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• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: “Responsitrannity” video!
• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: Ten Best Episodes!
• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: Top Five Contestant Singles!
• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: Most Underrated Queens!
• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: Top Five Villains!
• RuPaul’s Drag Race Week: Best and Worst Lip Syncs!
Oh, how RuPaul’s Drag Race has grown up … from the somewhat truncated first season with the teensy little runway to the season four reunion in front of a packed crowd in the El Portal Theatre, Drag Race has sort of turned into this massive cultural phenomena, the thread connecting the mainstream to drag culture. In four years, the show has built up a loyal fanbase thanks to a run of strong episodes. But which episodes rank as the all-time best?
#10 Season One’s Drag on a Dime
I couldn’t, in good conscience, make a list of Drag Race‘s best episodes without including the very first one. Sure, the show in its current form may have better production values and more episodes per season, but this is the origin! The beginning! Drag on a Dime wasn’t just the challenge descriptor — the queens had to make a couture outfit out of dollar-store crap. — but also a thesis for the first season; RuPaul had created one of the most promising shows out of nothing but will power, elbow grease and moxie. It also introduced us to the very first batch of queens, including Tammie Brown, the sadly overlooked Victoria “Porkchop” Parker, and the lovely Nina Flowers.
#9 Season Two’s Country Queens
The jump from season one to season two was a rather large difference. After just one season, Drag Race switched venues, moving to a larger stage and work room, more queens, and better lighting. Sure, the overall look had been retooled, but everything that had made Drag Race great was still intact. But it was with Country Queens that season two really hit its stride; the queens were given the opportunity to stretch their comedic muscles, Raven dressed up as poultry, and we got to see the queens compete in a fried chicken eating contest. Perfection.
#8 Season Three’s The Queen Who Mopped Xmas
For the most part, the season premieres tend to rank pretty high on entertainment value. It’s the only opportunity we get to see the full cast interacting with each other (other than the reunion), we get to see some first impressions, and the first mini-challenge usually involves humiliating the girls in the name of high-fashion. But this one specifically rises to the top for two reasons: One, we get to see the return of Shangela, which marks the first time a queen has ever returned to the competition, and two … well, to be honest, I’m a sucker for Christmas. And until Ru gets around to making another Christmas special, seeing Raja pummel the runway in Vivian Westwood Holiday realness will have to do. Also, Mike Ruiz? Yum.
#7 Season Two’s Here Comes The Bride
Like any reality TV show, Drag Race has its share of conflict. If you stick a diverse group of people into a room for long enough, eventually tensions are going to boil over and things will be said and an entire trolley of wedding dresses will be sashed over someone’s head. Here Comes The Bride was the first ever instance of a full-on take-down, as Tyra Sanchez‘s weirdly antagonistic behavior was finally called into question by the rest of the queens during the judge’s critique. Sure, she ended up winning, but not before her dirty laundry and bad attitude were aired out for everyone to see.
#6 Season Four’s RuPocalypse Now!
When RuPaul started off the fourth season, promising that things were about to go over the motherf*cking top, she wasn’t just whistling dixie; Last season saw the show running on all cylinders. Seriously, on the A/V Club, every episode of season four was ranked either an A or A-. Few other shows can boast that accomplishment. And to launch their golden season, RuPaul decided to bring about the RuPocalypse, hosing down the queens with toxic waste, unleashing a hoard of zombified former contestants on them, and then forcing them to put together post-apocalyptic couture. Season four’s eventual winner, Sharon Needles, cleaned up this round serving bloody, undead chic on the runway, thus clawing her way into America’s hearts.
#5 Season Three’s Ru Ha Ha
As I said before, season three’s Heathers vs. Boogers story line stands as something of a blemish on the show’s otherwise spotless herstory. Sure, there were rivalries and catfights before it, but nothing ever quite poisoned the show and all its contestants quite like this awful bloody ideology. But in a lot of ways, Ru Ha Ha was the climax of this skirmish, combining humor, deceit, and treachery into a sinfully delicious cocktail, perfectly capped off with Shangela’s devilish smile at the end of the episode after seeing her revenge plan come to fruition. Not only that, but this is also the episode that gave us an amazing reading challenge, Manila Luzon‘s lip sync, and Laquifa, the post-modern pimp ho.
#4 Season Two’s The Snatch Game
Oh please, did you think we could get through a list of Drag Race‘s highlights without at least one episode of The Snatch Game? Bitch no. To be honest, every single Snatch Game episode could have made it onto the list, but for the sake of keeping the list from being too samey, I picked the best installment of the annual tradition: Season two’s Snatch Game. Sure, season three and four had some highlights – Chad Michaels‘ Cher, Sharon’s Michelle Visage, Stacy Layne Matthews‘ Mo’Nique. — but season two was more even across the board, and really stands out thanks to Pandora Boxx‘s absolutely hysterical impression of Carol Channing. When you can bring down a room with nothing but a pitch-perfect delivery of “RASPBERRIES!” you officially qualify as a goddess.
#3 Season Four’s The Fabulous Bitch Ball
Throwing the final four a ball challenge is simply Drag Race tradition, from season one’s Absolut cocktail themed ball, to season two’s Diva Awards, to season three’s Make Dat Money, but season four really hit it out of the park by adding the one thing Drag Race had always been missing: Adorable puppies! Okay, I’ll admit to a certain level of bias on this one because I love dogs, but this really was a perfect episode. From Sharon’s amazing Poodle runway look, to the hilarious Untucked the followed it, to Latrice Royale‘s emotional and elegant farewell, this one was on point.
#2 Season One’s Mac/Viva Glam Challenge
If season one could be summed up in one word, it would be “potential.” For all its good point, when you compare the first season to those that came after it, it’s not quite as strong; There were fewer queens, less time to get to know a lot of them, the runway seemed a little quiet, and the amount of Vaseline on the camera lens bordered on “Barbara Walters interview.” But the Mac/Viva Glam Challenge was the moment when the show really tapped into all that it could be and all that it would eventually grow into; an emotionally driven character study of a segment of the gay community that most people dismiss. When Ongina won the challenge and came out as HIV positive in front of the other queens and the judges, RuPaul’s Drag Race proved that it could be so much more than sum of its parts. Season one may have been a diamond in the rough, but this still ranks as one of the show’s shining moments in an already fantastic run.
#1 Season Four’s Frenemies
By the time season four hit the airwaves, the show had a pretty decent amount of memorable moments behind it; emotional confessions, surprising returns, shocking eliminations, moments of sheer brilliance and stupidity the world had never seen, and even a drag queen picking up another drag queen and dragging her onstage against her will. We thought we had seen it all.
Oh, how wrong we are.
Like Ru Ha Ha, Frenemies was the climax to two of the show’s biggest story lines: The conflict between polar opposites Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O’Hara, as well as the Andy Kaufman-esque performance art that was Willam. After forcing the queens to take a polygraph test, the girls were paired up with their yins to their yangs: Sharon and Phi Phi, Chad and Dida Ritz, and Latrice and Willam. While most of them fared well, Sharon and Phi Phi ended up in the bottom two, finally dueling it out to Martha Wash and RuPaul’s single “It’s Raining Men … The Sequel” in an absolutely dazzling lip sync. When the time for a decision came, the departing queen was … Willam. Apparently, Willam had broken some of the rules, and so she was eliminated. It was something no one could have possibly seen coming, capping off an already stellar episode.