Season 14, Episode 3, “A Pair Of Balls”

The full cast of season 14 meets for the first time

The full cast of season 14 meets for the first time
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Following the elimination of Daya, the queens re-enter the workroom. Despite being in the bottom, DeJa is confident about showing off her lip-sync talents. Maddy, who was part of the bottom three, immediately strips off her costume and puts on a backward cap—you’re straight, we get it. As they read Daya’s lipstick message, Alicia Keys surprises them again from behind the mirror, directing their attention to the workroom entrance as the six contestants from the first premiere pour through the door.

As with past split casts uniting, the tension of a potential rumble subsides into enthusiastic sisterhood. An abundance of fangirling commences as many of the queens’ reputations precede them. It really cements the importance of online presence and social media in drag, that a cast so geographically diverse is aware of one another. Kornbread and Angeria, the first two winners of the season, keep winning as they dominate the scene with their effortless southern charm. When the friendliness borders the saccharine, Willow Pill is there to offer some dark humor when she laments at not being the smallest contestant, referring to Jorgeous, before taking solace in being the “youngest in the face.”

The next day they all energetically enter the workroom as a united cast, but RuPaul and the producers have a couple twists to present. First, we learn that the first two eliminations have been revoked as Orion and Daya re-enter the competition. There is a palpable and understandable tension among some of the queens about their return, most notably from June. There is little time to dwell on that when RuPaul introduces another twist via the mini-challenge. Each competitor selects a RuPaul Chocolate Bar that they will unwrap upon their elimination. If they unwrap the single golden bar, it will serve as their ticket back into the race.

The main challenge is revealed to be the Ball, inspired by the canonical Paris Is Burning. The Ball Challenge is, along with the Makeover Challenge, one of the few challenges that has appeared in every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race from its conception. In the first nine seasons, the Ball was traditionally saved for later episodes. However, in the double-digit era, the Ball has been moved to the front end of the season, likely to present as many looks as possible. This season makes herstory by presenting the most looks ever, a staggering 42. But this much content begs the questions: When is too much (in a good way) too much (in a bad way)?

The show further complicates matters by dividing the complete cast into two different balls. Aside from getting to make jokes about it being a “pair of balls,” it’s a confusing concept that makes it difficult to effectively evaluate the contestants against one another. The two ball themes are Hide & Chic Ball, consisting of animal prints, and the Red, White, and Blue Ball, consisting of a patriotic color story. Each ball consists of three categories: Resort, Eveningwear, and Bridal Couture, in which each contestant must design and construct their garment. The stakes for a Ball challenge are high. Five winners of the Ball Challenge have gone on to win the crown and a near 100% (excluding Yara Sofia in the second of two Ball Challenges in season 3) have made it to the finals.

The standard mad dash for design supplies starts the competition. This is followed by the contestants voicing their comfort with sewing. June and Kerri make the dreaded confession of not knowing how to sew, which can often lead to doom. Jasmine, in particular, seems hungry for a win, as sewing is what she does, and she helps a lot of fellow contestants, which can also lead to doom. The queens get to work until a dragonfly interrupts the productivity. Daya accepts Kornbread’s bet to eat the dragonfly and argues that she’s eaten stranger things.

During construction of their garments, it becomes clear that Willow’s condition mentioned in the first episode is a hindrance for her. It is a wonderful moment that shows Willow’s perseverance as well as Kornbread’s kindness as she assists Willow. They’ve made an early and strong connection as friends. On the other hand, Kornbread learns she has been calling Daya Betty by the wrong name all day, who takes it in stride. A greater tension seems to have developed between June and Orion as June pulls Orion aside to say she isn’t pleased that she is back in the competition and then reverses that saying she deserves it and then threatens to kick her out again. It’s a little bizarre and unnecessary, giving the impression that June isn’t in the most focused state of mind. This is confirmed from the frock that she struggles to make.

As Angeria and Willow discuss getting to know each other and describe their unique drag perspectives, Lady Camden interrupts, mocking Angeria’s accent. At first it seems like a possible fight is brewing, until Angeria reveals that she feels very close with Lady Camden as her favorite contestant. These lighter moments are followed by darker revelations between the queens when the topic of family comes up. Orion discloses that her mother suffered from bipolar depression and ended her own life. Motivated to pursue drag by her mother, Orion is constructing her look as an homage to her.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

On the other side of the room, Kerri discusses her fractured relationship with her family that was alluded to in the first episode. Kerri seems very at peace with the familial strain, as she has found her queer family, but the confession triggers Kornbread, who becomes emotional concerning her own family issues. It turns out to be a cathartic moment as Kornbread resolves to deal with those issues after the competition. The heaviness is broken by RuPaul’s arrival on the runway in a golden origami, loofah-inspired look. She introduces Michelle and Carson with standard ball jokes, as well as guest judge Christine Chiu, who I had to google, but gave thoughtful and humorous remarks on the panel.

