‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 2 recap: How the other half slays

Let’s meet the other seven queens competing this season!

If you’re feeling deja Ru, do not adjust your TV sets! This week’s second premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race looks much like the first, with only a couple of cosmetic alterations. Instead of a talent show themed after MTV Spring Break, we’ve got the Queen Choice Awards this week. Instead of a photo shoot in front of a doorbell camera, we’ve got queens visiting the She-MV. And instead of Charlize Theron as our guest judge, it’s Becky G coming to visit the girls in the werk room.

But of course, the most significant difference is with our queens themselves. Seven new contestants introduce themselves this week, and if the theme of last week was everybody vs. Amanda Tori Meating, this week it’s Plane Jane vs. everybody. But while last time, the queens’ dismissal of Amanda came off a bit harsh, Jane is the one leading with harshness this go-around. How else can you describe a queen entering, calling all of her competitors “bricks” in a confessional, and calling two of them “piglet” and “hideous” in Russian to their faces?

Yes, this premiere is very much the Plane Jane hour, befitting a queen who started the season mired in controversy and, even after stories shifted, has remained a divisive figure among the fandom. (I mentioned this in the Meet the Queens edition of Wig!, Xtra’s drag newsletter, but considering the conflicting information regarding the allegations against Jane, and the fact that they are not affecting the show in any tangible way, we will be leaving any discussion of them out of our coverage.) She comes out of the gate strong, shading Katya in her introduction (she’s the authentic Russian hooker from Boston, you see) and dragging her fellow competitors. She keeps up that energy the whole episode, ultimately introducing a level of strategy we rarely see on Drag Race.

Because yes, the Rate-a-Queen twist is still in effect, and these seven queens get the chance to rank each other from first to sixth after the talent show and runway. But with Jane ranking strategically, the results get skewed—and one queen in particular has every reason to call herself robbed of a top slot.

The second premiere features seven new queens battling it out in the “Queen Choice Awards” talent show Credit: Courtesy MTV

Let’s meet our queens not named Jane, shall we? Hershii LiqCour-Jeté is up first, and if you can’t tell by her last name, she’s Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté’s drag sister! She promises “glam, camp, auntie drag,” and generally seems like a fun time. She’s followed by Plasma, a young New York queen who calls her drag “1950s Hollywood glamour.” If that formula sounds familiar, yes, we’ve seen such queens before. But in a cast that seems increasingly performer-heavy, I’m guessing her theatre training will make her a threat in comedy challenges.

 

Joining them are Geneva Karr, a Texan queen with a lot of pride in her Mexican identity, and cosplay queen Megami. Mhi’ya Iman LePaige, the self-proclaimed queen of flips, is next in, and she and Geneva bond over being TikTok queens. Geneva braids her leg hair on TikTok, which both sounds fascinating and also like content I will not be viewing myself. Lots of love to all involved, though!

Finally, the banana queen joins us: Nymphia Wind! To emphasize just how bananas she really is (Gwen Stefani is shaking), she even throws out a banana peel and slips on it. C’mon, slapstick! Nymphia is originally from Taiwan, now living in New York, and is a fashion queen with quirk to spare. In other words: she’s an enormous threat in this competition. Like Sapphira Cristál demonstrated last week, a blend of glam and camp goes a long way on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

After learning of the fact that they’ll rate each other—and that immunity is back on the table (once again stated to be for “a future elimination”)—the queens make their mainstage debuts for the talent show. Before we dig into the individual acts, I will say this generally: I think the talent show has to go after this season. At least, it can’t be the first challenge. The truly impressive, unique talent show performances are few and far between, especially when it comes to non-All Stars seasons. I get that it’s nice to give the queens a real chance to define themselves, but there are other ways to do that! What about the premiere ball that we just saw UK Season 5 and Canada Season 4 implement to great effect? This format needs a shake-up, and this episode is proof positive of that.

Becky G joins Michelle Visage, RuPaul and Ross Mathews on the judging panel for the second premiere Credit: Courtesy MTV

Geneva gets us started with a lip sync and dance number, and I particularly like the first half before her costume reveal. Hershii’s “Whiplash” number serves some unexpected production design (don’t think too hard about why we’re in the jungle), and the song itself is catchy. Plasma lip syncs a campy theatre number, then launches into some quick impersonations. It’s a bit overstuffed, but not bad. None of these are bad—they’re just a lot of what we’ve come to expect from this challenge.

Nymphia gets my vote for best number of the night. It’s a traditional dance, and her earnestness in performing it comes in stark contrast with her quirky vibe the rest of the episode. It’s a nice show of range very early into the season. Mhi’ya, on the other hand, is delivering exactly what she has promised: flips, flips galore. And they’re really good flips! She does a variant on the flip-on-the-box move Kennedy Davenport did in her All Stars 3 talent show, and it remains a true gag. Meanwhile, Jane gets the most kudos from the judges and her fellow queens for her “Burger Finger” number, in which she comes out dressed as a giant burger and then reveals a large breastplate. Her big finale is spurting ketchup and mustard on her chest for an absurdly long time. It’s all very Jimboian, and so of course Ru loses his mind over it.

I’ve saved the number that I think is most notable for last, and I’m sad to say it’s not for good reasons. It comes from Megami, who seems like a total sweetheart. There’s something painfully earnest about her act: she starts by lip-syncing to the 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” while clutching a rainbow flag tightly. There’s an easel set up throughout the performance, leading to a reveal of several posters that show off a message about protecting drag and queer art at the ballot box. It is … misguided.

