RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S13E5 “The Bag Ball”: Drama In The Workroom Ups The Ante – But Is The Fandom Ruining It?

Nevermind the anxiety of Symone – the frontrunner of the competition – not knowing how to sew during the sewing challenge or the fact that the queens had to dress up as babies for a mini challenge; this week’s episode + Untucked is about some real drama and it is an actual gift!

From the get-go, conflict arises amongst the queens when Kandy Muse talks about Symone being her biggest competition and Tamisha Iman is not having it. It doesn’t sit well with Tamisha to hear – in her mind – another queen discounting the rest of the competitors, and herself. Whether or not Kandy meant it that way seems to be irrelevant because the hackles are raised AGAIN, and the season really is getting better and better. Even though the wrong queen won this week, it pales in comparison to what happens in Untucked.

Walk Into The Room Purse First

Inspired by the traditions of ball culture and the infamous 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, this week’s maxi challenge is The Bag Ball, which means that the queens must walk the runway in three different looks that encompass the theme of “bag”. The categories are: Mixed Bag, “a punny look” of the queens’ choice that must include the word “bag” in the description; Money Bags, which is basically an Executive Realness ensemble complete with a customized purse from Coach; and finally, they must design and create a Bag Ball Eleganza look made from actual bags and purses of various materials and categories – doggie bags, elementary school backpacks, bean bag chairs, you name it.

Queens rush for their materials and we learn that Symone isn’t the only non-seamstress in the workroom – LaLa Ri is having a hard time even figuring out how to use the sewing machine. A lot of attention is put on LaLa this episode and it is finally revealed that Tamisha was the one who had put her in drag for the first time. However, Tamisha and LaLa make a point that they don’t necessarily have a drag mother and drag daughter relationship; it took a long time for LaLa to take drag seriously and the two haven’t spoken for years before getting on this season together. LaLa says she feels that the two were meant to compete against each other so that they can re-connect, though it’s most likely that they’ll eventually end up lip-syncing against each other because, you know, THE DRAMA.

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S13E5 "The Bag Ball": Drama In The Workroom Ups The Ante - But Is The Fandom Ruining It?
source: VH1

Different conversations are brought up throughout the sewing sessions in the workroom, the most significant being Tamisha laying down the wisdom of ball culture. Tamisha even mentions the late, great Willi Ninja, the godfather of voguing and a prominent presence in the aforementioned Paris Is Burning. Some of my absolute favorite Drag Race contestants have been the authorities of drag and queer history, like season 9’s Sasha Velour or season 6’s Vivacious, and it’s a real treat to hear Tamisha talk about her experiences in ball culture.

The other important conversation is the Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked last year after the death of George Floyd, right before the queens began filming season 13. Kandy talks about how she felt she needed to protest as an Afro-Latino, Symone talks about the trauma that comes with being black and being shown constant videos of black citizens being killed by police and how she’s happy that the world seems to have finally awoken to what has been happening to black folks in the U.S.

When LaLa talks about it, she mentions the killing of Rayshard Brooks and how it had actually happened really close to where her house was in Atlanta, Georgia. In her confessional, LaLa talks about the incident and she begins to cry over the reality of life in America: “It’s just – it’s scary that you could just get killed just because of the color of your skin.” From here, the conversation shifts to the importance of looking out, not only for black lives but also transgender lives, especially, as Olivia puts it, black trans lives are the most at-risk. These conversations are so important, not only in our everyday lives but also within these episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, especially when it comes to the rampant racism within the Drag Race fandom. But we’ll get to that more later.

Category is…

On the mainstage’s judging panel, RuPaulMichelle Visage, and Carson Kressley are once again joined by this week’s extra special guest judge Nicole Byer (Netflix’s Nailed It!), who judged the queens only two weeks ago. The first category is Mixed Bag and we’re gifted with lot of great camp – from Denali’s airbag crash-test dummy look to Rosé’s Scottish bagpipe look – and most of the looks are pretty good. The second category is the Boss Bitch Money Bags, complete with customized Coach bags. Most of the looks are on point, like Denali’s and Gottmik’s but the only thing I can focus on is the possible binary code on Joey Jay’s purse, which turns out to just be gibberish, and not code for “I’m gay”, as Joey never tires of reminding us of that.

