RuPaul’s Drag Race crowned its 10th winner last night in a finale full of flattering lighting (important for the returning season-one queens), reveals on top of reveals (for better and worse), and a three-way lip sync for the crown. There was a lot going on—both on stage and off, if the ballot-stuffing for Miss Congeniality is any indication. Ultimately, Aquaria, who, despite being the youngest queen often appeared the most seasoned, emerged victorious. Asia O’Hara’s butterflies, on the other hand, stumbled out of their makeshift cocoons.
The confetti’s finally settled, so, just between us A.V. Club staffers: what’d you think of the finale? Was that second double save a shocker? Which reveals worked for you, and which fell as flat as a certain batch of tiny, winged creatures?
Danette Chavez: Going into the finale, I was #TeamAsia (still am), who had charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent for days. Her Beyoncé “impression,” if we can call it that, in Snatch Game was anything but queenly. But she showed off her comedy chops in the “Tap That App” challenge (where she gave us the freeze-frame pose to end all freeze-frame poses) and revived the sagging “Breastworld” sketch with her impression of Sarah Palin. The winner of Drag Race also has to have vision, though, which I felt she demonstrated with her playful Tweety Bird look as well as the runway look for her inner saboteur.
But I respect the work everyone in the final four did to get here. Kameron, Eureka, and season 10 winnah Aquaria all brought something special to the runway, including distinct backstories. Aquaria’s a lifelong (god, this series has been on for half her lifetime) student of Drag Race, and it showed from the very beginning. Eureka was the comeback queen, while Kameron was the silent threat. They all had some shady moments they had to make up for, but we all know this show loves nothing so much as a redemption story.
Not Asia, though—she went above and beyond to help others, sometimes to her own detriment. As I watched the reunion last week, it occurred to me that while Asia had to recover ground here and there, her arc didn’t hinge on redeeming herself, but the show as a whole. I wasn’t the only viewer uncomfortable with The Vixen’s treatment during the reunion, including constant tone policing from RuPaul. Asia was the only person who showed any empathy, and who urged Ru and the rest of the queens to remember what we’re losing by sanding off the edges of Drag Race to make it more palatable for a mainstream (read: white) audience.
I don’t pretend that Asia’s goodhearted nature and noble intentions alone should have won her the crown, certainly not after watching her wilt along with her butterflies in the lip sync. Aquaria was a frontrunner who never lost her stride, and turned it out in the finale. So while I’m not overcome by her victory, I don’t deny that it’s well deserved. But, as our astute reviewer Oliver Sava already noted, Asia always saw herself as more of a peer to RuPaul than someone to be molded by Mother, so maybe the final round of lip syncs was moot.
Katie and Kelsey, I believe you were backing different contestants going into the finale. Did they properly gag you with their looks and moves? And are you pleased with this year’s Miss Congeniality?
Katie Rife: I actually flip-flopped throughout the season with my pick for the crown. I had a feeling Aquaria would win, though, based on the way the show reframed her throughout the season in an arc similar to that of another queen, season seven winner Violet Chachki. Like Violet, Aquaria made a bad first impression on her fellow queens, who thought she was cold and standoffish. But she opened up and made more of an effort to be friendly after being called out, and as a result became more sympathetic—charming, even. How much of that was reality-show editing and how much was genuine growth, only the producers know.
That being said, Aquaria’s looks were consistently fierce—the sherbet-colored ombré fur in her Miami Summer Realness look was a personal favorite of mine—and she genuinely impressed me with her Snatch Game performance and lip sync skills in the finale. But in terms of personality, and in mixing things up after the victory of Aquaria’s fellow skinny, white Brooklyn fashion queen Sasha Velour last season, I would have rather seen Eureka or Asia win. (Sorry, Kameron, but there was a reason you were in the bottom two so many times.)
One thought I had watching the finale was that, in the post-Sasha Velour era, a big surprise in the final lip sync now seems to be obligatory, which has its good points and its bad points. (I admit I didn’t see the across-the-board reveals coming, and my notes from the segment just before the lip sync for the crown is full of confused asides like “cupcake liner chic???” and “purple feathers why.”) On the good side, there was Eureka and Aquaria’s lip sync face-off in the semi-finals, which was, to put it bluntly, fucking incredible. Both of them can absolutely bring the house down in the lip sync and dance departments, Eureka’s red fringe bodysuit and Aquaria’s Miss Vanjie fan had me screaming, and watching them affectionately interact with each other afterwards was heartwarming. On the bad side—R.I.P. Asia. An entire season tragically brought down with one ill-considered stunt. Girl, live butterflies? Have you never seen Arrested Development?
Amid a win that, while not undeserved, I totally saw coming and a clusterfuck of a top-three lip sync for the crown, in my book the real MVP of last night’s finale was Miss Mariah Paris Balenciaga, who made Ru crack up for a solid 15 seconds with her shout-out to Southerners and their love of snacks. And you know what? She’s right. Snacks are great. Shantay you stay, Miss Mariah.
Kelsey J. Waite: Katie, like you, I flip-flopped this season on who I supported. As a shy one myself, I kept Kameron on my list until the end, but I agree she never really bested the other queens—excepting that Cher performance—until it was time to lip sync for her life, again and again. I knew she would slay “Nasty”in the finale, but it was bittersweet to watch it happen to the backdrop of Asia’s heartbreaking “wardrobe malfunction.”
Which brings me to your question about reveals, Danette. I must say that, in the context of this bananas finale and post-Sasha Velour era, I appreciated Kameron’s very straightforward reveal—the body suit underneath looked amazing, and it played like a very natural way to free her up to absolutely fucking bring it. As for Aquaria and Eureka’s face-off, I agree with Katie that it was great, and I’ll give Aquaria credit for giving it her all. But it turns out I am not of fan of her lip-sync style—it was energetic, sure, but also kind of spastic and empty, and her many reveals didn’t feel natural. By contrast, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Eureka because she took her time with her reveals and really felt the song. I wasn’t shocked at all by the double save, but I was disappointed. I think Eureka was the clear winner.
The double save also meant there were three girls singing for the crown, which I did not find enjoyable at all. It was a mess of hair flips, splits, and death drops. I feel like the show was trying to do too much by making that call, and the queens on stage all came off as trying to do too much, too. Of course, as Kameron faded into the background and the focus shifted to Aquaria and Eureka, I still think Eureka outperformed them both, so I was truly shocked when Ru called Aquaria’s name. Not because Aquaria isn’t a fierce queen who deserves to win, but because in the context of the finale, she did not out-lip-sync Eureka. And considering the season as a whole, I think Eureka gave us far more personality and substance than either of her final remaining competitors, in addition to fantastic looks and performances.
I was extremely pleased to see Monét X Change get Miss Congeniality. Not only was she a solid competitor, but she was always a positive presence and blast to watch, even just shuffling around the workroom. She was an early favorite for me, and had she really pushed herself and flourished in the competition, I would’ve been glad to root for her in the finale.