Drag Race PH

Drag Race PH S2E8 + live viewing party: Another core memory for the queer community

Drag Race PH is churning out some of the most emotionally charged episodes in the whole franchise.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

It’s been almost a week since Drag Race Philippines gave us yet another emotional rollercoaster of an episode, and I think the fanbase—myself included—has already recovered from the resounding impact that Episode 8 delivered. As if the heartfelt moments with the Golden Gays and the generally cheerful Episode 7 weren’t meaningful enough, the show just had to throw not one, not even two, but three major curveballs that pushed fans to the edge of their seats. 

On a personal note, my emotional journey with Episode 8 was heightened further by watching it at the Beke Nemen Viewing Party at Apotheka, which meant that I laughed, cried, and screamed at the top of my lungs with fans, fellow queers, and drag queens, some of whom are and were on Drag Race Philippines. 

Given these musings, for this recap, I will at times forego chronology to reflect on the core moments of this episode, noting how it marked yet another significant milestone for Drag Race Philippines. I’ll also share why I’m elated and grateful that I got to watch Episode 8 via a viewing party.

Curveball 1: Brand versus identity

A still from what probably is the most unhinged commercial I’ve ever seen, and I’m living for it!
Screenshot from Instagram/m1ssjadeso

The end of the previous episode already teased that the queens were going to take on the branding maxi-challenge for Episode 8. They were to film a humorous shampoo commercial that showcases their brand.

As with other franchises, the branding challenge is both a technical and personal test—not only do the queens have to create their own storyboards, develop the product’s visual identity, and film the commercial; they also have to be funny while presenting who they are. Anybody who takes on the branding challenge without a good sense of their drag self often gets lost in the mire.

At this point in the competition, I think we’ve come to know and understand well-defined brands from our queens. M1ss Jade So is, among other descriptors, the “esoteric power top na bratzy ng Marikina City”—hearing this alone already gives us an idea of what kind of queen she is, and that image gets verified once we see and watch her on the show. Arizona Brandy’s name speaks for itself: “brandy” is a synecdoche for alcohol, which Arizona loves to the point of drunkenness. Hana Beshie, a play on the brand Hanabishi, embodies camp through her visuals and humor. 

ØV Cünt has always been known for being outrageous and avant-garde, but she clarified during the viewing party that what she refines in her drag isn’t so much a “brand” as it is an “identity,” which is “stronger.” How I’m understanding this is that, instead of a “manufactured” persona that a queen may use for her drag career—across her performances, merchandise, and social media presence—ØV embodies what she shows us within and without drag. This notion gave ØV that sense of confidence coming into the branding challenge. 

Going by ØV’s idea then, I don’t think there is a queen in the top six that doesn’t have a well-defined identity, and perhaps that’s why Jade, Arizona, Hana, and ØV performed well in the challenge. LandiSuSo Shampoo immediately recalls Jade’s body and antics; Lasing-Alis Shampoo directly relates to Arizona’s drunken schtick; Beshie Beshie Shampoo with Freebies builds on a running gag from Eat Bulaga where they introduce Hanabishi appliances with odd freebies; and Shampøøtang Ina, if you know what antics ØV does in drag, just makes total sense.

With ØV CÜNT, what you see is definitely what you get. And yes, that’s a Ru Badge in her mouth. Photos by Gelo Dionora.

But why did Bernie and Captivating Katkat—strong performers with a solid identity rooted in performance and their experiences as trans women—miserably fall flat in this branding challenge? 

Bernie’s strategy in the commercial was to take it literally: to create a textbook commercial, nothing else. We saw her banging body; her gorgeous face; her long, luscious hair after using the “Heme Heme” Shampoo (which was taken from “eme eme”… and Dragon Ball Z’s “Kamehameha?”), but what did that tell us about who Bernie/Diday is? Nothing. Was the commercial even funny? Not a chance. Was it a matter of misunderstanding what the branding challenge was all about?

Similarly, Katkat relied on a mishmash of jokes, puns, and humorous line deliveries, all of which didn’t land where they should have. There wasn’t anything “Katkat” about cockroaches turning into butterflies surrounding you after using Captivating Butterfly 3-in-1 Shampoo, nor were the trite gags suggestive or alluding to the great and witty drag queen that Captivating Katkat is. Did she overthink the challenge and relied on gags outside of Katkat’s identity?

After the commercials aired, it was clear among all of us in the viewing party that Bernie and Katkat were going to lip sync for their lives—one of them was bound to go home. Silence and anxiety ensued as we waited for the inevitable declaration of the bottom two. Surely, there wasn’t going to be a twist here anymore, right?

Curveball 2: The mini-M1ss Jade So moment

Wrong! Mama Pao summoned Jade after reviewing all the commercials and told her that, since she went overtime during filming by two minutes, she automatically landed in the bottom three despite a hilariously stupid and on-point commercial.

Now, here’s where viewing party interviews come in handy: after we watched the episode at Apotheka, Jade revealed to the audience that the commercial director, Fifth Solomon, didn’t stop her from filming even if she was already going overtime. To be fair, Fifth did tell her that time was up, but if they were severely strict with the 30-minute time limit, then they shouldn’t have allowed Jade’s desperate plea to film her last few sequences. 

M1ss Jade So (center) spills the tea about the extension incident to Beke Nemen Viewing Party hosts Myx Chanel (left) and Baus Rufo (right).

