‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 11 recap: “You’re a mom and pop, I’m a corporation’

The queens take on drag seminars, and it’s as weird as it sounds

It’s Drag Awareness Month, everyone! What’s that? Every month is Drag Awareness Month when we have Drag Race franchises airing year-round? Silly, it’s not you that Drag Awareness Month is for. It’s for the employees of HeteroDynamics Corp.! And this week, the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 queens are charged with presenting drag seminars to them.

You look confused. No, see, it’s very simple. The queens are put into teams—two of two, one of three, don’t worry about the numbers—and are given subjects to present on. Do they choose their teams? Do they choose their subjects? Silly, why are you asking such questions? What you need to know is that Q and Plane Jane are expected to present on “Do You Know Your Drag History?”, Dawn and Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige are given “Drag in the Werkplace” and Sapphira Cristál, Nymphia Wind and Morphine Love DIon are given “Are You a Drag Queen? You Might Be Surprised.”

What’s that, you say? These subjects seem vague and ill-defined? You don’t really understand how one would present on these topics? You do it with PowerPoint presentations, of course! You can’t see the queens putting together their presentations, nor find out how they gathered any of their assets for them—why were JPEG files of Plane Jane and Amanda Tori Meating suddenly available?—but pish-posh. The important thing is that when you do see the finalized presentations, they are thoroughly okay. Are they funny? Sometimes! Is being funny the point of this challenge? Who’s to say! 

Anyway, thank you so much for coming to the Drag Awareness Day seminars. We have gift bags for you on your way out that include a copy of Ru’s new memoir, The House of Hidden Meanings, as well as a burned CD of Thick & Stick’s “A.S.M.R. Lover” Rumix. Please make sure to take the survey about today’s panels that will be emailed to you in a couple of days!

Morphine Love Dion, Sapphira Cristál and Nymphia Wind team up for the drag seminars maxi-challenge Credit: Courtesy MTV

So yeah. This episode sure is an episode, huh? I actually thought “drag seminars” was a cute idea when it was first pitched, but like so many Drag Race challenges when the producers start to experiment, it ultimately is just too loosely defined to make for a good installment of the show. The judging is quite arbitrary, and the choice of winner comes as a surprise to the queens themselves. And the bottom two feels like an afterthought—a decision made to see someone finally go home, not anything else.

 

Let’s start with the team that I would argue comes closest to fulfilling whatever brief we’re meant to imagine this challenge had: Plane Jane and Q. The two have arguably the easiest subject, and they have lots of visual gags that they deliver well. Dawn even says in an early confessional that she thinks they’ll kill it, because they have both the jokes and the delivery. While there’s arguably too much ado made in judging about their “slides” and “clips” jokes (they’re fine, just not revolutionary), they overall get the rhythm right.

Additionally, Q serves up a significant runway moment with a Keith Haring-inspired look. The garment also features a red collar, belt and lining meant to evoke the AIDS ribbon—because as Q tells both the judges on the runway and the other queens in the werk room, she is HIV+. We’ve come a long way since Ongina first shared her status during Season 1, but it’s no less powerful to hear Q share her story both in conversation and in an artistic statement.

The whole episode makes for a big moment for Q, and you might think that she’s thus the first to hit three wins. This would make her the effective frontrunner, especially finally winning a non-design challenge, and would make her even more of a threat to win it all than she already has been.

Hold that thought.

The final seven queens take on the Spill the Tea mini-challenge, voting for each other in various categories Credit: Courtesy MTV

The obvious disaster pairing is Dawn and Mhi’ya, who are such a mismatch that one wonders why the show even put them together. (Another thought to hold.) Dawn keeps trying to draw ideas out of Mhi’ya, but she’s the Queen of Flips, not the Queen of Seminar Concepts. At one point, she tells Michelle Visage she hosts at bars at home, and Morphine fully questions whether that’s even true. The whole thing really stresses Dawn out, to the point where later in the episode, as they get ready for the challenge, Dawn is fully gaming out possible bottom two scenarios for herself.

Indeed, come the challenge, Mhi’ya bombs hard. Dawn’s not great, but she’s trying, and she at least has the right idea of what to do. Mhi’ya is flustered—even dropping her cards on her way in and not going back for them—and comes across as woefully unprepared the whole time. The whole presentation is just a non-starter, and were the queens judged in teams this week, it would absolutely be these two fighting it out in the lip sync.

Over on our trio team, Sapphira is feeling confident, but is nervous about how stressed both Nymphia and Morphine are. After spiraling a bit, Nymphia does figure out a way through the challenge: to exaggerate an accent. We’ve seen this kind of characterization from other queens in the past, most notably when RuPaul praised Manila Luzon’s stereotypical character in Season 3’s QNN challenge and gave her a win. This subject has inspired waves and waves of discourse over the years, but Drag Race itself seems wary to dive back into the topic. The judges mostly laugh nervously through their critiques, Ru even asking Nymphia what her take on it all is.

Nymphia ultimately does well enough—though I imagine her performance will be divisive—while Morphine feels a little lost. She’s not necessarily bad, but she lacks confidence. Combined with an underwhelming runway look, and it feels like Morphine hasn’t been able to capitalize on her momentum from last week’s near-win. Meanwhile, the queen who beat her to the victory in that lip sync, Sapphira, actually struggles a bit in this challenge! She’s still great, largely relying on her natural charisma to make even her flubs seem charming. But especially coming off last week’s dynamo performance in “Power,” it isn’t Sapphira’s strongest moment.

