Welcome to my recap of the eighth episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 7 – Santa’s School For Girls, an acting challenge that’s part holiday movie, part Mean Girls, part slasher flick.
Of all the many types of challenges on RuPaul’s Drag Race, acting challenges are consistently the lowest quality but with the highest meme-ability. It’s much easier to pay a songwriter to write a song that captures the essence of “He Had It Coming” or “Bye Bye Bye” than it is to hire a screenwriter to write a script that has the vibe of Scream but with the references of Mean Girls.
In earlier seasons, these challenges were about memorizing lines and being ridiculous. As the years have pressed on, Drag Race has begun to treat them as actual challenges of acting that require characterization and melodrama. Yet, they still tend to receive the same lackadaisical direction from Ru, a regular judge, or a sitcom-starring guest judge – all of whom are there more to flummox the queens as they are to create a great final product.
This week’s challenge is different because it is directed by Janicza Bravo. She’s not a household name, but she’s an actual director of movies. I’ll get into the results of that below, but the thing that leapt out at me was that these queens were getting the experience of actually being directed. Bravo’s comments were not just about slamming the punchlines and playing to cameras, but establishing the pace and embodying the characters.
Could the show pull off this same high-calibre direction with the uneven skill levels of queens on a regular season? I would argue that it ought to try. If we view Drag Race less as a reality competition and more as “RuPaul’s Finishing School for Drag Queens,” then the ability to take direction on set from someone with a singular vision is a huge part of what will make these competitors employable after the show.
Drag Race brings in star choreographers for dance challenges, real music producers for their girl groups, and fashion industry figures to judge the queen’s workroom creations. I’d say it’s time to level up their acting challenges an equal amount … even if the scripts still come off like a Mad Lib assembled over the weekend by an intern on a bender.
That’s a lot of build-up of this challenge from me, but did the queens pay it off in their performance? Find out in my full-episode recap, below. Plus, at the end of the recap I’ll update my Episode 7 power rankings to show where the queens stand with just three more challenges of Legendary Legend stars left to earn. (Want to skip right to the power rankings? Go for it!)
Readers, start your engines! And, may the best drag queen… win!
Drag Race All Stars Season 7, Episode 8 – Santa’s School For Girls Recap
Platinum Plunger Aftermath
The queens return to the workroom, with Trinity The Tuck openly celebrating reaching the 2-star threshold and winning her first cash tip of the season.
Meanwhile, Jaida Essence Hall is trying to stay quiet about notching her third star – making her the indisputable front-runner (even if one of those stars was a gift and not a win). However, in the privacy of her interview chair she is giddy with excitement! “Sometimes it pays off to be delusional,” she confesses, taking a page of Jinkx’s book. (“Convince yourself!”)
In Jaida’s continuing rhetorical judo in the workroom, she turns the conversation from her third star to how Trinity (and several other queens) would already have a third star if not for being blocked.
Yvie Oddly stalks into the room and plops down right next to her blocker, Trinity, rather than occupying the ottoman of shame at the end of the couch the way most of the blocked queens have done. Trinity’s pageant training kicks in and she says all the right things in response to Yvie’s question of, “Why’d you block me?”
“Um, rationally it came down to y’all two [indicating Yvie and Jaida]. You both had two stars, neither of y’all had been blocked yet, and then she [indicating Jaida] was in the top. So, it just came down to you.”
Note that Trinity did to Jaida the same thing Viv did to Jinkx after the improv challenge – basically, admitting she might have preferred to block her co-winner! Yet, Viv’s confession was out of competitiveness, which was a bad look. Trinity’s is out of the illusion of fairness: she was looking for a two-star queen who was unblocked.
She also suggests she had considered Jinkx, but that she wasn’t going to re-block someone who had been blocked already (twice!). This is another bit of rhetorical judo. Trinity is trying to convince the room the only person it makes sense to block this week is Jaida while also quietly signaling to Jinkx that she did her a favor that ought to be returned if Jinkx finds herself on top again.
At the same time, Jinkx has to sit there and be mirthful about the potential of catching a third block when she is secretly still seething about her second one!
Finally, Viv, Monét, and Shea share a brief freakout about how the math of the season is closing in on them – they all have one star and need at least two more to solidify a spot in the finale. (Raja, for her part, seems unbothered.)
The strategy is happening, darlings!
“A new day in the workroom!”
