RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S12E9 “Choices 2020”: Inner Saboteurs & Confronting Islamophobia

Way, way back in the episode one review, there was mention of what was to come for a season of Drag Race that coincides with an election year; in season four there was a political debate challenge, season eight had a political attack ad challenge, and season twelve brings it right back around to a political debate between the remaining seven queens – a hilarious foreshadowing of the obnoxiously over-packed debates for the 2020 Democratic candidate that happened months after these episodes were filmed. And with “Choices 2020”, we see the many different ways LGBT+ folks deal with a come to terms with modern American politics; and in the competition, some use these perspectives to their advantage and others don’t.

America’s First Drag Queen President

After a completely random but cute mini-challenge involving sponsored cat litter and the queens dressing up as literal cats, RuPaul tells the queens that they must lighten up a serious election, and bring the laughter to the debate stage as they rev up for the aforementioned “Choices 2020” maxi challenge. Each queen must showcase a platform and answer questions from the “probing press” and just make it funny.

We immediately get to the workroom as the queens write down their material and figure out what they need to do to win. It’s an opportune time for RuPaul to search out the contestants’ takes on politics and to help guide them towards a win. Ru is joined by Raven, one of the most iconic queens to come out of the show – from her race towards the crown in season two and All Stars season one to becoming RuPaul’s own personal makeup artist, Raven is the real deal.

The two make their way to Heidi, who instantly wins Ru over with her irresistible humor and willingness to destroy her own drag name, a name that RuPaul hates so much that every episode has had an ongoing checklist of possible monikers that Heidi could don instead of “Heidi N. Closet”. They talk about Heidi’s first win from last week and how she was able to rise to the top because she let herself be stupid and fun, something that a lot of queens forget about as the crown gets closer and closer – Ru always wants to laugh and wants to see that side of the queens and it’s clear that some of the contestants are getting lost in what she wants.

RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE S12E9 "Choices 2020": Inner Saboteurs & Confronting Islamophobia
RuPaul’s Drag Race (2020) source: VH1

Ru and Raven move on through queens and are met with different ideas, non-ideas, and a lot of answers that just aren’t enough for RuPaul. This kind of challenge is about taking a small seed of truth to oneself and creating a character and a story around it; add in the fact that it’s an election year and politics isn’t something to bury one’s head in the sand over, and you have a real challenge and an important lesson. Ru says to Gigi that politics isn’t something to be afraid of and really, she’s saying that rising to these challenges shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. The only queen that doesn’t seem afraid of the challenge is Jaida. Last week, Michelle Visage said that Jaida was the dark horse in the competition and the fact that her walkthrough with Ru is so different from the other queens’ shows that she may be taking the lead.

But, Jaida may end up being boxed in by Jackie, because this queen is informed and she knows her politics. Very early in the season, Jackie was pegged as fierce competition because of her wit and her intellect and she lets Ru know that she watches the news and she donates to political causes. Unfortunately, Jackie isn‘t registered to vote due to being a Canadian citizen, so she has to bring all of her knowledge (and humor) to the debate stage.

Drag and Politics: Do They Mix?

It’s the next day and the queens are discussing real politics as they put on their makeup. Gigi and Heidi talk about how terrifying and traumatizing the news can be while Jaida brings up the point that being “patriotic” is important because it can lead to change, which is something the country really needs right now. Crystal talks about her conservative parents and how they are in fact Trump supporters. As she talks about the dynamic to the girls, she brings to light a real situation that plagues LGBT+ youth all over the country – how do you reconcile with family members who say they love and support you, and yet see nothing wrong with voting for someone who wants to oppress you. Crystal says that she chooses not to talk about politics with her family, but that hasn’t stopped there being big arguments at Thanksgiving dinner.

Jackie begins to talk about political discussions in her family and how the one common denominator is being against Trump and his Muslim travel ban. She tells of how Trump’s policies have affected her family and how her aunt isn’t allowed to come to the U.S. from Iran to help take care of Jackie’s ill mother. Widow then talks about what it’s like to live in a conservative area as a black American and how afraid she is to drive her car down the street. The conversation is layered and brings up the different ways that politics affect all of them and why they mustn’t be silent. Despite drag being a means of escapism and a way to subvert the mainstream, it is also inherently political so these moments of gravity are just what the episode needs before it gets into the satire and the jokes.

Choices

We come to the mainstage where RuPaul is joined by Drag Race judge, Carson Kressley and the extra special guest judges Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park). Unfortunately, Michelle Visage is away this episode, but is able to drop in via satellite every now and then with a zinger. We immediately cut to the debate stage (which must have been taped much earlier in the day) and we see that our guest judges are the moderators for the debate – what a treat! They bring the drag puns and the absurd humor as the queens make their opening statements.

RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE S12E9 "Choices 2020": Inner Saboteurs & Confronting Islamophobia
RuPaul’s Drag Race (2020) source: VH1

The debate itself is a little chaos with a lot of reaching for the right joke and the best riff, but ending with plenty of gaffes – just like the real 2020 debates. The queens that are reaching the most are Jackie, Gigi, and Widow. Widow starts out with some good one-liners but devolves into an angry candidate without a shred of drag; Gigi is going with a robot angle (I thought Snatch Game ended three weeks ago?) that is simply not landing, and Jackie is basing her entire platform around the fact that she’s Canadian and trying to hide it but is failing miserably? Oof, it is almost as hard to watch as the real debates. The queens who have their platforms and their jokes in order are Crystal, who is covering her answers in fun glitter the way any good drag queen would, Heidi and her amazingly hilarious reactions, and Jaida, whose platform is one of confusion, misdirection, and non-stop flirting with Jeff Goldblum (and who can blame her?). The way that the challenge is edited though, makes it hard to pinpoint exactly who would be the winner and who exactly would be in the bottom two.

