WARNING: IT'S ALL SPOILERS
This was a legendary week on RuPaul's Drag Race, and we're going to need a mediation. If #MaskGate and #JusticeForValentina don't start trending immediately on Twitter, then the preteens who watch RuPaul's Drag Race have abandoned the show and moved on to Riverdale or something. And, oh gosh, the normie straight folk who just started watching RPDR this season are going to be LIVID such a nice femme queen is sent home by a flat-chested member of Gwar.
But I know you're here for the drama, mama, so let's get to it after a quick rundown of tonight's events. (Jump to the image below if you want to get straight to #MaskGate.)
—The queens have to sort themselves into teams and create their own TV pilots.
—Alexis Michelle pulls Peppermint into her team with Trinity. Alexis Michelle is predictably bossy and overconfident.
—Shea and Sasha pair up because, duh. Their pilot is great because, duh.
—Nina and Valentina are forced together. They prepare nothing. Their pilot is like watching underachieving and caffeinated middle schoolers try improv for the first time. As Carson says, "I need a Ritalin smoothie just to watch this."
—The runway category is 'Club Kid Couture.' Trinity continues to confound expectations and crafts a perfect club kid look. Peppermint gives her best look yet by serving Vivacious-serving-Peppermint. Shea hot glues a mask to her face. Sasha serves up an underwhelming clown but everyone's really into it.
—Shea and Sasha's pilot is funny and not just in a drag way. They both win this week's challenge.
—Nina and Valentina both end up in the bottom for their garbage pilot.
NOW THAT WE GOT THAT OUT OF THE WAY... on to #MaskGate. First, a summary:
In an unexpected turn of events, Valentina lands in the bottom two. It's deserved, but based on overall performances and attitudes, the bottom two should arguably be Nina and Alexis Michelle. Since Nina has been in the bottom two before, all Valentina has to do is perform a mediocre lip sync. There's no reason Valentina should go home.
The two perform to "Greedy" by Ariana Grande, and [!!!] Valentina decides to keep her mask on during the lip sync. The judging panel immediately explodes with indignation. Ru stops the lip sync (straighties: this is very rare), saying, "Valentina, this is a lip sync for your life. We need to see your lips. Take that thing off your mouth." Valentina responds that she'd like to keep the mask on, which all but guarantees her departure. Ru, at her fiercest, reiterates, "It's a lip sync. What part of that do you not understand?" High drama. Valentina finally consents, taking off the mask and revealing that she doesn't know the lyrics. Nina, in full Gwar mode, beasts her way to an easy win. Valentina, the long anticipated winner of this season and a fan favorite, goes home.
Well, I guess we know our Miss Congeniality?
(DISCLAIMER: Please, tweens, don't send death threats to Nina and Alexis Michelle because you have a hard-on for Valentina. I know you're barely going through puberty, but act like a grown-up and recognize this is just a TV show. No one will remember these queens once you can get into a bar, anyhow.)
#MaskGate is shocking and, well, damn good TV. But beyond the inevitable social media firestorm that #MaskGate will stir up, it brings up general issues surrounding RPDR as a show and cultural influence. To be clear, Valentina wasn't beloved by all. It's important to understand the justified ire she inspired. Back in this recap, I highlighted a tweet from porn performer* and apparent cultural commentator, Ty Mitchell:
queens resent her because she represents the obsolescence of local drag communities. u can become a superstar out of nowhere.
— ty mitchell (@TyMitchellXXX) April 14, 2017
*His Twitter is NSFW, but his tweets are excellent. The porn is so-so.
Valentina exists because of RuPaul's Drag Race. Like many of the performers on recent seasons, including last year's winner, her character was originally crafted with RPDR as an ultimate goal. But the creation of Valentina goes a step further than previous contestants. Unlike anyone else in the herstory of the show, Valentina isn't connected to a local scene. She even lacks a drag family. While she says Our Lady of Guadalupe is her drag mother, it's RPDR that taught her how to be a queen. To people outside of drag scenes, this might seem like an advantage or a winning characteristic. It's not.
RuPaul's Drag Race has received a lot of flack from its queer fans this season, who see the show's transition to VH1 as straightwashing. But Valentina's elimination is an indication that the show's still true to its roots. Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent are multifaceted characteristics, and drag takes more than a commitment to YouTube makeup tutorials and stoning gowns alone at home. The lip sync is Ru's guillotine, where drag careers are made and destroyed. Valentina, a gorgeous queen with little-to-no live performance experience, immediately crumbled under the pressure of a lip sync challenge. And isn't it beautiful that a beast, with more resemblance to a heavy metal cover band than a traditional drag queen, can change the fate of the show's Queen Bee in a matter of minutes? That, squirrel friends, is why this show is still one of the queerest things on TV.
Irene Dubois recently moved to the Emerald City from Texas, and she's been snatching dollars and gigs since she stepped off the plane. Having just finished her tenure at Cucci's Critter Barn, I gabbed with Dubois about masks, drag, and being a gay kiddo in the Lone Star State.
Irene Dubois: This episode saw some of the queens wearing masks, which is new for the show, but performers have been wearing masks for ages. Wearing masks is an extremely old theatrical tradition, dating back almost as far as Charlie Hides, several thousand years ago.
Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we could take a mask, put it on our body, and become someone else? Imagine being able to become Zac Efron’s girlfriend for a day. Honestly, if I was Mystique from X-Men, I would just use my powers to sleep with famous people. But I’m not, so I have to paint my mask on like a peasant.
ID: One of the coolest parts of drag to me is when one queen paints their face like another queen, and really looks like her! Makeup is just a more fluid, malleable mask. As basic as I feel quoting RuPaul, she’s on to something when she says, “You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” Makeup is what makes me as a drag queen look like a feminine creature. Well, that and about two square feet of couch cushions in my pantyhose.
ID: As a drag queen, I choose to wear the mask of femininity because as a boy growing up in Texas, I was taught from an early age not to be feminine by my peers. So when I put on my mask, I’m essentially saying “shove it” to everyone who told me I “acted gay,” or “sounded like a girl.” Who knew that a few black lines on my eyelids and some grease paint on my lips could be so powerful?
PS: I simplified drag to black lines and grease paint for effect, but that really only works for Arson Nicki."