It’s a new day in the workroom, and Raja is presenting yet more stunning casual fashion.
I love that this season has turned into as much of a fashion showcase for Raja in the workroom as it has on the runway. That’s exactly as it should be!
The RuMail siren goes off in a flash, and Ru’s message is puzzlingly all about Christmas. The queens look utterly confused. They were shooting this season in the summer, and the recent rhythm of US Drag Race seasons has been for whichever season comes first to debut in January. Why was Ru talking about Christmas in the middle of a season?
All is revealed as RuPaul enters in his most-coherent suit in weeks. It’s a slightly metallic burgundy red suit with an embossed pattern worn over a matte black dress shirt with a wide lapel. This exactly my go-to color palette!
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Ru announces.
“Halloween!” Raja exclaims.
“Well…” Ru continues. Because, Raja’s not wrong. This is a Christmas themed acting challenge – “Santa’s School For Girls” – but it’s “part Christmas movie, part horror film, part Mean Girls,” which makes it perfect for Raja. And, they will be directed by an actual movie director – Janicza Bravo, the writer/director of Zola.
In the moment, Jinkx cannot contain her obvious glee at getting another acting challenge while she is not blocked. But, there’s always a twist: as the winner of the prior week, Trinity will be assigning the roles! The cast list includes are two teachers, three cool/mean girls (ringleader, shopaholic, dumb girl), two mean/weird girls (goth & nerd), and one ingénue.
Trinity immediately zeroes in on the dumb role after she gives it a clueless reading without even realizing she was doing it. The casting is a somewhat smooth process (Raja is the only queen who wants the Goth girl)… except for Jinkx.
Jinkx wants one of the two teacher roles. However, the first one is a weird mix of Joan Crawford and Orange POTUS. It’s the obvious standout and is perfectly crafted for Viv. Trinity, always the paragon of fair play, says she is giving it to Viv since Viv let her pick her Legendary Legend look first the prior week (which lead to her challenge win). The second teacher – a stoned art instructor – would be perfect for Jinkx, but Monét also lays claim to it. (She interviews that she requested the role purely to mess with Jinkx).
After a flim-flam of a fake audition, Trinity hands the art teacher role to her twinner, Monét. That leaves Jinkx with the small part of the shopaholic cool/mean girl.
I think this is a blessing in disguise for Jinkx. Her immediate ambition is to play an old character, but playing against type tends to be rewarded on Drag Race. We’ve already seen that in action once with her vapid little pig in the improv challenge! Plus, she’s Jinkx Monsoon. She doesn’t always need to get the biggest role with the most arch delivery to be successful.
Meanwhile, Viv has never been more excited in this entire season as she is for this “Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford” role. She interviews: “Headmistress with an evil side? I mean… come on! This is the role of a lifetime. I’ve been dreaming of playing this part since I was four years old!” There is an undeniable twinkle in her eyes.
Raja tells Shea that Scrooge the Goth Girl is, “Nancy from The Craft, she’s a little bit Lydia in Beetlejuice... she’s a professional eye-roller” Raja is clearly set up for success where past queens with gothy parts(/kendolls) have failed. People often think being goth means being theatrically depressed or talking… very… slowly. Yet, Nancy was one of the most manic and quick-witted characters in The Craft, and Lydia was the coolest character in Beetlejuice stuck in a sea of normies.
The secret of playing “The Goth Girl” is to play her like she is the coolest person in her own room of one no matter how many people she is surrounded by. Raja knows this feeling intimately.
Trinity stops by Jinkx’s station to apologize for passing over her for both the teacher parts. After all, she has to maintain diplomacy. Jinkx still seems a little bothered, but she attempts to adopt a “there are no small parts, just small actors” attitude about it. She is determined to make every line last as long as possible by dragging each word out with bone-rattling vocal fry. (In interview she seems much more cheerful, but that was likely shot after recording the challenge, so she’s cheerful with the knowledge she did well.)
Shooting Santa’s School For Girls & Runway Day
RuPaul and Janicza Bravo greet the assembled queens (all in holiday garb) from a pair of director’s chairs.
I typically wouldn’t cover a recording session in-depth, since we’ll be watching the end product in a moment. However, this segment merits a nod because Janicza Bravo is genuinely directing these queens!