When it finally gets to the last category “Bag Ball Eleganza”, we finally see who’s the designer-and-seamstress of the season. Most of the executions are really well done but there is one absolutely obvious bottom of the pack: LaLa’s pink-and-purple paper gift bags haphazardly glued to a corset and bodysuit. LaLa Ri will be in the bottom, but who will join her? The judging is usually based on an overall impression of all of the runway looks, so RuPaul narrows it down quickly by declaring Olivia, Tina, Kandy, Symone, and Denali safe. For me, it’s tough to see Denali as “just safe” since all of her three looks were fantastic, but after surviving a lip sync just the week before, I’m not too mad about it.

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S13E5 "The Bag Ball": Drama In The Workroom Ups The Ante - But Is The Fandom Ruining It?
source: VH1

Representing the tops and the bottoms of the week are Utica, Gottmik, Tamisha, Rosé, LaLa, and Joey. Joey gets clocked for her I.V. bag look and how Carson misinterprets the pun behind it, Tamisha’s looks aren’t as fabulous as the judges would like, and LaLa’s horrible, final Eleganza is just unforgivable. Now, when they get to Gottmik, I personally loved her first two looks but I am not here for her strappy Matrix-inspired ensemble – it looks sloppy from the waist down and it doesn’t impress me that someone just covered their torso in a few straps. However, the judges absolutely love it and it becomes apparent that Gottmik would most likely be the winner of the ball. If anything, I would personally make the top two queens of the week be Rosé and Utica, especially with Utica’s spectacular sleeping bag couture that she’s brought to life. Yeah, Utica should be the winner of the week. But, RuPaul makes a comment about Utica’s stage presence when modeling her first two looks and how Utica’s choice to go too campy took away from how fantastic and chic her looks were. It was then that I knew that Gottmik had snatched the win, and sure enough, RuPaul proclaims her a winner, baby, with a cash tip of $5,000.

It’s Joey who ends up in the bottom two with LaLa and the song is “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX. Now, the thing about Drag Race is, whenever a queen is about to be sent home there’s a lot of attention put on her and her backstory throughout the episode along with the backstory from other queens to throw viewers off the scent. The fact that a lot of emphases was put on not only on LaLa being Tamisha’s drag daughter but also her crying in the confessional, whereas the only thing we learned about Joey this episode was that she’s gay (which she’s already mentioned A LOT) and the fact that Kandy has a huge crush on her. That’s it. So, when it came to the lip-sync – which was undoubtedly LaLa’s to win – it made me do a double-take.  Not only does Joey get eliminated but apparently the only thing worth highlighting for her story was that Kandy has a thing for her, which is clinched when the camera cuts to Kandy’s reaction and disappointment. Well, I enjoyed Joey immensely but she said it herself that she’s a filler queen. Oh well.

If you’re not watching Untucked, you’re only getting half the story…

Now, this was a pretty good episode but there was very little to chew on when going back over the entire thing. Sure, Utica should have won the challenge but Gottmik still did a great job so it’s not an enormous afront for her to get the $5,000 tip. It isn’t until we got to Untucked that the REAL entertainment began. As mentioned last week, there’s something brewing up around Elliott and some sort of conflict with her and as Untucked begins, it finally happens.

The safe queens talk about how much they wish they were getting critiques and getting the chance to talk with the judges. They all talk about who they want to go home and it’s kind of a general consensus that Tamisha is the one. Kandy asks Elliott who she thinks should go home and it gets a bit tense. Elliott tries to answer and it is obvious that Kandy just does not like Elliott, though we’re given no real reason why.

The subject is then changed by Olivia who asks the group if there are any critiques they may have for the girls who are safe. While it’s implied that Olivia meant in terms of runway looks, Kandy then goes in on Elliott, saying that she thinks Elliott needs more self-awareness and that she needs to read the room. There’s some back-and-forth on the subject where nothing specific is said but the scene is really painted like Elliott is being attacked by Kandy. We now have an idea of why Kandy has a problem with Elliott but still nothing specific.

