inappropriate for the category or too safe. Chad Michaels’ worst outfit is her canine-couture bodysuit, but her other looks are quite striking. She gets called out for serving up “old lady” instead of her intended “structured Kardashian,” and for the first time it looks like Chad is going to lip sync for her life.
Before the judges deliberate, the queens are asked who they think should be eliminated. Sharon goes first, and naturally says Phi Phi because she’s cutthroat and doesn’t stand for drag family values. This infuriates Phi Phi, who jumps in to defend herself, putting her bad attitude on full display but also showing off her passion for the competition. Chad votes for Phi Phi as well, specifying that she still has a lot of maturing that needs to be done, but this would be a perfect time for Chad to let some of that hidden shade come out. Latrice throws a curveball and says Sharon because the quality of her garments isn’t that great, but that bites her in the ass when McGowan points out the shoddy craftsmanship of Latrice’s own clothes.
Sharon wins the challenge (crystal-flower body jewelry!) and Phi Phi is safe, leaving Chad and Latrice to lip sync to Wynonna Judd’s “No One Else On Earth.” I absolutely hate country-song lip syncs. They don’t have the same dramatic flair as a great pop, disco, or soul tune, and the performances tend to be low energy. Chad moves around the stage while Latrice stays stationary and tries to bring the spotlight to her, but that strategy doesn’t fit the tone of the song and Chad overtakes her.
Latrice has a perfect reality show story: She’s a plus-sized ex-convict female impersonator. That might sound like a MADtv sketch, but it’s life for Latrice. After lip syncing to a lame Wynonna Judd song against another fierce drag mama, the large and in charge, chunky yet funky queen sashays away. Honestly, I’m glad that Latrice got eliminated now, because it offered her the opportunity to have a grand exit from the show without being shooed away for the top two.
Latrice is clearly out of her element in the lip sync, and the inevitability of it all makes for a somber final five minutes of the episode. When RuPaul tells Chad that she is shantaying to safety, a cloud hangs over the room, but it is parted by Latrice’s dignified, thankful goodbye. We lost a great queen tonight, one that brought smiles to our faces and Jesus to our biscuits, and even worse, we still have Phi Phi O’Hara. I predict an early Chad elimination because the season has been building the Phi Phi-Sharon rivalry so much that they have to be the final two.
- I won’t be covering next week’s recap episode, but meet me back here in two Mondays to learn who gets crowned America’s next drag superstar.
- I did enjoy Phi Phi reading Kenya’s goodbye note in a fake Puerto Rican accent.
- Why does the NewNowNext Awards ad takes up half the goddamn television screen?
- Genevieve Koski sympathized with the puppies during this episode, specifically Hunter. Here are some choice quotes: “Don’t be mean to Hunter, you bitch.” “I feel really bad for Hunter in this pairing.”
- Which was more entertaining: puppies in the Interior Illusions lounge or Dita Von Teese in the Gold Room?
- Chad Michael has some amazing fake cameltoe in her canine couture.
- Chad Michaels in Cher voice regarding Sharon’s cruise bitching: “Shut up, stupid. You’re not gettin’ one.”
- “She’s all up in the club… the kennel club!”
- “A lotta class and a lotta sass.” “And a lotta ass.”
- “Let’s clear it on up. Here we go. 5… 6… 7… 8, bitches.”
- The doggie version of “your tone is very pointed right now” had me cackling.
- “I like it… ruff!” Oh, Wynonna.