This is not RuPaul mischievously asking queens to leave more room for farts, as she did in the (actually, quite funny) Daytona Wind on Season 14. Janicza gives notes on pacing, character, and line delivery as if the queens are working from a serious script and not a typical Drag Race Mad Lib grab-bag of pop culture references.
Janicza immediately tightens up a minor amount dead air in the opening scene with Viv’s headmistress and Shea’s ingénue. She gets the three cool/mean girls synced up like a Greek chorus but still giving unique reactions (“individual but unified”). Janicza and Ru convince Monét to drop her “womana” voice to be herself rather than “sounding like Janice from The Muppets,” and Monét is exponentially funnier as soon as she makes the change. Finally, Janicza gets Trinity to be even dumber (“find the pleasure in your absence”) while at the same time she sharpens Raja’s already-prickly delivery.
The next day as the queens prepare for the runway, Trinity (Queen of Strategy) points out that two queens have yet to be blocked: Jaida (3-Star General of Strategy) and Raja. This leads Jaida to break out the Game Theory on the queens:
“I’ll say this now: I have three stars. That’s probably, at this point, enough to get into the top – but we don’t know for sure. So what would be the point of blocking somebody if you think they’re in the top?”
Monét and the other queens aren’t buying what Jaida is selling. Except… she’s right.
I’ll get into this in more detail in the Power Rankings below, but Jaida’s worst case scenario is not winning any more stars and having to tie-break against other queens for the top if every 2-star queen makes it to 3-stars. There is nothing anyone can do to knock her out of that worst-case-tie-break spot. There is no version of this season where she is out of contention for the win, even if she gets blocked three times in a row.
The smartest blocks right now are anyone with two stars. Any queen who doesn’t follow through on that is going to find that it bites them in the ass when they’re in contention for the finale.
Runway: Knitty Knitty Bang Bang
Our judges tonight are RuPaul, Michelle Visage, the hilarious Ross Matthews, and Janicza Bravo. Michelle greets Ru with an exclamation, “After all these years, how could she be this gorgeous?”
(Ru’s answer: “Maybe it’s the PCP.”)
RuPaul is in a somewhat confusing outfit that works largely because she has the unique power to carry it. It’s a shiny black woven fabric with a heavy fray at the edges, so that where it is knotted off and cut at the asymmetrical shoulder it creates a spray of fabric tendrils.
Ru tends to look magnificent in these sorts of lopsided dresses because asymmetry makes her shoulders look smaller. Plus, the sweeping curve of the line from the right side up to the left lengthens her already glamazonian frame. Pair that with a golden blonde up-do that extends her frame every further and absolutely bronzed skin, and Michelle is right – RuPaul looks more gorgeous (and youthful) here than she did several decades ago!
The Vivienne delivers pure old Hollywood glamour in the form of 23 pounds of knitwear.
This bright white robe-dress has a major visual punch, but the longer I linger on it I notice minor details that bug me. As with several of Viv’s outfits this season, the slit in the front is an inch or two too high and we’re getting peeks at her undergarments. The trailing belt is distracting. Also, I think the cuffs of the bell sleeves could have used some wiring in them to give them more consistent structure, which we only really got when Viv held her hands out from her body on both sides.
That all said: these are minor quibbles with a garment that was designed to be overwhelming, and I think it accomplished that goal. Viv’s make-up and hair complement it perfectly, with a bold red lip, high shiny cheekbones, a pop of transgressive green over her eyes, and a severe brown-to-white ombre in her wig.
Shea Couleé announces she is presenting Ndebele Tribe realness, and once again I find myself stunned by the references and reverence she has brought to the runway this season. It’s fascinating that she was able to combine the knit theme with a spot-on cultural reference while also turning up the color dial to full Rainbow Brite levels. The rubbery cartoon quality of her knitted rainbow-color rings vibrate against the sleek fit of her mini-dress and the subtler colors of her shawl.
If you search for images of Ndebele women in formal garb, you will see that Shea’s look is barely even an exaggeration – most of their actual looks would be revered on the runway. Shea added the following on Instagram, which I love:
Integrating the African diaspora in my runway presentations in unexpected ways is always a delightful challenge for me, and this look in particular holds a very special place in my heart 💖
(I’ll comment that the one bowl-and-ball ornament I’ve seen in a photo of a Ndebele woman is of a larger scale than what Shea has here. Shea shows it in her Instagram post. Shea’s version didn’t bother me at all, but I do love the larger scale.)
