RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6, Episode 5 Recap- “Snatch Game”
So Survivor is always going to be the O.G. of Reality TV, but that doesn’t mean I don’t branch out. And a show that everyone should branch out for is Logo’s only relevant item of programming, RuPaul’s Drag Race and its companion after show, Untucked. It’s the perfect mix of humor, smart editing, and over the top gayness.
Now in its sixth season, Drag Race has a pretty simple format–a group of drag queens are assembled to compete in hopes of being named “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” winning a headlining role in a nationwide tour and a hefty cash prize of a hundred grand. What makes it unique among the myriad of Reality Shows in the “Talent/Job Search” genre is that it is quite possibly the only Reality Show that is actually the pinnacle of its specific field. No girl really gets to says she’s made the big time as a drag queen if she hasn’t done Drag Race. It is the primary platform for drag queens to get their face out there beyond their local scenes.
Besides the very real difference of giving the contestants an actual career boost, the show is pretty par course for the genre in terms of the game format. Each week, the queens are usually given two challenges–a mini-challenge that is seldom relevant to anything and is primarily used as a method of selecting team captains and/or handing out advantages, and the Main Challenge, which matters so we’re putting it in capitals. This Main Challenge is the biggest piece of the puzzle, and its what the judging panel will primarily be evaluating from week to week. Each week, the queens meet the judges–Project Runway alum and fashion designer Santino Rice; radio personality and long time friend of RuPual Michelle Visage; and RuPaul herself, along with two weekly guest judges–out on the Drag Race Main Stage. Each judging session is preceded by a runway show, which is usually given a theme that the queens must adhere to. As with many other shows, the queens are then split into two groups–the safe contestants who fill out the middle, and the top 3 and bottom 3 performers, who remain onstage for critique. After grilling each queen, the judges deliberate, determining who is the winner of that week’s main challenge and which two queens have performed the worst and will risk elimination. Those bottom two queens then compete in a Lip Sync battle to a predetermined song, with RuPaul reserving final judgement. At the end of the number, RuPaul decides which of the bottom two queens lives to see another day, and who must “sashay away.”
One of the places where Drag Race differs majorly is that there is no majestic RuPaul Reality Mansion that the girls are forced to live in during filming. The contestants stay in a hotel during their duration in the competition and are, unusually for a reality show, not filmed when they are not competing. The show occurs entirely on set, with us viewers not seeing anything that occurs outside of the workroom, sound stage, or judging panel. To give us a little more insider dirt that we’re missing out on, each hour long episode of Drag Race is followed by the 30 minute after show, Untucked, which shows us the other side of judging as the queens await their fate backstage in the Absolut Vodka Lounge. (One of the many, many, many running gags of the series is a complete lack of shame surrounding product placement.) While they are technically two separate shows, they really go hand in hand, and it’s difficult to understand one fully without having the other.
In the previous episode, the queens had to perform acts one and two of “Shade: The Rusical,” a musical extravaganza that proved to be one of the most solidly delivered challenges in the entire series. Whereas some challenges have seen queens who are clearly out of their league screw up big time, everyone turned in a solid performance onstage, with former Australian Idol contestant Courtney Act and former American Idol contestant Adore Delano having standout performances (as would be expected of the singers in the group). Having to pick the bottom two in a challenge where nobody was really bad proved a tough task for the judges, but a choice had to be made and it was debbie-downer Trinity Kardashian Bonet and sweet but underwhelming April Carrión who had to Lip Sync for their Lives. After complaining through every single challenge thusfar that sewing/acting/singing/whatever is not what she does as a drag queen, Trinity finally showed why she was on the show in the first place with a crushing performance, and it was April who sashayed away.
The surviving ten queens return to the workroom after April’s elimination and get to de-dragging and dirt dishing. Plus-sized queen Darienne Lake is surprised to have been one of the bottom three performers while Milk, one of the seasons more unusual queens, skated by safe. Every season features a variety of queens with very different approaches to drag, and Milk is this season’s token Weirdo. Whereas other girls might go for glamour, beauty, or illusion, Milk goes straight for weird, painting on giant lips, gap teeth, and high concepts. For example, in the second episode, Milk wore a beard on the runway, and dressed up as Pinocchio the following week, complete with a giant nose.
