RuPaul’s Drag Race – Season 6 Episode 5: “Snatch Game”

Now THAT is a Snatch Game.

I wonder if the people behind this show had any idea what they were unleashing when they first came up with the Snatch Game challenge back in season two. Certainly it’s the only main challenge that has been brought back year after year without any sort of attempt to put a new spin on it, and that’s because it works brilliantly as it is: it’s a chance for the queens to show off their best impression, their comedic chops, their improv abilities and their make-up skills. While it’s not always an accurate barometer of a queen’s prospects for the future (Tyra Sanchez’s Beyoncé impression in season two was the launching point for a thousand more lacklustre Beyoncé impersonations on this show, while Jinkx Monsoon is so far the only Snatch Game winner who’s gone on to win the entire competition), it is essentially, a challenge that gives us a good idea of who’s a real contender and who really should be packing their wigs and heading home. Snatch Game is such an event that the show didn’t even bother with a mini-challenge this week, so without further ado, let’s go through all the queens in declining order of Snatch Game brilliance.

Adore Delano (Anna Nicole Smith): I really think Adore should have won this week. I can understand why she didn’t, but I still think she deserved this one. Adore has been a huge fan of Anna Nicole Smith for a long time, and it showed. She nailed every single bit of characterisation, from the slurred diction to the intoxicated self-confidence, and unlike a lot of people who take on a personality for Snatch Game that they admire in real life, Adore wasn’t interested in a reverent tribute – this was absolutely warts-and-all. It was a risky impression too, as Ru was friends with Anna Nicole, so he would’ve been well-placed to spot any flaws, but the glorious incoherence of the whole thing left Ru himself helpless with laughter on several occasions. It was interesting how this episode also fostered a friendship between Adore and Bianca – perhaps because Bianca saw potential in her comic abilities and wanted to nurture it, or possibly just because they were both tired of Laganja’s shit at this point – and that Bianca gave Adore the equipment she needed to achieve that cinched waist on the runway that Michelle’s been asking for for the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately the rest of her look was still kind of ratty around the edges and – as guest judge Heather McDonald pointed out – Adore’s demeanour on the runway was still a little heavily influenced by Anna Nicole, which did sort of make her impression feel less impressive retroactively. That said: still in my all-time Snatch Game top three, along with Tatianna’s Britney Spears and Sharon Needles’ Michelle Visage.

Ben Delacreme (Maggie Smith): Much like Stacy Layne Matthews’ “Monique” in season three, this wasn’t so much an impression of the actress as it was a specific character: this was Ben making the most of the excuse to play the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, and probably putting more effort into the performance than Dame Maggie has done for years. We were treated to one of those fake-outs that Drag Race is so fond of, where the editors hinted heavily that this was to be a trainwreck because…something, but it ended being far from that. Building a character around the idea that they live in the past and are confused by references to the present day isn’t the most original idea, but Ben’s commitment to the idea was impressive, and what really sold the character was her deliberately archaic language and syntax: when asked to fill in a “blank” about a new flavour of vodka, Ben not only suggested “citrus” as though it was the most racy and daring idea imaginable, but she also referred to it as a “libation”, which was absolutely perfect. There was honestly the thinnest of hairs between this and Adore’s Anna Nicole Smith for the top spot in my countdown, but I ended up favouring Adore just because I’ve always found comical incoherence to be much harder to pull off than it looks. That said, Ben was far, far stronger on the “Night Of 1000 Rus” runway, so I have no objection to her taking the win for the episode overall.

Joslyn Fox (Teresa Giudice): I didn’t really have big hopes for Joslyn going into the challenge, because she’s not really excelled at anything so far, and she’d picked a relatively minor reality show personality, which made me expect that she was just going to reel off a bunch of catchphrases and references that I wasn’t going to get (cf Roxxxy Andrews as Tamar Braxton). But the best impressions are the ones that don’t even need familiarity to be funny, and that’s exactly what Joslyn managed here. I worried at first when she started reeling off a long, meandering story, but she then completely nailed the punchline, and it all made sense. Joslyn captured that sense of someone far too invested in their own nonsense, and made it funny to boot with some well-chosen gags, including an extended study of how to pronounce her surname, a deliberate mispronunciation of “cumin” and the “prostitution whores” line that I only really know about through 30 Rock. It was a hugely confident and strongly comic performance that I think could easily have won Snatch Game on a weaker season – it’s just a shame for her that so many queens brought their A-game this year and she just missed out on a place in the top three (though I like to think that was to give her more screentime on Untucked to campaign for the Miss Congeniality vote, that’s starting to look surprisingly within her reach).

Bianca Del Rio (Judge Judy): I’m not sure I entirely buy that Bianca had no idea that Ru was such a fan of Judge Judith Sheindlin, because Bianca strikes me as someone who does her homework before showing up. Either way, it’s a pretty big risk to take on one of Ru’s heroes for Snatch Game, but Bianca’s personality is naturally caustic enough that this was never really going to be that much of a reach. In a sense, that’s both what was right with it and what was wrong with it: Bianca had the braying voice down and all the catchphrases memorised, but it didn’t really feel like that much of a departure from Bianca’s regular drag persona. (Not that I’m suggesting that Judge Judy is any sort of drag queen.) So for me this was a very solid, very funny performance, but not necessarily one that’s going to go down as an all-time favourite – although screaming “BEAUTY FADES, DUMB IS FOREVER!” at Gia was probably one of the greatest deployments of a character’s catchphrase in all five seasons of Snatch Game. And the deployment of the Byrd puppet was inspired.

