by Kevin O’Keeffe
Every year, we let ourselves get excited for Snatch Game on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” And every year, we are reminded that Snatch Game is not actually that good.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of highlights. We remember Sharon Needles’ brilliant Michelle Visage, gasping about working Susanne Bartsch’s party and Buffalo nickels. We remember Jinkx Monsoon’s iconic Little Edie, so detailed in every gesture and vocal affectation. We even remember the misfires, like Tyra Sanchez’s Beyoncé, who was, to paraphrase Pandora Boxx, not very Beyoncé at all.
But we forget that, most of the time, the Snatch Game impersonations are just OK — kind of a muddle of bad punchlines and half-baked conceits. This particular Snatch Game ranges from the solid to the confused to the disastrous. The result is the first (hopefully only) disappointing episode of “All Stars” season three, one that doesn’t showcase this crop of queens at their best.
BenDeLaCreme and Shangela emerge on top this week, and it’s not even close. In fact, RuPaul doesn’t bother declaring a third member of the top. She just gives the two queens the win and sends them to the back of the stage. I can’t remember such a definitive win in Snatch Game herstory; even Alaska and Roxxxy Andrews gave Jinkx some competition in season five.
BenDeLaCreme delivers the second winning male impersonation on Snatch Game, going full “Hollywood Squares” to play Paul Lynde. It’s a perfect Snatch Game character, akin to Alaska’s winning Mae West from All Stars season two: lots of quips, big vocal effect, and aimed right at Ru’s old-days-loving heart. Ben also dominates the game, sneaking in jokes after others’ answers and building a banter with Ru. It’s an impressive performance.
Like with the last two weeks, Ben is playing someone other than “BenDeLaCreme,” which helps me connect with her more. During season six, she couldn’t get beyond her drag character, but she’s the real deal this cycle. She has prepared for this competition to an absurd extent — there has literally been no challenge too great for her so far. It feels like something has to happen to make her winning the season feel less like an inevitability. But maybe she’s just going full Bianca Del Rio, sweeping everything in an unstoppable march to the finale.
Ben takes the cleanest path to the win this week, but Shangela takes a riskier one. She disposes of her first character, Miss Cleo, when RuPaul says her accent sounds more Irish than Jamaican. She goes with a backup, her friend and actress Jenifer Lewis. Picking your friends can backfire: Remember Detox’s Kesha? But Shangela nails it by getting so into character she physically embodies Jenifer. By just leaning back in her chair, she morphs into her subject and brings the attitude to match. It’s not a legendary Snatch Game performance, but it’s a good one.
Aja mostly impresses as Crystal LaBeija, her original character choice for the season nine Snatch Game, and once again turns it out on the Flower Power runway (in a look guest judge Kristin Chenoweth calls “Edie Sedgwick comes to life”). Bebe does the latter as well, but her Grace Jones is just OK. Like in The Bitchelor, her concept is stronger than the execution, because she can’t improv that well.
They both escape the bottom three, which is instead filled by repeat visitors Chi Chi DeVayne and Kennedy Davenport, as well as, in a shock, Trixie Mattel. All three performances are bad, but the first two have a different problem than Trixie does. Chi Chi as Maya Angelou and Kennedy as “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”’s Phaedra Parks can’t come up with good material on the spot, and their looks both in Snatch Game and on the runway aren’t strong enough to save them. Trixie, meanwhile, wildly overthinks her RuPaul impression, delivering a barrage of unfunny punchlines throughout the challenge. It’s disheartening to watch, particularly because you can see Trixie herself realizing she’s bombing as she performs.
I am honestly blown back by how poorly Trixie is faring this season. Going into this, I thought she’d pull an Alaska; instead, she’s barely managing better than a Roxxxy. Actually, that’s unfair to Roxxxy — she at least managed to win a challenge in “All Stars” season two! So what’s going wrong? Trixie still has her charisma, after all, and God knows her typical look embodies her uniqueness (as seen on the runway this week, as a sort of Princess Peach gone flowery). And anyone who’s watched her off the show has seen her talent.
