Contestants dish on alternate Snatch Game characters, Valentina drama, and how Peppermint was left behind before a huge shoot
Last week’s penultimate episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s ninth season treated fans to a multi-course feast of behind-the-scenes drama, as the queens’ claws — which remained relatively sheathed for most of this year’s largely tension-free competition — came out in full force, targeting everyone from Charlie Hides and the underwhelming lip sync that ultimately sent him home to reigning Miss Congeniality champion Valentina, whose legion of online followers launched a digital offensive against the remaining cast, causing a bitter rift among the Drag Race sisterhood following her shock elimination.
Judging by the juicy details revealed in an intimate conversation between Sasha Velour, Peppermint, Aja, and Alexis Michelle in New York City Tuesday evening, there’s still plenty of tea to spill on season 9’s best moments before a winner is crowned this Friday, June 23. Speaking to EW’s Sean Smith as part of a discussion hosted by Time Inc.’s LGBTQ organization, OUT, the foursome dished on a few sickening secrets about their time together, including the ongoing conflict with Valentina, Michelle’s true reason for lashing out about her weight following the reading challenge, a few Snatch Game alternates (including Macy Gray and Gollum), and how Peppermint was nearly left behind by a member or the crew on the second day of filming.
Here’s everything we learned:
Michelle memorably took offense to her sisters’ observations about her weight during this season’s reading challenge, which saw the queens playfully picking apart their fellow contestants’ flaws in front of the entire group. After several queens jabbed at Michelle’s weight, she later expressed her discomfort with the insults and said the public likely would have been on her side, too, if the show had aired a single conversation she’d had earlier with the rest of the girls.
“I really love RuPaul and I really loved this opportunity, and I’ve taken a lot of lessons from Ru over the years… But I really feel on this issue there’s a huge double standard and a lack of hearing the other side,” Michelle said, referencing an earlier altercation between Velour and Eureka O’Hara, the latter of whom made a joke about eating disorders, which prompted the former to reveal her own past struggles with food. “Eureka behaved inappropriately about anorexia and bulimia, and yet I was attacked for being insensitive about my overeating.”
“My overeating is still so real for me, and it is an eating disorder. When we had the discussion amongst us girls about anorexia and bulimia, I talked about my struggle and my f–ed up relationship with food for most of my life, and I didn’t feel particularly seen by my sisters in that moment, and I definitely didn’t feel seen by production because they didn’t f–ing air it,” Michelle continued. “I think there’s a huge double standard here. The reason I came off sensitively in the reading challenge is because we had just had this discussion amongst each other.”
“My other options were Ina Garten… I had Barbra Streisand in my back pocket, and there was actually some discussion from production about the inclusion of fictional characters because, in the past, that hasn’t been a thing… but weren’t able to clear it,” Michelle, who ultimately won the perennial fan favorite challenge with an ace take on Liza Minnelli, revealed. “My fictional character that I had in my back pocket was Eddie Monsoon from Absolutely Fabulous.”
Referencing her poorly received impersonation of Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes, Peppermint added: “I ended up trying to do [her]. I would have tried Janet Jackson and Macy Gray. I should have gone with Macy Gray, because you really don’t have to understand what she says. The other one that I had was Sweet Brown. Those were who I brought. Sweet Brown and Macy Gray were surprisingly very similar in costume, so I brought only one costume for them.”
“All of my choices were ballroom trans icons, like Crystal LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza, and I even brought MC Debra, but I feel like nobody would know who she was,” Aja continued. “They let us watch two episodes of All Stars that came out the week [of filming] because they didn’t want us to repeat any of the Snatch Game characters that the All Stars [contestants did], so I just kept making fun of Alyssa Edwards. I just [decided] to do Alyssa, and, yeah, you saw how that worked.”
Velour, perhaps, had the most ambitious plan for a Snatch Game bit that never made it to air.
“I auditioned with only one Snatch Game character, and that was Gollum from The Lord of the Rings,” she said as the audience erupted with laughter. “It is the greatest illusion that I’m capable of. I really was hoping that the fictional character thing would pan out, because I thought all of these glamorous queens and then this naked monster would be perfect… the other things I thought of were Gollum and Björk. Because they showed us the Snatch Game from All Stars, I didn’t want to do Björk anymore [because Katya’s was so good].”
