‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 12, Episode 4 recap: Let’s play some basketball!

Realness, eleganza and basketball wives, oh my! It’s time for the ball challenge

I’m going to start this week’s recap with a proposal: If RuPaul’s Drag Race is going to keep its ball challenges near the start of the season, they need to implement a structured and transparent scoring system. For three seasons in a row now, we’ve seen the ball challenge fall in an episode with 11-12 queens, meaning we’re seeing over 30 looks come down the runway. Even as someone with a copy of the episode I can watch repeatedly before recapping, it’s near impossible to keep track of all the looks.

But more troubling is the fact that in each of those seasons, the judging for the ball has seemed, well, wonky. In Season 10, Aquaria won with three fairly simple looks, while Kameron Michaels and Miz Cracker rose to the top with solid, if unmemorable, runways.

Meanwhile, queens like Mayhem Miller, who served interesting looks across the board, were swept to safety. The same thing happened last season, as Brooke Lynn Hytes and Plastique Tiara won the ball with simple silhouettes while more impressive offerings went without comment.

This season’s judging is closer in terms of who generally is in the top and bottom, but like Season 10, the fashion queens rise to the top as a couple of underdogs’ more interesting efforts are waved through to safety. Meanwhile, a bad call in the bottom three leaves an interesting queen undeservedly lip-syncing for her life, and ultimately going home.


After a bee-inspired dancing mini-challenge that Gigi Goode wins (somewhat arbitrarily, it seems), the queens are told this year’s ball will be a Ball Ball; that is, inspired by sports and other kinds of spherical design elements. Jan is immediately excited by this, as a former jock in high school, while Gigi and Nicky Doll can’t wait to flex their fashion queen bona fides.

Meanwhile, several queens struggle with at least one element of the challenge. Crystal Methyd wants to tone down her makeup to avoid being critiqued for it again. Brita can’t quite get started, finding herself without inspiration. (She is clocked repeatedly by previous challenge partner Aiden Zhane in the first act of the episode, who says Brita is underperforming compared to her reputation.)

Aiden doesn’t know how to zhuzh up her eleganza look, worrying about violating her less-is-more credo when it comes to fashion. And Jaida Essence Hall finds herself low on materials, unable to complete her eleganza look the way she wants to finish it.

We get a decent amount of time in the workroom hearing about these travails, but there’s no time for Ru’s critiques because we’ve got an absolutely stunning 36 looks to get through. That’s a lot of drag! And it’s tough to keep them all lodged in your memory. By the time the next category comes along, you’ve kinda forgotten the one before it. And so when Ru declares a top and bottom three, it feels like it would seem wrong no matter who was in it. How can you tell who did the best and worst amid such a shuffle?


The biggest problem with the scoring in the maxi-balls—not the best nickname, I know—is that it’s unclear how much weight each look carries. Yes, there are three categories, but only one involves designing a garment on the spot. And in the past, it’s seemed that this last look has carried more weight than others. So is it safe to assume that, in his head, Ru is counting eleganza looks for 50%, while the first two, brought-from-home looks are more like 25 percent each? Or is that too sophisticated and Ru is just going off of what leaves the biggest impression on him, either positively or negatively? I lean towards the latter, and it’s affecting the challenge negatively.

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12 Episode 4

Credit: Courtesy VH1

Gigi, Nicky and Jaida form the top three, and while I think Jaida is a clear frontrunner this week, I’m iffy on the other two fashion queens. Nicky’s looks are a bit too derivative of others we’ve seen on the show, while Gigi’s looks don’t stun the way I expect them to. I’m puzzled as to why Crystal Methyd is quickly shuffled off the runway, considering how strong her looks are across the board. I was certain we were heading for a redemption arc edit for her this week after seeing her looks.

But, like fellow fashion queen Aquaria before her, Gigi is perhaps destined to win this week. Nicky Doll is the Miss Fame to her Violet Chachki—forgive me for mixing my fashion queen comparisons—falling short compared to the golden child. And Jaida’s efforts, which should’ve gotten her the win, must instead settle for a top three spot.

