RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ Season 5, Episode 9 recap: Roastess with the mostest

Our final four becomes a final three heading into the finale

Two years ago, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK aired its finale on American Thanksgiving. I remember it specifically because it was a Christmas-themed episode, which was a new level of skipping over the divisive November holiday. (Granted, the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but RuPaul and Michelle Visage are Americans!) That season finale didn’t give many fans something to be thankful for, as two fan favourites were beaten out by Ru fave Krystal Versace. I, personally, enjoyed Krystal’s crowning, but was also mostly just thankful to be done with that season.

This go-around, we’re still two episodes out of the finale on Thanksgiving, but there’s a lot more to be grateful for. This season has been a triumph, with not a bad episode in the whole run and one of the most compelling casts we’ve ever had. Whoever makes the finale will have done so after entertaining us for over two months. And so it’s with that spirit of gratitude that we head into this season’s roast episode.

The theme is “Gladiators,” like the popular UK game show. Each queen has a Gladiator persona and comes out in brightly-coloured spandex, with special focus put on crowd work in the performances. But all in all, this is a pretty standard rendition of the roast, with a final four that is heavy on comedic performers.

It’s no surprise, then, that this is one of the strongest roasts we’ve ever seen, with two excellent performances and one surprisingly good one. There’s really only one flop, and even in context, she’s enjoyable on her own merits. I almost wondered about halfway through the episode if they might pull a UK Season 2 or 4, and give us a final double shantay with all four moving forward to the finale. But no; someone is going home this week, leaving us with a final three.

Michael Marouli’s expert crowd work and sharp jokes earn her a third RuPeter Badge Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

DeDeLicious gets to pick the performance order this week, ostensibly because she was last week’s lip sync survivor, and actually because production likes drama. They remember all the Sturm und Drang around Ellie Diamond picking the performance order in Season 2! They would like a repeat, please! However, the queens are largely okay with going anywhere, which makes DeDe’s job relatively easy. The one shady bit she pulls off is putting Michael Marouli at the end when she specifically requested first, but when DeDe asks if she’s okay with it, she mostly just shrugs.

Tomara Thomas gets to go first instead, and if you’ve been keeping up with these recaps, you’ll remember that I’ve felt Tomara has been coasting these past few weeks. Guess what she does this week! If you guessed “coast on charm,” you’d be right—or at least, that’s certainly what she tries to do. Her set is low on material and high on yelling, which does get the crowd of eliminated queens and judges excited! And to her face, the judges are nothing but complimentary, Michelle only knocking her visible black corset for her “Poofs on Parade” runway look.

 

But during deliberations, we finally hear the judges dancing around what I’ve thought for most of the season: Tomara is getting a pass on not preparing because of how entertaining she is. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing! One of my all-time favourite queens is Alyssa Edwards, the judging of whom was once summarized by Phi Phi O’Hara as “But it’s okay because you’re Alyssa.” I myself have advocated in my Wig! newsletter (sign up if you haven’t already!) for some kind of way to acknowledge queens who bring entertainment in ways that don’t directly tie into the challenges.

That’s not what’s been happening with Tomara, though. Instead, the judges have been praising Tomara for doing well in the challenges even when she actively does not hit the mark. Were I judging, I would’ve put her in the bottom two every week for the past three—and yet she only finally has to lip sync for her life this week. Her track record feels inflated relative to her actual performance.

Michelle Visage stuns in a new silver bob look Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

Contrast Tomara with Ginger Johnson, who if anything has actually somehow been under-rewarded this season. This despite three RuPeter Badges! This week, she once again kills the challenge, with a set of jokes that constantly build on themselves. “I’ve eaten yogurts that are more cultured than DeDe” is my personal favourite line, but the jokes about Michelle’s body being a temple are a grand slam of punchlines. Ginger’s only weakness is her reliance on cards, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal.

Unless, of course, Michael makes a big show of throwing her cards away in dramatic fashion at the start of her set. Honestly, what a serve. What a slay. Michael fully commands the stage, killing the crowd work and nailing her transitions. Her best joke is to Ginger: “Ginger Johnson! Triple badge winner. Triple threat. Triple heart bypass.” She then transitions to the judges’ panel perfectly: “Speaking of strokes: RuPaul!” It’s just really impressive stuff from Michael, who is catching heat at just the right time in this competition.

