‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ Season 4, Episode 7 recap: I can’t make it without you

The UK series gets its own take on Season 9’s beloved “Crew Better Work” makeover challenge

For many, the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 makeover episode is what finally made that particular challenge good. Long a standard, but rarely with the output to justify its continued existence, the makeover task could occasionally give us some nice moments, but often led to ugly encounters (see: Season 4’s gay veteran makeovers) or lots of focus on straight men’s discomfort with drag (Joslyn Fox’s unwilling partner literally puking onstage in Season 6).

In Season 9’s “Makeovers: Crew Better Work,” the producers took what had previously stood out about other makeover challenges—some kind of connection between the queens and their partners—and found a whole new way to stage the challenge. Instead of bringing in outsiders, Drag Race looked from within, and had six male members of the Drag Race production crew serve as makeover subjects. This was an ideal solution, not just because it guaranteed that the men being made over would be comfortable with drag, but because the contestants absolutely lost their shit over it. I’m telling you, if you ever need a blast of serotonin, just go back and watch the glee on those queens’ faces when Ru announces who they’ll be making over.

Season 9 had some real highlight episodes—“Your Pilot’s on Fire!” makes my personal list of the all-time Drag Race installments—but “Makeovers: Crew Better Work” stands out for genuinely reinventing a challenge. Since then, with only a few hiccups (Season 10’s influencer makeover task chief among them), the makeover challenge has become a routine standout episode of every season. Canada’s Drag Race Season 2’s queer prom makeovers is a particular series high.

Now, Drag Race UK has its own chance for an iconic production team makeover, as Ru announces this season’s subjects will be members of the “Queen Team.” The show never quite explicitly defines what these women’s roles are, beyond production members who take good care of the queens behind the scenes, but the queens’ reactions sell just how much Fleur, Gemma, Lucie, Mystique, Olivia and Wendy mean to them. The makeovers themselves reflect that love, although I’ll admit, the episode falls short of the impossibly high standard “Makeovers: Crew Better Work” set five years ago.

The top six all group hug as they say goodbye to eliminated queen Dakota Schiffer

Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

As has become more common in recent seasons, makeover subjects are basically randomly assigned, with Ru giving each a partner based on alphabetical order. (It’s part of a general change to make the makeover episodes as positive as possible, which follows into the less-critical-than-usual judges’ comments on the main stage.) Fleur goes with Black Peppa, Gemma with Cheddar Gorgeous, Lucie with Dakota Schiffer, Mystique with Danny Beard, Olivia with Jonbers Blonde and Wendy—who gets perhaps the most ecstatic reaction from the queens—gets Pixie Polite.

 

Right off the bat, you can see the natural rapport the queens have with these women. This was a huge boon to the Season 9 crew makeover as well: because these people have a history of talking to each other behind the scenes, they already have a chemistry that makes for good television. There are lots of platitudes about how much the women have done for them, and it’s clearly a treat for the queens to get to give back to them in some way.

It is somewhat frustrating, however, that the show is vague about what the “Queen Team” actually does. There are some references to making sure the queens are fed, and for doing some emotional labour for them, but nothing more specific about their roles. I guess there’s an element to which the show doesn’t want to ruin the TV magic of showing how talent producers—who I am led to believe these women are—actually keep these queens going. But if you’re going to do a makeover challenge with them, you’re naturally inviting questions.

Contrast this to how strictly and clearly defined the crew members’ roles were in “Makeovers: Crew Better Work.” We knew who was a cameraman, who was in the art department, who was an associate director and so on. This helped us, as an audience, understand what the queens’ interactions with these people have been like, and it led to great moments like the queens cackling with joy upon seeing Sarge, the cameraman they all knew well, suddenly become the fabulous Wintergreen. Yes, there’s an exuberant reaction for Wendy, but without knowing exactly what makes Wendy stand out among the other members of the Queen Team, it’s harder for us to get the same excitement out of her inclusion as the queens do.

