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RECAP: RuPaul's Drag Race Episode 1


What, exactly, is the algorithm the contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race use when choosing their premiere outfits? Some of them swan in looking like slightly outdated divas in sequins and heavy eye makeup, and some nail their flags to the mast. Take Sharon Needles last night. She doesn't walk in like this is a job interview and she wants to make a good impression; she skitters in unevenly in character, zombie contacts screwed in, witch's hat planted firmly on her head. Rev your engines, bitches, because this... is RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4.

The girls mingle and chatter and shriek in delight when they recognize a friend--all intercut with bitchy commentary from the confessional room, of course--until they hear that they have She-Mail. Ru's first video appearance hints at a vaguely apocalyptic theme for the episode, which comes to fruition almost immediately when RuPaul walks in (dressed impeccably in a suit, of course) and the Pit Crew (dressed impeccably in tiny, bulging briefs) wheel out a giant box. If you're like me, your thinking at this point went something like this: "Oh, just like they did with Shangela last year. I wonder if they're brining back someone from last season. Ooh, I hope it's Manila! Wait. SHANGELA is in that box AGAIN? I don't know if I can watch this anymore. That bitch is on her third chance! Oh, it's just an elaborate gag."

So, no Shangela for a third season in a row, and though the moment is played and edited for laughs, the feeling among the dolls is distinctly that of...relief. And now it's time for the first photo shoot, which, in keeping with Drag Race tradition, has Mike Ruiz snapping shots of an appropriately sadistic concept. This year, the contestants are asked to stand on a revolving platform while the Pit Crew squirts paint onto them. Everyone makes the same hand gestures, and most of them take a tumble or gawkily fight taking a tumble. The results are less than inspiring.

Back in the dressing room, the bitchiness has already begun. "Can't we all get along," chirps DiDa Ritz so sunnily it seems like she's making a joke... except she's not. She really is that upbeat. I give her three cocktails in the Illusions Lounge before she cracks.

For the first challenge, all 13 contestants are carted off to a dilapidated motel in full drag, where they're penned in and a horde of zombie drag queens is set loose upon them. The goal is to collect as many items as they can from these walking dead in stilettos--who are played by former contestants! It's a testament to what actually happens on the show (and not what is edited into the version we see) that so many castoffs were willing to return for a silent gag. And here, again, Sharon Needles distinguishes herself by staying in character, muttering terrible punchlines in such a daffy voice as she scrambles among the fallen dolls that you can't help but laugh. Santino will hate her.

The runway challenge consists of taking their scavenged finery and turning it into a post-apocalyptic design. Lashauwn Beyond inexplicably wears a globe perched atop her head; The Princess looks like she's about to go yachting in the Hamptons; Jiggly Caliente got confused and wrapped herself in aluminum foil instead of SaranWrap and accessorized the whole mess with some rubber limbs; Kenya Michaels, who's barely 5 feet tall, looks like Joan Collins on Dynasty if Joan forgot to wear pants. Sharon Needles kills it on the runway, biting down on a blood capsule as she approaches the judges and letting blood dribble down her chin. The judges, of course, are typically divided on what they're looking for. After four years, why should anyone be in agreement about what RuPaul's Drag Race is looking for in America's next drag superstar? (Except every winner has been more fashiony than performer, as Nina Flowers, Jujubee and Manila Luzon can tell you.) Elvira, as guest judge, is appropriately kind to everyone; Santino is a dick; Michelle Visage is enthusiastic, even when she's being critical (and she slaps down Santino's usual sniff, "It's not couture" in enjoyable fashion); Mike Ruiz is a human nap; and Ru makes some biting comments that sound pre-scripted. All in all, the usual. The judges are in agreement on one thing, however: They still have not been converted to the plastic-titty religion of the breastplate. And so Alisa Summers, who opted to wear one even though the judges hated on India Ferrah's for her time on Drag Race last year, is in the bottom two with Jiggly Caliente. Their mission? To lip sync for their lives to Britney's "Toxic." I love a theme episode.

Jiggly Caliente is a little out of control, a frenzied mess, but Alisa is keeping it so tight and concise that she seems like she's barely performing. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jiggly came across better in person than on TV, but the results are in. Jiggly Caliente, shantay you stay. And Alisha Summers is the first doll of the season to sashay away, leaving just the Toxic 12.

Next week, the queens wrassle each other. Why not?

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Mark Peikert