Given the previous week’s Musical Theatre inspired challenge, the girls were asked to glam it up for the runway in a “Tony Awards Realness” look. For those unfamiliar, Drag Race has a lot of it’s own language that can be a little difficult to get the hang of at first. “Realness” is sort of a catch-all applied to a descriptor to explain what specific inspiration the queen is drawing from ie; Evil Henchwoman Realness, Executive Power Suit Realness, etc. Darienne is nonplussed because while she and the other girls took the challenge of delivering a glamorous look that one could realistically expect to see a Broadway star wear to an award ceremony, Milk once again took things in a gimmicky direction.
This is not the first time on the series that a quirky queen has come under fire for eschewing glamor in the name of comedy, but sadly for Milk, it’s not a completely invalid criticism. The judges are clear that America’s Next Drag Superstar has to be someone who is versatile–someone who can deliver comedy and concept, but someone who can also look drop dead gorgeous when asked to. For every runway look so far, Milk has had some sort of prop–the beard, the nose, and now the baby bump–but unlike past queens with a quirky flare, she hasn’t been backing it up with big personality and hilarious, scene stealing performances in the main challenges. So far, it really does feel like Milk has been relying on gimmicks to squeak by.
While undressing, Laganja Estranja, one of the youngest queens, fills in buddy Adore Delano on what went down with the girls declared “safe” backstage while the top and bottom girls, of which Adore was one of the top, were dealing with the judges. As is par course for each episode of Untucked, production milks out some tear-droplets by delivering one of the safe queens a video message from home. In any reality competition, the complete isolation from the outside world while dealing with the stress of competition is a perfect mechanism to break people down and make them emotional about missing their friends and family. When the contestants are all drag queens, it only ups the ante, as a good portion of the contestants usually have strained relationships with their family, who don’t always totally get what it is that their sons do. For these queens, these messages from home are often all the more meaningful–for some of them, it’s the first time in years they’ve heard from their parents and/or the first time their parents have told them they’re accepting of what they do and are pulling for them to win.
Anyway, last week, it was Laganja’s turn for a tearful message from home, except it turns out she’s not one of the girls whose parents completely disowned her. While they’re still wrapping their heads around the world of drag, Laganja makes it clear that they’ve never been anything but loving towards her. Regardless, hearing from home feels good and Laganja became emotional upon viewing her parents message–and then became upset when she felt the other queens weren’t respecting her moment. A sepia toned flashback (a beloved staple of the reality tv genre) shows Bianca Del Rio, a queen whose major arena is insult comedy, attempting to lighten the mood backstage with a joke. “I think your parents are absolutely lovely,” Bianca tells a teary eyed Laganja, “the only thing I disagree with is that they think you’re going to win!” The other queens erupt in laughter but Laganja is clearly not amused, and is quick to drag the mood down by accusing the other queens of stealing her moment and making it about them. The whole accusation is bizarre and sets up what appears to be Laganja’s new defining character trait–a constant need for drama and attention.
The theme song plays us into the next day as the queens enter the workroom, fresh and renewed for challenge number 5. This week’s is going to be a big one–so big that we end up completely skipping the mini-challenge to focus on it.
Before we get our weekly She-Mail, however, everyone has to make an entrance, and by everyone, I mean Laganja, who comes in dressed in a bedazzled bellyshirt, and a headpiece that looks like a cross between Erykah Badu’s leftovers and Elisabeth Hasslebeck nee Filarski’s long forgotten “lucky headdress” from Survivor: The Australian Outback (back before she was famous for being a right-wing talking head). Bianca calls it a “macrame pot-holder” and I can’t help but snort. Laganja can’t help but serve her outfit with a big side of affect. Bianca asks what happened to the hanging plant that was in the wrap before Laganja put it on her head, and Laganja replies that she smoked it. “That explains the fashion choice,” Bianca retorts. The older and more experienced “Queen of Mean” is unflappable, and Laganja blows her off via confessional.
With that, RuPaul’s voice comes over the intercom–“Oooh girl, you’ve got She-Mail!” and we jump into this week’s game. After getting a video message that seems to be a homage to Youtube personality Lohanthony, RuPaul enters the workroom to deliver the challenge. It’s time for everyone’s favorite once-a-season challenge, the one that truly separates the queens from the princesses–Snatch Game.