Don’t let your inner saboteur get the best of you

The runway is filled with a lot of red, white, and blue, and different takes on patriotism. Widow’s is by far the best as she takes the concept of “Stars and Stripes” and turns it into a real statement – with black, white and silver, Widow’s runway incorporates Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights Movement, and a fashionable symbol of what strength it takes to live as a black American. Jackie’s runway is just as good and just as political as she takes to the stage in a beautifully striped, red kaftan and a navy blue hijab, complete with 50 white stars. Heidi and Crystal’s runway looks are cute and fun, while Sherry’s is shredded denim and a punk rock blue wig. Jaida’s bicentennial club runway is beloved by the judges for some reason, and Gigi’s dragged up colonial uniform misses the mark on two levels – it has neither Stars nor Stripes and it is clearly a British “red coat” uniform. Yikes. It’s clean and polished but not right for this runway.

As the judges move through their critiques, a lot of emotions flood the stage. Despite having such a strong runway, Widow is dinged for bringing few laughs to her angry political character. After surviving her first Lip Sync for Your Life last week and hearing this week’s critiques, Widow is shooketh; the competition is fully getting to her and her confidence may be in jeopardy. She puts on a brave face and says that she’s listening to the judges but Mama Ru sees right through it – she tells Widow to stop digging herself into a hole and to stop being in her head so much.

Jackie is told that her runway embodies the inclusivity that America represents, but her Canada schtick got old very quickly in the debate and garnered fewer and fewer laughs. As the judges talk about her runway, Jeff Goldblum asks Jackie if she is religious and she says that she is not but she wears the hijab to bring religious-minority visibility to the nation. In a controversial turn, Goldblum asks if there is something in “that religion” that is anti-gay and anti-woman and if that complicates the issue (I assume the issue of being a drag queen who incorporates religious apparel into their drag) and then asks if it’s stupid of him to even ask the question.

It isn’t stupid per se, but it does show a double standard in the U.S. that stigmatizes a specific religion (Islam) while simultaneously glossing over other, more widespread religions (Christianity or Judaism, which is a part of Goldblum’s background) that have had their own fair share of anti-gay or anti-woman doctrines in the past and present. It’s a moment that I’m sure was kept in the show to help educate viewers who may be ignorant to what it’s like for LGBT individuals who come from an Islamic background (or even just Islam in general), the same way the show allowed a straight man to voice his theory that people “become gay because they were traumatized as kids” way back in season four. It’s a conversation that can be had to help people better understand things, but asking it in such an accusatory way – while seemingly ignoring the fact that conversion therapy and the Westboro Baptist Church are still a thing in America – on national television is just short-sighted and possibly dangerous. As Jackie explains her perspective on things, the camera cuts to Goldblum and shows what seems to be regret on his face as he works through the mechanics of his own question and the magnitude of it, especially when Jackie tears up as she talks about what the travel ban has done to her and her family.

They move on from this uncomfortable scene to deliberation and RuPaul ultimately declares Jaida the winner of this week’s challenge and awards her second win in seven episodes. Though I thought her runway was one of the worst, her over-the-top character was greatly appreciated by the judges, who understood exactly what she was doing every time she would respond to Jeff Goldblum’s questions with “Look over there!” or her very Trumpian way of saying the quiet part out loud. They were picking up what she was putting down and it is a deserved win – Jaida has now gone from dark horse somewhere in the middle to front runner alongside Gigi.

Like the Fourth of July

After Jaida is declared the winner (and $5,000 richer), RuPaul gives Heidi, Crystal, and Sherry another week in the competition as she makes her way to the bottom three: Gigi, Jackie, and Widow. This is the second week in a row that both Gigi and Widow are in the bottom, and once again, only Gigi is spared from the lip sync. It’s now established that Widow is a kind of Lip Sync Assassin as she seems like an unstoppable dancing force – now that she is going up against Jackie in a lip-sync, the odds are stacked in her favor. Or are they? With most Lip Sync For Your Life performances, you can tell you will be declared the winner in a matter of seconds and as Katy Perry’s obnoxious anthem “Firework” plays, it looks like Jackie….may take the cake?

RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE S12E9 "Choices 2020": Inner Saboteurs & Confronting Islamophobia
RuPaul’s Drag Race (2020) source: VH1

Jackie has been established as a very smart, very funny queen and she delivers that immediately as she goes the comedic route with her lip sync. Widow is giving pure emotion and is really selling the song’s record-selling point, but it’s Jackie who is giving us the essence of the song – laughable lyrics with a resonating, sappy message. Whether she’s skipping around the stage as that insufferable plastic bag, rising like a corpse from the dead, or twirling her skirts like a trained dancer, Jackie is just killing it in a way that hasn’t been seen since Alaska in All Stars 2. Widow is going above and beyond as well, and it’s all enough to bring Jeff Goldblum to tears, but RuPaul ultimately tells Widow that she must sashay away.

Conclusion

Personally, I am devastated to see Widow go because she was one of my top queens for the crown, but it was clear from even a few weeks ago that her emotions were getting the best of her, and it is rare for a contestant to break away from that; as RuPaul said during Widow’s breakdown on stage, the competition is fucking hard and the queens cannot give in to their “inner saboteur”. There’s likely only three episodes left in the competition before the reunion episode and the finale where the season’s winner is crowned so the six remaining queens (well, five, since Sherry has been disqualified) have to give their absolute all. Jackie did everything she could to survive the lip sync, but will she be able to use it – along with Jeff Goldblum’s tears – as fuel for next week? Will her own inner saboteur make an appearance? It’s hard to say but one thing is for sure, Jackie earned that lip sync win and she earned this week’s Most Valuable Queen.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Who do you think will make it to the finale?

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