Five episodes in, ‘Drag Race Philippines’ reminds us that “safe” is a dangerous place to be in.
WARNING: spoilers ahead. TRIGGER WARNING: there will be a brief mention of a malicious death wish.
I think I can speak for most viewers of Drag Race Philippines Season 2 when I say that Episode 5 was something worth looking forward to.
First, Verushka Levels already went home with a mini-challenge win, a maxi-challenge win, and the pot that she constantly stirred for three episodes. We wish her all the best and encourage her to try out for a cooking show soon.
Second, coming from Episode 4’s somewhat lackluster Snatch Game, it was exciting to see how the queens would stand out (or not) in Episode 5. The preview revealed that they were set to debut “Sirena: The Rusical,” a queer version of The Little Mermaid. This got me excited, because across all Drag Race franchises and seasons, Rusicals have often produced breakout performers and stars falling from grace.
Why you should give your all
“Sirena: The Rusical” follows the story of Sirena who fervently wishes to have feet so she can become a drag queen. Her desire stems from the high-heeled shoe, belonging to Princess Erica, that she found under the sea. The Rusical’s antagonist, Tiya Pusit, grants Sirena’s wish in exchange for the latter’s beautiful voice, much to the dismay of Sirena’s friends, Labastiyan and Tampalpuke.
As the winner of Episode 5 mini-challenge, frontrunner Captivating Katkat (who won last episode’s Snatch Game) boldly took the lead role. On the other end of the spectrum, Matilduh (who lip-synched for her life in the show’s first three-way battle last episode) chose a supporting role: Catriona, Sirena’s sister. Matilduh justified her choice, wanting to play it safe but also driven to make the most out of a minor role.
These choices backfired for both queens, reiterating how any role is always a risk—take the lead and shine (or bomb the role), or settle for a supporting role and stay there (or steal the spotlight). As she was the lead, Katkat’s minor errors got magnified. Several times during her solos, either she turned away from the camera or her wig covered her face, obscuring her lips in some of her speaking and singing parts. (I could also say the same for Bernie as Tampalpuke regarding the camera issue, but the moments where her face was visible made up for it, thanks to her characterization.)
Matilduh had the unfortunate case of performing alongside Arizona Brandy (Pia), who sold her scant lines with exaggerated yet comedic facial expressions, and Hana Beshie (Queen Tritonia), whose quivering lips in her operatic sequences made me squeal with joy. Catriona became a pretty side character whose absence wouldn’t have affected the Rusical.
At panel, Matilduh’s “safe choice” generated generic comments from the judges. They agreed that she wasn’t doing enough to break through and shine, which frustrated Matilduh. In fairness to her, it does feel disconcerting to be in a situation wherein your best isn’t enough and you don’t know how to do even better. With such a stacked cast, though—you have DeeDee Marié Holiday devouring the Tiya Pusit role, ØV Cünt making crazy weird funny and entertaining, and Katkat still captivating audiences even with her minor errors—you definitely cannot settle on just “good enough.”
The only queen we haven’t talked about at this point is M1ss Jade So, who was also dealt a bad hand for the Rusical. After losing the role of Tampalpuke to Bernie via a snap audition, Jade assured herself that she’d still rock the role no matter what. At her consultation with Paolo, they briefly talked about Jade’s choreography plans for her Princess Erica role and her theater background in high school, further building up my anticipation toward her performance.
Things started to go downhill quickly during rehearsals when Jade couldn’t follow the steps properly. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a shady production edit—come Rusical day, Jade’s movements and expressions weren’t as grand and energetic as what was expected from Princess Erica, who appeared at a Super Sea-reyna, Miss Gay pageantry-inspired scene at the Rusical. At panel, permanent judge Jiggly Caliente remarked that Jade might have been relying too much on her beauty to coast through the challenges.
Jade never claimed to rely on aesthetics alone, and she showed that she was just more than pretty face and snatched body when she lip-synced for her life at the end of the episode. M1ss Jade So proved everyone wrong with a powerful perfomance of “Gusto Ko Nang Bumitaw,” sung by powerhouse Morissette Amon.
Complete with her Cancer-meets-Him of the Powerpuff Girls look and deep red dye for bloody tears, Jade staggered back and forth as she clutched her chest and mouthed the emotional lyrics of the ballad. Her performance upstaged Matilduh’s, who also delivered her own riveting lip sync of the song, to her credit.
Getting mighty real and raw
Initially, I thought that Matilduh only channeled her frustrations about not being enough toward her lip sync. However, after watching Untucked (the 20-minute backstage episodes supplementing the main show) and hearing Matilduh’s wishes for her parents to be proud of her, I figured that “Gusto Ko Nang Bumitaw” also tapped into the Ilocos-borne drag queen’s deep desires of wanting to be free and accepted.
Recalling Untucked Episode 4, it was only a few days before the filming of Drag Race Philippine Season 2 that Matilduh’s mom knew about her son’s drag career, so the emotions attached to that situation were still fresh. While her time at Drag Race Philippines has come to an end, Matilduh left with an inspiring declaration of pushing through with drag and living her truth, especially for those who couldn’t do so because of personal or societal barriers.
Acceptance—or, how it remains elusive for many queer folk— became a running theme in the more tender and vulnerable moments of the episode. Arizona Brandy reveals that her beloved sister, a pastor, once held a session with fellow pastors to “pray over” Arizona; ØV Cünt shared that a loved one once told her to “die of AIDS.”
It’s a sobering reminder that while moments like Matilduh’s coming out are beautiful and monumental, the fight for acceptance and basic human rights only becomes harder for queer individuals once they come out—hence, the importance of sticking together and rallying for equality with kindred folk and your chosen families.
Indirectly and briefly, the episode also offers a way toward acceptance and inclusivity through Jade’s and Katkat’s confessionals. Jade reiterates her trans non-binary identity and it/her/she pronouns, while Katkat stresses how important it is for people to learn more about sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) and respecting one’s SOGIESC. It would be great if there would be more avenues in the next episodes to talk about these.
Footnote: the shoes!
We cannot end an episode recap and breakdown without focusing on this week’s runway category: the shoes! I’ll make it quick: I’m with guest judge Anne Curtis on the sentiment that this theme requires one to pull out all the stops on the shoes—the rest of the outfit must only support the focal point, not distract from it.
On that note, this is why my clear winner for the runway category is Bernie and her flower footwear fantasy, complemented by her bodysuit accented with pinks, flowers, and minimal jewelry. I also have to give it to ØV for presenting something we didn’t expect from the spook queen, even if the exaggerated pointy boots bearing her name were one of the simpler styles.
Seven queens remain. Who will be the Philippines’ next drag superstar? Drag Race Philippines is currently streaming on HBO Go and WOW Presents Plus.