Drag Race comedy challenges rarely leave me begging for more, but “The Bitchelor” deserves to be a Burning Love-style series on WOW Presents Plus. This parody of The Bachelor assigns each drag queen a different dating show archetype and pairs them up to improvise scenes with Unreal’s Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and I would gladly watch an entire season, ideally with Jeffrey reprising his role because he’s dreamy. This is the most difficult challenge yet because funny improv is hard, but it allows the best All Stars to show off their talent and their personality by performing on the fly.
The top queens—BenDeLaCreme (again), Kennedy Davenport, and Trixie Mattel—all play convincing characters, have actual jokes, and know how to interact with scene partners so that there’s a back-and-forth between characters. Bendela situates herself as the All Stars frontrunner by winning her third challenge in a row, and her drunk cougar has the best one-liners of “The Bitchelor,” most of them involving creepy infantilization and suggestive bananaplay. Her comic timing is fantastic, and even though she has a massive personality, she doesn’t push her partner, Bebe, out of the scene. Bendela is thinking of new jokes while Bebe is interacting with Jeffrey, and Bendela ends up looking even better because Bebe is an underwhelming improviser.
Kennedy Davenport is never scarier than after a wake-up call, and being in the bottom last week lights a fire under her that toasts the competition. Kennedy has an outrageous side that she reserves for these comedy challenges. Her Little Richard was a big surprise, and her crass, increasingly wasted “Bitchelor” contestant arrives on the scene with the force of a freight train, immediately causing Jeffrey to burst out laughing when she shimmies out of the car. The visual of Kennedy with her jacked up teeth and wildly exaggerated body proportions (with lumpy, overstuffed padding) does most of the work when she first meets Jeffrey, but she comes prepared with plenty of material for the date, which has her pulling three glasses and a bottle of booze from under her skin-tight dress so that she, Aja, and Jeffrey can have a real party. That party quickly goes off the rails, and ends with Kennedy getting so drunk that she strips off her wig and dress and falls to the floor where she mutters, “I’m a man.”
Kennedy gets an exciting storyline in this episode, which begins with her butting heads with Milk because she thought Kennedy should have gone home instead of Thorgy. Kennedy feels that Milk doesn’t respect her drag, and she’s over Milk’s rude attitude. Milk thinks she’s better than everybody else, and when Kennedy gets the chance to knock her down a peg, she does it. Kennedy ends up in the top two, and she knows exactly who she’s sending home from the bottom three queens: Aja, Chi Chi, and Milk. Kennedy deciding not to talk to the bottom queens is a power play that reinforces her formidable strength and confidence, but it’s not a great move for the reality TV game. She’s giving up valuable screen time that would have fleshed out her relationships with the other queens. I want to see Kennedy give Chi Chi a pep talk. I want to see her cuss out Milk. I want to see her talk some shit with Aja. These conversations are part of the game, and Kennedy shouldn’t pass them up just because she wants to make a point that she’s made up her mind and nothing is going to change it.
So much of Drag Race’s appeal is in the spectacle and the artifice, but these queens are compelling in the moments when they’re honest about their weaknesses and anxieties. All Stars triggers a lot of insecurities, and the most endearing contestants don’t try to hide those feelings. They present them to the public and the judges because it’s good storytelling. Trixie has talked about how she’s not proud of her previous time on Drag Race, and even though she’s become one of the show’s most popular queens, she still longs for a star moment on Drag Race. She knows that she shouldn’t need validation when she’s accomplished so much in her career, but that wish is still there, just out of reach.
Trixie might have achieved it if she wasn’t stuck with Milk for this challenge. Trixie embodies her Fake Bitch character with confidence and wit when she first enters, but Milk takes over their date with her very unfunny psycho stalker shtick, which doesn’t have any levels or jokes. It’s unfocused mania, and it never ends. Trixie can hardly get a word in, and while it would have been within her character to tell Milk to shut the fuck up and let her speak, Trixie’s not that kind of performer. She’ll let Milk make a fool of herself, and say something funny when Milk takes a second to breathe. I don’t think Trixie is playing the game on such an expert level that she intentionally stays back while Milk digs a hole for herself, but it’s not a bad strategy if she wants to sabotage the bitch that won’t let her talk.
I expected Shangela to do better in this challenge, but she’s also stuck in the worst role as half of a polyamorous duo with Chi Chi. Giving the two queens a romantic relationship confuses their chemistry with Jeffrey, and Shangela doesn’t know how to juggle her feelings for Jeffrey and Chi Chi while still being funny. But at least she’s trying. Chi Chi is so self-conscious about her comedic chops that she shuts down, and you can sense her discomfort as she whimpers her way through the taping. It’s the most difficult to watch performance on “The Bitchelor,” but it has dramatic value later because of what it brings out of Chi Chi when she’s in front of the judges.
I was ready to write Chi Chi off after her variety show disaster—I still chuckle whenever I think of her marching out in her jazz flats, swinging her baton—but she’s regained the scrappy charm that makes me root for her. Even though she’s very bad in this week’s challenge, she turns her failure into a big moment of self-realization during the judging. She acknowledges everything the judges criticize, and admits to them that she let fear take over her thought process. She’s insecure about her talent in a cast with so many comedy queens, and she’s ashamed that she’s not strong enough to overcome that external pressure. She doesn’t want RuPaul to regret bringing her back, and she’s questioning if she’s worth the spot she has on the show. Earlier in the episode she talks about how she feels like she was brought back too soon, and Chi Chi’s vulnerability in this episode makes me want to give her a hug. Guest judge Constance Zimmer feels it too, and at the end of Chi Chi’s breakdown, she makes sure that Chi Chi knows that she’s worth it and deserves to be here.