Now how to write about so much in so little time/space. That is the problem with the episode. There are so many looks that they barely get screentime, despite all the effort to make them, and they are difficult to recall after so much visual stimulation. Luckily, I took screengrabs of each one.

The first category is resort. The first group has the subcategory of zebra print. Alyssa, Bosco, and June stick with graphic black and white zebra, with each reflecting their unique personas: fierce, avant-garde, and bougie, respectively. Kerri also utilizes the traditional print combined with hot pink stockings for a perfectly fine, but anonymous look. Orion, also in black and white, has a stronger point of view inspired by Heathers, but the look is a little cluttered and confused. Willow and Kornbread separate from the pack, choosing alternative colors of zebra print. Both give off a kind of daytime real estate agent vibe, with Willow’s agent looking like she probably sells more houses than Kornbread.

The prompt for the second group is Red Hot Resort. Limited by a single color, it seems that each contestant decided to focus on an era. Daya presents a graphic polka dot that gives off a 1960s French Yé-yé girl. Likewise, Angeria presents a ’60s look in a flouncy mod design that recalls the pivotal dress in Last Night In Soho. Jasmine looks like she’s ready for a 1950s beach clambake in a swimwear-inspired look complete with a set of campy claws. Lady Camden looks like she might be lounging by the pool in the 1970s in a sexy red caftan look. Minimalist disco is the best way to describe Jorgeous’ gorgeous mini-dress. DeJa’s look is harder to place temporally, but feels a little more evening than resort wear; the look is not helped by a distracting wig color choice. Finally, Maddy struts in an ill-fitting, coordinated jumpsuit look that seems caught between the ’60s and ’70s.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

In the evening category, the first group is assigned leopard print. Alyssa continues to deliver drama with a sharp and severe interpretation of the assignment. Bosco presents an elevated gaucho pant and contrasting leopard prints that gives a sense of depth and interest, enough to forgive it possibly not being “evening” enough. Willow’s black-on-black leopard Versace ’90s supermodel is a winner. Kerry personifies ’80s rodeo drive dynasty in a sharp suit, but might be a little too daytime. Kornbread wears a tuxedo-inspired, crushed velvet look with not nearly enough leopard accents for the category. Orion’s bizarrely cut, strappy evening gown is punctuated by a bloodied jawbone in her hair. Sadly, it evokes a much better look presented by Aquaria in season 10. Finally, June stumbles down the runway in a heavy leopard lamé look that at least elicits a Carson reaction for the ages.

The second group is tasked with presenting a white evening look. It’s a tricky color that only half seemed to really pull off. Angeria is perfection as Carson calls her an Evangelical preacher from the future. Again, Angeria’s look is intensified by her astoundingly assured presentation. The rest are divided by clean and overcomplicated looks. Jasmine’s look is overdone and lacks a freshness usually associated with the color. Likewise, Lady Camden’s intriguing three-dimensionality is overwhelmed by a fussy and overworked construction. The look Maddy shows is going for drama but just feels heavy and labored. DeJa and Jorgeous, on the other hand, celebrate the stark simplicity of white to great effect. DeJa’s suit is glamorous and the personification of “rich bitch.” The simplicity of Jorgeous’ white evening gown allows the eye to focus on its clean and careful construction. In contrast, the simplicity of Daya’s look only highlights its lack of precision.

The final category is also a design challenge that forces the queens to design their own bridal look. Alyssa’s golden tiger look isn’t groundbreaking but her beautiful makeup, accessories, and hair elevate it all. Bosco’s clash of snow leopard, zebra, Dalmatian and red is wonderfully consistent with her graphic aesthetic. Willow successfully achieves her chic queer rocker vibe in a leopard lamé jumpsuit. It’s great that she went with an untraditional black-on-black leopard in the second look to avoid being repetitive. Kerri might be accused of resting on pretty with her look, but she does deliver a strong walk down the runway. Despite Kornbread pairing snakeskin and an apple, referencing Eve, the look is bad. She distracts from it with a snake impression that may have saved her from the bottom. Inspired by her mother, Orion gives a well-made Peg Bundy look. June looks beautiful from the neck up, but her face shows a lack of confidence in her look, which she compounds by shielding herself with her bouquet.