Black Peppa opens up about her experience growing up gay in the Caribbean, with partner Fleur supporting her

Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

The women themselves do the best work in introducing us to them. Lucie opens up about embracing femininity as a queer woman, which makes her an ideal partner for Dakota. Others talk about their experiences of coming out, connecting with the queens based on those. And in the most notably raw and real conversation, Fleur and Peppa bond over their personal experiences with their sexuality, with Peppa sharing about living “constantly in fear” as a gay person in the Caribbean. The organic nature of the conversations and connections in the workroom has been a strength of this season as a whole, but this episode really highlights just how genuine this group is in these situations.

The good news is that, beyond some quirks with the structure, this episode succeeds based on those connections and especially the makeovers themselves. There’s no prompt beyond the usual “family resemblance” in this challenge, and several queens knock that out of the park. The top two of the week are Cheddar and Danny, who are increasingly running away with this season. Cheddar goes for an ethereal, goddess-like look for both her and Gemma, aka “Brie Gorgeous.” The result is stunning on the both of them, although if I have any quibble, it’s that it feels like Cheddar basically just replicates herself on another person in a different colour palette.

I’m perhaps even more impressed with Danny, who goes for ’60s-inspired looks that match, but do not mirror one another. Danny faces a difficulty, which is that Mystique—aka Mizzy Moustache—is not sure she wants to wear facial hair on the runway. Instead of just railroading Mystique into what she wants, or capitulating entirely to her partner, Danny gently walks her through the process. By the time she beats Mystique’s face, she’s on board to take the leap into a beard. It speaks to how gracefully Danny handles the partnership aspect of this challenge, and with no disrespect to Cheddar’s amazing work, I might give Danny the edge instead.

Interestingly, it is not RuPaul who gives Cheddar her third RuPeter Badge, but Michelle Visage. That’s right: for the first time ever on RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul himself is not present for this week’s main stage presentations. Michelle cites “circumstances beyond anyone’s control,” with no further explanation, but insists that Ru is watching via “live video link.” I am … dubious about this! I can’t say with certainty that Ru isn’t involved in this week’s decisions, but the supposed video link reads to me like a way to keep the spectre of the host around even as he himself is unavailable. Michelle says a couple of things that suggest this as well: “I need to talk to RuPaul” after the deliberations, “Let’s talk to Ru” after the lip sync, etc.

Honestly, I wish RuPaul’s Drag Race had been comfortable just keeping RuPaul out of it this week. Whether he’s really watching along or not, Michelle has over 25 seasons of experience judging this show under her belt. Plus, Season 2 and All Stars 1 alumna (and Ru’s makeup artist, lest we forget) Raven joins the panel, so there’s a Drag Race veteran offering insight as well. If we can’t trust this panel—which also includes guest judge Boy George, who is quite fun—then there’s a bigger flaw within Drag Race’s judging system.

Cheddar Gorgeous and Brie Gorgeous take the win this week for a pair of stunning looks

Credit: Courtesy World of wonder

Regardless, the show must go on. Peppa is called safe for an impressive club kid face makeover and conjoined hair bit, but too-simple black dresses, while Jonbers barely avoids the bottom two for a lack of family resemblance between herself and “Nanu Noir.” This leaves Pixie and Dakota to fight for their lives, after Pixie makes a mess of “Trixie Truelove” and her mug, while Dakota’s choice to go Valley of the Dolls once again frustrates Michelle in particular.

Issues about Jonbers still being in this competition aside—seriously, how does she still not have a win and is in the final five?—I can’t deny that this is the correct bottom two. Pixie’s an obvious choice; she’s the only one who out-and-out bombs this challenge. And while Dakota has done better in the competition overall than Jonbers, the judges are right to feel like Dakota is delivering the same aesthetic (if not quite silhouette, as Michelle argued) on the runway week after week. This was a time for Dakota to really do something different, and the only change she brought were some mismatched checkered tights and gloves.

