RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 Episode 8: Book Ball

Bryony Bates

Bryony likes reading, writing, glamour and anger. @Bryony_Bates

This season has seen a really strong showing of queens, no doubt about it. Michelle noted last week that no one did really terribly, and that’s almost unheard of on Drag Race: even at this late stage, someone fucks up. Which makes it all the more surprising that Derrick Barry, who has for some time been the least adept queen in the Work Room, is still here.

For some time now, the Derrick vs. Bob rivalry has been pushed as a major source of this season’s drama, but it’s Naomi Smalls who really drags Derrick this episode. Her main issue: Derrick just isn’t doing drag, or more to the point, doesn’t really understand drag beyond, ‘Do I look like a woman y/n’.

‘Derrick paints like a real woman would paint,’ says Naomi, and I’m sure someone could write a dissertation on drag as female impersonation or not based on that statement alone. A paragraph at least. And so Derrick, who never saw a grudge he couldn’t cuddle up with at night and hold onto forever, spends the rest of the episode fixating on proving himself as a real drag queen by switching up his make up. With – results. Of a kind.

In case there wasn’t enough tension in the room already, for the mini challenge we have #EverybodyLovesPuppets where the queens drag up and tear down a puppet version of one of their rivals. Naomi and Derrick get each other, of course, but while Naomi is a little pissed off, Derrick can’t let go for the rest of the episode and damn does she let Naomi know about this later. This is the problem with Derrick: he seems to think he’s being bitchy in a fun way, when he’s actually being bitter and nasty. Like Acid Betty, but less intelligent.

Chi Chi wins with her take on Bob – though she gets her best bit in when she’s announced as winner, with her puppet saying, ‘I never lose a challenge.’ So now we move onto the completely unrelated main challenge: the Book Ball. Yes it’s time for the ball, and this year the queens’ three looks are: Baby Drag Realness, That’s My Mama Realness, and Autobiographical Eleganza Extravaganza (this last category comprising an outfit made from books).

Would it have been brilliant or terrible for Thorgy to take part in this challenge, given her earlier revelations about her mother’s death? I’m going to say great, as Thorgy said her mother was a great style inspiration, so it’s a real shame she’s not here to give us some 70s hippy realness instead of Derrick hot-gluing some book pages to a corset.

Of course there is some mama trauma in the room, which Ru does his best to get out of everyone. In case you’d forgotten, Kim Chi’s mum doesn’t even know she does drag, while we discover that Derrick’s has a chronic illness. There are tears from Naomi too, but happy tears because she just loves her mum SO MUCH YOU GUYS, which is really sweet. I may or may not have said ‘Oooh I miss my mum!’ out loud during this part, though my mum isn’t dead or ill, she just lives in Surrey.

Not so sweet is the on-going bickering between Naomi and Derrick, not helped by Chi Chi butting in and implying that Naomi has no talent. She means talent in the pageant sense of ‘something you do other than looking pretty’, but Derrick seizes on this to prove she’s better than Naomi. No one mentions in this bit that Naomi can sew, which puts her way ahead of Derrick. Then everyone decides to have a go at Bob for her make up, which again, seems daft with Derrick standing right there obsessing over blocking out her brows for the runway as if it’s the most daring thing she’ll ever do. Derrick’s make up may be basic but she’s got the personality to ahem make up for it, unlike some people.

Oh, they also have to do a choreographed routine as a homage to guest judge Amy Sedaris’s character Jerri Blank from Strangers With Candy, but as this is purely meant to waste some time and has no connection whatsoever to the main challenge, we’ll gloss over it. They’re all fine, whatever.

Kim Chi gives us a jooooooourrrrney with her three looks, from baby drag sprout through to a blossoming queen, via a frosty mother with wicked nails wearing a traditional Korean hanbok. She wins the challenge, and while on one level I want her to win as a tribute to all the fantastic design work she’s done through this season, really Chi Chi ought to have got this.

After a poor showing the past couple of weeks, Chi Chi has taken the judges’ criticisms to heart and actually done something about them. Her floor length leopard print mama look – complete with expert padding, which has been a problem for Miss DeVayne in the past – and her fabulous paper eleganza extravaganza really show what she can do. The final dress uses a similar silhouette to her Dorothy outfit from two weeks ago, but where that was half-arsed at best, this week it looks amazing. The little paper cut-out detailing on her face and in her hair are nice touches too. Against all odds, Chi Chi really has proven herself a contender this season, and we might be seeing her in the top three.

Naomi does a sexy baby look, which is dubious but pretty funny, and both her mama and paper looks are on point. The only thing I’d say about the paper dress is that while it looks great, it’s quite similar to her scarecrow look from two weeks ago. Clearly that’s something that works for her, and she’s confident knocking it up quickly, but it would have been nice to see something different.

Bob actually looks great in all three of his looks, but removes the only element of his final outfit which actually used books just before going onstage, which lands him in the bottom two. Someone had to be there I suppose. And look who’ll be joining him – why it’s Derrick Barry!

Derrick is so convinced that blocking out her brows will prove what she’s made of that she forgets that she has to actually, you know, look good. The brows are wonky, her first two outfits are messy and the final outfit is the exact same silhouette we’ve seen her do the whole season: corset plus panties plus bits glued onto hips of panties to add ~interest~. She hasn’t even padded. It’s sad.

No surprises who wins this lip sync – Derrick’s putting a hell of a lot of effort in, but Bob effortlessly owns the stage. And steals the limelight by giving a little speech about how she’s buried the hatchet with Derrick before she leaves, so Derrick doesn’t even get to be bitter.

Often the queen who goes out at this stage ends up as Miss Congeniality. Think that’s something Derrick has to look forward to? Me neither. Ciao for now.

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