Is This the Greatest Reality Competition Winner of All Time?

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Thoughtful picture of the hosts, so the thumbnail doesn’t spoil anyone.

I’ve been home sick all week with what I hope is not the coronavirus (fingers crossed!) so I was able to binge watch all of Netflix’s Next in Fashion.

The show is serviceable enough, a shameless rip off of Project Runway that improves on some elements of the hit Bravo show (namely, its diverse, international cast) and comes up short on others (teams? Really, people? Did we learn nothing from Drag Race’s All Stars 1?).

But there is one thing you can never take away from Season 1 of Next in Fashion: It has single the greatest winner in the history of Reality TV.

No, I’m serious. A fiction writer, conjuring a kind of Bridget-Jones-esque, “you go, girl” underdog could not have created a more lovable and compelling character than Minju Kim.

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Nonthreatening!

When we first meet Minju, who is South Korean, there is zero indication she’s going to take the crown. She’s partnered with her friend, the puckish Chinese designer Angel Chen. The two women are very close, but Minju seems like a sidekick, a big sister to Angel or maybe even (god forbid) an auntie figure. Where Angel is young, glamorous, and impossibly cool—in her oversized kelly green puffer coat and with her punky hair, she resembles no less than a young, Asian Bjork—Minju’s appearance can charitably be described as librarian chic. She wears artful cat-eyed glasses and apron-style frocks and shabby sneakers. It’s hard to figure out her age. Is she 30? 40? Her hair sometimes seems greasy.

She is established, right away, as the more technical of the two designers. The idea is that while Angel dreams big and bold, Minju has the sewing skills to carry the looks off. This seems like the kiss of death.

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 I could never pull off that hair

Also, Minju’s personality doesn’t exactly scream winner: She’s self-deprecating and shy and girlishly giggly. She expresses a lot of insecurity and doubt. She defers, almost always, to her partner. She talks a lot about her cats.

But then something unexpected happens: Angel and Minju make it to the final eight, at which point, the teams are separated.

Now Minju is on her own. It seems evident that Angel will make it to the finals and Minju, the technician who is not a visionary, will soon go home.

In fact, that’s not what happens. They both advance in the next round and Minju display stunning creativity on her own. And in the round after that, Angel is the one sent packing, as Minju advances against London designer Daniel Fletcher into the two-person finale.

I want to be clear about this part. If this were, in fact, a rom-com style work of fiction, Daniel Fletcher would be a lot less appealing than he is in real life. I mean, he has ALL the elements of a villain: handsome, privileged, preppie. But dude is just so darn nice. I mean, seriously, Daniel is just the sweetest sweetheart who ever sweethearted, always looking out for his fellow designers and generally acquitting himself with humility and grace. So yeah, the movie version of this season is going to have to take some creative license with his character—if not quite turning him into a full on villain, at least making him a bit more of a wag.

That being said, as a menswear designer with an established label, Daniel does have a built in advantage in the finals. A lot of his patterns have already been designed and it seems that while Minju is still conjuring concepts out of thin air for her 10 final dresses, Daniel has already rattled off four completed looks.

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Damn Daniel!

All reality shows do this kind of bait and switch, making you think that someone is hopelessly behind or otherwise screwed, until they miraculously pull it off for the finale, and Next in Fashion is no exception. Minju frets and sweats and panics until the actual runway, at which point, she sends out a remarkable collection. (Can’t really fault the show for that. It’s baked into the mix.)

But then they throw in another element to add to Minju’s underdog mystique. We meet her family, including her sister, who is her business partner on the label they run together. Turns out, Minju’s sister is, quite literally, the boss of her and constantly tells her kid sister to dial down her creativity to keep their clothing more wearable and saleable. There’s an astonishing moment when, as Minju’s Frida Kahlo inspired collection—all bold colors and artful patterns and fascinatingly inventive silhouettes—stomps down the runway, Minja’s sister bursts into tears. Not just because she’s proud of her sister (although she certainly is that) but because she realizes that she’s been HOLDING HER BACK. Basically, Minju is like this creative little caterpillar who has been constricted—by society, by self-doubt, by her own sister (and no doubt by gender expectations in Korean culture that I am unfamiliar with)—who finally gets to blossom into her fullest, most beautiful butterfly self.

When she wins—I mean, of course she wins!—there isn’t a dry eye in my (or anyone else’s) house. Brava, Minju! Best. Reality. Competition. Winner. Ever.

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I can’t even with the cuteness

 

 

Go Team? Thoughts on Netflix’s Cheer

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Courtesy of Netflix

Cheering can be lethal.