The lip sync this week is to Culture Club’s “Miss Me Blind,” and it is truly a full cast lip sync. Seriously, with how well the back is lit, and everyone knowing and lip syncing every word, it’s actually hard to focus on Pixie and Dakota. Everyone’s just having a good time! I’d actually give the win to a couple in the back before I’d give it to either of our actual competitors, sorry to say. They’re not bad; it’s just unfortunate when the literal background players are stealing focus.

Michelle—or Ru via earpiece, supposedly—chooses Pixie to stay, and Dakota sashays away. This is a shocking result based on how the competition has been going so far. Dakota has become a fan favourite (she’s mine as well!), while Pixie has yet to have an individual breakout moment without being overshadowed by Danny in the judging. I’d put much higher odds on Dakota having a viable shot to win at the end than Pixie. But this is Dakota’s third time in the bottom, and while the three-strikes guideline has been inconsistently applied in recent seasons, it does clearly still hold some water. It just leads to an unfortunate result—and after Baby’s walk and Le Fil’s elimination, I’ll be honest that it’s given us a less-than-ideal final five.

Notably, we’re at five queens with three episodes to go. Only UK Season 2 and UK vs the World have had four-queen finales, which means we’re likely heading to another three-queen endgame. A modern RuPaul’s Drag Race season getting to the end without a bunch of non-eliminations? It’s a gay miracle! We’ll see who’s next to depart next week—until then!

Untucking our final thoughts

If there’s one thing that can sum up how rote Drag Race challenges have become, it’s that the queens can now so easily guess what the task of the week will be based on the RuMail. This top six immediately clocks that this week will be a makeover task. Remember the days of Adore Delano somehow deciding the RuMail meant they were going to box each other?

With Ru’s absence and Michelle’s hosting stint comes a whole slew of firsts for the franchise. First, Michelle Visage is the first on RuPaul’s Drag Race to walk out to “Cover Girl” and read Ru’s usual hosting banter; obviously, on other Drag Race series, their respective hosts do it instead (and, in Canada’s Drag Race’s first season, each week’s “guest host” did it instead). Additionally, Raven’s appearance on the panel makes her the first Drag Race alum to judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Again, obviously a lot of other examples on non-Ru Drag Race series: Choriza May, Alexis Mateo and Envy Peru on Drag Race España, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Jimbo on Canada’s Drag Race, alumni who now host like Brooke Lynn Hytes on Canada’s and Rita Baga on the upcoming Belgique, etc.

Of the many Ru-hosting related oddities in this episode is that Raven does a solo walk through the workroom to give makeup tips to the queens. This makes the circumstances of why Ru couldn’t appear all the more confusing, since he was there earlier in the day to assign the challenge. It also makes Raven one of the only people (following Symone during a segment of the Season 14 finale) to effectively host RuPaul’s Drag Race independent of Ru for any period of time.

Raven throws it back to her time on Season 2 when meeting Danny’s makeover partner: “Mystique! You showed up with a drag name!”

Dakota notes the sheer number of different queer identities in the room this season. It really has been a refreshingly diverse cast in that way, although I continue to wish UK would go even further in casting queens of different backgrounds. If Peppa’s workroom moment this week is any indication, there’s a wealth of experiences to be shared on this show—if the show can put in the work to assemble a cast that reflects that range.

Graham Norton is back! In his banter with Michelle, he references having had sex with a drag queen, to which Michelle replies, “Thought so. Did it burn?” This is, of course, a reference to his dating past with Season 13 queen Tina Burner, long before either of them was on the show. We love lore!

Clock that Cheddar is fully preparing for the lip sync during Mini-Untucked. Those few top two Lip Sync for the Wins from Season 3 clearly put the fear of god into these dolls.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. You can subscribe to our drag newsletter, Wig!, for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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