When the cast sashayed back onto my screen for episode 4 of Canada’s Drag Race, I found myself feeling a sense of familiarity that let me know we’re getting into the swing of the season. By now, we know the queens’ styles, personalities, who gets along, and who might be the first to grab a blanket on that clearly freezing set. We’re settling in, and so are they! Re-entering the werkroom, the nine remaining queens discovered a Drag Race first: Anastarzia Anaquway chose not to leave a mirror message. Shocked, the queens concluded that she simply didn’t need to; “Mother” had already said everything she needed to say.

The queens settled down for a chat. Boa and Scarlett Bobo assured Ilona Verley that they intended to bury the hatchet, while Rita Baga reflected on how Toronto drag often exists as its own shady little world. She vocalized that this competition isn’t all about TO. Even the Church St queens had a self-reflexive laugh. Before de-dragging, Kiara shared a moment of confidence after escaping the bottom, which was met with words of encouragement.

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The next morning, the queens were back for a mini challenge spearheaded by resident judge and model Stacey McKenzie (in a colourful gingham dress with matching beads in her braids). Pretending she’d forgotten her lines, Stacey brought in the pit crew to play a game. Each man wore shorts with a number pinned on. Underneath, they donned distinctive underwear, with each matching precisely one other.

The queens took turns asking one pit crew member at a time to lower their shorts, trying to figure out who wore the matching briefs. The queen with the most matches in the least number of guesses would be win. Each queen had Stacey and the pit crew laughing, but Jimbo was the victorious (she won a VIP stay and culinary experience at the Hilton Toronto).

Next, the queens divided into three groups of three. Stacey had the pit crew wheel in three large, pink recycling bins, each filled with a different material; paper, plastic, or metal. For the maxi-challenge, Stacey tasked the queens with creating outfits entirely from their assigned materials. They’d be responsible for their own looks, but they must also create a cohesive runway collection with their team, or their “fashion house”.

As winner of the mini-challenge, Jimbo job to assigned the bins. Her, Ilona, and Tynomi claimed paper, so she gifted metal to Priyanka, Boa, and Lemon. Plastic was passed off to Scarlett, Kiara, and Rita. Before leaving, Stacey let the queens know she’d be back to coach each of them on their runway walks. She also revealed the week’s special guest host: Canadian fashion designer BIDDELL. With that, she set the queens to work!

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Team metal worked well. Boa felt excited about shiny possibilities and Pri tossed out some ideas despite maintaining she didn’t have a clue what she was doing. Lemon confessed to being better at drawing concepts than she is at executing them, but she got to work anyways. After her last design challenge, she wanted to concentrate on silhouette. The team described their aesthetic as “New York fashion, Alexander McQueen, very out-of-the-box-avant-garde”.

Delving into the plastic, Scarlett felt down. She lamented leaving her gorgeous outfits unworn in favour of making things “out of a bunch of fucking crap” but Rita and Kiara’s positivity comparing plastic bags to fabric soon got her tossing around ideas. They felt good about their combination of drag, discussing Rita’s club kid background and Kiara and Scarlett’s advanced glue gun skills. Rita took design lead while the others consulted and executed.

Team paper started out positive. Ilona felt good about their strong sense of fashion. Tynomi shared design experience and Jimbo outlined work in film and theatre designer with very little budget and materials. They loved Ilona’s “sherbet showgirls” idea but their final sketches didn’t match. Ilona and Tynomi swapped directions to match Jimbo, becoming “recycling royalty”. Jimbo would be their paper queen, and they her “fierce, hot, slutty knights”.

Of course, there’s always werkroom drama. Priyanka caught Tynomi and Ilona whispering about other queens’ looks. They praised Lemon and Pri herself, but they weren’t so kind to Scarlett. Pri called shade, so Ilona asked Scarlett what she was making directly. Scarlett (who called her own approach “putting crap on top of crap on top of crap and then throwing some glitter on it”) responded with a very on-brand “Are you fucking kidding me? You guys are assholes!” It ended in laughs when she read them back, but things were dicy for a moment.