Dawn, seen here voting for Morphine Love Dion in the mini-challenge, has a rough week, scoring low for the first time this season Credit: Courtesy MTV

Okay, so that first thought we were holding onto, about Q? Q actually doesn’t win, nor is she or Plane seemingly in the top-scoring queens of the week. In a very strange turn, after giving their duo largely positive critiques, it almost seems like the judges talk themselves out of their positive feelings. An act that is at first described as “joke-dense” is later dismissed as not the funniest. Meanwhile, Sapphira, who the judges note stumbles a couple times—one quite noticeably—only gets more and more praise as deliberations continue.

In the end, Sapphira gets the win, with Nymphia seemingly coming in second. Q is gagged by this, as Sapphira herself notes in a confessional. I think we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out in next week’s episode, but I’ll be interested to see whose side the show takes. My guess, considering Sapphira gets a somewhat arguable win this week as well as the final confessional calling Q out, is that they’ll stick by the Philly queen.

Now onto that other thought: Mhi’ya lands in the bottom two … next to Morphine. This one I can’t quite figure out, going back to team selection. Mhi’ya was likely not going to succeed in this challenge no matter what, and there could have been some fun tension rung out of her and friendly rival Morphine working together. Then, when the two didn’t succeed, they’d naturally be put in the bottom together for the lip sync we’ve all wanted all season. But instead, the show has to stretch to justify a queen who did fine on the team with the winner having to lip sync against only one member of the worst-performing team. The production choices are just so bizarre in this episode.

Anyway, the end result is that Mhi’ya pulls out her tricks again on Donna Summer’s “Dim All the Lights,” but she’s finally met her match in Morphine. Mhi’ya even tries to throw her Miami sister off while Morphine is holding an impressive backbend, throwing her cape over her. The show frames it as a dramatic moment, with a slo-mo and serious music cue, but Morphine plays it off. From that moment on, it’s basically over: Morphine demonstrates incredible body control while holding a long pre-split position, and Mhi’ya’s various stunts can’t help but feel repetitive by comparison. It’s a pretty great lip sync, but Mhi’ya’s time has clearly come to an end. Morphine stays, and Mhi’ya sashays away.

Again, it’s not a great episode, with lots of clumsy production decisions that demonstrate how even the infinite charm of this cast can’t paper over bad work behind the scenes. If the whole point of the episode is just to get Sapphira another win and Mhi’ya eliminated, well, mission accomplished—but it took more flips than even Mhi’ya could do to get there.

Untucking our final thoughts

The amount of use I would’ve gotten out of a gif of Morphine snatching Sapphira’s wig off her head on mid-2010s Twitter …

The queens try to convince Plane she was in the bottom last week (as Dawn puts it, the “bottom one!”), but she is not having it. When they try to come for her, she says that considering her garment, she simply could not be in the bottom. Dawn then calls it a “boring sparkly dress,” which fully unleashes Plane’s mean streak. “You’re wearing rags from a fucking kid’s bedroom.… You look a fool, doo-doo clown mess!” she tells the Brooklyn queen. “You’re a creature from the black lagoon that needs to go back into the depths!” It’s funny, and Dawn takes it in that spirit, but Plane herself still looks pretty pressed about it.

Of course the first drama Nymphia gets into all season is said barely above a whisper as she and Mhi’ya shade each other.

We get the latest edition of the Spill the Tea mini-challenge, which is akin to a “Touchy Subjects” challenge on Survivor: queens must vote for each other in various superlative categories, and try to match what everyone else says. Agree with the majority, and you get $100 cold, hard cash. (Thank you, Cash App!) The queen with the most at the end gets an additional $2,500, but everyone gets to keep the cash they earn. A few highlights: Plane gets unanimously voted as Most Likely to Block You Online—except from Plane herself, who votes for Q. Flirtiest results in a unanimous verdict for Sapphira, while Most Likely to Blame the Edit goes Morphine’s way, with everyone except Morphine herself agreeing. Finally, Most Delusional goes to Plane … who, of course, votes for Dawn. Sapphira wins the game, earning a grand total of $3,400.

Sapphira is racking up the cash this season! She currently sits at $22,900 in prize money. That’s more than Bebe Zahara Benet earned for actually winning Season 1!

Comedian and actor Joel Kim Booster is our guest judge this week! He is the third former Vulture Drag Race recapper to appear as a guest judge, after Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers. (I’ve known Joel for several years—truly the friendliest guy you could know—so it’s very fun to see him on the show.) He gets to participate in the werk room walkthrough with Michelle, gives really good feedback to the queens and is a strong judge. Bless you, Joel, for bringing the balance of praise and critique that every Drag Race guest judge should! UK guest judges: take note.

For all the hype about the queens performing to “bored employees,” the audience seems mostly just like normal people, no? Bring back the confused seniors who committed to the bit in the Season 6 stand-up challenge!

The runway theme this week is “DragCon 1980,” which produces mostly confused results—Sapphira, Q and Nymphia manage the best—but none more confused than Mhi’ya, who apparently Googled “DragCon 1980” before coming to the show and found an AI rendering. What was she expecting to find? Does Mhi’ya know DragCon didn’t happen in 1980? I have so many questions.

DAWN: “When I tell you I’m sleeping in until 5:30 tomorrow …”

MORPHINE: “You mean on the plane back?”

DAWN: “Morphine, I swear …”

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, March 22, at 8 p.m. EST on MTV in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. Check back every Monday after new episodes for our recaps and power rankings, and subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

Read More About:
Culture, Drag Race, Analysis, Drag

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