My firmest belief when it comes to Canada’s Drag Race—except for Icesis Couture supremacy—is that Season 2, Episode 2 is the franchise’s Rosetta Stone. That’s the infamous “Under the Big Top” Rusical, a challenge so bad that most of the cast flopped. But a couple of crucial things happened in that episode that gave the series a new identity after a major casting and production shake-up post-Season 1.
Most crucially, the show was honest about how bad the challenge was. This may not seem like such a novel thing, but more recent seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race have become positively allergic to making their cast as a whole look unprepared for a challenge. Even the most recent example of such a thing, Season 14’s Snatch Game, came after a season of the cast being widely praised week in and week out, and the tone was always a joking one, what with Michelle Visage’s detective work bit during judging. Not only that, but Snatch Game actually ended up being a non-elimination episode, as the decision was deferred until the next week’s LaLaPaRuZa. The focus was not on the cast flopping, but on what a spectacle this all was.
I have a few theories as to why RuPaul’s Drag Race has gotten precious about its cast, most either involving fears of fan response or World of Wonder trying to use Drag Race less as a competition and more as an incubator for drag talent. But whatever the case, Canada’s Drag Race has no such hesitation. And unlike in Season 1, when the judges’ critiques often crossed the line to nastiness for performances that were actually quite decent, the new panel of Brooke Lynn Hytes, Brad Goreski and Traci Melchor erred on the side of kindness without losing their ability to give direct critique. They were all pretty green as judges then, so their critiques weren’t the best, but they felt reflective of what we were actually seeing in the Rusical.
Flash forward two years, and Canada’s Drag Race has given us an echo of that episode with “QV-She.” This week’s installment does the same thing as “Under the Big Top,” letting the queens fail—and hoo boy, do they fail—and not mincing words about it. When Brooke Lynn tells the safe queens, “Before you go: a lot of you are really lucky that there are only three bottom slots,” you know things have gone left. But instead of this dragging down the episode, it elevates it. Brooke Lynn, Brad and Traci have spent the last three years honing their judging skills, and their notes are specific, direct and immensely helpful. The queens make even the worst performances entertaining with their reactions to them. And the runway features pretty stunning results across the board.
Put it this way: if “Under the Big Top” is the episode that helps you understand Canada’s Drag Race, “QV-She” is when you know you’ve become fluent.
No mini-challenge this week, as Brooke Lynn asks the queens to split themselves up into three groups of three and one group of two. These groups will get four minutes each to host a segment of “QV-She,” a shopping network for drag queens. They’ll be advertising such products as “Shade Blockers,” “Tip Tits,” “Party Ponchos” and “Fierce Flats.” The latter produces a very funny moment, as Brooke Lynn tells last week’s bottom two dweller, Sisi Superstar, that the flats are for her. “Well, I’m gonna need these ones too,” she fires back, gesturing at the Shade Blockers.
Venus, The Girlfriend Experience and Aurora Matrix quickly form up into one team, rankling Nearah Nuff (who winds up with Aimee Yonce Shennel and Luna DuBois instead). Sisi, Denim and Kiki Coe wind up together, leaving the two stragglers as the pair: elder queen Kitten Kaboodle and last week’s other bottom two dweller, Melinda Verga. Venus’ team gets first pick of products since she won last week’s lip sync, so they take Tip Tits, while Nearah’s crew gets the Party Poncho, the pair takes the Fierce Flats, and Sisi’s team winds up with the Shade Blockers.
Despite them being put together as leftovers, it quickly becomes clear that Melinda and Kitten are the dream team here. (And I don’t just say dream because Melinda apparently woke up at 3:30 a.m. to watch the Shopping Channel.) They come up with tons of ideas for their segment, and gush over how much they enjoy working together. At one point, when they’re rehearsing, Aimee watches from afar and actually cracks up laughing. They’re winning over the audience before it even starts!
Meanwhile, Aimee’s teammate Nearah is pressed about not being with her Pretty Girl Corner sisters, Venus and TGE. “These were not my first choice,” Nearah says in confessional about Aimee and Luna. Later, when Aimee is expressing anxieties about the challenge, Nearah all but says she’s just going through the motions to get Aimee through it. “All you can do is listen,” she says. They are decidedly not the dream team—but, as we’ll soon find out, basically no other team has their shit together besides Melinda and Kitten.
Sisi’s team is up first, and since this is a one-take challenge, they have to get it right the first go-around. They do not! They are quite bad! At one point, Denim bungles a read of Brooke Lynn’s filler, and the show cuts to Brooke Lynn pursing her lips. As we know from The Devil Wears Prada, that means catastrophe, and this is indeed a disaster. The other queens on the side fully lose their minds laughing as Sisi, Denim and Kiki fumble through their improv. Their repeated chorus of “That’ll do!” is funny, but not in an intentional way!
The other two trios have similar issues. Venus and Aurora are actually quite good in theirs, but TGE breaks early on and never recovers. She spends the rest of the challenge either giggling or fully paralyzed, unable to speak. The final group, Nearah and Not Her First Choices, is almost as chaotic as Sisi’s group, but Nearah at least tries her best. Aimee goes off in every possible wrong direction, while Luna does not engage in any real improvisation.