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Runway sessions began and Jimbo, Tynomi, and Ilona, or “Maison Papier”, were up first. Tynomi’s walk had beautiful posture but Stacey recommended looking straight ahead to give time to soak her in. Ilona, who was very excited, was told to adopt an “I’m just so, so, so hot!” attitude. At Jimbo’s walk, Stacey started skeptical but stayed positive. She loved Jimbo’s personality but wanted to refine it to be more couture. Stacey adjusted Jimbo’s back, legs, arms and stride, and then screamed in happiness when she nailed it.

“House of Rust”, or Lemon, Priyanka, and Boa, were up next. Priyanka (admitting that Stacey “scares the shit out of” her) looked like she was thinking too much. She loosened up and relaxed on Stacey’s instruction, making her mentor shout in glee. Boa was nervous, but was praised for being playful despite needing to arch her back to make it regal too. Lemon, who had walked runways even before arriving on set, nailed it without much feedback at all!

Rounding off the runway practice was Scarlett, Kiara, and Rita, or “La Maison Boraga” (a combination of their names). Rita was advised to slow down, relax her eyes, and think about something she likes (“Eating a hotdog!”). Scarlett was instructed to remember that this is her stage and thrilled Stacey by adopting that attitude immediately. Stacey helped Kiara relax into her swing more, whipser-screaming encouragement when she hit the right marks.

Elimination day welcomed a pack of queens who felt a little bit “crusty” from the pressures of design challenges. They admitted that they knew this would be hard, but building outfits from unconventional materials was a whole new ballgame. Despite general consensus that everyone was a little on edge, Scarlett felt confident about her group’s cohesiveness and Rita went into game mode, revealing that she shaved her head to get back to her club kid roots.

As they painted, Tynomi asked Ilona what they were like in high school. They talked about coming out to supportive girlfriends who defended them from bullies. Tynomi reminisced about how her girlfriends stuck up for her too. Across the room, Scarlett and Rita discussed being drag house mothers. Scarlett recalled the matriarch of the Bobo house, Ginette, who sadly passed only a few weeks before. She relayed how Ginette’s passing rocked the family and said she works extra hard to keep Ginette’s legacy alive. Rita admitted gratitude for her easy connection with Scarlett despite her own occasional troubles making friends.

The judges warmed up the runway before the “Single Use Queens” maxi-challenge. Stacey strutted in a swirling suit of white, red, and yellow. Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman charmed in silver, black, and navy florals. Brooke Lynn Hytes wowed in short, bright green hair with a bang, a sleek catsuit with pointed shoulders and a train, and a shining harness to top it off. Finally, BIDDELL set another Drag Race precedent as the first guest just to do an on-stage reveal, tearing off an oversized mechanic’s coverall to reveal a sparkling formal jacket over harem pants typical of his own signature collections.

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Scarlett got things started in a mini dress made from spray painted tarp, a collar and complimentary headpiece of plastic netting, and splattered makeup. Kiara’s long dress and train were of the same splashed tarp and her headpiece boasted the netting too. Her collar was holographic plastic and her makeup was colour blocked. Rita walked in a corset and skirt of painted tarp and the largest netted headpiece yet, her entire head and face painted in a grid to march. Together, the three looked like a truly cohesive and upcycled set.

Boa lead the next group in silver, with bottle cap and strainer bra, sleek hair, a skirt and panty combo made from a foil shock blanket, and an umbrella frame to accent. She got reactions by unfurling the strainers. Priyanka, also in silver, followed with another umbrella frame, this time as a head piece with delicate chain hanging from each spindle. Her dress, made of metal screen, folded down under her arms and flared to the back. Lemon finished the pas de trois in a long, form-fitting, backless halter made of unfurled rose gold brillo pads. She carried an umbrella frame in rose gold. They looked complimentary but slightly disjointed in colour.

Ilona emerged in pink and silver paper cut like armour, a cage skirt, epaulets, and a helmet. Each was adorned in paper fringe and they held a glittering paper sword. Tynomi contrasted in gold and blue matching elements but without the helmet and shoulders. She added paper jewelry and braids, describing herself as a “renaissance knight meets Wakanda warrior”. Jimbo completed the trio as a paper queen, with a straw crown, cone bodice, and crepe flowers on her long skirt, shoes, and shoulders. Her face and chest were painted white a la monarchs of auld. Together they presented a tableau, but not necessarily a cohesive one.

The judges revealed the top achievers first. Rita, Kiara, and Scarlett won the runway for their plastic haute couture, with Rita crowned for this week’s challenge. She scored a $5000 shopping spree at Fabricland and bragging rights as the first ever queen to win two challenges on Canada’s Drag Race. These three were excused to the werkroom.