The bottom three is mostly right, with Rock M. Sakura joining Aiden and Brita at the bottom. Rock’s looks aren’t great, necessarily, but she gets some harsh critiques despite some nice touches on her runways. (Her tether ball look for the first category, while not particularly real, is so kitsch and fun that I’d give it a pass.) Her eleganza look is her worst, and the judges correctly note she needs to learn how to edit. Still, it seems inevitable that Aiden and Brita will be our lip-syncers since both of them get the harshest critiques and are only redeemed by Ru liking their personalities.

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12 Episode 4

Credit: Courtesy VH1

So it’s an utter shock when Rock instead has to lip sync against Brita, and Brita, unfortunately, wipes the floor with the San Francisco queen. Rock struggles to get out of her eleganza look—it’s too unwieldy to lip sync in—and then unleashes trick after trick while not properly lip-syncing. Brita keeps things simple, and it pays off for her in a big way. Truth be told, Rock shouldn’t even have been in the bottom two; the rest of the queens seem furious Aiden is safe. But of the two, Rock is the correct choice to send home based on the lip sync.

I’m saddened for Rock because I find her to be a wonderful, likable presence on the show. I’m not sure if she’s cut out for reality TV: She’s a bit too sensitive for such a cutthroat world. But she’s found a fan in me when I never expected to connect to her, and I’m certain I’m not the only one. She deserves to walk out of this season with her head held high.

For future seasons, I would recommend a live scoring system for the ball challenge. Give the judges paddles with scores up to 10, like in the real ball system. Make the top and bottom three a matter of scoring, not just Ru’s whims. She can still make final decisions, as she always does, but this helps us have some kind of system to check and consider. That way, when we don’t agree with the winner or loser, we can at least point to the math. Otherwise, I’m worried the balls—once the best episodes of the season, in my opinion!—will remain too chaotic to fully love.

RuPaul's Drag Race

Jan’s multitude of sports references make more sense, now that we know she was a jock in high school, but I did fully cackle at her calling herself Troy Bolton. Jan should guest star on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series!

The absolute highlight of this episode is Leslie Jones as the guest judge. For those who don’t know, Leslie is a massive fan of the show and went viral while live-tweeting her first watch of the series. The show leans into her fandom, letting her geek out over the runways, the lip sync and even Ru’s entrance. She sings every word of “Cover Girl”! Moreover, her critiques are really on-point, and she delivers them with the right mixture of fandom and serious judgment. I would happily welcome her back every season. What a delight.

Considering it looks like Normani will be guest-judging solo next week, is it safe to assume we’re looking at a season with more solo guests than paired ones? Only Robyn and Thandie Newton have been paired so far this season! Solo guest judges were one of my favourite elements of Drag Race UK, and I’m very happy it looks to have ported to the U.S. series.

With Gigi’s win this week, every member of the premiere top twos now has a challenge win under their belt: Widow Von’Du in Week 1, Jaida in Week 2, Sherry Pie last week, and Gigi now. They seem to be our clear frontrunners, but I’ve got quite a few underdogs I’d like to see challenge their dominance.

Nicky saying her beating Dahlia Sin in a lip sync means she can beat anyone in a lip sync…sweetie .

I know I haven’t commented on it yet this season, but are Ru’s coloured contacts in the RuMail messages scaring anyone else? I jump out of my seat every damn week.

Ru says she refuses to call her “Heidi N. Closet” anymore. I wonder how long this battle over Heidi’s name will continue…

So far, I’m most impressed with Crystal, Nicky, and of course my beloved Heidi in their confessionals. Crystal’s got the right mix of sarcasm and earnestness, Nicky has delightfully aloof energy, and Heidi is like a blessed union of Monique Heart and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo.

Speaking of confessional lines: “I’m so excited to show what I can do! I’m also really excited to see some people fail!” I am really getting on the Crystal train, you guys.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12 airs Friday, March 27, at 8 pm ET on VH1 in the US and OUTtv in Canada.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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Drag Race, Culture, Opinion, Drag

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