One of the most immediate thoughts I had when Canada’s Drag Race announced its Golden Beaver twist was about RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4’s political challenge. I know, strange place to go, but follow my train of thought for a moment. That challenge notoriously featured a wide range of performances, thanks to the vague and inconsistent criteria laid out for it. However, perhaps the single most memorable moment from it came from Latrice Royale, who got an incredible joke in at Phi Phi O’Hara’s expense. “About five minutes ago, I looked across at Miss O’Hara, and realized that she was ugly. And I’m at peace with that.”
In the moment, it made fellow competitor Chad Michaels, as well as RuPaul and guest judge Dan Savage, break character to laugh, and it highlighted that Phi Phi’s choice to portray a racist caricature wasn’t paying off. You’d think from watching the episode that Phi Phi would land in the bottom two next to DiDa Ritz, who had been struggling to stand out in the competition and was mostly silent during the challenge. However, when it came time for the lip sync, it was instead Latrice who faced off against DiDa—this despite producing one of the only true gems in the entire challenge.
The theory has always held that, especially to that week’s lip sync song (Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”), Phi Phi would likely struggle to send home a top-tier lip sync performer like DiDa. But Phi Phi was one of the biggest characters of the season, having received one of the series’ most notorious villain edits, and she had a maxi-challenge win under her belt. Sending her home over DiDa would be very strange from a story perspective. So instead, likely knowing what an able lip syncer Latrice is, Ru put her in the bottom instead to guarantee DiDa’s elimination. At least, that’s how the theory goes.
Why did I think of this regarding the Golden Beaver, you ask? Because in essence, Canada’s Drag Race’s judging panel has nullified their ability to make such a strategic decision. If two of the bottom three are big story drivers, and one is a queen who has been struggling in the competition, there’s theoretically nothing to stop the maxi-challenge winner from saving the weaker competitor and making the two bigger threats face off. It’s risky from a storytelling perspective, but with the right combination of queens and factors, it could pay off big. And boy does it pay off big this week.
This week’s maxi-challenge is a design task, with Brad Goreski “donating” his old clothes to the challenge. The queens must upcycle them into new, couture looks, with a focus in the judging on transforming the garment. (The obviously fake framing for the materials is cute enough, but it is funny to see Brad be repelled looking at some of “his” clothes during his walkthrough.) It’s a simple enough challenge in theory, but as many of the queens realize, taking what are effectively scraps of fabric and turning them into something new is deceptively tricky.
There are a couple of narrative threads running through this episode, but the most prominent is Melinda Verga’s. She first tries to assemble some gold fabrics into a look, but struggles to come up with a concept. When Brad comes into the werk room, he notes that her personality has been a hit with the judges, but that it hasn’t been coming through in her looks. After this conversation, Melinda switches up her materials, taking a jacket in a range of colours of plaid to adapt instead. She specifically talks about how she’s learning from the best with the judges, and wants to incorporate critiques as best as she can.
When we hit the runway, you can see the issue with Melinda’s look right away: it’s not enough of a transformation. She’s cut out some fabric and added some leather details, but the four quadrants of plaid remain the key design element. It’s not the worst look from a style perspective, but she really misses the mark when it comes to the challenge.
She lands in the bottom three, alongside Nearah Nuff—who does a sort of pop girl take on a flight attendant look, but leaves too much bare with various cutouts and a short skirt—and Aimee Yonce Shennel. The latter commits to a kind of sexy wife character for Brad, using towels and other bath materials to put together a look that she says is for a sensual shower. (Why you’d be wearing towels into the shower, I’m not sure. But I digress.) There are some other underwhelming looks on the runway (Venus’ in particular is held together by safety pins and a prayer), but when these three are called as the bottom-scorers, it’s an understandable decision on the judges’ part.
Meanwhile, in the top ranks, Denim puts together a super cute crochet look, while Kitten Kaboodle gets high marks for the degree of difficulty in her design by incorporating both a hot pink puffer jacket and gold formalwear. I’d personally have put either Luna DuBois or Aurora Matrix, our other safe placers, in Kitten’s slot instead, but it’s nonetheless a big swing back up for Kitten after having to lip sync last week. And the other top placers really don’t matter, because holy fuck, this is Kiki Coe’s week. She pulls out a stunner of a red gown that is a masterwork of fit, conceptual design (those shoulder pieces!), and even engineering in how she extends the gown with weighted beading. It’s a real stunner, styled perfectly, and she takes her first win for her efforts.
This means, of course, that she gets the power of the Golden Beaver—and we head into Mini-Untucked, where this episode really ramps up. When Kiki asks the bottom three why they should be saved, Melinda pulls a Sisi Superstar and says she doesn’t deserve to be saved. She no longer wants to be here, and is furious with the judges for their critiques. She says she’s been treated like a “punching bag” for her runway looks, and actually says of the judges, “Fuck you, all fucking four of you!”
To call this a disproportionate response would actually be underselling it. For one, as the editors note in a shady-but-true flashback, Melinda was just saying the day before how much she looks to the judges as experts. “What’s the point of being here if I don’t listen to the feedback?” she said just 24 hours before. For her to storm out of Mini-Untucked so angry, saying she’s trying not to be disrespectful—which is truly the funniest thing anyone’s said this season—shows how deeply personally she’s taking these critiques. And while I’m empathetic to how stressful Drag Race can be for a queen at her best moments, it’s hard to take Melinda’s outburst as anything but an overreaction.
All that said: it is entertaining as hell, particularly to watch the other queens try to keep up with the pure velocity of Melinda’s reaction. Denim says in a confessional she doesn’t understand Melinda’s frustrations because it’s clear she just didn’t do the assignment; Kitten notes in another that it’s obvious the transformation didn’t translate. The whole situation is just wild, but if you thought that was the end of it, you have another thing coming!