BIDDELL commended the metal gang for getting creative with the hardest material. He told Boa that her vision was clear but her execution wasn’t. Brooke wished for something at the top of the look for balance (they also made diaper jokes about the bunched foil panty). Jeffrey complimented Boa’s ever-present personality but wanted more attention to detail. Judges were unanimous in their desire to see something from Boa besides gimmicks.

When Brooke Lynn turned to Priyanka and growled, Pri anticipated bad news. To her shock, Brooke was in love with her screen dress, and so was everyone else. They called it a serve, clutched each other in enthusiasm, and said it fit her well and made her look like a model. Such compliments were impressive for such tricky material and Pri was thrilled.

BIDDELL said Lemon’s design was so well made he couldn’t even tell the material. Stacey liked it too but thought her presentation lacked a touch of that “Lemon spiciness” she’s come to love. When Brooke wished the dress had a metal panty underneath to complete it, Lemon split the skirt to reveal precisely that. Brooke mumbled “Never mind, fuck my drag!” and retracted her critique. Jeffrey called the difference between Lemon’s first design challenge and this “night and day”. All agreed, however, that hints of silver in her rose gold and vice versa for her team mates would have tied their looks together better.

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Moving onto team paper, Stacey complimented how their looks told a story, despite wishing for more couture. Ilona was praised by BIDDELL for the tucks in the paper “armour” that mimicked a feminine physique. Brooke felt the look missed the mark and compared them to a piñata while Jeffrey asked after their concept. At Ilona’s explanation, the judges laid a dose of reality on the paper team, telling them they’re being too Canadian and cannot step into the background for someone else. Brooke’s nearly-harsh but deeply invested level of care came out as she demanded they assert themselves and stop settling.

Brooke called Tynomi beautiful but deemed the look too costumey, which upset her. She asked if she was okay and Tynomi fought back tears. Brooke pressed on, asking about her continued but uncharacteristic insecurity. Tynomi became even more upset, so Brooke clarified; this was not an attack on her drag, but a check on her missing spark. Tynomi admitted to being too hard on herself and getting in her own head, which Brooke understood. Even so, she reiterated that this is a competition, and that she is “Tynomi Motherfuckin’ Banks”, who can make other queens “shit themselves” just by walking through the door. BIDDELL asked Tynomi to remember that she has all the skills but must put them to use.

By this point, I’m sure Jimbo was feeling the heat (had there actually been any on set). BIDDELL called her concept and level of detail impressive but said she lost shape in the cone bodice. He also asked for clarification on the white paint. When she explained that it was a nod to a Marie Antoinette’s powdered face, BIDDELL admitted that, in combination with the white hair and contacts, it made him think zombies. Jeffrey disliked that her unpainted arms and hands “broke the illusion”. When Jimbo explained that she’d run out of time, he became trite and remarked that everyone got the same amount of time, so “use it better, maybe”.

Back in the werkroom, Scarlett, Kiara, and Rita (all wrapped in fleece blankets) congratulated each other on their win and teamwork. Kiara felt redeemed after last week, while Scarlett was relieved from earlier worries about her look.They were convinced that Tynomi would get a break this week but when the other teams returned, Tynomi’s tears silenced their theory. Ilona threw their hat and made their anger known while Tynomi briefly excused herself.

Ilona started crying too, frustrated at being called “costumey”. Hearing Jimbo comment on the “tundra breeze”, Ilona snapped at her to shut up and “put a fucking smile on your face like everyone else has to.” Not realizing the extent of their anger, Jimbo replied “Okay, bitch” and got more vitriol in return. Ilona yelled at Jimbo, who they said was “probably Top Tooth of The Week”, to “shut the fuck up” while they processed the news that they might go home.

Not one for disrespect, Jimbo navigated Ilona’s projected feelings quite well. She reminded Ilona that they’re not the only one with an opinion, nor the only one going through something. When she was met with swearing and rolling eyes (and awkward silence from everyone else), Jimbo asked Ilona why they got to have the loudest voice in the room, or to swear at others. Ilona retaliated that they didn’t “want to hear it right now”, so Jimbo stated the same and asked what they thought of that. Backed into a corner, Ilona huffed that they would just stop talking. Getting precisely what she wanted, Jimbo smiled and thanked her (quite sincerely).