Yvie Oddly looks stunning as she brings more pants to the runway! She is crowned, wielding knitting needles, and chest out, wearing a pair of shaggy, wide-leg knit pants with a floor-length jacket, both dip-dyed from a bright yellow down to a golden brown.
I have no notes on the garment. Part of me would’ve liked to see some kind of dramatic makeup on her neck or chest, like maybe a block of bold red, so there was another element to vibrate against her skin color and the yellow of the jacket. That might’ve taken this to an even more editorial level. But, it’s already gorgeous and I would not change a single detail of the garment.
Jinkx Monsoon is in old Hollywood glamour. Again.
She’s wearing a perfectly-colored nude illusion dress with a glittering knit of broad gold chain links atop it. It’s pretty, but once you clock the nude stretch dress moving beneath the knitted chain links the spell is broken.
This might be more impressive on another queen who hasn’t worn this sort of reserved glamour silhouette yet this season, but a Marlene Dietrich look from Jinkx isn’t exactly revolutionary at this point in the competition.
Trinity The Tuck does avant garde, which isn’t something we usually see from her! Just when you’ve forgotten how sickening Trinity’s Season 9 club kid look was, she strikes again with one of her weirdest looks of all time.
This look is downright strange. It’s a lavender mini-dress with matching leg warmers, plus a jacket, plus an infinity scarf creating a massive cowl around her head and a matching lavender stuffed doll. That’s all broken up at a few strategic points with pops of leopard-print – including leopard print hair!
(EVERYTHING MUST BE LEOPARD PRINT!)
I am fascinating with this look! Trinity knows how to bring just the right amount of transgressive quality to a runway look to really sear it into your memory. Trinity mentions that she commissioned it from a fan who had first gifted her one of the adorably misshapen dolls she is holding, called “Grumpkins.” The fan is Nutmeg’s Mom Jess (see her Etsy for the dolls), and here’s what Trinity had to say about the look on Instagram:
When we were told of a knitted runway I immediately thought of @nutmegs_mom_jess ! Years ago a fan brought me this cute knitted stuffed animal to a show and I became obsessed! They are called Grumpkins. Since then she has brought me several more and I have bought a ton from her. I asked her if she was interested in making a look for me and she was so excited to do so (paid of course) Her along with @jeffreykellydesigns who collaborated on this look to create a one of a kind work of art!
Monét X Change‘s look is so very Monét while also being knitwear. She’s wearing a pair of knit high-waited booty shorts, a knit puffer jacket, a knit tank top, and a matching knit bow on her head.
This is a great look, even if it’s missing the over-the-top quality of some of the other looks. Let’s be clear – a knit puffer jacket is pretty wild! I love how she used the knits while still keeping things on-brand and not repeating a go-to silhouette.
Also, I love her high heels.
Jaida Essence Hall is in a knitted lavender jumpsuit with thigh and chest cutouts, what looks like it might be a bolero jacket on top, and a massive knit scarf. She says it’s a reference to The Big Comfy Couch, and I’m too old to get it (but Michelle name-checks it later!)
This makes me laugh because (a) Jaida is such a dork, of course she would turn a kid’s TV show to high fashion and (b) this is the rare look that Jaida didn’t construct herself! Even though it’s mean to give comfy couch couture, it also has a weird vintage sci-fi Jetsons sort of vibe to it. It’s hard to explain, but with slightly different styling it could change from cutesy to spacey.
Here is my brave and controversial opinion on Raja: Even her best looks of the season so far have been more about the styling than the look.
I could take or leave this asymmetrical peaked-shoulder, knitted, gold mini-dress. The shape of it is cool, but there’s not very much to it as a garment and the gold corset she is wearing beneath is distracting.
It’s all of the things that surround the garment that make this look – the necklace, the face shield, the deep red puff of hair, the golden cuffs, and the thigh-high boots. In voiceover she explains that the look is about the juxtaposition of “something futuristic and modern with something as ancient as weaving,” and I think she succeeded in evoking that feeling perfectly.
Santa’s School For Girls
Here’s the rundown on the queens and their roles.
Shea Couleé plays Noelle, the ingenue who gives the blithe disregard of Cady Jane Heron from Mean Girls. Shea has a consistent character and never misses a beat in a way that’s comforting to watch. Yet, the “play it straight” character is often unrewarding on Drag Race and this one is not an exception. (Yvie, notably, has made this work in the past.)