There is a lot that production is omitting from in these scenes and, judging by how Elliott has conducted herself in regards to microaggressions towards BIPOC queens, Kandy most likely has a point to calling Elliott out. It’s unfortunate that the viewers aren’t getting the full scope of it on the screen and have to pay attention to a now-deleted podcast episode where Elliott made a comment about the names of black drag queens or a clip from a youtube video where Elliott views Symone’s “Black Girl Magic” being palatable to her white tastes because it’s “not aggressive.”

Elliott has made public apologies for these incidences but the language she’s used shows that she doesn’t quite understand what made her comments racist microaggressions; these are all red flags that have popped up as these Drag Race episodes have aired, creating a real mess of things. Compound it with the fact that Elliott is being depicted as a nice outsider queen and Kandy is being depicted as someone coming after her for no reason, the only thing that can come out of it is Kandy gets harassed in real life. It happened to season 12’s Brita and according to Kandy, she’s already getting trolled and harassed. The good thing is that towards the end of Untucked, Elliott and Kandy seem to come to an understanding with Kandy wanting to know that she didn’t mean what she had said to be an attack on Elliott but, sadly, the shitty folks in the fandom will be quick to pass over Kandy’s attempt at making peace.

The absolutely wild thing about the whole Elliott-Kandy exchange is that it is completely eclipsed by what comes next. At the beginning of the episode, we got a glimpse at some animosity between Kandy and Tamisha, and it comes to full fruition in the last half of this week’s Untucked. Tamisha has had it with certain queens in the competition and speaks out about it, probably because she thinks she will be in the bottom two and will be eliminated. She says that even though there are girls she doesn’t care for, she commends them on their drag. She reiterates that she thinks certain girls have nasty attitudes and when Kandy asks if Tamisha is talking about her, Tamisha says that Kandy is one of them. Ooh! Yes! Some GOOD reality TV conflama!

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S13E5 "The Bag Ball": Drama In The Workroom Ups The Ante - But Is The Fandom Ruining It?
source: VH1

Tamisha says that she thinks Kandy is arrogant, to which Kandy asks everyone else in the room if they think the same way. Some girls say no and Rosé is the one to audibly say yes, but that she doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. The situation escalates to Kandy essentially proclaiming that people in the workroom shouldn’t be two-faced with her and that they need to be upfront with her when she does something they don’t like. Rosé points out that Tamisha did do that but it doesn’t appear that THAT is Kandy’s problem; she just really doesn’t like being called out like that by Tamisha.

Most of the girls don’t agree with Tamisha’s comment, but the shouting and squabblings surge as Kandy and Tamisha become more and more defensive. For a second, after Kandy says she’s heading outside so she doesn’t “smack the shit out of someone”, it really looks like there might be a physical fight on the show, as Tamisha doesn’t take kindly to Kandy’s most-likely-figurative threat. Of course, there’s no actual altercation (there have been fights in past seasons, but none have ever been shown on camera) but things still get so heated that poor tiny Gottmik tries to calm things down, indicating that she’ll physically intervene if needed. The scene calms down but the issue is hardly put to rest.

Conclusion: Reality TV is not actual reality, just have fun

In this particular situation in Untucked, the biggest conflict arose from a clash of personalities that have fermented in a high-stress reality TV show being filmed during a goddamn global pandemic – this was some good television! In the wise words of Alyssa Edwards, “it’s not personal; it’s drag.” Drag queens fight, read, throw shade, and the queens on Drag Race are here to entertain us, as well as win a check and crown. To try and villainize Kandy or Tamisha is to take the fun out of the show and to take away just how great these two made this week’s episode of Untucked, which is unquestionably in the top ten of the entire series.

This week, we were served some amazing runway looks and some much-needed juicy drama. The only thing that gives me pause is how frustrating it is to see a heartbreaking discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests take place on a reality show that has such a vocally racist and problematic faction of its fandom. The fact that Elliott With 2 Ts has been proven to be problematic herself just deflates the good fun and makes the serious discussions on race feel like they’re ultimately falling on too many deaf ears. Despite all of this, episode 5 of season 13 has continued the trend of the episodes getting even better and better; let’s just hope the fandom and the microaggressions don’t ruin the fun.

What did you think of this week’s episode? What do you think about the exponential drama? Did Gottmik deserve the win?  Let us know in the comments below!

A new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 can be seen every Friday at 8/7c on VH1.

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