Folks, I have tremendous news: at least on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, inflation has been solved. RuPeter Badge inflation, that is; after UK Season 4’s ridiculous six-badge victory for the girl groups challenge, RuPaul has finally said enough is enough! The badge economy must return to the mean, and the host accomplishes it this week by giving out just one win for this season’s girl groups task.
This is, of course, unprecedented in the history of this challenge on Drag Race UK. Back in Season 1, the winning trio of Baga Chipz, Blu Hydrangea and Divina de Campo—the Frock Destroyers—were simply so equally good on “Break Up (Bye Bye)” that choosing one individual winner would’ve felt insufficient. That go-around, the three-way tie win felt like the right choice. And while I might quibble with one of the wins in Season 2 for the United Kingdolls’ “UK Hun?” (Lawrence Chaney’s verse and performance was a mark worse than A’Whora’s, Bimini’s and Tayce’s all were), the whole performance was so damn good that the group victory was justified.
But UK Season 3’s challenge is, like many other things about that season, where everything fell apart. First, in an experiment never done again, the two groups got different versions of the same song—at different tempos. This inherently disadvantaged one group—though, hilariously, the group that lost actually chose the faster-paced song—though neither group did particularly well. This made the four-way victory for Pick ’N’ Mix feel remarkably unearned, especially since no one is bopping to “B.D.E. (Big Drag Energy)” the way they did the last two songs. And “Come Alive” from Season 4 is even less remembered, making the six-way victory all the more absurd.
So kudos to Ru and the show for deflating us back to just one win, coming after another Lip Sync for the Win between two top queens from the victorious team (and no elimination, to boot). But which group would come out on top: the Fierce Force Five or the M-52s?
As you see, nearly any time the queens are allowed to put themselves into groups, there’s a clear top picks vs. underdogs theme to these teams. The Fierce Force Five are made up of Cara Melle, DeDeLicious, Tomara Thomas, Michael Marouli and Vicki Vivacious. All of them have scored in the top at least once this season, and Vicki won the very first challenge. On the other hand, the M-52s, a group of northerners made up of Miss Naomi Carter, Ginger Johnson, Kate Butch and Banksie have just one challenge win (Banksie’s last week for design) and one other high-scoring placement (Ginger’s in the premiere) among them.
Furthering the M-52s’ plight is that Naomi, after a playful body slam with DeDe in the cold open, has injured her knee. The ghosts of Eureka!, Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté and Victoria Scone’s first season runs immediately dance around my head, as leg injuries are usually a pretty easy way to get yourself removed from the competition—particularly heading into a performance task. However, the M-52s are determined to figure out a solution, which speaks to their scrappy nature as the underdogs this week.
Both groups meet with “Michelle ‘The Voice’ Visage,” as Ru intros her, to record their verses for “Don’t Ick My Yum.” The song is a cute ’90s throwback in which queens are encouraged to write about what gives them, as the kids say, the “ick.” My personal favourite choice for an ick is Ginger’s choice of “TERFs and Tories,” but there are some political choices throughout the two teams. On the other hand, you have Michael coming out against socks in sandals—also a great offense!
Honestly, basically everyone sounds great during the recording session. There are no Filth Harmony-style disasters awaiting us here—but it also means judging is going to be tough. Decisions will likely be made on the performances onstage, and the two groups take decidedly different routes. The Fierce Force Five go all out with dancing, while the M-52s put Naomi on a couch and dance comedically around her.
Watching the performances, it’s easy to appreciate each on their own merits—but what the Fierce Force Five are doing is just next level. Tomara and Cara in particular dance their asses off during the performance, with the housemates giving each other a run for their money as best in the group. I also really like Michael’s performance, and DeDe’s paint in her girl group look is my favourite mug she’s done all season. The only performance I find lacking is Vicki’s, as her energy is too low and she misses lyrics.
The M-52s do their best with what they have, and I actually like their verses more on average. Kate raps quite well, and packs her verse with Kate Bush references. Ginger’s verse is very fun, and she has a fun gag playing Naomi’s foot like a saxophone. (Trust me, it makes sense in context.) Naomi stands up for her verse and delivers the hell out of it; it’s really only Banksie who falls short here, and her verse is still cute.