The second group were instructed to make their bridal look with red, white, and blue to differentiate from their second looks. A well-made ’80s-inspired gown by Daya is meant to separate her from Crystal Methyd comparisons. A good look, but I think it may have done the opposite. Angeria is flawless. She truly understands every curve of her body. DeJa’s look is dramatic and regal, making me think she should ditch her proclaimed signature pastel. While technically proficient, Jasmine’s taste level is questionable. Her design feels tacky, but not in a deliberate and knowing way. Jorgeous gives a sexy pop-star bride that must be getting married on a stage—perhaps she was anticipating the next J.Lo rom-com Marry Me. Lady Camden’s look feels like a retread of her second; a three-dimensional element that is interesting but drowned out by too much visual noise underneath. After a marathon of looks, Maddy ends the ball in a competent but literal interpretation of the theme, aided by a version of Masterpiece Theater down the runway as an excited and nervous bride.

Image for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race gets dragged down by the biggest ball of all

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

As judging commences, eight contestants are declared safe and exit the runway. It should be noted that Jasmin is visually disappointed, thinking her performance earned her a top spot (I do not concur). The judges loved Willow and Angeria’s looks. Likewise, they applaud Jorgeous for her looks. However, it is Jorgeous’ energy that has her in the top this week and earns a profound compliment from RuPaul that she was “born for drag.” The winner turns out to be Willow. It was probably Willow’s ability to make each look into a new character, whereas Angeria was always wonderfully herself in each category, that gave Willow the edge. It also would be a little early to give Angeria a second win, but this definitely could have been a double win and I wouldn’t have rolled my eyes. Orion ranks low, with the judges complaining that all her looks were sort of interchangeable and a little overdone. June and Maddy land in the bottom two. Aside from a couple underwhelming looks, they seem to be in the bottom for their lack of confidence; they were both uncomfortable on stage in their looks. June and Maddy are forced to demonstrate their confidence in a lip-sync to Kylie Mingoue’s “I Love It.”

The lip-sync win correctly goes to Maddy, who gave a consistent performance with small punctuations of humor. June, unfortunately, was plagued with issues from the start. First, the unimpactful wig reveal: It was visible beneath her first wig and revealed at the back of the stage too far from the camera. The second wig also didn’t seem to be secure on her head. After she stripped some of her gown away, she was left with a tub dress that consistently slid down to expose her bra. She spent a better part of the lip-sync battling the dress instead of Maddy. Finally, June committed a cardinal sin of RuPaul’s Drag Race by removing her heels. From then on, the skipping around the stage felt uncomfortably unhinged. Even a couple stumbles by Maddy on the mess June had left on the stage couldn’t help her win. In a final moment of suspense, June is asked to unwrap her chocolate bar, only to disappointingly reveal no second chance. Back in the workroom, June provides closure to the episode by revealing her mistake was overthinking and not living in the moment, which the editors perfectly captured as the episode unfolded.

Stray Observations

  • I feel like when they do split premieres the first group should have to wear their runway outfits to meet the second group:
    1. It feels like a financial burden for the first group to produce an additional look that is barely seen.
    2. The second group is given the same opportunity to present an additional look (forgetting about the additional cost).
    3. The first group kind of gets an advantage of seeing the second group’s runway looks.
    4. Since the category for both is signature drag it would be beneficial to for the second group to see the how the first group defines their unique signature drag.
  • Wow Presents Plus should develop a series with Kornbread and Angeria driving cross-country, à la Thelma and Louise (who were also referenced in this episode along with Sharon Stone).
  • With all the queens meeting, my top four prediction remains intact as Kornbread, Angeria, Willow, and Bosco with a well-placed “bowl” joke stood out amongst the remaining queens. 
  • While I’m not a fan of no eliminations in a competitive reality series, I’m also glad that Daya and Orion get a second chance. The fake stakes of the false elimination are better than no elimination.
  • The Golden Bar is such a MacGuffin. It would be hilarious if June or one of the eliminated queens got the gold bar thus neutralizing all dramatic tension. It would be equally funny if one of the finalists turned out to have the golden bar thus making it all moot. The one thing learned from both these possible scenarios is that the golden bar will be given out when the producers want to give out the golden bar. The signing of the bar was a wonderfully camp ruse.
  • Daya’s dragonfly snack is the worst thing to happen to an insect on the show since Asia O’Hara’s butterfly lip-sync incident.
  • The amount of menstruation jokes during the Red Hot Resort category seem strange after Manila was banned from wearing the infamous period dress on All Stars 4 for being too crass.
  • I might be alone on this, but I thought the bow that Michelle disliked on Orion’s backside was referencing a bamboo’s ass. Needless to say, I thought it was a wonderful addition.
  • Both Maddy’s looks and her onstage posture need a queer eye for a straight guy. It’s okay that she’s a straight man doing drag, but she doesn’t need to look like a straight man while in drag. 
  • How did that chocolate bar not melt in June’s cleavage? 
  • I know June was emotional about her elimination, but not taking a huge bite out of that chocolate bar was a missed opportunity to make a memorable moment.
  • The lip-sync song really makes you angry that Drag Race Down Under didn’t exclusively use Kylie songs.

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