The Vivienne plays Headmistress Nutmeg exactly as she promised – Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford with a tiny pinch of Orange POTUS. Personally, all of the face-quivering took me out of the performance. There’s bringing camp, and then there’s being silly just for show. But, that’s just me. And, I cannot deny that it’s cribbed directly from Dunaway.
Yvie Oddy plays Merry, who is meant to be the Regina George from Mean Girls – impossibly prim and savagely cruel. Yvie also plays her role in a very presentational way with lots of exaggerated mugging. This is why she was able to make the plain lead character work in her season’s acting challenge (which she won!), but here it distracts from the icy meanness of Merry. I never caught her cruelty, only her brown-nosing.
Jinkx Monsoon plays Holly, the shopaholic. Even though she’s meant to be giving this a “material girl” vibe, she takes it dark-bordering-on-demonic. That’s actually pretty funny as applied to a “cool girl” in a Santa Costume, because it’s playing against the expected type without actually fighting against the character. I think she was amongst the top performances.
Trinity The Tuck is Joy, the dumb blonde finding pleasure in her absence of thought. There wasn’t much to work with in the script, and she doesn’t bring a unique angle to it the way Jinkx did with Holly. It’s hard to recall any of her bits.
Monét X Change is Miss Toe, the “cool” art teacher. I think Monét crushed this. She is always impressive at quickly internalizing a part in scripted challenges so she can play with the nuances, and this is no exception. There’s constant movement and physical humor she invented for this character that makes her so fun, especially in her death scene!
Raja is Scrooge, the sex-positive goth girl. Raja hits every line like she’s swinging for a home run. Sometimes this works (her Elvira bit was great) and sometimes it’s a little much. However, the thing she does knock out of the park is finding an interiority for Scrooge. She’s not just there delivering lines. She holds a space in each scene where you can see the character scheming behind Raja’s eyes.
Jaida Essence Hall is the stuffy, stuffed-up, Santa-skeptical nerd Hanna. I. Loved. This. Performance. Much like “the goth,” “the nerd” or any other stuck-up character is often a throwaway in these Drag Race challenges. The script gives Jaida hardly a single punchline, but she creates them from nothing! She invents the physicality of sniffling, jutting out her chin, and leaning forward to look over her glasses at everyone as they spoke that killed me ever time.
Judging, Lip Sync For Your Legacy, & The Platinum Plunger
This week, the all-positive critiques were warranted – every single queen brought their A-Game to at least one of the challenge and the runway, if not both. You could easily make the case for every one of them to be in the top two.
Michelle predictably was obsessed with Viv, who pushed all of Michelle’s favorite impersonation buttons in one role plus inserted physical humor. Ross loved how she delivered every line away from her co-performers to a point slightly beyond the camera. (Basically, they liked the stuff I disliked. Such is Drag Race, sometimes.) Janicza loved her over-the-top exit, and both she and Ross loved her knitted ballgown.
Ru goes right from introducing Shea to enthusing over her outfit, calling it “something so special and so innovative.” Michelle is equally amazed and Janicza is “gobsmacked.” Ross thinks she nailed her potentially thankless role, and Janicza calls her “an actor.” Janicza calls Yvie’s facial quirks as an actress “delicious,” but Michelle is absolutely obsessed with her runway look and make-up. Ross calls it “next level Yvie Oddly.” Yvie says she worked on the look for 4-5 months (which calls into question the timeline of All Stars casting, but that’s another topic entirely).
Ross loves that Jinkx manages to define her character within a word or two, and tonight was no exception. Ru loved that she did a lot with a little role, and on the runway Janicza enjoyed her “drama and a total piece of theatre.” Janicza thought Trinity was fun to watch and “game to get down and get dumb” and Ross also thought she committed to getting dumb. Michelle calls her outfit “so twisted … it doesn’t make sense, yet it does.” Ru loves it, too!
Ross loved Monét’s cool teacher and thought she nailed every funny line. Janicza calls out a particularly terrific quality of Monét’s acting – the way she makes some of her parenthetical comments as if they are serious “Shakespearean asides.” It’s so true! Monét has a way of talking to herself in the middle of a stage or a set is one of her best ongoing bits that no one else can quite reproduce. Michelle calls her runway “so Monét” and Janicza feels like the look will be copied “from the highest end to the lowest end.”
