‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 8 recap: Inventing Snatch

With more and more original characters, what is Snatch Game even about these days?

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, because Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige has arrived to RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16! It probably should’ve taken her fewer than seven episodes, but hey: she’s here, and she’s ready to drag anyone who gets in her way. 

Megami doubting that she can lip sync without flipping? Boom, she kicks her ass on “Flowers” and sends Megami home. Morphine Love Dion tries to send Megami out with a sweet final note? Mhi’ya knows you never liked Megami, Morphine! Plasma tries to hype up Morphine by saying she also would’ve killed the Mariah role in last week’s Rusical? “Stop lying,” Mhi’ya says under her breath. Mhi’ya has had it with staying quiet and fighting for her life in every lip sync, and she is ready to make her mark on this competition.

It’s good timing, too, because this week, we’re playing the Snatch Game! And we’ve got some … interesting characters this season. There are no repeat characters, which is smart, and we’ve got some that you’d be surprised haven’t been done before: Sapphira Cristál is doing James Brown, for instance, while Plasma is doing Patti LuPone and Dawn is doing Meghan McCain. Morphine, going for something in the zeitgeist when this was filming, does Anna Delvey, citing Julia Garner’s portrayal on Inventing Anna as inspiration. 

Then we’ve got some more unexpected choices, including Nymphia Wind as Dr. Jane Goodall (monkeys, bananas, you know where this is going), and Q going the historical character route with Amelia Earhart. Then we’ve got Plane Jane pulling out a Serbian pop star, Jelena Karleuša, whom she clearly knows a ton about but Ru thinks is a fictional character. There’s good reason why, though, as two queens do bring original characters: Xunami Muse as the Gold Tooth Fairy and Mhi’ya as Trina’s fictional cousin, Shaquita. And it is these choices that make me wonder if Snatch Game has lost the plot.

Plasma does pretty well in the Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge, but it’s a read of her that ultimately gets Xunami Muse the win Credit: Courtesy MTV

Xunami and Mhi’ya are not the first to do fictional characters for Snatch Game. Xunami cites Trinity The Tuck’s effeminate take on Lucifer from All Stars 7 as inspiration, but we’ve also seen female riffs on existing people (Kim Chi as Kimmy Jong-Un, Anetra as Gordana Ramsey) and characters like Yvie Oddly’s Boogeyman. The appeal is the same as with historical figures: because we don’t have any kind of idea of what these people “should” sound like, the impersonation element is taken out of the equation entirely. And as Ru says, the real challenge is just to make him laugh.

 

But that feels like a notable defanging of what has long been considered a real make-or-break challenge for Drag Race. If I can simply make up a character that is best fit for my style of humour, and I manage to crack Ru up without doing any actual impersonation work, is that worthy of a win over someone making the effort to do an impression? And without the impersonation element, why is Snatch Game different from any other improv challenge on the show? What makes it special? Is it even really the Snatch Game anymore?

Xunami and Mhi’ya’s takes on original characters go over entirely differently during this Snatch Game. Xunami’s character is too much of a concept without a reason to exist, with confusing lore (she keeps teeth with her money?) and no real jokes. Meanwhile, Mhi’ya—who initially wanted to do Tiffany “New York” Pollard, but heeded Ru’s hints to change—creates a character that feels like a vehicle for her to step out of her typical shyness. She’s not particularly clever or quippy, but she’s having fun with it. And in a Snatch Game full of characters that feel laboured, she does stand out. And it earns her her first high placement of the season, while Xunami lands in the bottom two.

Sapphira as James Brown also lands in the top, largely for the guts it takes to even do such a larger-than-life character and one of Ru’s favourites. She really pulls out some impressive bits, including dodging Ru’s read of always seeing her in character shoes (“Last time I saw you was 1969!”), and if she had just a few more punchlines, I think she’d have a shot at the win. But in deliberations, Ru makes clear that he didn’t like this James Brown quite as much as he would’ve liked, which means Sapphira is relegated to a runner-up spot alongside Mhi’ya.

Nymphia Wind looks gorgeous on the runway in her Japanese Butoh look, making up for an underwhelming Snatch Game performance Credit: Courtesy MTV

In what I would call a crucial decision for the future health of Snatch Game, the win ultimately goes to someone playing it in classic fashion: impersonating a female character and nailing every joke that comes her way. Plane is fantastic as Jelena, armed to the teeth with references and punchlines that come off as organic. When her first line is explaining that BBW actually means “Beautiful Balkan War survivor,” you know you’re in for a show. She manages to make simply calling another queen (Morphine) a man, one of the oldest reads in the book, feel fresh with her delivery. It’s a home run from Plane, and she earns her second win of the season.