Over six years, there are a number of types of challenges that you can be pretty sure will come up. At some point there will be a sewing challenge, an acting challenge, a singing challenge, a dancing challenge, etc… but the specifics of these will change from season to season. The only constant, unchanging challenge in Drag Race is the Snatch Game, a parody of 70’s game show The Match Game.
If you were not watching in the 70’s, or were not alive and never had access to daytime reruns on GSN, I’ll explain The Match Game. A panel of “celebrities” would be given a statement, usually some sort of joke, with a blank somewhere in the sentence. The celebrities would then each write down a possible answer for what could go in the blank. (As an example, the statement could be “Fat Fanny is so fat, she brushes her teeth with _____ instead of toothpaste!” A possible answer would be “butter.”) The host would then turn his attentions to our contestants, everyday people who would have to try and guess what they think could go in the blank, and see how many of the celebrities said the same thing. Every match is worth a point, but the game isn’t really the point of the show at all. It’s not about the contestants, but the celebrity panelists, who usually used their answers as a chance to make a joke and score some laughs from the audience.
The Snatch Game is Drag Race’s loving homage, and just as in the original show, it’s not really about making matches–it’s about making jokes. Each queen is tasked to impersonate a celebrity of her choosing, and the only real rule is that no matter what else you do, make it funny. First and foremost, this is a comedy challenge. And in spite of the fact that everyone knows it’s coming, season after season, we see queens making the same exact mistakes. They are the proverbial girl in the horror movie who you are begging not to go in the basement, letting you down when they go in the basement anyway and are immediately serial killed.
How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option A: Pick a Boring Character
Season after season, we have queens who forget that the goal is comedy, not glamor. Many queens often pick beautiful and glamorous singers or actresses who are pretty to look at but don’t really have any inherent qualities that make them easily translate to comedy challenges. In addition, these queens often seem to miss the idea of physical comedy completely, and seem afraid to risk going ugly when they could play someone beautiful.
How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option B: Pick Someone You Respect Too Much to Mock
Not every beautiful, glamorous celebrity is inherently unfunny, of course. The problem that past queens have run into is when they pick a celebrity in which the best available jokes can be made at their expense, yet the queen has too much respect for the artist they’re embodying to risk insulting them. This tends to lead to bland performances out of characters who, at first glance, could be funny.
How to Fuck Up the Snatch Game, Option C: Not Having a Game Plan
Again, this challenge is recurring. They’ve had it on every season since it’s introduction in season 2, so it really doesn’t matter if in your everyday drag career that you don’t do celebrity impersonations. Despite the fact that this is the challenge that the contestants have the most time to prepare for, you still end up with queens who have no idea who they’re going to impersonate or how they’re going to make them funny.
With the Snatch Game in place, the contestants are given the rest of the day to prep their looks and get themselves into character before they head out to play.
As the girls prep, we go around the room and learn who each queen is planning to become for this iconic challenge. Laganja is planning on tackling prominent fashion stylist Rachel Zoe, who became visible to the non-fashion world as a celebrity personality via her Bravo show The Rachel Zoe Project. I personally only know Rachel from her appearances as a guest judge on America’s Next Top Model, where found her to be kind of insufferable. As Zoe is a woman who is armed to the teeth with catchphrases and strong opinions, I don’t think she’s a terrible choice for the Snatch Game, but Laganja seems more focused on nailing Rachel Zoe’s looks and voice.
Bianca is smartly playing to her strengths as she sprays her wig into place to become Judge Judy. Though TV’s most famously no-holds-barred judge is a good match for Ms. Del Rio, she starts to sweat when one of the other queens, the surprisingly funny Joslyn Fox, tells her that Judge Judy is RuPaul’s favorite TV show. RuPaul himself affirms this fact when he comes to visit the workroom, revealing that he makes a point to catch the show every day. Bianca is fully aware that playing a character that RuPaul knows and loves so intimately is a risk, but isn’t letting that risk deter her.
