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RuPaul's Drag Race plays Snatch Game in an overstuffed and underbaked episode

Tinkering with the franchise's signature challenge proves a misstep

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

There is a petition on Change.org demanding the return of 90 minute episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race with more than 25,000 signatures. (This season’s episodes were shortened to accommodate a new reality series from MTV called The Real Friends Of WeHo.) While I didn’t particularly mind the tighter episodes thus far, it has officially ruined the franchise’s best and most important episode: Snatch Game.

With scant time available, the editors manage to get a lot of information into the first two minutes of the episode. Amethyst reenters the werkroom suffering from self-doubt after surviving her second consecutive lip sync for her life. It is clear that the continuous critiques of her comic timing are having a toll on her psyche. Like much of the season so far, the camera suddenly focuses on Sugar and Spice. Their psyche is also strained with separation anxiety and the divide between the fantasy of working as a team and the reality of signing up to be competitors in a reality competition program. At the same time, Lux finds herself in another number dispute. Rather than arguing over the length of her wigs, she is bickering with Loosey over who placed second after Sasha in last week’s challenge. Like the wig, it doesn’t really matter. However, it does lay the groundwork for two continuing narratives: Lux’s potential delusion of her own performances and Loosey’s competitive nature.

The next day, after a delightfully shady comment from Spice (orchestrated by Mistress) at Amethyst’s expense, RuPaul enters the room. Dressed in her suit from the 2019 Met Gala, RuPaul’s outfits suggests a special occasion. RuPaul quickly confirms the assumption by announcing this week’s challenge is the Snatch Game. The revelation perplexes the girls as the Snatch Game is normally reserved for later in the season, typically when only 8-10 contestants remain. The twist this season is that it will be a Super Sized Snatch Game with 14 contestants split into two different groups. It’s a format that has been tested in out in later All Stars 4-6 with Snatch Game of Love and All Stars 7 Double Snatch Game.

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THE WERKROOM

After being divided arbitrarily into two separate groups, the queens begin to prepare for Snatch Game. In past seasons, there is a sense of excitement and trepidation from the queens about competing in such a significant challenge. With such a short edit, those moments are removed. There are no classic moments of queens figuring out they have the same character prepared and there is no werkroom visit from RuPaul coercing a queen to change their character last minute. Instead, the queens simply list who they will be performing with the usual mix of classic camp characters like Joan Rivers and Amanda LePore, new internet and social media sensations like Trisha Paytas and Bretman Rock, and over-the-top pop stars like Miley Cyrus. The segments end with Sugar and Spice convincing themselves that the Snatch Game will be the battle of the twins, which serves as a potentially bad omen like Poppy’s “sorry, losers” comment last week.

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After the Snatch Game, there is little discussion about the actual challenge and how the queens performed. Dictated by the abbreviated edit, the narrative focuses on Loosey’s experiences of being bullied as an adolescent and how it impacted her comedic persona. It continues the discussion Malaysia and Mistress were having last week in which Mistress made the astute observation about the horrors of having your first bully be your family. Interestingly, this same idea came up when Sugar and Spice were discussing their own families. It’s a good argument for an extended edit that might have pulled these narrative threads closer together. In addition, this choppy edit broadcasts that this episode is focused on Loosey and predicts her winning this week.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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THE CHALLENGE

The combination of such an early Snatch Game with the truncated edit of the episode proved RuPaul’s claim that “too much is never enough.” There were too many contestants playing the game and it left with an unsatisfying result. The two most glaring issues were of duration and interaction. Part of the test of Snatch Game is that the contestants must embody their characters for a prolonged amount of time. While we may not know how long the filming of Snatch Game was, the fact is that contestants only had the opportunity to introduce themselves and answer two questions at most. This combined with the sheer amount of impersonations let a lot of queens hide in plain sight. The other issue was that by dividing the Snatch Game into two sessions there is no way to tell how some performers stacked up against one another. Snatch Game really excels in the unstructured moments of queens improvising with one another. It separates the tops from the bottoms. However, the new format leaves too many questions. How would Loosey and Mistress have interacted? Would there be a clear winner between the two? Would Mistress or Marcia had done as well if they had to deal with Sugar and Spices antics?

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The results of the Snatch Game produced a few good performances, a few horrible, but mostly mediocre and boring performances. In the latter group were Anetra, Lux, Malaysia, and Sasha. On the positive end, both Marcia and Loosey really transformed themselves, but it was Mistress and Loosey who really took control of Snatch Game. In the horrible realm, Sugar and Spice failed with unfocused and messy performances. On the opposite end, Robin and Aura flopped with stiff and dull impersonations.