That’s not a sentence I would’ve uttered before watching Netflix’s riveting docuseries Cheer, but there you have it.

I’d seen this level of competitive cheerleading before—the kind that involves throwing girls high in the air and “basket catching” them, often while in a human pyramid formation—and I thought, “Wow. That can’t be as dangerous as it looks.” Wrong. It actually is that dangerous. People get injured all the time. Concussions, contusions, dislocations, and fractures are routine. It’s just a matter of time before someone actually dies. (Edited to add: It’s already happened.)

That’s the most insane thing about this series. There’s not an episode where someone (or multiple someones) doesn’t come crashing to the ground with a terrifying thud (those mats on hardwood floor don’t provide much cushion) and we wait, our hearts in our mouths, to find out if they’re okay. Notably, the kids themselves don’t always know if they’re okay. Every fall is followed by moans and tears of pain and dread and fear. Essentially, these kids are put through hell.

Cheer follows the Navarro (Texas) Cheerleading squad as they head to the national championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. The team has won numerous times before, including last year. Anything but first place would be considered a failure, upping the already enormous pressure.

Guiding the team to victory year after year is steely head coach Monica Aldama, a truly compelling figure who is the series’ secret weapon.

Monica looks nothing like what one might expect a cheerleading coach to look like: She resembles no gym teacher I’ve ever seen and she doesn’t even give off a perky, compact, former-gymnast vibe. Instead, she is tall and lithe and glamorous, with silk blouses, fashionably wide-leg pants, and perfectly highlighted hair. She looks a bit like Jennifer Aniston crossed with Nancy Lee Grahn from General Hospital (Google her). She seems, in some ways, like she’d be more at home at a Wall Street conference table than a sweaty gym, not surprising because she also possesses an MBA.

She’s a tough love kind of coach—having her kids do pushups when they drop someone, for example; never indulging their tears—but we’ve seen that sort of thing before. What makes her so fascinating is the almost queenly way she presides over the high-stakes practices—her face nearly inscrutable as one kid after another thwacks to the floor. By the end of the series, I really did come to believe that she cared about her kids in her own way (I was on the fence for a while), but what she cares about most deeply, even obsessively, is winning. So every time someone falls you can see her brain beginning to calculate the fallout: How bad is the injury? Will the kid need to be replaced? If so, who will replace them? Will she be able to whip the new person into shape? She is, essentially, moving pieces around a particularly perilous chess board.

And yet, her charges absolutely adore her. One girl says she’d take a bullet for her. A boy says she’s everything he wants to be when he grows up.

Cheer, of course, allows us to get to know these kids—all of them, to an extent, as well as Monica’s loyal right hand man, a former cheerleader himself (whose devotion to his boss made me think of no less than Gary on Veep).

But it focuses primarily on five kids.

There’s Gabi, the most famous cheerleader, an Instagram influencer whose parents are dangerously invested in her cheering career and social media success.

Then there’s Morgan, a stoic and determined girl who pushes through fractured ribs to please her coach.

There’s LaDarius, a gifted athlete (the kid can tumble for days) who is also a childhood trauma survivor. Quick to anger, he channels all of his pain into his sport.

There’s Lexi, who has been in and out of trouble all her life, who found structure and a surrogate family on the cheer squad.

And best of all, there’s Jerry, a big-hearted sweetie pie who manages to spread positivity wherever he goes (he’s the kind of person about whom millennials say is “too pure for this world.”) One of the series’ biggest mysteries is whether or not he’ll make “mat” or be a backup at Daytona. (You’ll root for him hard.)

Interestingly, many of these kids are survivors of trauma—family death, abandonment, sexual assault. Two of these kids—as well as the team’s student-coach—admit to having felt suicidal at times. I’m not quite sure why so many troubled kids are drawn to the Navarro team—is it because they specifically crave the discipline and certainty of Monica’s methods? Or is this statistically true across cheerleading?

Frankly, as a non athlete, it’s hard for me to really understand the appeal of the sport at all. These kids mostly seem miserable at practice—crying, self-flagellating, getting hurt. On top of the pressures of the sport and various pressures at school and home, they also have to deal with the dark side of social media. (When Lexi’s nudes are anonymously exposed on Instagram, Monica personally takes her to the police to report the incident, one of the coach’s finer moments.) It’s a lot.