Ross catches Jaida’s obvious references to Steve Urkel from Family Matters within her nerdy Hanna. He appreciated her nerdy mannerisms. Janicza calls her a good listener, “because so much of that character is taking in and then responding to the elements.” Michelle loved the relationship between Jaida’s Hanna and Raja’s Scrooge. Janicza is entranced by Jaida’s “divine” runway and says it takes her to lavender fields, and Ru loves her afro-puffs. Michelle gets Jaida’s Big Comfy Couch reference, which utterly delights Jaida.
Ru says Raja’s outfit is to die for. “This is what a superstar wears on stage,” says Ross. Janicza calls it transcendent. Michelle calls her “hil-ar-i-ous” and loved all of her John Waters moments of gagging over what the other characters were doing. Janicza complements her on always knowing her camera and finding her audience.
In private deliberations, Ross for some reason opens with a pitch for Trinity, saying “she did the least of all the sisters with her character… but it was still funny.” Why are we talking about her then, Ross?! Janicza finds the complement in there, which is that she “felt her the least,” meaning that it never felt like Trinity had to interject or stretch things out for her few funny bits to land. I am with Ross on his fashion review, which is that Trinity’s outfit was “so chic, but also comfortable. Like, I wanted to hug her then do a high fashion photo shoot with her.”
Michelle could not take her eyes off of Viv – she was truly the sort of over-the-top-camp Michelle loves in a challenge like this one. Janicza was into it from the very first line and missed her when she was gone. Ross calls her “every movie star I’ve ever wanted to meet in my entire life.” Michelle returns to Viv’s runway, marveling at how she transformed a knit robe into a ballgown.
Ross highlights that Jaida continues to “show us more than we even thought she was.” Michelle says she went “full throttle” and loved the juxtaposition of nerd and skeptic. Janicza says, “Jaida has range” and continues to enthuse about her runway.
And then there was Raja. Ross says, “there wasn’t a false note in her performance,” to which Janicza adds, “What a curious choice for a goth, right? Like, there is a trope that we might imagine that part should be played like, and she had this nuance about her that was just really special.” Ru says Raja’s look “belongs on stage at Madison Square Garden.”
Unsurprisingly, after those glowing reviews the winners of the week are The Vivienne and Raja! Raja is tickled to have won an acting challenge.
They are lip syncing to the stone cold classic “Superfreak” by Rick James. C’mon, lip sync budget!
Viv takes the opportunity to play the lip sync as a girl gone wild, pouring water over herself, licking Raja’s armpit, and flopping out of a cartwheel. However, this is a perfect song for Raja to lip sync. It’s all about sex appeal and vibe. I don’t mean to minimize Raja’s efforts here, but she mostly has to be herself. Plus, she had the perfect outfit for it with a one-shoulder dress and a mane of curly silver-white hair.
Raja scores her first lip sync win of the season – plus, the power of the Platinum Plunger! After an amusing stalk up and down the line-up (with several fakeouts, including for Jinkx) she delivers the Plunger to our frontrunner – Jaida Essence Hall.
This was predictable but a terrible call for Raja, who just reached 2-stars. The difference between Jaida having 3-stars and 4-stars doesn’t matter at all to Raja. It was critical to her to block a 2-star queen who might win the following week to break out of the current 5-way tie for second place.
This botched block will have a massive impact on who makes it to the finale. It will likely not only keep Raja out of the finale, but will also mean either queens break out of the pack with 3- stars next week or the 1-star queens graduated into the pack.
Next week is a branding challenge in the form of a creating a viral social media dance (AKA “TikTok, but we couldn’t land the sponsorship deal”). Trust and believe these queens aren’t going to be graded on dancing – it’ll be all about being memorable and being stupid.
Things got wild this week, with my #7 and #8 ranked queens from last week picking up a win!
However, my low rankings weren’t an indication that I didn’t think they’d win, but that I didn’t see them having a path to the finale. Jaida Essence Hall perfectly captured the current math of the power rankings in her mirror-time plea to go unblocked. Blocking the queen with three stars was not the smartest move this week – especially for Raja, still with 2.
Right now there are six more stars on the line and our star distribution is 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1.
With three more episodes left, that means even if the same two queens swept all three wins we’d end up with a pair of 4-or-5-stars, Jaida at 3-stars if she wasn’t one of those winners, and then 3-5 queens tied at 2-stars. Jaida would instantly qualify for the finale.
