RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 Episode 9: The Realness

Bryony Bates

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

It’s the final four we deserve though not, as Michelle observes this episode, the final four you’d have guessed from the outset. It’s 50/50: Kim Chi and Bob the Drag Queen have always been front-runners, but Naomi Smalls and especially Chi Chi DeVayne have been unexpected treats this season. Both have taken on the judges’ critiques and stepped up their game throughout the competition, and in Chi Chi we have the heart-warming tale of a rough-around-the-edges queen who has become the polished beauty we see this evening and learned to love herself along the way. It’s the kind of redemption narrative that RuPaul loves, but doesn’t always come off that well in the show.

The queens turn up in full face, wondering loudly about what they’ll have to do when we’re all perfectly aware that this is the music video challenge. They are filming the music video for RuPaul’s new single, ‘The Realness’, but the loser will be eliminated from the final version completely, as well as from the final three. Cue instant face drop from Kim Chi, who has spent the last eight weeks working on a couture feathered time machine to go back to before the competition and take some dance lessons.

Having said that, there isn’t actually a lot of dancing to do. I suspect this is partly a bone thrown to Kim Chi, whom they don’t want to exclude from the top three on the basis of her dance abilities or lack thereof, but also due to the fact that the choreographed dance sequences are usually the weakest part of these videos. At the end of the day, this is going to make an actual RuPaul music video, and having non-dancers fumble basic choreography does not exactly fit in with Mama Ru’s personal brand.

Instead, the queens first have to lie on a box with their legs dangling off the end and try to look as though they’re floating through the air, with the director repeating the word ‘floatography’ over and over as if that’s going to help their core muscles. It’s the kind of thing we used to get for the first mini challenge of the season, with all the attendant potential for embarrassment that entails.

That potential is realised when an exhausted Kim Chi falls off the box and has to be helped up. I can’t link directly to a clip of this moment, but please enjoy the expert reconstruction below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9LUY8guDaU&w=560&h=315]

There is a little bit of dancing next, but Kim manages to avoid it by flapping the wings of her feathered outfit around instead. That queen uses feathers the way most queens use rhinestones. In any case, she looks appropriately avant-garde (the theme for this section), and manages to avoid dancing.

Bob the Drag Queen reminds us that she can dance on top of everything else, and finishes her segment with a death drop. As death drops haven’t been used quite so gratuitously this season as they have in the past (Laganja Estranja, I’m looking at you), it’s a welcome addition to the video.

Naomi looks fantastic, as ever, and really she could piss on the camera lens and we’d all still be going ‘Yasss! Those legs mama!’ so this is hardly a challenge for her. We’re supposed to think that Chi Chi has really fucked up when her heel gets caught in her dress, and while a full-length gown with netting may not have been the best choice for dancing, Chi Chi is the dancing queen of this season and it doesn’t affect her overall performance that much.

Then they get to pose in front of the mirror for a while. What a hardship for a drag queen!

As per, the final ‘Best Drag’ runway isn’t really anyone’s best drag because they’ve used all their looks by now, but no one looks terrible. This is a little unfair: Kim Chi’s look is what we’re used to from her (feathers) but would be anyone else’s best drag. The rest of them look nice enough, though I don’t think Bob knows what a tuxedo is (hint: it doesn’t involve leggings).

The judges say what they like about everyone because, hey – critiques aren’t really relevant at this stage. Then the queens give a speech to a photo of themselves as a child in the ‘it gets better’ mould, complete with ugly crying from Kim, and then tell the judges why they deserve the crown. They’ve all grown as people, they all love themselves when they didn’t before… the magic of television and/or drag, everybody!

There’s little of interest in the judges’ comments when the queens are backstage, except Ross Matthews’ (correct) statement that Kim Chi has the potential to evolve drag – she is at the cutting edge of drag as art.

This could mean we’re looking at a minor upset: everyone online and indeed in the show has been acting as if it’s a done deal that Bob the Drag Queen is America’s Next Drag Superstar, but it’s possible that Kim Chi will snatch the crown at the last minute. This episode has been very Kim-heavy, and that, combined with her win last week, might suggest a shift in focus leading up to the finale.

However, I don’t think that’s going to happen, and it’s not going to happen because of last season. Last season, everyone thought Ginger Minj was a dead cert for the win, and the crown ended up going to Violet Chachki, another queen who is very fashion, very visually interesting, very future-of-drag. This was not a popular decision. While the circumstances aren’t exactly the same this time round – Bob is not old-fashioned in the way that Ginger Minj is, and Kim Chi is cherished by the fans in a way Violet never was and never will be – I get the feeling that having had fashion win over comedy last year, comedy’s going to win over fashion this year.

The queens do their four-way lip sync to ‘The Realness’, and this is fine. You can never really tell if anyone’s doing particularly well or badly when there’s that many people on stage, and that’s kind of the point: at this stage you know who’s going to be in the top three, and having that balance upset by someone killing it/fucking up in a lip sync wouldn’t be great. As such, it’s no surprise to see Chi Chi DeVayne go home.

With her usual charm, she says leaving at this stage feels like being stabbed in the back, in the heart, and in the ass. But she leaves the stage as the real breakout star of this season, and almost certainly this year’s Miss Congeniality. I mean, it’s between her and Derrick Barry, of course, but somehow I think Chi Chi will edge it. Until next time…