And yet, they love it. It guess it comes down to that agony and ecstasy thing. Cheerleading, like all sports, contains the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. After watching the show, directed with incredible intelligence, restraint, and empathy by Greg Whiteley, I’m still not sure if I think cheerleading should be a thing. At the very least, there should be a national conversation about the dangers of cheerleading, in the same way that there’s been a conversation about football. But man, these kids sure can fly.

You’re Watching Reality TV Wrong

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All fans of reality TV competitions tend to make the same two mistakes. (If your immediate response to this is, “Is watching reality TV competitions one of them?”—good one! Also, you’ve had your fun, now leave.)

Alright, where was I? The two mistakes. To be clear, I am not excluding myself from these mistakes. I have made these mistakes in the past. I will probably make these mistakes again in the future. I simply want to pass along what I’ve learned.

The first reality TV mistake is ROOTING FOR YOUR FAVORITE. Wait, what? That’s crazy talk.

Hear me out. Of course, it’s natural to want your favorite to win. You want them to take down all comers, reach the top of the reality TV mountain, get bathed in a victorious sea of confetti. But here’s the rub: With a few notable exceptions, reality TV winners tend to disappear from our TV screens. This is particularly true of the winners of, say, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette series, at least some of whom do annoying things like “get married” and “have children” and “live happily ever after.” As for the losers? Well, after the tears, the regrets, the self-recriminations—the possibilities are endless. They can show up on Bachelor in Paradise! They can appear as a contestant again! They can become The Bachelor or The Bachelorette! (If their name is Nick Viall, they can do all three!) And this is also true on Drag Race (my favorite show), where the winners simply, well, win, whereas the losers—if they are good enough at drag and popular enough—get to come back on All-Stars. One of my favorite queens, Manila Luzon, appeared on Season 3, then All-Stars 1, and then All-Stars 4! She lost all three times! Huzzah! If I like seeing Manila Luzon on my TV screen—and I do! I really do!—why on earth would I want to her to win? (It’s true, I had an absolute cow when Manila was unfairly voted off of All-Stars 4. Sometimes I forget my own rules. I am but a mere mortal—and Naomi Smalls did her dirty.)

The other mistake reality TV competition fans make? WANTING THE VILLAIN TO GO HOME. Villains make for prime entertainment. They annoy viewers, they antagonize fellow contestants, they cause a ruckus. Ruckuses are the best! Have you ever noticed that once reality TV villains get voted off, the shows become less good? The perfect example is the current reality TV boogeyman, Luke P, of The Bachelorette. Luke P is, objectively, the worst. He decided right out of the gate—way too soon—that he was not only in love with Hannah but that he was the clear frontrunner, and he’s been stunned, hurt, and baffled (he’s easily baffled) every time Hannah doesn’t treat him like the king he believes himself to be. He’s downright troglodyte in his opinions about women and sex—he thinks women’s bodies are temples and that they should save themselves for marriage (but he, Luke P, has had sex many, many times, thank you very much). And he’s constantly gaslighting Hannah, insisting he didn’t say the all horrible things he actually said when she calls him out. The WORST. But! Luke also causes confrontations and fights at the cocktail parties, and drives Hannah to (telegenic) tears. Thanks to Luke, the studly Tyler C looks that much better (he called Luke out on his slut shaming) and the otherwise sorta dull Garrett delivered the best line of the season: “Sweet dreams, Luke.” (This was said with a shit-eating grin after Luke begged Garrett not to share certain details of his toxic behavior with Hannah.)

And yet, week after week, people on Twitter get enraged when Hannah saves Luke. Don’t they realize that Luke has MADE this season? Luke is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time Hannah pins a rose on his steroid-enhanced chest, it guarantees another week of beautiful chaos.

In closing, of course, there is something in human nature that compels us to root for our favorite and against the villain. Resist! Go against your instincts! You’ll be a hell of a lot more entertained because of it.

They Earned Everything! Rating the Queens of Drag Race Season 11

2700-1Was this a great season of Drag Race? Maybe not quite in terms of talent, especially when we’re talking runway, but I did find the season pretty damn entertaining. There were lots of big personalities, and while the fights were plentiful, the cast seemed to genuinely enjoy each other as well. The Reading is Fundamental challenge was a perfect case in point. The reads? Terrible (and oddly Seussian). The silliness and merriment that permeated the challenge? Positively infectious. What’s more, every queen brought something to the table, even the so-called filler queens. With that, I thought I’d grade the performances of the dolls, in a few different categories.