Morphine, unfortunately, doesn’t do enough as Anna Delvey. She knows the lines from the show, but she struggles with the back-and-forth banter. I also think she gets the look wrong—she has the glasses and brown hair, but I think she needed to pull off some kind of transformation between pre- and post-arrest Anna to sell it. And Michelle Visage is right in her critiques: had Morphine leaned into the slipperiness of her accent, it would’ve been funny, but it instead just came off strange.

Neither Morphine nor Xunami is as disappointing, however, as Nymphia is. There have been a lot of jokes online about how every week, Nymphia undersells her abilities, only to reveal she’s actually quite talented at whatever the challenge requires. Unfortunately, Nymphia is not a secret Snatch Game assassin. She is so woefully off-base as Dr. Jane Goodall that I have to wonder if she just didn’t properly prepare for the challenge. Every single bit is dead on arrival. At a certain point, Ru seems to just give up on bantering with her.

It’s a significant failure from Nymphia, and were it not for her spectacular runway this week, I think she would’ve been lip syncing for her life. (I also wonder if the show worried that both Xunami and Morphine would wash her in a lip sync, and thus wanted to keep her safe from potential elimination.) Nymphia’s reputation so far among fans has been of a queen who can secretly do it all, so it’s notable to see that she has a genuine weak point.

Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige finally breaks out this week, with a clever choice of fictional character for Snatch Game Credit: Courtesy MTV

With Nymphia safe, besties Morphine and Xunami are left to lip sync against each other. In the grand tradition of friend lip syncs—which started back with Raven and Jujubee on All Stars 1—there’s lots of interaction between the two, including a truly amazing moment of salsa dancing. (The runway theme this week is Dancing Queen, including a prompt for the queens to dance a bit in a certain style while presenting their garment, so dancing was clearly on their minds.) However, Xunami seems more focused on creating a moment through their interaction, while Morphine keeps her eyes on the prize. Morphine stays, and Xunami sashays away.

What to make of Xunami’s run on the show? I feared the worst after the talent show, but she actually put up a pretty impressive run all season. Yes, she was safe for a historically long run, but there were some really enjoyable, entertaining performances and strong looks that made up that run. Just because a queen isn’t part of the main storyline of the season doesn’t make her drag any less enjoyable—it just means this wasn’t her run. My guess is, if she ever finds her way onto Drag Race again, she’ll surprise us all.

But for now, we move forward with our top eight, all but two of whom (Dawn and Morphine) have at least one maxi-challenge win. And it’s a design task next week, which means Nymphia may soon find herself back on top—or can Dawn finally pull out a W? And will Mhi’ya’s momentum stop in its tracks? Tune in next week to find out!

Untucking our final thoughts

Morphine drags Xunami in front of the whole group about a pre-show interaction, in which Xunami made out with a man Morphine had been eyeing at a New York City bar. “Around Xunami, no man is safe,” Plasma says, “But Xunami always is!” Well, almost always.

This week also features the Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge! I’m curious to know: do you like when the reading and Snatch Game challenges are paired? I get that it’s fun to have a spotlight episode mid-season like this, but it can feel a bit like the show firing too many cannons at once. Anyway, Xunami wins this edition, with her most memorable being to Plasma: “Plasma, my girl! Where were you on January 6th?” Hilariously, Morphine doesn’t get the joke immediately, leading Plasma to yell, “It’s the day of the insurrection!!”

My personal favourite read of the challenge comes from Sapphira, to Xunami: “Many people don’t know that Xunami is really into astrology! I’m a Libra, and Xunami is a Cancer … to the drag community.”

Chad Michaels stops by in full Cher drag for the walkthrough with Ru! It’s great to see her—it feels like it’s been since All Stars 3 that we’ve last seen her on the show? She’s the original Snatch Game legend, so it’s fun to see her get the chance to mentor the new girls. Put her on All Winners 2, Ru!

Dawn’s confessionals continue to get spicier and spicier, hitting a new level when Sapphira admits to Ru she picked James Brown because of Ru’s love for him. “Sapphira is playing the kiss-ass game today,” Dawn says. “Is Luxx Noir London in the house?” Intrigued to see how this one goes over!

All love to the Pit Crew, and I’m glad Jesse “JP” Pattison and Laith Ashley get their chance in the spotlight this week, but I do miss when the Snatch Game contestants were celebrity guest judges.

There’s a really emotional Mirror Moment this week, as Sapphira opens up about missing her dad. He apparently really came around on her doing drag, even encouraging her to go on Drag Race, but she didn’t get to spend much time with him after making up before he died of COVID. She breaks down in the werk room, and the other queens are really supportive. It’s a nice moment.

Holy shit, Kyra Sedgwick is a great guest judge this week. You can really tell she’s a fan with the way she talks about Snatch Game. She’s properly supportive and excited, but also gets in there with some smart critiques. And her Madeline Kahn Snatch Game? Iconic. Give her a high placement!

“What if Mhi’ya won? I would shit.” Desperately need to hear more about this reaction from Q next week.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, March 1, 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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