‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 13 recap: Making up in Vegas

The queens give “RuPaul’s Drag Race Live” dancers a dragged-up makeover

If there’s one Drag Race challenge I would completely reboot at this point, it would be the makeover. The history of the makeover has been a spotty one, with lots of fan complaints about inconsistent judging over the years and a repeated refrain on the judges’ part that the queens produce a “strong drag family resemblance”—without much real definition of what that means.

More than the judging, however, the choice in makeover subjects has also produced drastically mixed results over time. For every blockbuster choice (crew members, queer teens for prom), there’s been a misjudged one (uncomfortable straight guys, too-camera-ready social media moguls). It’s never felt like the show has really learned the right lessons from the makeovers that have worked, either. Why was Drag Race UK’s own crew makeover episode so unspecific and lifeless in contrast to Season 9’s? Why has the ultra-successful superfan makeover from Season 12 never been replicated?

All of which is to say that it’s not surprising that this makeover episode is a bit of a dud. The choice in subjects—dancers from RuPaul’s Drag Race Live in Las Vegas—is too self-promotional, and the guys themselves, while game, present basically the same challenge to everyone: they’re broad and muscular, with too much body and facial hair. Part of what is engaging about these episodes is seeing the queens figuring out what is best for each individual partner, and that element is effectively neutralized in this episode.

As a result, we get makeovers that range from the “strong but simple” to “imbalanced but not disastrous.” There’s no great success nor dramatic failure. The looks themselves are fine, but unimaginative. If there’s any drama in this episode at all, it’s in watching a frontrunner stumble—but she handles the stumble so expertly that by the elimination, it hardly feels like she trips at all. This isn’t a bad episode, but it’s not the kind of installment you want to see going into the endgame of the season.

Q makes over her partner in a distinct makeup style, but opinions vary on how effective it is Credit: Courtesy MTV

Ru introduces Jonathan, Mark, Miguel, Nick and Sebastian, five RuPaul’s Drag Race Live dancers, to the queens, and pairs them up by random draw of coloured balls. (In a fun twist, the dancers rip their pants off to reveal underwear colour-coded to match the balls.) After telling the queens to drag up their partners with a family resemblance, Ru drops the other bomb: the queens will need to dance with their newly made-over guys on the main stage.

 

That development could be interesting, but of course, all these guys are trained dancers. It’s a little like bringing in Drag Race superfans and then revealing they’ll have to compete in a Drag Race trivia contest as part of the challenge. As evidenced by the fact that the dancers are all amazing, and the choreography is quite high-level for a makeover dance task, it must be said that this element of the challenge is largely unnecessary.

However, it does have one significant impact: it completely ruins Sapphira Cristál’s plan. Sapphira brought with her two gowns inspired by geodes, and intends on wearing them with her partner. When they get to dance rehearsal, though, Sapphira realizes she absolutely cannot move in her dress. So she scraps the concept entirely, grabs a bright orange look from her own closet, and borrows a similarly coloured look from Plane Jane. She even sews some quick extra elements, like gloves, to try and tie them together.

I admire Sapphira for trying to pivot, and I actually think it gets closer to the kind of makeover challenge I want to see: a design challenge version. Watching queens come in with two prepared, matching looks, and just give one to their partner, has really harmed the makeover challenges in terms of creativity. We see a lot of those in this week’s episode, and the results are indeed uninspired. But unfortunately, Sapphira doesn’t have enough time to really make the looks go together beyond colour, and she lands in the bottom for it. Had she gotten more time to really conceptualize and create the looks, though, who knows what she could’ve come up with?

The queens assemble for a pickup game of Drag Race Monopoly—but surely they didn’t get very far Credit: Courtesy MTV

Morphine Love Dion also lands in the bottom, despite her superior makeup skills, because the mug is all she does well. The dresses she brings for her and her partner are too simple, and worse, she does nothing to disguise her partner’s broad shoulders. The judges, including a returning Ts Madison (yay!), are exactly right about needing a boa or something to create a more effective illusion. Moreover, the hair choice is flat and unflattering. I love Morphine, but this was a clear misfire on her part, and at a terrible time.

The other three are all seemingly in contention for the win, and when it comes to Q, I say: come now, RuPaul. I won’t exaggerate matters: Q and her partner look fine, and their looks go together. But the clown-esque garments are, to quote Nina Garcia from long ago, “aesthetically not pleasing!” This is an instance where you have to step back from questioning whether there’s a family resemblance or how good the partner’s makeup is and just ask: is this even a good concept? Perhaps it will have its fans, but I’m not one of them. Q didn’t deserve to lip sync for it or anything—the others’ sins were more egregious—but I certainly wouldn’t have had her contending for a victory this week.

Nymphia Wind fares better, although I think she misses an easy trick to snatch the win. Her feathery yellow look is perfectly her, which Ts notes is in line with every other time she’s seen her. (She did wear a red look on the runway in one of Ts’ previous episodes, but also wore yellow in that episode’s girl group challenge.) Granted, the rotating judge hasn’t gotten to see Nymphia every week, and Nymphia has worn plenty of non-yellow looks on the runway. But the colour has become heavily associated with her, and it would’ve been a fun trick to, as Ts suggests, swap the outfits and put her partner in the yellow. I can imagine the judges raving about her flipping the script by choosing to wear purple instead. Alas, it doesn’t happen, and Nymphia and her partner instead take a solid, if distant, second place.

