Are you ready for the "Gayest Ball Ever"? RuPaul's here to give it to you, as long as your idea of the "Gayest Ball Ever" includes unicorns, policemen, and cultural appropriation (more on that later). This week, she makes the final five queens of the season compete in a ball that suspiciously lacks voguing or any meaningful connection to ball culture. The girls are asked to give three looks this week, with "each look more queertastic than the last." Well, ladies, after watching the show, it appears "queertastic" is a codeword for hot mess. So put on your leather chaps, pull out your old Village People cassette tapes, and be prepared for a doozy.
This week, we get a mini challenge. PUPPETS! This is probably our last mini-challenge during season 9, a season that was already light on beloved mini-challenges. The MCs (I don't know if that's an acceptable abbreviation for mini-challenges, but I'm going with it) are silly, tangential, character-building frivolousness, which the show's transition to VH1 has seemingly attempted to gut. This smoothing of the show's rough edges has been met with disdain by "queertastic" fans. After all, MCs give us fun and memorable bits, like Sasha saying, "Horseplay? That's where you have sex with Nina Bo'Nina Brown!" I'd rather have 10 minutes of Sasha shade than 10 minutes of trite mirror confessionals, but maybe that's just me. (Sasha, BTW, wins the MC.)
With the return of MCs, "The Gayest Ball Ever" also seems to return to the show's old format, and by that I mean it's a big, fun mess. There are rhythmic gymnastics, cat fights, tangents about Trinity's phobia of gnats, and, oh yeah, Alexis Michelle perpetuates Native American tropes and tries to sell it as haute couture. But first, before I get into all of that, a collection of some of this episode's most cringeworthy quotes:
"I chose the Native American." —Alexis, as she puts a bow and arrow on her head while smizing.
"I wanna give something that'll feel a little bit tribal, but also ready-to-wear." —Alexis
"Wait. Let me put my earring on." —Alexis, who then puts a dreamcatcher on her ear.
"Your Native American couture... left the judges with reservations." —RuPaul, on Alexis
WAIT BUT LIKE, REALLY!? THESE WERE THINGS REALLY SAID ON RPDR!? Rev up for another controversy where RuPaul says anyone who disagrees with him is an "Orwellian oppressor." RuPaul, we must remember, is a very wealthy baby boomer with plenty of outdated tactics and opinions. For all of his Eckhart Tolle-inspired talk about removing the ego and seeing what's on the other side of the curtain (whatever that really means), Ru is awful about acknowledging systemic problems. For him, it's all about personal accountability and woo-woo mental exercises. Like, for instance, how Ru frequently complains about millennials, often saying millennials' real problems all have to do with laziness and their unwillingness to get jobs. (He ignores the reality that today's kids are saddled with historic levels of debt and placed into job markets with little mobility.) There will inevitably be a backlash that will come out of tonight's episode, and Ru will probably defend himself rather than listen to concerns. I hope it will be the opposite, but Ru's approach to past controversies don't give me much hope.
Here's the thing: They could have done the Village People without doing a Native American look. There are six Village People (sometimes seven, depending on the year). Instead of pulling the Native look, the show could have chosen the freaking G.I.! But part of me thinks the Native American look was chosen on purpose because the editors and producers seem to be aware of how the choice is culturally inappropriate. Before a commercial break, the show teases Alexis Michelle wearing a dreamcatcher as an earring, and then cuts to Peppermint and RuPaul cringing. (During the actual scene, Ru laughs at the dreamcatcher-cum-earring bit.) But while post-production is aware of this issue, the show does nothing to address it.
Admittedly, the Native American couture is a small part of the episode, but it's a big issue. Yeah, there are other looks. The queens do a rhythmic gymnastics number, a "Rainbow-She-Betta-Do" look, and a "Sexy Unicorn" look. (Things that are also, apparently, a part of RuPaul's version of queer history.) But during a time when the DAPL system is leaking hundreds of gallons of oil and the Walker Art Center is under fire for commissioning a white artist to construct genocidal gallows that were used to murder Dakota men (the gallows are now being publicly burned), the production of this episode comes off as completely tone-deaf. "Gayest Ball Ever" is the first episode to happen during Pride month and we have white queens running around as Native Americans and sexy policemen. It's not like, you know, large portions of the queer community are dealing with police brutality and racism. Ugh, this episode!
But, alas, continuing on with the show... Beyond the Native American clusterfuck, the episode is manic, with the queens putting together three separate looks and a ribbon dancing number. Like the mini-challenges, the runways have been cut short this season, so it's great to see the girls deliver more looks.
WINNER WINNER: Once again, Sasha is robbed. Despite delivering some of her best looks all season (that little rainbow house on her head will become iconic), the win goes to Shea, all but announcing Shea as the winner of season 9. (Shea now has 4 main challenge wins.) But Shea's looks also stand out from the group this week, with her all black sexy unicorn and graffitied rainbow dress defying conventional approaches.
BYE BYE: In an NYC queen face-off between Peppermint and Alexis Michelle, it's a no-brainer: Alexis Michelle finally makes her exit. While she's been my least favorite queen this season, she has a certain... determination that could be viewed as inspiring by the right crowd. See ya, girl!
As an alternative to the mess of this week, I wanted to feature up-and-coming local queen, Voodoo Nightshade. She's been doing splashy, bloody numbers throughout the city for a bit, performing a range of things from The Fifth Element soundtrack to a number referencing the DAPL. The latter number, which is posted below, was performed at Cucci's Critter Barn Try Outs last November. "The number comes from my heart," says Voodoo, "and the troubles my family had to go through, even though my tribe is the Tigua tribe in southern Texas."
You can follow Voodoo on Instagram.