“You take away the message, and what is your talent? Holding up posters?” Jane says in a confessional, and she may be blunt, but she’s right. “Girl! Protect queer art, but is she giving us anything worth protecting?” I gotta say, this is a real jump-the-shark moment for the talent show. I don’t doubt Megami’s commitment to her message, but RuPaul’s Drag Race has spent the last several seasons not only emphasizing lip syncing above all else, but also flattening its political messaging into easily digestible packages—vote.gov signs, even—for largely straight audiences. (Last season got away from this a bit, especially with “Wigloose!”, but it was the exception, not the norm.) It stands to reason that said flattening would eventually get as flat as poster boards held by a queen after an uninspired lip sync.

In other words: Megami’s talent act is bad, but I can completely understand how the show made her think it would be a good idea.

Plasma’s variety number certainly demonstrated her range, but also left the judges thinking it was a bit scattered Credit: Courtesy MTV

Anyway, after another RuVeal runway that mostly features queens taking one outfit off of another (not Geneva though! Geneva has an actual reveal! Team Geneva!), it’s time for the queens to rate each other. Earlier in the episode, there is a discussion among the queens of how they’re going to play this. Jane, along with the others, says she’ll be judging fairly. The other queens, to their credit, basically immediately call bullshit on that. But I don’t think they even realize just how hard Jane is planning to game the system.

Jane winds up on top, and she is next to … Geneva? (To be clear, we remain Team Geneva, but this is surprising.) That’s because, in a move I would call both genius and craven, Jane ranks Nymphia last. This apparently guarantees that her ranking will drag too far down to place in the top two, so Geneva gets in there instead. Then, after a lip sync against Geneva, Jane wins out, earning $5,000 and immunity for the future.

I imagine this will be very divisive, especially since Nymphia is one of the fan favourites going into this season. But from where I’m sitting, Jane very ably took advantage of an exploit in the game to guarantee better odds of success. It’s a cliché, but: don’t hate the player, hate the Rate-a-Queen system.

In the end, I think we come out of this episode learning a lot. Rate-a-Queen, while a cute idea, gives too much power over to the queens. In order for the best performers to actually win out, it requires the queens to all act in good faith—and just one strategic actor throws the whole thing into disarray. The talent shows have produced pretty mediocre results, with a couple of good exceptions, and one disastrous one. And finally, Season 16 may surprise me over time, but I’m a little nervous about it all after the two-part premiere. There’s still plenty of season left, though, and first impressions don’t mean everything. But they do mean something.

Untucking our final thoughts

I’m a little shocked to hear that Geneva is the first Mexican-born queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race! You’d think we’d have seen such a queen in the previous 15 seasons—we did with other queens born internationally, like Courtney Act and Charlie Hides. (As well as Nymphia this season!)

I am confused by Jane’s insistence on drawing a contrast with Katya, calling herself “the authentic Russian hooker from Boston.” Katya’s one of the all-time fan favourites; you think a queen would want to be talked about in the same breath, not potentially piss off her fans.

Kind of ridiculous how much more fun the She-MV photo shoot mini-challenge is than the doorbell camera one from last week. Not only do the queens get to interact with Ru in person (in character as a She-MV employee!), they also get to play around with Ts Madison. Nymphia’s banter is stellar—the joke about which sunglasses are prescription!—and her photo is distinctive. She takes the win, earning a cool $2,500 for her trouble.

Nymphia talks about the small but supportive drag scene in Taiwan, and takes a lot of pride in being Taiwanese. She wants to “win it for the country” this season. I love hearing about her connection to her home scene, and who knows? Perhaps Jane is right and we’ll see Nymphia hosting Drag Race Taiwan one day!

Hershii is a goddamn delight. The entire segment in which she talks about adopting her two kids and being a father warms my heart. Drag Race does a really good job of giving us well-rounded characters these days, but rarely does a queen themselves come in so genuine and open to sharing about her own life. Hershii has my stan card for her drag, but also just for being someone I would love to spend time with off the show.

Clock that Plasma has a Jan face crack robe, like Rosé before her.

Becky G is our guest judge, and while the comparison between her and Charlize Theron in terms of fame level is an unfavourable one, I will hear no Becky slander! I interviewed her back when she was starring in the Power Rangers reboot movie as Trini, and she was a true gem throughout. That said, I did want to die a little bit when she said she was 12 when Drag Race premiered. (As did Michelle!)

Cannot believe Derrick is back to host the challenge again. I thought for sure we would get another queen in character for this, but nope! Derrick cleared her week! She looks genuinely taken aback to be slimed at the end of the Queen Choice Awards—I hope that’s just acting!

Next week, the groups unite! From across the two premieres, I’m personally most invested in Mhi’ya, Hershii, Sapphira, Q and Morphine Love Dion. But I think you’d be silly not to watch out for Nymphia, Jane and Dawn as real threats. Who’s in danger of going home first? Sadly, Mhi’ya and Hershii’s low rankings have me concerned for them, and Megami and Xunami Muse are likely in peril as well. The one I’m not worried about despite her low rankings: Amanda Tori Meating. There was just a bit too much story investment for her to go home any time soon. We’ll see how it all shakes out next week!

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, Jan. 19, 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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