One of the fieriest moments that aired during last week’s reunion saw Aja — among several other season 9 queens — speaking out against Valentina’s receiving of the Miss Congeniality title. While she admitted she still doesn’t agree with the results of the fan-fueled voting process, Aja said she has nothing but love for Valentina, and that her actions shouldn’t be interpreted as an all-out offensive.
“I told her, ‘If you win Miss Congeniality, I’m gonna [say something],’ and she said ok. She didn’t give a s–t… she did not care. I know Valentina. Oddly, me and Valentina didn’t get along on the show. That was real. But, after the show, Valentina and I became pretty great friends. I do love her as a person, I just don’t think she’s nice,” Aja revealed. “So, when the award of being nice came into play, I was like, no, you’re not nice. But there’s nothing wrong with not being nice. There’s nothing wrong with not being congenial. It wasn’t supposed to be an attack, it was more of like, hey, you’re family, let’s call this what it is. It’s just not fair to award someone an award for being nice when there are other people like Peppermint, who’d been extremely nurturing and nice, and even Trinity — people who really gave to all of us.”The crew accidentally left Peppermint at the hotel on day two of filming
“I got left behind by our protectors… at the hotel,” Peppermint remembered. “Everybody had gone to the studio on the second day. This was very early in the process. It’s like school — they’re like, ‘Is everybody here? Are we good?’ They count heads and they move the group to the new location. But, for some reason, no one counted me. [A staff member] told me to wait somewhere and then she left and never came back… an hour went by, and I was like, they’re really trying to f–k with me! They’re setting me up!”
“I don’t think they realized until we got there,” Aja said. “The studio was like an hour away from the hotel, so it took Pep almost three hours to actually get there.”
“I’m hella naive. I have been watching the show since season 1, and I didn’t know they were filming us through the mirrors!” Michelle explained. “I screamed one day when I saw a red light blinking, and Sasha was like ‘Have you seen the show?’ I thought [what you see on TV] were reflection shots in the mirror.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race typically films several months prior to its air date, and season 9 was no exception. Unfortunately, taping occurred amid a period of intense struggle for the LGBTQ community, as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando — which claimed 49 community lives in June 2016 — happened mere weeks before production began.
“When we were filming, we were in a really particular time, not unlike the one we’re in now. We’d just gone through Pulse… and we were preparing for whoever was going to be our president,” Peppermint recalled. “It was a tumultuous time. It was really easy for us to avoid just cutting each other and attacking each other and being petty just for the sake of being petty.”
“There was a lot of cattiness that didn’t make it to the final cut,” Aja added. “I think, if anything, that cattiness is what made us so close at the end. Part of building a family is realizing you have differences with people… that’s what made our season so close is that when we were filming, we were all catty… some of us more than others, but when we walked away from the experience, Cynthia told me that we were one of the first seasons [where] when the girls got eliminated, every single girl would get a call from [the other contestants] the day they got eliminated… and she said that didn’t happen on her season.”
One of season 9’s most exciting challenges came in the form of 9021-Ho, a comical send-up of the classic ’90s teen series Beverly Hills, 90210. Leading up to the acting spectacle, Aja — seen ferociously requesting a cigarette break amid the heated discussion — notoriously complained about having to play a role she didn’t want, and things seemingly spiraled into a contentious back-and-forth between the entire cast. According to the queen at the center of the conflict, however, it didn’t exactly happen the way it was presented on air.
“I wanted a smoke break and, honestly, I didn’t really care about the [role I was given]. I literally asked if I could have a smoke break like five times, and [the crew told me to wait], and then Peppermint went to go pick the roles… I really wanted the role that Alexis had,” Aja said. “I didn’t say anything at first, I was just clicking a pen really, really hard. I just sat there clicking my pen and one of the cameramen [told me to stop] and I threw my pen across the room. That’s when I said, ‘Can I have a smoke break?’ Afterward, once I had my smoke break, I apologized to every single person individually.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s ninth season comes to a close this Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.