Ru checks in with each of the queens as he visits them at their work stations. Adore is prepping a blonde wig for a turn as Anna Nicole Smith, and reveals to Ru that he’s always identified with her craziness and that she inspired a lot of the Adore Delano character. Her preview of the Anna Nicole voice is hilariously spot on, leaving RuPaul in stitches, and Adore seems to be in a good spot going into this challenge. I’ll admit that at the start of the season, I really did not care for Ms. Delano, who I found annoying and forced, but as she gets her act together more and more on the show, she finds more and more avenues to impress me. I’m not 100% sold on her just yet, but it’s clear she’s being set up as a long term character, so I might as well just shut up and enjoy the ride.
Ben DeLa Creme, who has been a pretty consistent frontrunner so far (and is adorable out of drag, holy cow!), is less confident, as she does not do celebrity impersonations and hasn’t quite figured out the exact angle she’s going to use to bring humor to her choice, Dame Maggie Smith. RuPaul seems unimpressed and suggests that DeLa consider another option, but DeLa’s preview of her second choice, Drag Race Season 5 gif machine/quote maker Alyssa Edwards, gives RuPaul nothing but pause, leaving DeLa in a minor panic as she continues her preparations.
Milk is planning to become Julia Child, who seems like a safe pick given Child’s larger-than-life personality and naturally draggish manner. In spite of this, Milk doesn’t appear to have figured out how he’s going to approach the character, and tells RuPaul that “I’d rather you have low expectations so I can blow you away.” “You’ve succeeded,” Ru snarks in return, clearly not impressed.
Ru makes his way to Gia Gunn, who the editors have been absolutely merciless in mocking this season. Gia has been bucking the “smart Asian” stereotype all season long with her valley girl idiocy. She also seems to be taking the role this season of a character that’s almost always a sure bet–the queen who doesn’t seem to understand that winning Drag Race requires more than being fishy. (For the uninitiated, “fish” is drag lingo for when a queen is extremely beautiful and/or passes as a biological woman.) Gia reveals to RuPaul that she’s planning on doing Selena-Not-Gomez, as in the Tejano music mega-star who was infamously shot dead by a psychotic fan at the prime of her career. This is a clear violation of the “Don’t Fuck Up the Snatch Game” rules, and RuPaul implores her to reconsider, and I agree completely. Gia struggles to be clever as is and doesn’t have the chops to even bring comedy to such an inherently un-funny character. After RuPaul walks off and the minutes to showtime get ever closer, Gia reveals to the other girls that she’s considering switching characters, but isn’t sure to who. Bianca notes that Gia is putting on her makeup, but doesn’t even know who she’s going to be.
All dragged up, the queens take the stage and the show begins. Today’s Snatch Game contestants (and guest judges) are Chelsea Lately writer and presenter Heather McDonald and a personal treat for me, Community’s Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry, a fictionalized version of me. She is also a Drag Race superfan, who excitedly shares with RuPaul that she’s never missed an episode.
There is a lot of good happening in this challenge as RuPaul goes through the introduction for each celebrity/queen. Many of the queens make a great first impression, including Judge Judy/Bianca and Anna Nicole/Adore. Darienne Lake is on point as disgraced former Food Network star Paula Deen, but it’s Joslyn Fox who absolutely has me in stitches, killing her intro as Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s table flipping uber-villain Teresa Giudice. “Well, it was Jew-dice,” Joslyn explains in a dead-on voice when RuPaul can’t pronounce her name, “and then I realized it was jew-dee-chay, but we went all the way back to the old country and it’s actually pronounced… wait, let me see if I can say it… Johnson.”
Courtney Act plays it safe as Fran Drescher, pulling out a very middle of the road performance that is almost a sure-fire “safe” for her this week–not a winner, but certainly not the worst. Trinity K. Bonet has chosen Nicki Minaj, which has me concerned for her, as there seems to be a clear danger of losing the humor if Trinity takes the character too seriously. She misses the first set-up for a joke that Ru gives her, and it seems like once again, we’ve found a challenge that isn’t in Trinity’s wheelhouse.
Gia shows that in the end, she has indeed decided to abandon ship from Selena, opting instead to portray Kim Kardashian. It’s not a bad choice for the challenge, as someone who is famous basically just for being famous could be pretty easy to make fun of, but Gia obviously hasn’t thought it through and is winging it 100%. On top of it all, there’s nothing about her costume or styling that immediately reads as being Kim Kardashian specifically. Switching to a different character may have been the right move, but I don’t think Gia is clever enough to make the character funny.
