‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 16 power ranking: An iconic final three

Only one can win, but all three fought hard to make their case for the crown

Welcome to RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings! Every week, we’ve debriefed the week’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 to determine which queens were riding high, and which needed she-mergency care. But now, with our winner crowned, it’s time to take one final look back at our final three queens’ journeys to the endgame.

3rd Place: Plane Jane (last placement: 3)

Kind of harsh to eliminate Plane before the final lip sync, no? I guess RuPaul’s Drag Race is just locked into the final two format at this point, since they’ve done it for the last four seasons, but Season 12’s final three lip sync wasn’t so long ago. And considering her great track record (second only to Sapphira’s this season), it felt like Plane deserved a shot at fighting for the crown. Alas, she was cut in third place—but is $25,000 richer regardless. Not a bad consolation prize!

I do think Plane may have been the clearest victim of the finale shooting ahead of schedule. Perhaps assuming that her abrasive traits shown earlier in the season would turn fans off, the show chose not to advance her despite her performance? That could explain why there was such an emphasis on Plane going back to her shady roots in the memoir challenge episode, to justify the decision. But it also may have been a decision with an eye towards the future: Plane has a clear storyline for an All Stars season (especially if Amanda Tori Meating comes back), and she’ll no doubt dominate that competition as well.

Whatever the reason, I’m still a little sad for Plane that she didn’t get the chance to advance. I found her really endearing as the season continued, and her performance skills clearly earned her a spot in this finale. I’m excited to see what she does post-show, and I would put a good deal of money on us seeing her on Drag Race again sooner versus later.

Runner-Up: Sapphira Cristál (last placement: 2)

Sapphira should walk out of this competition immensely proud of what she accomplished. She dominated throughout the season, securing four wins, plus an additional five high-scoring placements. She only had one misstep in the competition—the makeover challenge—and even that was presented as a moment of redemption for her (despite fan quibbles over the quality of her Lip Sync for Your Life). For much of the season, she and Plane were the main characters in the narrative, and if you’d told me this was all leading to them as our top two, I’d believe you.

As to why Sapphira didn’t win it all: your guess is as good as mine! Truthfully, this was an absurdly close top three, and any of them would’ve been deserving winners. But Sapphira’s solo number was so dynamite, it felt as soon as it ended like she was going to take it all. If I were to try and read the tea leaves, I’d say that perhaps after a highly seasoned pro like Sasha Colby took the crown last season, Ru and production may have been looking for a distinctly different energy out of this year’s winner. Or maybe in the end, the final lip sync carried a lot of weight—and while Sapphira certainly didn’t embarrass herself, we’ve seen her perform several times this season, which made her competition’s fresh moves feel all the more exciting.

 

Whatever the case, it doesn’t diminish Sapphira’s sensational season. She’s walking out of this as one of our two new Miss Congenialities, as a runner-up and with an impressive $60,900 in cash prizes under her belt. (She’s in good company among non-winners who took home a lot of money, with LaLa Ri, Lady Camden, Ginger Minj and more—but we’ll crunch those numbers further in this week’s Wig!) I’m not sure I see her coming back for a garden variety All Stars, because what more does she have to show? But if Global All Stars turns out to be a success, and Drag Race U.S. needs a surefire champion to send, you can’t get much better than the Philly legend.

Winner: Nymphia Wind (last placement: 1)

Congratulations to our win(d)ner, Nymphia! The banana queen rode her early momentum in the competition to enormous fan support, and scored a key last-minute win in the memoir challenge to really supercharge her candidacy for the crown. After a mid-season that felt so obviously edited to a Sapphira win that I dedicated a newsletter essay to the obvious winner edits of the MTV era (oops!), Nymphia came into the finale with momentum. The overwhelming response to Nymphia online, plus press mentions like a glowing Washington Post profile, gave a hint that the tides were shifting. And indeed, Nymphia is our new champion!

Trivia! With this victory, Nymphia becomes the first East Asian winner of flagship Drag Race, and the first Asian winner since Raja back in Season 3. She is also the first New York-based winner since Season 10, a return to the city after a period of dominance in the late-Logo/early-VH1 era and dormancy since. She becomes the seventh main series winner to take the crown having never appeared in the bottom two, and continues the modern dominance of Ball challenge winners (becoming the third in a row, after Willow Pill and Sasha Colby, to take it all).
I’m sure there are even more trivia tidbits that the various Drag Race statistics accounts will find, but greater context aside, I’m thrilled for Nymphia. She may not have been my top choice for the crown, but she was a creative powerhouse all season long, a dominant fashion queen the likes of which we haven’t seen in several seasons and in that final memoir challenge truly revealed the heart of Nymphia in a way I loved. Long may the Queen of Wind reign!

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Drag Race, Culture, Analysis, Drag

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