Three interesting if not totally successful performances came from Jax, Salina, and Amethyst. Jax had a good concept and kept it simple. Her smile, and tongue slip was a good visual gag and her last-minute confirmation of “oil-based” paint showed she was paying attention after Amethyst missed the joke. It was a safe, yet clever performance. Similar to Jax, Salina took the approach of impersonating someone who’s actual personality is unknown. It’s a smart approach to the Snatch Game utilized by performers like Gigi Goode, Symone, and Rosé in recent years. However, the issue with Salina’s performance is that if you’re going to do something provocative you have to make sure it is hilarious and it was not. She did the cardinal sin of saying something instead of showing something when she said “I’m so horny.” A horny Virgin Mary is a funny idea, but Salina failed to incorporate the concept into the performance. Finally, Amethyst gave a performance that was so fully committed it deserves praise. It wasn’t the funniest by a long shot, but she was so deeply in character and managed to get a few laughs while being forced to perform in the middle of the Sugar and Spice cyclone. In the end, the best part of Snatch Game was getting to know more about the Pit Crew. They are more than eye candy.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

THE RUNWAY

In a monochromatic feathered tweed ensemble with contrasting tangerine hair, RuPaul announces the runway category as “Beautiful Nightmare.” The prompt is to present glamourous horror, which many did well. The actual value of the runway in terms of judging has long been in dispute, but one certainty is that with the abridged episodes, the queens are getting much value out of their looks. It’s a little disheartening to see the work and expense that go into these looks getting a few seconds of screen time.

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Marcia played into people’s fear of the dentist, but her pedestrian look did not add beauty to the nightmare. While she has been given the note to drag up her makeup, she really needed to drag up this look with exaggeration, fabrication, and at least a ton of sequins. One outfit that reached the maximalist reaches of drag was Malaysia’s jaw-dropping lavender take on Where the Wild Things Are which suggests that they are at a gay disco. Somewhere caught in the middle was Lux’s drowned bridal look. From the waist up it was disturbingly gorgeous, but from the waist down was just disturbing. Perhaps it was the runway lighting, but the contrast between the color of her arms and the color of her tights was distracting.

Salina and Loosey appeared to turn to horror cinema for inspiration with differing effects. While Salina called her look a zombie, it recalled Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, the look called to mind Laurence Chaney’s Monster Mash look and Salina’s paled in comparison. Salina’s look was a little too much nightmare and not enough beauty. Loosey channeled Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise. It wasn’t the best look of the night but it was complete, polished, and a smart departure from Loosey’s normal colorful camp. She managed to flex her versatility with this runway.

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Mistress, Anetra, and Robin seemed to be inspired by Kiss of the Spider Woman conceptually. Mistress set her look apart with the crystal caging that evoked a spider’s web. Anetra embraced sleekness in a latex black widow look. Robin utilized texture with a tarantula-inspired 1950’s Lady Dior silhouette. Luckily, their differing interpretations avoided a new Kimono-gate from season eight.

Sasha, Jax, and Amethyst had unique interpretations of the prompt that made for memorable runways. Sasha’s transparent black gown managed to equally evoke witch and scarecrow. However, it might have been her hauntingly beautiful makeup that made the look. It was disturbing, yet fashionable. After raiding art history for her Snatch Game performance, Jax turned to Greek mythology for the runway with a Medusa-inspired look. The ensemble was full of great attention to detail from the braided wig and the shocking face prosthetics to the tattooed Grecian body suit and bust purse. There is a sense that if Jax worked on padding more the judges might have gone crazy for the look. From Medusa to Lady Gaga, Amethyst stuck to her aught popstar aesthetic by recreating the performance from the 2009 MTV Music Awards. It met the brief, but something about mimicking the look felt unimaginative for the imaginative runway category.

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Sugar and Spice once again coordinated their runway looks to diminishing returns. They both presented demonic doll looks that were really only differentiated by their color choices to reflect their contrasting, yet connected personas. Throughout the season, their repetitive looks have reflected poorly on whoever went down the runway second. However, even the first look felt repetitive and uninspired. Both these looks paled in comparison to the one presented by she who should not be named in Season 12.

This week they saved the best for last when Aura walked down the runway. At first, it seemed like Aura misunderstood the assignment and was going to present another boring black look. Then she turned around. It was one of the best reveals on a Drag Race runway when the minimal front of the dress gave way to the ornate and disturbing back. The exposed backbone, a subversive reinterpretation of the Schiaparelli Skeleton Dress made in collaboration with artist Salvador Dalí, was the look of the night. It would have been better had Aura toned down the theatrics, but it was a memorable mix of elegance and shock.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

THE JUDGING

Before the runway, RuPaul played a mini version of Snatch Game with Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, and special guest judge, Lena Wilson’s favorite film star, Amandla Stenberg. Like the other parts of the episode, the judging is trimmed to near extinction. More than half the cast is deemed safe, leaving Marcia, Mistress, Loosey, Sugar, Spice, and Aura on the mainstage for critiques.