Throughout, Most of the girls are great. “What did I win?” slurs Anna Nicole/Adore drunkenly after making a match, scoring big chuckles. Bianca in particular stands out as she embodies Judge Judy’s snark and apparent hatred of everyone, making fun of Rachel Zoe/Laganja’s robotic delivery. “Uh, Ru, is this girl over here a robot? Is someone pressing a button?” “BEAUTY FADES!!!” she screams, banging her gavel at Kim/Gia, salvaging a joke that Gia has clearly missed.
DeLa’s Maggie Smith, however, steals every single scene with her intentionally over-antiquated English and her clever comebacks to the other queens. He embodies her fully, nailing the aged voice and British accent, and brings tons of humor by making her Maggie Smith overly stuffy, formal, and out of touch with the times. For a question about Twitter she says she doesn’t understand the question and answers “Songbird,” written with perfect penmanship, and when called on her overly-proper speech retorts that “we originated the English language!” Her funniest joke, however, comes when the prompt is “Chelsea Handler is so wrong, she’s launching a new vodka that’s flavored with ______.” Maggie Smith/DeLa can barely contain her laughter as she suggests it would be “rather amusing if there were libation flavored with… Citrus! Can you imagine such a thing?” Teresa/Joslyn suggests cumin, but intentionally continues to mispronounce it as “come in.” She’s another stand out as far as I’m concerned.
All in all, the Snatch Game is a gas, but given how many girls really turned in solid performances, the weaker queens in the bunch only manage to stick out like sore thumbs. Nicki/Trinity attempts a joke based around a wig change, which is quickly dismissed by Bianca in a confessional, as the wig change gag was already done better in Season 4 by Chad Michaels as Cher. Kim/Gia doesn’t manage to hit a single high point, and Rachel Zoe/Laganja is eerily robotic and static. And pardon the pun, but Chef Child would be disappointed in Milk, whose performance is half-baked, barely registering.
With the Main Challenge over and done, the queens start gussying up for the runway, where tonight’s theme is the “Night of 1000 Ru’s,” challenging each queen to stomp it out in one of RuPaul’s many famous looks. While getting prepared, Bianca shows an unexpected motherly side, offering one of her waist cinchers to Adore, who was criticized in the previous runway for not using one. Adore admits to having some insecurity with her bodies, and DeLa opens up about her own body issues, segwaying into a tear-jerker of a confessional where she recounts her time in high school where she was bullied relentlessly for both her sexuality and her weight, the latter of which she has since shed. She reveals that what made it all the more difficult was the death of his mother at 13, taking away the support system that reassured her that she was good enough. It’s a touching moment and a common device used in reality tv editing that I like to call “secret sharing.” Characters are given a new prominence when they open up to the audience and share something deeply personal. It can be used as either an indicator of success or failure, and given that we’re getting it on the heels of DeLa’s incredible Snatch Game performance, it seems pretty clear that she’s the winner of the challenge this week.
Out on the runway, the queens take turns doing their best take on RuPaul.
The second Milk hits the runway my jaw drops. If there is one thing the Drag Race judges hate, it’s when a queen does boy-drag. While I understand that the world of drag is complex and leaves a lot of room for a variety of gender expressions, there is an implication that drag=presenting as another gender, and the judges almost always feel cheated out of what they were promised when a contestant dresses up as a male character. This was the last look Milk needed to show.
The queens line up on stage and Ru calls Courtney, Darienne, Joslyn and Trinity as safe and dismisses them backstage. This puts Bianca, Adore, and DeLa in the top 3, and Gia, Laganja, and Milk in the bottom 3. It’s not a surprising result, and while I personally loved Joslyn’s performance and would have loved to see her break into the top, the competition this week was super tough and the judge’s top 3 are certainly hard to argue with. Michelle tells Bianca she’s been waiting for someone to do Judge Judy and is glad Bianca did justice to the character, while Gillian applauds her interactivity with the other queens. Michelle feels that Adore dropped the ball with the look and that it doesn’t read as RuPaul, but is thrilled that she took he advice given to her by cinching her waist. Her performance as Anna Nicole is also praised. DeLa’s Maggie Smith is also heaped with praise, with Gillian admitting that she was repeating DeLa’s jokes all day.