Attention turns to Aimee, who tells her friend Kiki not to save her just because they’re friends. “It’s your power. Use it right,” she says. She’s effectively asking to be put in the lip sync as much as Melinda is, just not quite as explicitly. Nearah, who perhaps needs to learn how to leave well enough alone, says if the others aren’t going to fight to stay, then send them to the lip sync. She points to how poor Aimee’s look is, with the other queens largely agreeing (“No towels on Drag Race,” Venus says), but only succeeds in angering Aimee.
“I don’t hate anyone, there’s no place for hate,” Aimee says in confessional. “But Nearah is a fucking bitch. And now I can see it, now I can feel it, now I can smell it. And it’s making me high.” Camp I fear! They go back and forth about whose look is worse, and when Nearah says at least she got a positive critique, Aimee notes that doesn’t save her. Nearah then taunts that she can send her home, which is all Aimee needs to seal their fates: she turns to Kiki and tells her to save Melinda, and put them in the bottom instead. “And let’s do a show,” she adds.
This development has to be beyond the producers’ wildest dreams for the Golden Beaver twist. Kiki really gets up on stage, just minutes after Melinda was storming out of Mini-Untucked and saying she won’t fight for her life, and says she wants the queen she’s saving to know, “You’re not a punching bag.” She saves Melinda. She actually saves Melinda. “What the fuck?” Venus mutters in the back, to which I say: what indeed.
Aimee and Nearah both deserve demerits for talking themselves into the bottom two, but considering Aimee was already going to have to lip sync, this feels particularly egregious for Nearah. If she just hadn’t said anything, she’d have been gliding to safety with that Beaver. She picked a fight, and it landed her in the bottom two when she should have been safe.
Luckily, she can back up her bark with true bite in the lip sync, as the two showdown to Priyanka and Lemon’s “Come Through.” (Inspired song choice, by the way.) They both really go for it, but Nearah is clearly better suited to this style of song. Aimee mostly sticks to passionate, exclamatory moves, including repeatedly flipping Nearah off. I do love that Aimee does the notorious “BFF necklace, VIP guest list” dance from the music video, though. The two high-five at the end, content that they have put on the show they promised.
Ultimately, the effect of Kiki’s chaotic decision is blunted a bit by the judges’ choice to save them both, but how can you blame them? When you see two queens who are clearly bringing fire to their performances and interactions in the competition, why would you want to lose either? And now their stories can continue, the Golden Beaver having fanned a lit flame. Not a bad week for this twist at all.
Untucking our final thoughts
✨ Have never felt quite as seen as I did when Kitten couldn’t read The Girlfriend Experience’s mirror message. I never can fully make out what queens write in those.
✨ Gotta say, the way the show is subtly weaving these conversations about Golden Beaver ethics into the cold opens, and then paying them off at the end of the episode, is better work than All Stars has ever done with their strategic format. This week, we get Denim disagreeing with Aurora’s decision to save Kiki, saying she would’ve saved Kitten based on trajectory in the competition so far. But at episode’s end, Kiki goes in an entirely new direction! As Kitten says—and Luna finishes—you truly cannot rely on the Beaver.
✨ There’s a subtle but really interesting arc that’s happening, in which Aimee has repeatedly dismissed Luna’s performances in confessionals—and, this week, in front of her in the cold open. Ordinarily, you’d see this as a blossoming rivalry, but no! After Aimee and Luna both open up about struggling with, but ultimately keeping, their faith in the face of rough experiences with religious families, Luna connects with Aimee over their shared experiences. It’s a really sweet moment, and it shows how Canada’s Drag Race subverts expected Drag Race tropes in small but effective ways.
✨ Unfortunately, the one trope Canada’s Drag Race is lunging headlong into this season is the stilted mirror moment, which goes into full Vanity Milan “Snatch Game … takes me back to being young in school, and having to play a straight person” territory this week. Aurora says, without a hint of irony, “We’ve been playing in Brad’s closet, and I was wondering what people’s stories coming out of the closet was like.” Look, I get that the runway category is “Out of the Closet,” so this is expected. But come on!
✨ That said, the moment does give us Aimee saying “Maybe God is gay!”, so it’s not all bad.
✨ Melinda has some kind of telekinetic moment with her coat material, and Venus is concerned. “Who are you talking to?” she asks in confessional. “WHO IS IN THE COAT?”
✨ Can I just say, I love what Luna has to say about loving “It’s a new day in the werk room”? We’ve seen this trope mocked in the past (most iconically by Katya in All Stars 2), but Luna has a sincere moment about it that actually warms my heart. “I think every drag queen that wants to be on this show just wants to have that fantasy,” she says. “And I’m gonna be saying this phrase until the finale!”
✨ The mini-challenge this week is a photo shoot, with the queens in wigs in different göt2b hair colour hues. Honestly? Incredible sponsorship angle. Brad unenthusiastically reciting the name of every colour is the kind of stuff Drag Race was built on. The photos are okay, but Nearah ultimately takes a very deserving win. Her shot is good!
✨ Fashion journalist and Vogue writer Christian Allaire is our guest judge—and we cheer for relevant guest experience! He’s pretty great, too, offering a good mix of encouragement and actual critique. One particular note I love of his: he zeroes in on Melinda’s shoes as a real problem, and notes that a boot would’ve served her much better. I love that level of detail, and it’s something the judges’ panel is doing really well across the board this season.
✨ As Aimee gets emotional because of her critiques, Brooke Lynn says she doesn’t mean to upset her. Season 1 Brooke Lynn could never! Growth!
The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race will be available to stream on Thursday, Dec. 13, 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.