I think the much more realistic outcome is that two queens may win twice, and then we’ll see the remaining four stars distributed to four of the six remaining queens. I don’t think Jaida will pick up another win. I think our likely final four will either be a pair of 4-stars and a tie-break between multiple 3-stars, or possible a “4-3-3” group and a tie-break between multiple 2s.
Either way: blocking Jaida does nothing.
With next week confirmed to be a branding challenge (with a touch of dancing), I remain convinced that our final two challenges will be:
- An on-stage comedy challenge like stand-up or a roast.
- A talent show
Could I be wrong? The only other challenge that feels like it could pop up this late in the season would be the challenge after branding being a fanciful character challenge.
Where does that leave our eight queens? Who feels closest to clinching the next spot in the finale?
#1 Jinkx Monsoon – 2 Stars from 3 Wins, 2 Blocks (was #1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1)
Projected finish: Wins 1-2 of the remaining 3 challenges for 3-4 total stars.
Jinkx had a bad week to start, but it turned out good by the end of the episode.
Trinity effectively soft-blocked Jinkx from picking up an obvious win this week by not giving her either of the hammiest parts in the acting challenge.
That was a power-move, because it made the road to the finale fractionally harder for Jinkx. Yet, all of the remaining challenges continue to favor her. Her “Delusion: Convince Yourself” branding challenge might be her third most-memorable moment of Season 5 behind her Snatch Game and her lip sync. It’s so memorable that it has created the Mandela Effect of people thinking she won that challenge when the winner was actually Alaska!
With Raja’s critical error in not blocking Jinkx (which Viv certainly would’ve done had she won), Jinkx is free to munch up two of the remaining stars to lock down her place in the finale.
I stick with what I said last week, verbatim:
If Jinkx doesn’t win [this] week, it’s likely someone who is bad at game theory will give Jaida the block as the three-star front-runner rather than Jinkx. That means Jinkx can win in Ep 9, which leaves her in the 3-win club even if she gets blocked at the end of Ep 10 from winning Ep 11.
I think only way to keep Jinkx out of the finals is for her to get blocked two weeks in a row.
Now it’s all up to Jinkx. If she can’t snag the branding win next week, she is in actual danger of missing the finale. If she gets it, I think she’s there.
#2 Jaida Essence Hall, 3 Stars from 2 Wins (+1 Bonus), 1 Block (was #2, 2, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6)
Projected finish: Wins 0 of the remaining 3 challenges for 3 total stars.
I think this week’s block hurts Jaida only slightly.
That’s because branding was the one of the final three challenges she had the best chance to win to put an un-tie-break-able lock on her spot in the finale. Jaida is at her best when she is some version of herself.
Now, Jaida simply has to sit back and do the math. Her ideal version of the world is a “4-3-3” top three finish, with the other five queens stuck with 2-stars. However, even in a 4-3-3-3 finish where she has to do tie-break lip sync, Shea and Monét are probably the queens to fear the most – and they both have the most ground to make up to get into the running.
#3 Trinity The Tuck, 2 Stars from 3 Wins, 1 Block (was #3, 4, 4, 3, 1, 3, 4, 3)
Projected finish: Wins 1-2 of the remaining 3 challenges, possibly from comedy or branding, for 3-4 total stars.
On paper, Trinity had the week she needed to have – she didn’t win, but she didn’t get blocked.
However, that comes with a tiny wrinkle: she earned Jinkx’s ire by soft-blocking her from a win by casting her in a smaller role than the one she wanted.
Trinity has a strong chance of coming out on top for a branding challenge next week, If she doesn’t, she remains a tempting 2-star queen to block – especially for Jinkx, who might feel equally as threatened by Trinity as she is by Viv at this point.
#4 The Vivienne, 2 Stars from 3 Wins, 1 Block (was #7, 3, 5, 4, 6, 8, 8, 7)
Projected finish: Wins 0-1 of the remaining 3 challenges, from branding or comedy, for 2-3 total stars.
The Vivienne came through in one of the most critical must-win moments for any queen this season with her win for this acting challenge. This was her strongest challenge theme in the remaining line-up and she did not miss her shot
Unfortunately, it turned out Raja was a bigger “Superfreak,” which meant Viv couldn’t block Jinkx yet again.