That brings us to our big winner of the week: Plane Jane! Plane scores her fourth victory of the season by making over her partner Nick into a very effective alternate version of herself. The looks aren’t reinventing the wheel, but where I think Plane really succeeds is in making Nick so comfortable in drag. When the two come out on the runway, it takes my brain a second to remember this is a makeover challenge, not a team task. That’s how immediately comfortable Nick is in drag. It’s strong work from one of this season’s frontrunners, and it’s a deserved win.

The top five perform a dance number with their makeover partners to RuPaul’s “Super Queen” Credit: Courtesy MTV

Plane ekes ahead in the track record race with this win, as Sapphira falls into the bottom two for the very first time. Like Sasha Colby and Symone before her, owing to the quirks of the structure this season (i.e. three Lip Sync for the Win episodes), Sapphira has already performed twice. In both cases, she won—and in the latter case, she beat the same queen she’s going up against this time in Morphine. So she should be fine, although Nymphia admits in confessional that she can’t help but hope Morphine beats the odds and sends the frontrunner packing.

The two face off to Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More,” and I gotta say, they are a satisfying pair to watch lip sync together. Their styles are complementary enough that they can interact and match each other’s vibes, but they never do the exact same thing. Both in “Made You Look” and this, despite neither song being in their exact performance wheelhouse, the queens put on a show.

In the end, the result is expected: Sapphira shantays, and Morphine sashays away. I’m sad to see her cut before the finale, but she would also have been vastly outgunned track record-wise had she made it to the end. Not only that, but a finale without Sapphira would simply be unacceptable. Still, I’d love to see the queen of the BBL back on my TV screen soon—she’s too entertaining to not bring back in some capacity.

We’re down to our final four, but next week is not the reunion! We’ve got one more in-season episode to go, which begs the question: will all four of these queens make the finale? We’ve got ideas on that and more in this week’s power ranking—check it out for more Drag Race coverage, and we’ll see you next week to find out what happens.

Untucking our final thoughts

There’s some pretty ham-fisted Drag Race Monopoly promo in this episode, as the queens come into the werk room with a board already set up. They pretend to play for a bit, emphasis on “pretend.” As if a Monopoly game could be anywhere near finished before Ru would enter the werk room!

Miguel has worked with Puerto Rican queens previously, including Jessica Wild and Yara Sofia. Taste!

Nymphia’s tucking tutorial is harrowing! I know we have to teach the boys how to stuff their junk somehow, but this can’t be the optimal way.

We get some very fun names for the queens, including Lazi Susan for Plane’s partner (which has Ru in stitches), Juanita Wind for Nymphia’s and Shakira Cristál for Sapphira’s. Notably, Sapphira is planning to call her partner “Hyacinth Cristál,” and you bet Sapphira takes the hint when Ru suggests Shakira instead!

The previous conversation unveils this nugget from Sapphira: “My favourite thing that someone’s ever called me was Sephorest Whitaker,”

Nymphia finally gets a mirror moment, talking about her lack of self-confidence and how she can feel a bit split-personality when it comes to how she can project kooky conviction one minute and self-doubt the next. I’m glad to see this for Nymphia, since she’s felt a bit underdeveloped as a character this season in contrast to queens like Sapphira and Plane. Could this be what she needs to start feeling like a real contender for the crown once again?

Morphine talks about how much she loves reading, and more specifically how much she loves being read. This is a huge part of why I love her so much: she can dish it out, but she’s even better at taking it. I’m gonna miss her so much.

The dreaded “Super Queen” being the song the partners dance to after the runway … someone will pay for this crime.

Kelsea Ballerini is our guest judge this week, and while she seems happy to be there (she gives the queens a standing ovation after their lip sync to her song!), she comes across as pretty low-key throughout. Even her saying “Oh my goodness, I live for chaos” comes off a little sleepy. This hasn’t been the best season for guest judges overall, has it? Looking back at the list, only Law Roach, Kyra Sedgwick and Joel Kim Booster really stand out to me as opinionated, incisive voices.

Sapphira summarizes her off week by saying, “It is what it is, and Diana Ross is in The Wiz.” The way she just secured her spot in the finale with Ru’s Diana-loving heart!

Nick, aka Lazi Susan, gets $5,000 as well for winning—or, as Ru puts it, “for that ass.” The other dancers get $1,000 each. Which: not to look a gift horse in the mouth for these guys, but was there no sponsor who could give them trips? Klein Epstein and Parker not ready to give out some more custom-made suits? The cash is nice, it just feels a little mercenary, especially when you remember that the dancers likely got appearance fees for being on the show anyway.

Interested to hear what people think of the online scuttlebutt that the reunion and finale have already taped—and by “already,” I mean months ago. This will be the first main series finale not filmed after the season aired since Season 3, though I’d imagine Drag Race still shot multiple possible winners as has been the standard since. Could be interesting, but especially with the reunion, I fear we’ll miss something not giving the queens the benefit of hindsight and watching the show.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, April 5, 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.

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