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Soju

Performance: Soju was something we’re going to be seeing more and more in the coming seasons of the show: a Drag Race superfan turned contestant. So far, I’m afraid we’re 0 for 1. Her martial arts inspired entrance look promised something interesting—cultural references mixed with androgynous drag—that she never got a chance to deliver. Her first runway outfit was a hot mess (and her evoking the great Kim Chi as an influence was downright sacrilegious) and she was nunchukked before we even got to know her.
Grade: D

Entertainment value: When Soju confessed on stage that she had a leaking cyst (#$%!), did she know what she was doing? Was she an evil genius intentionally creating a meme, or was it just nervous rambling? Whatever the case, it worked, and the “cysters” joke oozed throughout the season.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: Confessing to an anal cyst
Highpoint: Oddly, confessing to an anal cyst

Kahanna

 

Kahanna Montrese

Performance: Sometimes a queen just needs a little more time in the oven, and that was clearly the case with Kahanna. I almost feel sorry for her; maybe the Kahanna of five years from now would absolutely slay (with Coco Montrese as a drag mother, I’d all but count on it). As it is, does anyone remember a single thing she did on the show?
Grade: D-

Entertainment value: In a cast filled with out-of-drag hotties, Kahanna was arguably the hottest of them all. Hey, trade of the season is nothing to sneeze at.
Grade: C

Lowpoint: Attempting to start a fight with Mercedes at the reunion. Not cute, girl.
Highpoint: It actually came after the show: her spirited and funny music video, “Scores!,” with Manila Luzon, Sharon Needles, Trinity Tuck, and others. Kahanna must be doing something right to get all those A-listers to her shoot.

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Honey Davenport

Performance: In a word, disappointing. Honey has a reputation for being a pro’s pro and a great queen in NY, but she never really showed what she was made of on drag’s biggest stage. She clearly got in her own head, put too much pressure on herself, and paid the price. (Indeed, if there’s one queen I’d like to see get a second chance from this season, it’s Honey.)
Grade: D

Entertainment value: By the time she came back for the makeover episode, she had acquired a (sexy) beard and more confidence. Even in the reunion, she seemed more playful and relaxed. Maybe the power is in her beard? Hey, get it, girl. Bearded queens are hot.
Grade: C-

Lowpoint: Hers was the saddest elimination of the season, both because of the cruelty of it (she was the only girl to go home in that trainwreck of a group lip sync) and the way she broke down backstage. Drag Race can be a cruel, cruel mistress. (True confession: I actually loved Honey’s all-black “fringe” look.)
Highpoint: The power of the beard.

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Mercedes Iman Diamond

Performance: The show’s first ever Muslim queen brought the lewks but seemed shy and out of her element throughout her brief run. Still, it was wonderful that by her last episode she felt comfortable enough with her sisters to open up about the struggles of being a Muslim queen (beyond the fears of coming out to her friends and family, she was on Do Not Fly list ffs!). Mercedes seems like an absolute sweetheart and she’s gorgeous, to boot. That being said, not quite sure Drag Race is the right venue for her.
Grade: C-

Entertainment value: If you make it on Drag Race and don’t create a meme, did you ever even exist? “Op-a-lence! You earn everything!” is not just a cute and funny meme, it’s poignant. Yes, Mercedes, who no doubt had to work harder than anyone for her slot on the show (and drove herself so hard on the road she literally almost died), did EARN everything.
Grade: C-

Lowpoint: Screwing up the Britney “spears” joke in the evangelical skit. You had ONE JOB.
Highpoint: “We didn’t have Rachel Maddow where I grew up. We had goats.”

 

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Ariel Versace:

Performance: Despite her relatively short stay, the human Bratz Doll made quite an impression. Her Sandy in Trump: The Rusical was spot-on, and particularly impressive considering that she nearly had a psychic break during the rehearsal. Her duet with Silky in the “Diva Worship” was another high point, proving that the two rivals could come together when it counted. But her Monster Ball performance was downright disastrous, an indication that she couldn’t move away from her candy-coated Instagram persona. I mean, who the hell is scared of a mermaid?
Grade: C+

Entertainment value: Wig Gate was the lamest controversy of this (or any?) season, but she’s only marginally responsible for it (after all, it mostly happened after she’d packed her bags). For the most part, I really enjoyed Ariel’s twink meets Jersey Housewife realness. She accused Silky of being annoying (fair!) but then had the integrity to own up to it. Plus, she was always good for a “Oh god whatever”-style eyeroll or a snarky one-liner. Our very own Mean Girl Greek chorus.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: She’d probably say falling in the lip sync (which the show milked like it was the Zapruder film). I’d still say that damn mermaid outfit. Seriously, what was she thinking? (Bonus lowpoint: Trying to make “n’yessss” happen. In a word, “n’nooo.”)
Highpoint: Trump the Rusical. She was a deer frozen in the headlights in rehearsal and really came through in the performance when it counted.