Darienne Lake (Paula Deen): There’s an invisible line just above this entry, which marks the point where the impressions switch from being “great” to being “competent”. That’s not intended as any kind of personal slur on these performances, just that they were either not quite fully realised or not given room to breathe. Darienne’s version of Paula Deen, all nervy southern charm and snacking on a stick of butter, was perfectly fine, but that’s all it ever was. I think the timing screwed Darienne a little bit here – as far as I can work out, this season was filmed before the racism scandal broke, so Darienne wouldn’t have known about any of that to include it – but watching it now, any send-up of Paula Deen that doesn’t address her more unsavoury viewpoints feels half-finished at best. Still, it was a good physical resemblance and Darienne was never less than entertaining in the role – again, it’s just a shame that she was up against so many genuinely strong contestants and ended up getting lost in the shuffle.

Courtney Act (Fran Drescher): I’ve seen a lot of comments online wondering why Courtney didn’t go for an Australian celebrity, but I admire her for not taking the easy route – this way she got to demonstrate to the judges that she’s willing to take risks and step outside of what’s expected of her, even if it doesn’t always land her at the top of the pile. And so we have it that a queen who’s been lauded so far for her fishiness and mellifluous singing voice went for America’s premier nasal Jewish comedienne. It was unfortunate that she got upstaged by Joslyn’s scarily accurate Fran Drescher impression in the confessionals, and ultimately this one was middle-of-the-pack at best, but at least she didn’t fail for lack of ambition.

Trinity K Bonet (Nicki Minaj): And here’s where we reach the point of the impressions that just failed to hit the mark. Trinity pulled together a decent overall look as Nicki, but that was where it started and ended. There was no attempt to do the voice – and I really don’t think Nicki Minaj’s voice is that hard to send-up – and the joy of Nicki is that if you even get close to getting the voice right, then that’ll sell half the jokes for you. But Trinity isn’t an acting queen, as she constantly reminds us, so she just phoned in her performance and didn’t even really attempt any jokes, other than the played-out mid-game wig change. Still, the one thing separating her from the rest of the bottom feeders was that amazing runway look, which was genuinely stunning.

Laganja Estranja (Rachel Zoe): Much in the same way that it was always a warning on Stars In Their Eyes when someone would say “I first realised I could be this person when someone told me I looked like them”, Laganja’s statement that the two most important aspects of Snatch Game were look and voice was a big ol’ alarm. JOKES, LAGANJA. YOU ALSO NEED JOKES. I don’t really know much about what Rachel Zoe sounds like so I can’t really judge on the accuracy of the impersonation, but the performance felt like the other side of Bianca’s coin – spitting out catchphrases without any real feeling for timing or rhythm meant that little about the impression was funny, and Laganja’s prickly attitude during the runway suggested she knew that too. I also enjoyed the editors actually digging up material from last week’s Untucked when Laganja was relating to Adore how awful it was that the others STOLE HER MOMENT just to prove how full of shit she is.

Gia Gunn (Kim Kardashian): Gia’s original plan was to be Selena, until Ru pointed out that there’s really not much you can do to make Selena funny. (This was summed up perfectly by Adore in her confessional when she pointed out that Gia’s Selena impression would’ve amounted to little more than “I like pizza and I got shot by Yolanda.”) Gia did the right thing by ditching that impression, but replacing it with Kim Kardashian – who isn’t exactly brimming with personality either – just meant she was substituting one terrible idea for another. Since Gia’s only ever really managed to be funny by accident, this was never going to be a great showcase for her, and she just had absolutely no idea what to do when she got out there. Then she had to lip-sync with a wonky eyelash and ended up losing, but I’m sure she’ll have a great time in the great Drag Race Afterlife cackling in the corner with Vivienne Pinay about how they’ll always be the fishiest queens.

Milk (Julia Child): No seriously, what is going on with Milk? Has she seen this show before? Does she understand comedy? At first I thought picking Julia Child for her impression could have been a masterstroke – I’ve seen Julie & Julia, so I know all you have to do is just play her like a man in drag just like Meryl Streep did. A slam dunk for a drag queen, surely? And yet, when asked by Ru what precisely made Julia Child funny, Milk could only reply that she’s “tall” and she “wrote a 700-page cookbook”. I think there comes a point where you have to just accept that someone isn’t being arch, or ironic – they’re just missing the point. I didn’t mind the look that she put together so much, but the performance itself was absolutely pitiful. While Gia was probably worse overall, I’m putting Milk at the bottom because I feel like the raw materials are all there, but she never sticks the landing. And the boy-drag thing for the RuPaul runway was as disappointing as it was predictable – even leaving aside the cheap suit and the fact that she looked more like Terry Tibbs than RuPaul, there’s no point in being the avant-garde queen if we can all anticipate your every move. As for pulling the “I need to stay true to my aesthetic” line – well, make it clear what your aesthetic is, because I’m still not getting anything beyond “do something RANDOM and WACKY because I’m just so UNIQUE”. That might have worked a couple of years ago, but Sharon Needles has proven that you can stay true to yourself AND give the judges what they want, so Milk’s excuses ring a little hollow here.

And in Untucked: Adore has finally broken away from Laganja, and not a moment to soon. That moment of Laganja and Gia having their little pity party for two while they talked about how sensitive they are would’ve been hilarious in its own right, but Adore pulling a Jim Halpert right down the camera made it solid gold. I was also quite intrigued by how this was the first time Ru’s actually needed to interrupt and steer the narrative after Trinity misunderstood Santino’s criticism on the runway – and I think that the conclusion Trinity drew from the comments was absolutely fair enough. Also, I’m sad Trinity’s video message didn’t turn out to be from Beyoncé. I mean, she’s done BintModel, surely this can only be a step up from there.

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