RuPaul’s Drag Race’s ninth season just brought us one of the most shocking upheavals the series has even seen, sending fans into a spiral of screams and shade-throwing. And it was all because a frontrunner went home after one of the worst Lipsync for Your Life performances to ever hit the runway.
Spoilers ahead for “Your Pilot’s On Fire.”
This week’s challenge was a group project to script and shoot a “pilot” of a potential sitcom starring the Drag Race contestants. Alexis Michelle, Peppermint and Trinity Taylor teamed up for a show about disapproving Christian moms learning to accept their gay sons through the help of a glittery, campy nun. Sasha Velour and Shea Coulee played a pair of vigilante fashion police, with the former diving into the stereotype of Russian femme fatale, and the latter going full-on Blaxploitation badass broad. It was glorious. They rightly won, and we should all pray to the Gawds for a “Teets and Asky” spin-off.
But then there was Nina Bo’Nina Brown and Valentina. Paired as the last kids on the playground, the team got off to a rocky start with Nina falling back into her self-pitying, self-sabotaging shenanigans. And Valentina seemed to not want to confront her to the point she agreed they should not write a script, but just improv their whole pilot in front of the judges. World of Why.
Their absolute lack of preparation put them in the bottom two, allowing Alexis to escape by the skin of her teeth. (That weak club kid runway look should have had her taking Valentina’s place. But fine.) And it seemed like it would be an epic face-off. Nina with all her stage bravado, and Valentina with her fishiness and radiant charisma. But as we all waited for Valentina to unmask her club kid look, something seemed really wrong. She wasn’t removing the mask. And RuPaul was not having it because what are we even doing a lipsync if we can’t see your lips? After being ordered to, Valentina removed the mask and revealed something insanely upsetting: she didn’t know the damn words to the song. All that throwing her arms in front of her face could not save her.
So WTF happened? That’s the question that had Drag Race fans tweeting about #Maskgate.
So what happened? Valentina broke Ru’s cardinal rule: She fucked it up. She didn’t do the work. She didn’t learn the lyrics. “I didn’t know the song,” she confessed to EW. The young queen admits she was blindsided by being put in the bottom two, and the shock rattled her hard. Things only got worse when Ru cut the music and scolded Valentina. “That was the moment when I was almost awakened from my state of shock,” the LA native admitted. “I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Valentina was fierce from the jump, but this pretty queen rubbed her co-stars the wrong way when she confessed she’d only been doing drag for 10 months. Despite being a newbie, she developed a dedicated fandom online, so ferocious they began sending insults and death threats to the other queens following Valentina’s elimination. (Which is fucked up and not even shady. It’s shitty. Ru would be disappointed in every one of them.) But others were irked by Valentina, not because of her youth, but because she was disconnected from drag traditions, like she has no drag family, no drag mom. So her success on the show seemed a bit of a slap in the face to the very culture the show intends to celebrate. Or as one gay porn star succinctly explained it:
h/t The Stranger
queens resent her because she represents the obsolescence of local drag communities. u can become a superstar out of nowhere.— ty mitchell (@TyMitchellXXX) April 14, 2017
Still, RuPaul’s Drag Race has always been a place for new talent and growth, and we saw Valentina begin to learn from the other queens. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see her sent home over such a basic bitch mistake. Learn the Ru-loving lyrics!
So after she, Nina, and Alexis got read on the runway, what did Valentina do backstage ahead of the Lipsync for Your Life? Watching the ep, I assumed Valentina thought her strong performances from the previous episodes would save her from the very bottom this time. But in “Untucked,” she openly confessed she expected to lipsync (11 minute mark). Still, Alexis was spooked enough she decided “I need to listen to this damn music.” And while she does, Nina and Valentina kick their feet up and chat. Mostly about Nina’s inferiority complex. AGAIN.
At the fifteen-minute mark, you see them listening to the song together. And maybe Valentina was—as she says—overwhelmed. This was the first real criticism the judges gave her, and we’ve seen plenty of queens spinout from the pressure of that. “This was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, because the whole world is watching me fail,” Valentina confessed at the end of the webisode, “This was never supposed to happen. I was going to win. I wasn’t prepared. And that is something that I am going to have to live with. I just hope the way that ended for me, doesn’t define me.”
Her flame out won’t be forgotten, but it’s unlikely to be all she’s remembered for. Valentina is doing a slew of live shows. Because of all the fan love and the spectacular exit, she’ll likely be brought back to RuPaul’s Drag Race for another season, either as an All-Star or as a Miss Congeniality redemption pick in a straight season, as Cynthia Lee Fontaine before her. Don’t cry for queen Valentina. The truth is you’ll see her again.