For the bottom queens, the news is less good. Gia didn’t impress with her flat choice as Kim Kardashian, and when RuPaul asks why she switched from her original choice of Selena, Gia says that it’s because she realized Selena wasn’t a good comedy character. Ru is shocked that it took her until she was in the workroom to come to that realization. As is everyone watching at home. “At lot could have been forgiven if you were funny, but you were not funny,” says Mother Ru. Michelle thinks that Laganja’s Rachel Zoe was “Chicken lady from Kids in the Hall” and Gillian wants to know why she didn’t use a catchphrase cheat-sheet–Laganja says that she did use one. Ouch. She admits that she got into her own head, and that when the other queens began picking up the caliber, she let herself fall back. Of Milk’s look, Michelle says she is partially offended by it, but partially finds it genius, because it is RuPaul, after all. When Milk says that she wanted to do something “shocking,” Santino pipes up that Milk’s look didn’t shock at all–what would have really been a surprise would have been for Milk to come out with high glamor and blown them away. Though I’m not always crazy about Mr. Rice’s critiques, I agree with him here–this was a misstep for Milk, as it just came off like another gimmick as opposed to something thoughtful or unexpected. Milk says that she wanted to stay true to her style of drag, which isn’t glamor. She admits that she’s worried if she tried to put a beautiful look, she’d stand out for the wrong reasons. RuPaul tells her that it’s hard for people to really fall in love with someone who is afraid to show vulnerability. Ding ding ding! Milk is a queen who I’ve wanted to really get behind, but it really has felt like her wackiness is a safety net as opposed to a drag perspective.
The girls are sent off so the judges can decide who wins and who is going to Lip Sync. Bianca’s Judge Judy gets top marks, but her runway look wasn’t the favorite. Michelle says that Laganja was more William Shatner than Rachel Zoe, and Gillian thinks it’s clear that she let her nerves get the better of her. Adore’s Anna Nicole was undeniably spot on and fun to watch, but the judges weren’t crazy about the runway look and Heather says that when she realized how similar Adore’s normal personality is to the one she exhibited in her character, it made the performance less impressive. Both guest judges agree that DeLa was superior in both her Snatch Game performance and runway look, but Michelle feels like she’s seen “old lady” out of DeLa and wants something different. (They’ll find anything to pick apart, won’t they?) Gia’s runway look is torn to shreds, with Santino comparing it to a store-bought Halloween costume out of a bag and Michelle thinking her makeup made her look like “a crack ho.” Michelle also criticizes Gia’s choice in Snatch Game character, but RuPaul and Gillian disagree, thinking that the character could have been funny if Gia had played it up and made it funny. Milk’s Julia Child in no way redeemed her poor runway choice. Gillian says she understands Milk’s conflict about wanting to stay true to her drag, but then says that in her experience as a superfan in the audience, whenever a queen says that they’re staying true to their drag, they’re gone shortly thereafter. Ouch.
The girls come back on-stage for final verdicts. DeLa is the winner (shocker!) which makes her the first queen to win two challenge and makes Adore and Bianca safe. The last queen to be spared is Milk, which I’ll admit I’m a little surprised by, and it’s down to Gia Gunn vs. Laganja Estranja in a Lip Sync to Head to Toe by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. Laganja brings high energy and death drops, while Gia claims that she’s “vouging and giving face” but it really just feels like she’s standing there. Courtney tries to politely compliment Gia by calling it her “controlled style of drag.” Gia goes for a costume reveal but butchers it by taking too long to get out of her dress. By the end of the song, Laganja has earned her keep for sure. Chantay, she stays. Gia Gunn sashays away, but not before calling out to the other queens to tell them “You’re still all dudes!” She bitches and moans about being outlasted by girls who aren’t as pretty as her before leaving the work room for good.
All in all, it was another solid episode for this season that once again highlighted the extreme level of talent in the cast. In previous seasons we’ve seen Snatch Games that were mostly duds with a few bright spots, so this is a welcome change. While I would have liked to see Joslyn in the top, and think Milk probably should have been in the bottom, I agreed with the overall outcome of DeLa winning and Gia leaving. As amusing as it was to see the editors poke fun at Gia’s lack of intellect, it was a gag that was threatening to run out of steam quickly–much as Gia’s general lack of depth meant she was quickly running out of things to show us.