The double-wig reveal is one of my favorite drag queen tricks, so this week’s Wigs On Wigs runway hits a sweet spot. Bendela starts it off on a high note with three feet of long straight hair under her updo, with the added wow of a short black dress that unfolds to reveal a skirt of human hair. Multiple queens use this theme to incorporate some sort of costume reveal in addition to the wig. Bebe has a long and short variation on a kimono, and Trixie takes off a flowing caftan to reveal a sunny minidress, then pulls off her Lady Bunny-styled wig to live a short-haired “Tatianna ‘Same Parts’ Dennis The Menace fantasy.”
Two queens go for the triple-wig reveal, and it gives both of them an extra boost. For Kennedy, her three wigs put her firmly in the top after her raucous performance, and Aja gets some redemption on the runway after fumbling the challenge. Aja’s runway looks have been strong all season, and she delivers an over-the-top manga-inspired ensemble that has her walking out with huge inflated blonde pigtails that she tosses away to reveal a medium-length bob, which is covering up a long pink wig. Each wig changes how her outfit reads on stage, and even though she’s up for elimination, her runway look is strong enough to keep her around.
The trick to the double-wig reveal is that it shouldn’t look like the top wig is covering something up. Even though we know there’s going to be a wig underneath that top wig, it still needs to be fitted tightly to complete the illusion that makes the reveal so fun. With Milk, it looks like she just put a random brightly colored wig on to hide the ponytail underneath, and that first wig isn’t a cohesive part of the look. The judges read her for the visible cup holder at the top of her second wig, and there’s an overall roughness to Milk this week that makes her elitist behavior even more obnoxious.
Milk is shocked when she lands in the bottom because she thought her scene was flawless, and that inability to be judgmental of herself prevents her from growing. She’s hyper-confident because she lacks any self awareness, and she expects her success off the show to give her a leg up in this competition even though it doesn’t mean anything once she’s back in the workroom. As Trixie says, “In these four fake brick walls, you are garbage until proven otherwise.” Milk thinks that everything she does is perfect, but there are performance expectations that she struggles to meet on this series. The variety show was her best outing, and even that was just fine.
Milk probably doesn’t think that she needs to make any changes to progress in the competition, and that cockiness is a big reason why Kennedy kicks her to the curb. Lorde’s “Green Light” is a tough lip sync song for Bendela and Kennedy, and it’s an uneventful, slightly awkward showdown. It does succeed in showcasing Kennedy’s lip-syncing prowess, and given that she’s a queen who specializes in dancing, it’s a surprise that she goes for a more subdued, emotional interpretation of the music. It’s an inspired choice that highlights Kennedy’s range, and in this episode she plays a crass caricature in “The Bitchelor,” an elegant pageant queen on the runway, and a soulful, aching diva in the lip sync. After falling last week, Kennedy picks herself up and goes straight to the top, and she uses her new power to toss the spoiled dairy.
- RuPaul and Jeffrey flirting makes me very happy.
- Shangela’s corn look is a lot of fun, but she thinks her time on drag race was a lot more iconic than she was. Corn is not synonymous with Shangela.
- Bebe Zahara Benet is boring. She’s safe this week because there are queens that perform worse than her, but her virgin character is one-note and her runway look is pretty but lacks spark. She doesn’t have anything to prove like the other queens, and it puts her in a strange position.
- I prefer Ross over Carson so much.
- Chi Chi gets the first “How’s your head?” test of All Stars, and she fails. I love that this has become a way to test whether or not a queen is paying attention and has her head in the game.
- Thorgy’s goodbye message is so sad and bitter and leaves some really bad vibes in the workroom. I’m glad she’s gone.
- “Another day in the workroom. You get up, you walk in, you step over the body of a dead friend, and then you just move along.”
- “When Celine doesn’t win, she cries.”
- “My friends call me Bedtime Beedie, because I like to tuck a big boy in night-night.”
- “Some people might say I’m fake, but those people are alcoholics.”
- “As I look into Jeffrey’s eyes, I just get so moist inside. I gotta have him, baby.”
- “This is perfect for a widdle baby like you. All pre-mashed.”
- “Have you ever taken out a catheter?”
- “If Jeffrey needs a warm bosom to press himself against at night, I’m the wrong gal because these don’t feel temperature.”
- “This is like the prettiest like refurbished Cheesecake Factory mall kiosk I have ever been to.”
- “We gonna make a toast to love and your nice ass.”
- “Jeffrey is so sexy, oh my god. If things don’t work out, I’m probably gonna whup the bitch that won and just take Jeffrey.”
- Ru: “Did you survive a night with my girls?” Jeffrey: “Ru, I just got back from the free clinic and we are good to go.”
- “I love a queen with big black hairy balls.”
- “Pop the corn and feed the children.”
- “G-M-Oh no you betta don’t.”
- “Can Lady Bunny become Naomi Smalls? Turns out yes.”
- Ross: “Why don’t I think of you as comedy?” Ru: “It’s probably because of her criminal record.”
- “If you’re gonna be a bottom, at least be a power bottom.”
- “Turd city.”