Attempting to diffuse tension, Scarlett told Ilona and Tynomi she hated seeing them feel this way. Tynomi, so upset she couldn’t finish a sentence, cried while Priyanka recounted how admirable she is, and how difficult seeing her struggle feels. By the time she’d finished saying that they all wanted to see Tynomi succeed, Scarlett and Priyanka herself were in tears too. Tynomi related wanting to collapse on stage and not feeling like she’s enough.

Ilona interjected, shifting focus to their own struggle. Scarlett tried to quell them, saying she understood but they hadn’t lip synced twice. This sparked an outburst from Ilona about putting money into looks and then landing in the bottom wearing garbage. As everyone else stared into their drinks, Ilona shouted that they just wanted to rep for their culture and for trans and non-binary people, but all they were repping for now were dumpster divers. This made Tynomi burst out laughing, which lifted the gloom and even got Ilona smiling.

As the queens shivered and yelled, the judges deliberated. They remained glad to see Boa’s personality shine, but they’d grown tired of gimmicks. Priyanka impressed them all, while Lemon nailed the look but let her drive wane. Ilona’s garment was deemed a letdown from last week’s polish and their background tendency was noted. Tynomi’s lack of elevation and delivery versus the talent they know she has was cited as “heartbreaking”. Finally, the fire they loved in Jimbo before was understood to be flickering despite her ongoing skill.

Calling the queens back to the runway, judges named Lemon, Priyanka, Jimbo, and Boa safe. This left Tynomi and Ilona up for elimination, upsetting the queens who wanted better for Tynomi. Ilona’s stress overwhelmed them and they whispered to Tynomi, “I can’t do this”. Tynomi immediately countered all protests with staunch reassurance that they can. This got Ilona walking to their spot across the stage, but their frame of mind was still not ready.

Turning to the judges, Ilona loudly repeated, “I can’t do this”. Brooke looked them in the eye with care and firmly said “Yes, you can”. Tynomi begged them, “Please perform. Please”. Brooke continued, saying that she knows they’re sisters, but this is still a competition. Queens shouted from the back of the runway while Jeffrey reminded Ilona that seeing them fight is important for the community and kids back home; they can’t give up. Ilona blinked back their tears, swallowed hard, and finally believed the reassurance they were hearing.

I never thought I’d say that a lip sync to the bubblegum sounds of “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne would have me on the edge of my seat, but here we are! Ilona and Tynomi shut off their tears and delivered, making queens shout and judges dance. They were playful, interactive, and they performed with unexpected intensity. They fed off each other’s energy, playing characters and ripping off hindering paper accessories. Tynomi’s vogueing shouldn’t have suited this context, but somehow it did. Paper fringe became cheer pom poms, Ilona nailed an impressive air guitar, and they finished centre stage in a tight, genuine hug.

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In fact, their hug lasted so long that they were still embracing as the panel addressed them. Judges were thrilled by the change in energy they’d just witnessed, but it was still their job to send someone home. Ilona’s shine was a cut above, marking Tynomi’s third lip sync her final. On hearing the news, Ilona burst into grateful tears, the queens at the back of the runway cried… even BIDDELL had to wipe his eyes. Like the absolute legend and professional she’s always been, Tynomi left with humility, positivity, and one last shot at making everyone laugh.

Don’t forget to tune in every Thursday at 9 pm EST to watch Canada’s Drag Race for yourself! You can catch it on Crave here in Canada, on Wow Presents Plus in the US, and on BBC Three iPlayer in the UK (every Friday thanks to the time change; sorry kids). While you’re at it, check out Ja’mie Queen West and myself chatting with each week’s eliminated queen every Monday for our Talk Aboot It segment over on Drag Coven!
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Courtney Conquers is a drag artist and archivist, writer, consultant, public speaker, and live show videographer. She is best known for her work as part of the queer media collective Drag Coven (she's the short one who films the videos). Courtney has a Master of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies from Carleton University in Canada and is an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion in drag and queer spaces. She also regularly promotes, coordinates, talent handles, and casts drag events throughout North America. When she’s not traveling for her own gigs, assisting other drag performers, holding a video camera, or writing about drag and queer fem issues, Courtney can usually be found knitting in obnoxious colours. 

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