Whether the leniency was a production call or an oversight, we cannot say for sure. What we are certain of is that Katkat didn’t take Jade’s extension lightly. The frustration over stumbling after being on top for so long, a lackluster commercial, and Jade’s shining moment, partly helped by the overtime that shouldn’t have happened, got to Katkat, and she vented her frustrations in Untucked. It was mature of her, however, to clarify that her anger was directed toward the unfair nature of the extension, and not toward Jade—no guys, we are not going to see a repeat of Jade vs. Katkat from many episodes ago.

In the end, this whole moment with Jade proved to be a temporary plotline that delayed the inevitable: Bernie and Katkat now had to lip sync against each other to stay in the competition.

Curveball 3: One word—DASURV.

There are several layers to the Bernie-Katkat LSFYL. First, the two veteran performers have worked together for so long in O Bar, Manila’s premier drag bar. They’ve also enjoyed a stellar track record in the competition, performing well across acting, dance, and lip sync challenges. Bernie has been well-loved throughout the competition with her kind and unassuming character, and Captivating Katkat, though initially plagued by her maldita reputation and a few scuffles early in the competition, has charmed audiences with her humor and flawless mug. 

In short, it doesn’t matter who goes home—regardless, a significant portion of the fanbase will get their hearts broken at the end of the episode. 

Bernie and Katkat lip sync to “The Power” by Ann Raniel of Idol Philippines Season 2—a power ballad that sings about pushing amid adversity, of being bound for more, and having the strength to rise above. 

Bernie and Captivating Katkat restage their LSFYL moment at a drag brunch.

As the song picked up the pace from its slow and subdued start, Bernie and Katkat’s facial expressions, choreography, and emotions hit every resounding beat and forceful rhythm. Both queens divest themselves of their costumes and wigs, and we are left with nothing but the vulnerable, exposed, raw, yet real bodies and souls of two passionate performers, two stellar drag queens, and—as written on Katkat’s skin-tone bodysuit—two powerful trans women, doing whatever it takes to stay in the competition, even if it comes at the expense of ending the dream of a dear friend.

As the performance progressed, Jade, Arizona, ØV and Hana, most especially, couldn’t stop bawling. The judges were also on their feet, teary-eyed at the display of passion and power amid adversity unfolding in front of them. Bernie and Katkat weren’t able to show who they were in the commercial? Well, this performance made sure that you will never forget them ever again.

At the viewing party, Apotheka wailed, cheered, and cried at every turn of Bernie and Katkat’s performance, which peaked in a resounding roar when the two queens reached the climax of their lip sync—the display of the raw, vulnerable, yet astounding power of trans women. I personally do not know Bernie or Katkat, but it’s as if, through their lip sync I felt their whole lives’ struggles and the strengths they’ve displayed to overcome their respective challenges as trans folk. Perhaps it’s a fight that we queer folk could all empathize with, regardless if you’re lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer/questioning/ intersex, asexual, and other SOGIEs that have always found themselves on the losing end of life’s battles. 

It’s been a while since I sobbed because of a TV show or movie—and in public, no less—but I allowed myself to cry unpleasantly in Apotheka. We were all witnessing a key moment in Drag Race history and a core memory for any queer individual, and I allowed myself to feel that power through Bernie and Katkat. 

Mama Pao declared Katkat the winner of the lip sync, drawing a collective gasp, brief silence, applause, and looks of remorse from the crowd. My heart sank when I saw Bernie crying and regretting not making it to the top four, which was her goal. 

Heartbreak in a photo.

And just when I, the cast members of the show, and the rest of Apotheka accepted this unfortunate turn of events…

Mama Pao saves Bernie. A double shantay. Another non-elimination. 

Apotheka roared in sheer jubilation. And again, I was ugly-crying tears of joy. 

Katkat was all of us at Apotheka.

Epilogue: Why viewing parties rock, and a few loose ends

I don’t think I would have cried as disgracefully as I did if I watched the same episode at home. If there’s anything that these viewing parties have taught me, it’s that the queer community is well on its way to strengthening and proliferating safe spaces even further (though yes, more work needs to be done—but that’s a different story). 

It felt great to be within fellow queers and allies while enjoying something that I had only kept to myself several years ago. Not only did I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race in secret before, but I also couldn’t find people to rave about queens like Bianca del Rio and Katya Zamolodchikova. Now, I found myself in a packed bar with ardent fans and fabulous drag queens, enjoying what we love and creating core memories like that Bernie vs. Katkat double shantay. 

I focused a great deal on the curveballs of this episode that I haven’t even touched on the other memorable parts of the episode: the FlipTop reading challenge;  ØV’s creative Technicolor-esque artistic outfit and Bernie’s medal-clad rainbow couture outfit, Jade and Katkat’s resounding statement outfits on the runway; and Drag Race Thailand and UK vs. the World’s Pangina Heals as the guest judge—I mean, come on, budget!

Thai drag royalty graced Drag Race Philippines’ main stage! Photo from Facebook/Drag Race Philippines

With this second consecutive non-elimination episode, the stakes are even higher now for the queens, and I am not ready to see any one of them go. It’s inevitable, I know, but with the way Drag Race Philippines Season 2 has been making us love the queens and what they stand for, it’s hard not to feel any kind of heartbreak moving forward from Episode 8.

Six queens still remain. Who will be the Philippines’ next drag superstar? Drag Race Philippines is currently streaming on HBO Go and WOW Presents Plus.

The new lifestyle.