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Scarlet Envy:

Performance: I’m still baffled by her entrance look. Like, seriously, somebody explain it me. That being said, after walking in like a hot guy who’d been put in drag against his will (complete with inartfully drawn on boob contour), this gorgeous queen ended up turning out some super glamorous, old-Hollywood looks and nailing the acting challenges (and not for nothing, she should’ve won the Monster Ball IMO).
Grade: B-

Entertainment value: Yes, Scarlett was feeling her oats a little too hard at times (apparently turning off her fellow contestants in the process), but so what? It’s drag. Modesty is not one of the requirements. I for one enjoyed watching her swan around the workroom like a lower borough Gloria Swanson.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: Losing that lip sync to Ra’jah. I honestly thought she pulled out enough stunts to stick around.
Highpoint: Winning the “Good God Girl, Get Out!” acting challenge after being picked last. The power of that.

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Ra’jah O’Hara

Performance: Ra’jah took some big swings this season—and frankly missed more often than she made contact. But still, I appreciate a girl who makes a pair of burlap SLACKS for a Farm to Runway challenge. In a season without a whole lot of good lip syncers in the bottom half, her (let’s face it) slightly above average lip syncing prowess scored her three unlikely wins.
Grade: B-

Entertainment value: It’s hard to fathom how boring the first half of the season might’ve been without Ra’jah, who clashed with pretty much everyone (especially Yvie). And while she served lots of classic one liners “an ugly girl can never come for a pretty girl” and (my personal favorite) “bootyhole!” all while perched behind a series of ridiculously enormous pairs of glasses, my heart kind of broke for her, too. It was clear that Ra’jah was constantly succumbing to that inner saboteur, as Ru says. She was quick to escalate, lashed out when she got hurt, and blamed others for her own misfortune. But damned if she didn’t do it entertainingly.
Grade: A-

Lowpoint: Telling choreographer Yanis Marshall that she was a trained dancer, falling flat on her face, and somehow blaming HIM for this turn of events. (See, also, blaming Scarlett for her own poor performance in the Drag Olympics.)
Highpoint: Staying just long enough to likely earn a slot in a future All Stars. I mean, how can Ru resist?

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Plastique Tiara:

Performance: About to state my unpopular opinion: I’m not super keen on Plastique’s drag. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful. The whole damn system is beautiful. But I’m just not inspired by it. It lacks a certain creativity. What’s more, is it really that much of a challenge to go from a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old boy to a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old woman? That being said, other drag queens seem to really admire her, so what the hell do I know?
Grade: B

Entertainment value: I have a feeling that Plastique is actually kind of quick and funny IRL, but on the show she was a bit of a wet noodle. Unlike Soju’s cyst, her personality didn’t pop (sorry), although she did always come across as a good kid. As for the whole “Did Plastique Repeatedly Lie??” drama, let’s take it one accusation at a time:
•Yes, she really DID think Ariel left those wigs for her.
•No, her boyfriend didn’t say that her parents accepted her drag (he merely said he HOPED they would be more accepting after the show).
•And yes, I can believe that there wasn’t much talk of Mariah Carey in a strict Vietnamese household.
My verdict: Plastique Tiara, you are NOT a liar. (But also not the most entertaining thing going.)
Grade: C+

Lowpoint: Probably licking the pavement during her cat fight with Vanjie. Ick.
Highpoint: Literally all of episode 7, which was practically a Plastique Tiara bottle episode. Her drag mama Alyssa Edwards showed up. Her boyfriend left her a message in Untucked. And she won the mother-tucking maxi challenge. No wonder Raj’ah was so jealous of her that week. (Also, mad points to Plastique for handling Raj’ah’s attack so well, which she inherently understood was not really about her. The kid is mature beyond her years.)