This clears the way for Melinda and Kitten to fucking wipe the floor with the other teams. Their improv is excellent, their characterization is exactly right, and they have a great interplay through all their jokes. Melinda is more the straight woman pushing the skit along, while Kitten has so many great bits she breaks out into. When she turns her wig around to pretend to be a satisfied customer, it’s all over. These two are terrific.
After what’s actually a quite strong Gemstones runway category, we get critiques, with a bit of a twist! When they’re done, Brooke Lynn announces before the queens head to the werk room that Kitten has won the challenge, and Luna, Sisi and TGE are the bottom three. (I might quibble with a couple of them being down there, but it does feel right that there’s one representative from each of the other three teams up for elimination.) Brooke Lynn almost lets them go, but then suddenly stops them. She has to introduce the Golden Beaver—which is brown—and establish this season’s big twist: the maxi-challenge winner will choose which member of the bottom three to save and, by default, which two will be lip-syncing for their place in the competition.
This is a true gag. It basically involves an element of All Stars (deliberations in Mini-Untucked) into the main show, but depowers it so it’s not too much for unestablished queens. It also really places value on the social game, as we see in this episode. TGE and Kitten bond earlier in the werk room, so when it’s time for Kitten to make her choice, she picks the person she feels best about. I’ll be very intrigued to see how it changes gameplay moving forward.
With TGE safe, Luna and Sisi are left to lip sync. Luna has more fight in her at this point; during deliberations, Sisi actually says she doesn’t deserve the Golden Beaver and does not campaign for it. But both do turn up to the lip sync song, Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You.” Baby, when I tell you the room gets into this one! You can see Venus, Kiki, Melinda, Brad and Brooke Lynn all lip syncing along during different reaction shots—Venus and Kiki in particular miss not a single word when you can see them in the background. It’s actually a little distracting from the main performers, but they do still manage to perform well.
In the end, Luna stays, while Sisi sashays away. I don’t think there’s any argument that this is the right choice. Sisi was in the bottom for the first two episodes, and she was getting really discouraged by the judges’ critiques. It’s for the best for her, and for the season, that she departs now. I just hope that Luna uses this as a chance to really come roaring back, the way Melinda did after last week’s bottom two appearance.
Overall, though, I’m all in on Canada’s Drag Race Season 4. I’m obsessed with this cast, impressed with production, and excited for what’s to come. Until next week!
Untucking our final thoughts
✨ TGE stops the ending of the cold open to bring up something very serious: the other queens aren’t lifting the toilet seat up. It’s such a good little moment to start the show.
✨ “Call me Angela Bassett, “cause bitch, I did the thing!” Venus is so deeply unserious and I love her. She serves the proper level of gagged to the Golden Beaver twist in Mini-Untucked, and she lip-syncs along with every single word of “I’m With You.” We’re reaching Icesis levels of me stanning her, I fear.
✨ The spirit of Denali is alive and well in Denim as she says “I am spiralina!”
✨ Brooke Lynn says Denim looks like Season 3 contestant Vivian Vanderpuss in her challenge look. “I think that’s offensive to her?” Denim replies.
✨ Cannot give enough flowers to all those involved with the mirror conversation this week. Canada’s Drag Race has always been a leader when it comes to mirror moments, but this one may be my favourite ever. Kitten talks about her experiences doing drag in ’80s Calgary, and when talking about the diversity of performers, she uses the outdated term “bio queen.” TGE kindly and quickly explains that “hyper queen” is the more commonly used term now, and Kitten immediately thanks her for correcting her. Melinda brings up “AFAB” as a term used a lot in Edmonton, but then Denim opens up about her frustration with cisgender people using “AFAB” and “AMAB” as terms. She gets the space in both the werk room and her confessionals to explain her opinion, saying that it has “created a lot of confusion” since those terms originally referred to trans people exclusively. The whole conversation is so mature and considerate, focusing on how language evolves and how we adjust our vocabularies along with it. Incredibly refreshing and just a dream to have this kind of scene on television.
✨ Denim does not mince words in her pre-runway confessional: “It’s elimination day, and we bombed that challenge!”
✨ Brooke Lynn’s runway look … jaw-dropping. Spectacular. This is a potential mother. Hit the slay button. Just truly a wow. She’s constantly raising the bar for Drag Race host fashion.
✨ Ra’Jah O’Hara is our guest judge this week! As the reigning Queen of the Mother-Pucking World, it feels correct that she’s on the other side of the judging dais. She makes for a pretty spectacular judge, centering he critiques on what the experience of being on the show is like, and how these queens can most effectively participate in Drag Race. I particularly love her notes about BeBe Zahara Benet to Luna, perfectly encapsulating what makes BeBe such a legend. And of course, the judges’ chorus of “Ohhhhh my god!” is just an utter delight. Thank god Canada’s Drag Race and other international spin-offs are filling the gap RuPaul’s Drag Race won’t by letting RuGirls guest judge.
✨ Brooke Lynn introducing Traci as “as seen on TV” reminds me that as much as this panel has really come into their own, I still miss TV’s Amanda Brugel.
✨ RA’JAH: “Hey, y’all better come with a twist! ‘It’s chocolate!’”
✨ “Heavy is the hand that holds the beaver,” “Who do you want to save from the chomping block?” “Well, I’ll be damned!”—the Golden Beaver twist is camp as hell, and I’m obsessed. Crave, sell Golden Beaver toys and I’m buying one today.
The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race will be available to stream on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 9 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. You can subscribe to our drag newsletter, Wig!, for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.