So judging this week is a tough one. Personally, knowing we’re not getting an elimination this week, I’d have had a representative from each group in the Lip Sync for the Win: Cara and Kate. If I had to pick a winning team, I’d have chosen the Fierce Force Five (as Ru does), and had Cara and Michael battle for the win. While Tomara is excellent in the challenge, her take on Elvis Presley for the Night of 1000 Pop Icons runway is a real miss. As RuPaul immediately clocks, it’s more Demi Moore than Elvis.
Meanwhile, Michael pulls off an incredibly impressive take on the runway, “stitching” the five Spice Girls into one. Ru calls it a “Frankenspice” moment, and he’s exactly correct. I love this look from Michael; it reminds me of Danny Beard’s Little Shop of Horrors look from Season 4, insofar as it’s a moment where I see one queen working on a much higher level than the others in her drag. I didn’t expect this going into the season, but I’m finding myself most drawn to what Michael is doing week in and week out.
But this week it’s a triumphant Cara (who really is the star of her team, and wears a gorgeous take on a Beychella look for the runway) and housemate Tomara battling for the win. On a pure performance level, I think this is the right call—I just think there were other factors that would’ve put Michael in the top with Cara for me. But the viewers ultimately win for getting Cara vs. Tomara, because this is a show.
The lip sync song is “Remember” by Becky Hill and David Guetta, and it’s a whole-ass bop. Sometimes the best way to get a great performance on Drag Race is to take a dance track, give it to two incredible dancers and let them go to town. That’s exactly what we get this week, and the two housemates really give each other a run for their money.
In the end, Cara wins out, earning her first RuPeter Badge of the season. Honestly, this could’ve gone either way—the lip sync is great all around. But considering how much of the episode is focused on Cara’s story (more on that in the final thoughts), it makes sense that she is the victor.
I gotta say, for all my concerns coming into this season, I’m really enjoying UK Season 5 so far. It feels fresh, and not just like a rehash of another season. If anything, it almost feels a little Canada’s Drag Race in spirit: a solid, evenly matched cast having a lot of fun, with enough story to keep things going but no big, dramatic swings just yet. If the season continues on this trajectory, I will be able to safely call it my favourite season of 2023 so far. But we’ve got a long way to go before I can do that.
Untucking our final thoughts
✨ We get full group shots all throughout this episode, as a reminder that the disqualified queen is officially out of the game. Glad that’s done with and we can have a straightforward season moving forward—without the poor editors working themselves to the bone to remove a queen.
✨ My vote for best line reading of the episode goes to DeDe’s deep, shocked delivery when Ru announces the queens will need to put themselves into teams: “Ourselves?”
✨ Ginger knows her team is the underdog group, but she’s not taking it lying down, saying to the Fierce Force Five, “When I look over there, I see brunch.” Interestingly, Michael is the one to note how these things ordinarily go down, saying in a confessional that counting the comedy underdogs out is never a good plan.
✨ Love the conversation Cara has in the werk room about coming to terms with her womanhood through drag. She made this point back in the premiere, but despite trying out several times before, it’s clear that this is exactly the right moment for Cara to be on Drag Race. It’s a good reminder that it’s not age, but where you are in your own journey that tells you when you’re ready for this international stage.
✨ Singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor is our guest judge, and holy shit, she’s great. Not only is she fun and engaged throughout the process, but she also gets two incredible bits: playing along with Kate’s Shania Twain “That Don’t Impress Me Much” runway, and deadpanning when Michael tells her she’s a huge fan: “Why didn’t you come as me, then?” It’s definitely easier for Drag Race UK guest judges who come on non-elimination episodes, since they’re allowed to be all-positive, but Sophie’s energy tells me she’d be a valuable addition to any judging panel.
✨ While I understand the circumstances that led to this week’s non-elimination (namely, the disqualified queen), I gotta say, it is hilarious that we’re three episodes in and this top-two format has happened twice. Poor Alexis Saint-Pete, the only queen to go home in the first three weeks of the season!
✨ Let Naomi’s knee be a lesson: please “tit bang” responsibly.
The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 4 p.m. EDT 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.