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Shuga Cain

Performance: Shuga brought polish, professionalism, and smarts to literally every runway and challenge
Grade: B+

Entertainment value: So it turns out that polish, professionalism, and smarts are a little…dull? Look, it’s hard to not like the terminally sunny Shuga, who had an actual heart contoured on the tip of her nose and who always just seemed so damn happy to BE THERE—but she didn’t exactly  bring the thunder. Probably the most controversial thing about Shuga was how Drag 101 her vocabulary was. With all her “Yes mawmas” and “I lives!” it seemed as if she had studied drag culture from another planet and landed on earth to show off her homework. One bummer for Shuga: On any other season—namely one that didn’t feature one Nina West—she’d be a veritable lock for Miss Congeniality.
Grade: C+

Lowpoint: Getting kicked off basically for not bringing the entertainment.
Highpoint: Getting kicked off for not bringing the entertainment. Work with me here: The fans went freaking nuts when Shuga got kicked off. And with good reason. The riggery was in full effect. She delivered the third best performance in the Dragracadabra challenge (after Nina and Brooke) and clearly didn’t deserve to be anywhere near the bottom. (Weirdly, the show even allowed her to flatly state that fact.) But if you must get kicked off a show (in a highly respectable 7th place), all you can hope for is that the fans cry foul and rally behind you. Might the Shuga Was Robbed Train rumble all the way to the All Star Station?

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Nina West

Performance: Nina had a great arc. She came to the show with tons of pressure—she auditioned something like 9 times (!) and is a well-respected queen, philanthropist, and drag impresario in Ohio—and it took a little time for her to find her footing. At first it seemed like she might have something akin to the Miz Cracker arc—that is, a queen we’ve heard is VERY funny off the show but doesn’t fully deliver on it—but she broke through with a wonderful Snatch Game, and then truly triumphed in the Dragracadabra! episode, where she was able to showcase the full range of her skills. Drag wise, she was a mixed bag, serving camp but not much glamour. But her Leigh Bowery-inspired facekini was a real show-stopper. Also, mad credit to her for taking Michelle Visage’s critiques and actually improving her silhouette. We stan a self-improving queen.,
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Friendly, smart, kind, and wise, Nina West seems like someone you’d definitely want as your best friend. Did that translate to her being the most compelling TV contestant? Well, as a queen once said, “This is not Ru Paul’s Best Friend Race.” She had a few standout moments of drama—including her multiple doubletakes after discovering that “Brooke and Vanjie are kissing in Untucked!” (somehow, the fact that she referred to the show by its proper will never not slay me) and her (mild) spat with Brooke after the Canadian ballerina bulldozed her way into a juicier part in the LADP! Episode. Mostly though, she was someone it was easy to root for and like. Hey, a little wholesome entertainment never hurt anyone.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: That final lip sync. Oof.
Highpoint: Rihanna has slid into her DMs. Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez is a stan. Nina’s whole run was a highpoint.

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Vanessa Vanjie Mateo

Performance: Okay, author bias alert: Miss Vanjie is my absolute fave of the season, and I could write actual sonnets about her, so excuse my favoritism. But my girl really slayed, didn’t she? Arguably, Vanjie had more pressure on her than anyone else: Imagine losing on the first episode, creating an international phenomenon with your “sashay away,” being invited back, and then…sucking? Instead, Vanjie rose to the occasion again and again, proving that she was MUCH more than a backwards-walking meme. Drag-wise, Vanjie serves sexy R&B diva realness, which is perfect for her body and her persona. (Not everything needs to be haute couture, folks.) Yes, there was a bit too much red—and okay, way too many swimsuits—but you can’t deny that the doll looked fierce. Her Libra costume was one of the best looks of the season. And her lip sync to “No More Drama” was powerful and unforgettable because of the raw, real emotion behind it. In skits, she was best when she was just able to improv and be herself (“I thanked myself!”), although she stumbled a bit when her projects required, well, structure. It still really gets my goat that she didn’t win for her flawless makeover of Ariel Versace. Hello, 911? I’d like to report a robbery.
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Jinkx Monsoon called her the DMX of drag. I call her the world’s sexiest muppet. Whatever you call her, literally everything that comes out of her mouth is comedy gold. It’s no wonder she was the season’s unofficial narrator. I’ve already entered two “Vanjie-isms” into my regular lexicon: “Pressed like a panini” and “You’ve got to pick a struggle. You can’t struggle at everything.” I’m also pretty sure her line from the reunion, re: Brooke—“I wanted The Notebook experience. He gave me a Post-It”—is being stitched onto a pillow as we speak. During the course of the season, Vanjie forged a special bond with her Dream Girls A’Keria and Silky, but she seemed to get along with everyone. (When she had a fight with Yvie in Untucked, she sincerely and maturely apologized to her the next day. Don’t sleep on the fact that Vanjie’s real power is in her sweetness.)
Grade: A+