While the judging is close, Ginger’s reliance on cards comes back to bite her, and Michael ultimately takes a third RuPeter Badge. This means the two are tied going into the finale, with the only differentiator being Michael’s one Lip Sync for Your Life two weeks ago. That might just be enough to decide who wins it all, but as I have all season, I’ll be rooting for Michael. I didn’t come into this run expecting for her to be my favourite, but she’s won me over week in and week out. I would be delighted to see her take home the crown.

DeDeLicious bids Drag Race farewell as she just misses out on joining the top three assembled behind her Credit: Courtesy World of Wonder

I’ve left DeDe for last, because as you can expect, she is who we send home this week. The writing’s on the wall all episode, but bless DeDe for trying her best to change her fate. She overperforms in the challenge by a good bit (she’s far better than Tomara), and pulls out a gold stunner of a runway look for Poofs on Parade. The poofy sleeves alone! But she really is a dead woman walking going into the lip sync regardless, as she’s on her fourth bottom two appearance with Tomara on her first.

The lip sync is to Annie Lennox’s “Little Bird,” which is a goddamn song. These two turn it out, giving intensely emotional and evocative performances. Again, it really wouldn’t be out of reach for Ru to declare a double shantay. But like Cheryl Hole and Vanity Milan before her, DeDe is the Lip Sync Assassin destined to fall just short of the finale. She is sent home, leaving us with a final three in the endgame.

Despite my Michael stanning, I do believe this season is Ginger’s to lose. She’s simply been more prepared for Drag Race than any queen I can remember since BenDeLaCreme in her All Stars run. It’s not that she’s more talented than any who have come since, but she’s had a game plan for every single bump that could come along the way. When her statistical worst performance was a safe placement way back in Episode 2’s design task (Episode 3’s girl group challenge had no bottom placements), you know for a fact that she’s dominated.

But hey, UK has been known to throw us a curveball at the end. Perhaps Michael isn’t truly out of this? And could Tomara pull off a surprising Hail Mary performance at the end? We’ll have to watch next week’s finale to see how it all shakes out!

Untucking our final thoughts

The queens laugh early on thinking about how pissed Vicki Vivacious is going to be about their roasts of her. While they’re not on the money there, they are right about Vicki being pissed! We’ll get into that at the end.

Cara Melle is absent despite the eliminated queens’ return, with the explanation that she fell ill. Sad not to see Cara one more time, but only so much production can do if a cast member is sick.

I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that, instead of doing one-on-one notes, Alan Carr does a class for the queens. Getting the kind of individual coaching that we’ve seen in previous seasons can really sharpen up a set in a way this generic feedback can’t. Although this roast is terrific, so who am I to question the process?

Ginger talks in a mirror moment about playing rugby as a form of drag—essentially that it’s a way of performing masculinity. I gotta say, I can’t remember a queen in recent seasons with such an easy facility in talking about herself and her experiences. It’s gotta be a dream on the production side to have someone they don’t need to prod into sharing. (Never forget Vanity saying, “Do you know what’s funny about the Snatch Game is, you had to play a character. It takes me back to being young in school, and having to play a straight person.”)

Our extra special guest judge is comedian Aisling Bea, and y’all know I love when the guest judge’s expertise lines up with the challenge. She’s very fun and game, and has good notes. She also says her Gladiator name would be “Michelle Visage,” which gets a chuckle out of me.

Speaking of Michelle, can we talk about this silver bob? Excellence! Eleganza! Mother has arrived! She always looks good, particularly on UK, but this was next-level for me.

Okay, let’s get into the Vicki vs. DeDe of it all—although calling it a “versus” implies there was any kind of back-and-forth, not Vicki just dumping old drama on DeDe’s doorstep. Vicki gets questioned about her infamous mirror message, in which she declared that she loves “most” of the queens. Vicki claims she was trying to be professional all season, but DeDe put such a bad taste in her mouth way back in Episode 1 when she told Alexis Saint-Pete she’d be lip syncing against her. She says this was “very sneaky” on DeDe’s part, although Alexis herself seems to have no problem with it. Ginger takes it a step further in confessional and says Vicki’s logic that she was keeping things professional is backwards: it’s much less professional to harbour a grudge for weeks of a competition and then suddenly bring it out at this moment. We can only judge on edit when it comes to these queens’ characterization, but based on what I’ve seen this season, I would say Vicki does not thrive in a reality TV atmosphere. All best to her, but I think it’s best she leaves Drag Race behind her.

Kate Butch writing “BALEGDAH” on the mirror … unserious queen. I will forever stan.

The finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available to stream on Thursday, Nov. 30, 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.

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