What’s failing Trixie is her Nerve. She’s melting under the “All Stars” lights, losing all of the tenacity she’s gained since season seven. Snatch Game is supposed to be her challenge. She knows it’s her challenge. She even promises she’s going to win at the top of the episode. But then, a fight with Shangela over a note Thorgy Thor left for Trixie rattles her, and she never recovers. Trixie even cries on the runway, just episodes after mocking Milk for crying about the results. She correctly analyzes that she’s “not the Trixie that [her] fans look for” in All Stars. What’s most crushing is that you can hear how disappointed she is in herself.
The lip sync this week is to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” the kind of song you’d have expected “Drag Race” to do forever ago. Shangela and Ben bring just different enough styles that their dynamics work together well. Shangela’s lip syncs this season seem to be more prop-based, while Ben is playing into the camp at every chance she gets. So this week, we get Shangela throwing mints at Ben, who reacts with gusto, and Ben falling onto Shangela after she death-drops at the end of the song. It’s a cooperative lip sync that recalls Tatianna and Alyssa Edwards’ “Shut Up and Drive” and Jujubee and Raven’s “Dancing on My Own” from previous “All Stars” seasons, if not quite at the qualitative level of those all-time-great showdowns.
Like those lip syncs, this one ends in a tie, with Ru giving each queen $5,000 and the power to eliminate one of the bottom three. However, since they both pick Chi Chi to go home, it’s just a single elimination. As a big Chi Chi fan, her performance this season has been a tremendous bummer to watch. She clearly wasn’t ready for “All Stars,” and she knew it. I hate that her “Drag Race” legacy will be stained by this performance. At her best, there’s no better entertainer, and I highly recommend seeing her when she’s next in your city.
Some trivia-heavy thoughts:
- After three extra-long episodes, we get a quick installment this week, and the show suffers for it. Snatch Game is not tight enough (heh) to fit into 40 minutes plus commercials. We race through the runway in less than a minute, with nary a judge comment about Shangela or Ben’s looks. “Drag Race” has become too sprawling to condense into an episode this short, and you can feel the editing strain.
- Since the judges don’t, let’s talk about the winners’ Flower Power runway looks: Shangela’s Beyoncé-inspired look is divine. Ben’s is a bit too expected and recalls her bejeweled eleganza look from two episodes ago. But who the hell am I to judge her? She’s won every damn challenge of the season! She knows what she’s doing.
- BenDeLaCreme is now the only queen in “Drag Race” her story to win two Snatch Games. Kennedy missed her chance to complete the same trick. The only other queens who failed to win their second Snatch were Ginger Minj and Tatianna. The former was merely safe in “All Stars” season two’s Snatch Game, while the latter was actually eliminated.
- Adding to Ben’s pile of records: She is now the first queen to win four challenges in a row. She beats her own record of three in a row, which she set just last week.
- Listen, I don’t want to pile on Trixie, but the makeup look she did for RuPaul was a mess, too. Whenever Trixie has to paint something other than her usual face, it seems like she gets uncomfortable. (Her Dolly Parton look was also not her strongest.) Her Ru dress, on the other hand, was perfect.
- Shangela breaking the fourth wall to shame us for Trixie’s performance had me giggling. “Y’all told her on the internet it was funny! I blame y’all!” I promise it’s usually much better, Shangela!
- Fun fact: If you compare their placements in Snatch Game, Jessica Wild officially delivered a better RuPaul impression than Trixie Mattel. Icon.
- She was a good sport, but Kristin Chenoweth being on the Snatch Game panel did nothing for me but waste time. I wish she and fellow guest judge Nicole Byer had been the contestants, instead of Michelle Visage and Carson Kressley, so we got to spend more time with them both. The guests were very much victims of the shortened episode.
- Speaking of: Why did Marc Jacobs walk through the workroom with Ru, then never appear again, with no explanation? We’ll probably never know!
- Still pretty sure Bebe is the mole.
The next episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” will air Thursday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.