Bonus category: Let’s Talk About Branjie: My theory as to why people became obsessed? Not just because this was the first ever Drag Race romance, or even because both “Brock” and “Jose” are total dishes in real life, but because it played out like an actual rom-com. You’ve got Vanjie, the scrappy, loud, highly emotional girl from the streets dating Brooke, the classy, reserved, elegant lady of the manor. I could write that rom-com. (Hell, I’ve seen that rom-com.) It’s a shame it didn’t work out between those crazy kids—and bless Vanjie for wearing her heart on her sleeve, it only makes her fans feel closer to her—but it was amazing to have a front row seat to their brief (but very real!) love affair.
Grade: ❤️❤️❤️❤️

Lowpoint: Her LADP alley-cat was a veritable litter box of all her worst tendencies: chaotic, messy, and nearly nonsensical.
Highpoint: Her second sashay! All eyes were on Vanjie when she was eliminated in the next to last episode and she didn’t disappoint. I guarantee she hadn’t planned that routine, a master class in escalating comic stakes, it just kind of happened. Have you ever seen Ru laugh so hard?

silky

Silky Nutmeg Ganache

Performance: Silky  takes up a lot of space—in every sense of the word. She’s loud, she’s brash, and a lot her humor comes from her physicality—jiggling her titties, brazenly taking off her clothing, and flopping around on the ground. (Hey, if it worked for Chris Farley.) Yeah, okay, she can be annoying too, but I’d argue she’s more funny than annoying. Her drag is, well, nothing special. She can beat that beautiful mug and, uh, she wears a lot of gowns. I was never inspired. In challenges, she’s a natural improviser, a bit better at honing her personality into controlled performance than her pal Vanjie, but I think she got a pass way too many times in the competition because simply because she cracks Ru’s shit up.
Grade: B+

Entertainment value: Silky is entertaining! I repeat, Silky is entertaining! She particularly slayed the mini challenges, where she was able to channel her manic silliness into bite-sized performances. That being said, she’s not the most self-aware queen out there. After clashing with Yvie all season, she finally “forgave” Yvie for committing the sin of…occasionally criticizing her? Girl, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Grade: B+

Lowpoint: When it came time to lip sync for her mother fucking life, she definitely WASN’T ready.|
Highpoint:
Her Oprah impression can pay her mortgage—and probably yours and mine, too.

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A’Keria Chanel Davenport

Performance: While only 30, A’Keria kind of felt like the matriarch of the season, presiding over her children with a mixture of protective concern and head-shaking disappointment. With a wit as dry as a good sauvignon blanc, and a finely honed deadpan to the camera, she was sneakily one of the season’s best narrators. Drag wise, she serves unclockable pageant excellence—that mug! that (popular) wig! those gowns!—all the more impressive when you realize that she made most of her own garments. The twerking queen also proved she could deliver comedy, scoring an upset win in the LADP! challenge. Her ass alone deserves monuments.
Grade: A

Entertainment value: Anyone else as low-key annoyed as I am that they only bothered to mention that A’Keria was raising her nephew on the next-to-last episode? I felt like that added a lot of dimension to her personality. Still, it wasn’t really a surprise. A’Keria strikes me as a natural-born leader, one of these sensible, competent people whose friends and family lean on a lot. Her personality isn’t huge, but her sly sense of humor and ironic take on the competition were welcome company throughout.
Grade: A-

Lowlight: Stirring the pot between Ra’jah and Plastique and then not owning up to it.
Highlight: Her first runway, with wig upon wig upon wig had Ru gagging and the other queens shaking in their stilettos.

yyvie-oddly-1548366476

Yvie Oddly

Performance: I had a clarifying moment listening to the “What the Tuck” podcast this week, courtesy of guest host Drew Droege: Yvie isn’t really all that odd. I’m sorry, it’s true. At best, she’s Yvie Mildly Oddly. What was the craziest thing she did this season? Drag a car into the workroom? Pretend to be a triceratops? Sport three boobs? She’s kind of the made-for-television version of odd, which I suppose works, what with this being a TV show and all. Competition wise, Yvie came out really strong out of the gate, winning and placing high on multiple challenges. However, after her Snatch Game stumble, she never quite regained her footing…until the Queens Everywhere episode, where she slayed so hard, she reestablished herself as a frontrunner. Always leave them gagging.
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Yvie brought multiple storylines throughout the season. The first was her ongoing clashes with, well, everyone. Yvie was often right in her assessment of the other queens, but her timing was rarely good, and sometimes downright awful. (In particular, she kicked Ra’jah multiple times when she was down.) She managed to insert herself into every argument, even ones that she was tangentially (at best) involved in. At the same time, one thing you have to remember is that Yvie was just 24 when they filmed! It explains a lot. She gives me big “I have a question, but first a comment” grad student energy.
Of course, Yvie’s other storyline centered around her illness, which gave her debilitating bone pain and also, the flexibility of a car dealership blowup doll. It also gave Yvie that touch of vulnerability that made us root for her. As of this writing, she’s the most popular queen among the final four.
Grade: A

Lowlight: Everytime Yvie started a sentence with “Girl, here’s the real tea…,” America crouched in fear.
Highlight: Slaying that final challenge. Greatest comeback since the 2016 Cavaliers.