Now we’re into the hard crunch. Viv desperately needs a third win in the next three episodes, and two of them are within her grasp – branding or comedy. Only needing to win once to clinch a tie-break spot at minimum is a comfortable place to be.
#5 Monét X Change, 1 Star from 1 Win, 1 Block (was #4, 8, 3, 2, 4, 4, 3, 4)
Projected finish: Wins 1-2 of the remaining 3 challenges for 2-3 total stars.
I had high hopes for Monét in this weeks’s acting challenge, and while she didn’t deliver a win I don’t think that fundamentally alters her chances too badly.
First, narratively she is overdue for a win. Story Producers exist for a reason and I’m feeling their invisible hand gesturing in Monét’s direction.
Second, a combination branding+dance TikTok challenge could not be more in Monét’s wheelhouse. She might be the best-suited to this challenge out of the entire cast.
And, third, I stand by what I said last week:
The remaining challenge schedule favors Monét heavily and she has been in the background long enough that no one is going to block her until she picks up a second star.
If she misses out on winning acting, she still won’t be blocked, which means she still could pick up a second star the following week and then repeat the week after.
Or she could do it the final two weeks.
Basically, I’m not counting Monét out until she is mathematically out of the game, which can only happen if she gets a Week 10 block.
#6 Yvie Oddly, 2 Stars from 1 Wins (+1 bonus), 1 Block (was #5, 5, 7, 7, 7, 7, 6, 8)
Projected finish: Wins 0-1 of the remaining 3 challenges for 2-3 total stars.
Yvie Oddly was blocked for this acting challenge, so the fact that she didn’t win is ultimately meaningless.
The question becomes what other win she can pick up.
Yvie’s oddness makes her a natural favorite for a branding challenge, and both her dance ability and her flexibility lend themselves to a memorable slice of TikTok-length marketing.
That means there is a very real chance she could grab a third star next week.
If she doesn’t, there’s still a potential talent show on the horizon. And, if it comes down to a tie-break lip sync for the finale, Yvie may be the queen to fear the most.
#7 Raja 2 stars from 2 Wins, 0 Blocks (was #8, 7, 8, 7, 8, 5, 7, 5)
Projected finish: Wins 0-1 of the remaining 3 challenges, 2-3 total stars.
Every time I have counted Raja out of contention this season she quickly deals herself back in.
I truly believed Raja could be a queen who would be stuck with one star heading into the finale. Not only did she reverse that, she snatched a win from the hands of a cast of tremendous actors! While every Legendary Legend star counts for the same weight in the final tally, there’s something to be said for picking up another queen’s “must-win” star, That’s especially true for Raja, who missed out of two of her own must-wins in a pair of design challenges.
Now the question is if Raja can do that one more time.
Her best chance is to snag branding next week while she is unblocked and call it a day. But, it’s part-branding, part-dancing… I just don’t see it for her.
The danger is that she is now the only unblocked queen in the competition, which means there is a strong likelihood that next week’s winner blocks her purely to complete the set. That gives her a 1-in-2 chance to be blocked for the remaining comedy challenge, which is an easier path to a third star than the talent show.
If Raja misses out on a third star, she’s heavily reliant on a 2-star-queens tie-break to get her into the finale, and “Superfreak” notwithstanding she is one of the weaker lip sync artists in the cast.
I can’t count Raja out again, but she’s got a difficult road to getting counted in.
#8 Shea Couleé – 1 Star from 1 Win, 1 Block (was #6, 6, 2, 5, 3, 1, 1, 2)
Projected finish: Wins 1-2 of the remaining 3 challenges, likely for talent plus one other challenge, for 2-3 total stars.
Shea’s outlook remains exactly the same as last week – acting was not one of her must-win challenges on the way to the finale (though it would’ve made things easier).
Can she win a branding challenge? Shea is the best dancer in the cast, but her personal brand is “black excellence.” While that makes her memorable on the show, it might be hard to distill down to an irreverent bite-sized dance video.
If Shea doesn’t win next week, that means her path to the crown is to win the final two weeks in a row and then also win twice in a lip sync tournament. It would be an amazing underdog story to act as a closing parenthesis to Shea losing Season 9 as the ostensible front-runner, but it also requires near-flawless performances through two challenges and two lip syncs.
That’s a lot of pressure for any queen. I’d love to see it work out for Shea, but right now it feels like the farthest reach of everyone in the cast.