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Marcia is praised for her performance as Tim Gunn, commended for trying to amp up her makeup, and chided by RuPaul for an underwhelming look. Underlining the makeup critique for Marcia, Michelle praises the Mistress’s skill before celebrating her Rosie O’Donnell impersonation. Michelle and RuPaul agree that she mastered the snatch game by holding the spotlight and knowing when to land a joke. RuPaul ends it with an approving, “I’ve got my eye on you.” Loosey enjoys equally high praise for her Joan Rivers. Carson even comments that he loved how Loosey as Joan came after some of the other queens with the camera cutting to Sugar and Spice. The edit is clearly revealing the winner and the bottom two with a couple of cuts.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sugar, Spice, and Aura are criticized for their performances. The judges argue that Sugar’s performance was off the mark and disruptive to the other performers. Likewise, Spice is critiqued for some bizarre choices, not nailing Miley’s voice, and simply not being funny enough. While Aura was praised for her look, they said her performance lacked energy and joy. RuPaul dismisses the queens for the judges to deliberate, but that deliberation was left on the cutting room floor because in the next shot, the queens are back and RuPaul announces their placements.

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Marcia and Mistress are declared safe before Loosey is announced as the winner. Given how hungry Loosey is for a win, it would have been more interesting to award the win to Mistress, who was equally good. It would have given great tension for the next few episodes if Loosey had placed second in a challenge tailor-made for her. There is a lack of suspense involving the bottom two as well. Aura must have been unfazed by her low placement considering her stellar look and the fact that a lip sync for your life between the twins was inevitable before the season even premiered.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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THE LIP SYNC

The moment everyone knew was coming is about to unfold. The only surprise is that it is coming so early in the season. It feels like the show could have spent more time exploring the dynamic of Sugar and Spice being forced from working as a team to becoming competitors for a couple more episodes. In fact, the drama of the pairing felt oddly undramatic. As it turns out, the drama unfolded in Untucked, which seems to be more than half the story in these condensed episodes. It’s strange seeing how tense it was before the lip sync only after the lip sync has already occurred.

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While you might have expected Beyoncé’s “Beautiful Dreams” considering the runway theme or perhaps sister singers Chloe X Halle considering the twin face-off, the lip sync song is Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run.” Released in 1980, or 18 years before the twin’s birthday, the song features the lyric “you better leave from my side,” which feels appropriate. What unfolds is a funny, yet chaotic lip sync that Sugar and Spice clearly choreographed together and what Spice called a “twin-sync for your life.”

Refreshingly the twins, who normally have a static performance style calibrated for a stationary cell phone, utilized the entirety of the stage running from end to end. However, Sugar appeared ill at ease in her preferred platform shoes and stumbled throughout the performance. From the producer’s standpoint who stays and who goes is sort of moot. It seems that Spice is fitting in better with the other queens and has had slightly better success in the challenges, while Sugar seems to have alienated herself from most of her competitors. Either way, it will be interesting to see how one twin will do without the other for the rest of the competition. They claimed to be an all-or-nothing package in Untucked, but once Spice is declared the victor she decides to remain in the competition.

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Stray observations

  • Best moment: Robin reacting to Salina saying “us too” to Amethyst saying she can’t believe she’s still in the competition.
  • I need a moratorium on queens talking about how much they want to win an episode so early in the season. Everyone needs to relax and realize that there are ump-teen people in the competition. There needs to be more of a focus on doing as good as possible in each moment, rather than scoring a win.
  • A salute to the set designer of the new Snatch Game and the speedo windows.
  • Marcia proves she has make-up skills her metamorphosis into Tim Gunn.
  • Looking forward to Trinity’s response to Lux’s comment about her Amanda Lepore. Lux’s Lepore was as equally fine as Trinity’s.
  • Where were the koosh balls, Mistress?
  • I can’t believe that Mistress got to the “duckwalk” joke before Anetra.
  • Anetra’s was the most disappointing. I think they should ban the Kimmy Jong-un approach. It felt like Anetra simply decided to use a British accent and built a character around it without much thought.
  • When Robin was questioned about her ham hock comment she went into full Wikipedia mode.
  • I wonder if there was more to Sasha’s performance. The edit made it feel like she just sort of dissociated from the game. Although, the sodomite line was perfectly delivered.
  • I know this might run into a copyright issue, but the twins should have been Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart. Or at least Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
  • Loosey’s best moment was “Rocket scientist, my ass” with the eye roll.
  • My favorite part of Snatch Game might have been the “oil-based” jokes.
  • Aura’s song was such a cringe moment. Don’t set yourself up like that if you don’t have something.
  • Wait, the most cringe moment for Aura was when RuPaul shut down her answering a question in Filipino.
  • It was amusing to see the top row of the second Snatch Game react to Sugar and Spice. Loosey and Jax are clearly annoyed and Sasha seems above it all.
  • This may be generous, but the repetition of Spice hitting herself over and over again with the hammer might have worked if she were working in her chosen format of TikTok.
  • Considering how short the runways have become its worth saying the top looks: 1. Aura, 2. Malaysia, 3. Sasha
  • Will we ever get confirmation that Sugar and Spice got their names from whether the 2001 film Sugar & Spice or from Two-Faces girlfriends in Batman Forever. Or are both those references too old for them?
  • The ‘D’ rating is for the editing and decision to play Snatch Game with 14 contestants divided into two groups and not a reflection of the queens performances in the challenge or on the runway.