Also I’ve made a meme:

Absolutely nobody:

Yvie:

s5jbcgbw2sy21

 

Brooke-Lynn-Hytes

Brooke Lynn Hytes

Performance: A clear frontrunner out of the gate, Brooke’s biggest problem might’ve been her complete lack of relatability. I mean, if any of you can relate to this gorgeous, graceful, statuesque, sexy, and polished queen from the North, well…congratulations? That being said, the Snatch Game episode was a turning point for several reasons: It gave her a humanizing Achilles heel (improv) and then a chance to shine on the runway and in that epic lip sync. Suddenly, we were invested in her “comeback,” which she delivered brilliantly in the next episode (and I oop…at Nina West’s expense). On the runway, she turned toot after toot, and got even better once Alyssa Edwards told her to lean into the her ballet technique in her presentation. Her “Queens are Everywhere” verse was (allegedly) a setback. I’m so white I thought it was great?
Grade: A+

Entertainment value: If one was being uncharitable, one could interpret Brooke’s behavior through a completely calculated lens:
•Not quite relatable queen hooks up with the most beloved queen of the season.
•Improv neophyte befriends the best improviser of the cast, soaking up all her knowledge and, at one point, even stealing her thunder.
•Given her choice to pair up queens for a makeover, sneaky queen saddles her rival with the worst partner of the bunch.
I prefer to think that Brooke just has good taste in romantic partners (and BFFs) and played her cards in a smart, but hardly Machiavellian way. Look, somebody had to get Soju!
Anyway, add it all up and Brooke managed to make herself a compelling and central figure in the S11 storyline.
Grade: A

Lowlight: That Celine Dion impression could get her deported.
Highlight: So many to choose from! That sickening wig reveal! That monumental lip sync for her life! Every single time she kissed Vanjie! But I’m going to go with her pillow fort in Untucked. “Why can’t we just bottle up our feelings like normal people?” she moaned, slinking into the couch and sipping on her drink. And all of Canada replied, “Relatable.”

Do the Tethered Have Souls? My take on US

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On Twitter, I wrote this:

Okay so now I’m going to elaborate:

There are basically two ways to interpret the ending of Us. There’s, “Oh shit, Lupita’s Adelaide has been the monster the WHOLE TIME! The family is screwed!”

Or there’s the way I interpret it: Adelaide is exactly as she seems: a loving and devoted mother and wife, the same Adelaide we’ve been rooting for this whole time. Our hero.

Once the tethered Adelaide swapped bodies with the untethered Adelaide she came into the light, and was afforded all the privileges of being in the light: doting parents, language, art, dance, music, love.

Meanwhile, cut off from the natural world, the “real” Adelaide became increasingly feral, rage-filled, dangerous. She essentially became the monster.

A lot of people have complained that the film touches on too many things: immigration, slavery, economic inequality, racism, etc. But those things are all subsets of the same phenomenon: Our ability to “other” people.

To me, bigotry, in all its forms, boils down to one basic thing: dehumanization. If you, consciously or subconsciously, convince yourself that other people are less moral, less devoted to their children, less capable of depth of love or feeling, etc. you can justify their abuse, oppression, or much, much worse.

This is literally how society does monstrous things. It’s how the Holocaust and American slavery works. It’s how Jihad works (in the film Hotel Mumbai, the terrorist mastermind convinces his soldiers that the people they are slaughtering are “soulless infidels”—note the word “soulless.”). It’s how, yes, Trump supporters can live with snatching children from their families at the border.

Just on a strictly logical basis: If the “tethered” don’t have souls, why did above ground Adelaide love her children and husband so fiercely? Why would she do anything to protect them? Was it all a charade? Of course not. (Similarly, the “monster” Adelaide loves her family, too. She just has to risk more to gain access to the above ground world of privilege.)

Viewed this way, the ending of Us is an exquisite irony (and, in its own way, genuinely horrific): We are the monsters. The monsters are us. It’s all just a matter of perspective.