And now it’s time for the games to actually begin.

Yes, the two-part premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16 was cute, but a competition isn’t really a competition unless there’s stakes. With tonight’s episode of the extremely popular series (this year’s premiere was more viewed than any over the past four years) the queens are forced to deal with the reality of the game: somebody is going home. And to figure out who that will be, we’re having a ball.

If we’re being super honest, we don’t really have much to add to what happened. With the theme of “Mother” and it being the last episode to incorporate the whole Rate-a-Queen twist, the ball’s judging was fairly spot on. Nymphia Wind, Sapphira Cristal, and Q were far and away the strongest of the bunch. We should point out here that Nymphia confirmed our suspicions from last week and showed herself as a really stand-out queen. She turned out three near-perfect looks while her loveable personality kept Werk Room patter interesting — and she didn’t have to make enemies along the way. (Ahem, ahem, Miss Plane Jane.) There’s no wonder she won the Maxi Challenge, revealing herself as the “couturier” she promised herself to be. 

The votes were also spot on for the bottoms: Geneva Karr, Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige, and Hershii LiqCour-Jete. Don’t want to kick girls while they are down but … the placements were well-earned. So in place of any real commentary on what we saw on the episode, it is a good moment to talk about the place the runway occupies in the competition.

Every few seasons someone asks whether or not the runway really matters in the final judging of Drag Race (outside of a design challenge). Even though the looks are discussed every week, do they have a material impact on placement? If you ask five queens, you’ll probably get five different answers. But the question is an important one because of just how expensive those looks can be.

In a TikTok LIVE on Saturday night, Hershii described just how expensive preparing for the show was for her. She revealed to followers that to appear on season 16, each contestant needed at least 14 looks. And as someone who was only making a few hundred dollars per night before the show (including tips), she didn’t have the money she wanted to invest — two of her looks were gifted to her by Heidi N Closet in the end. On the LIVE, she said that while preparing for the series she gave her car up for repossession so she could afford runway pieces.

When asked on the LIVE if she could sew, Hershii broke down the costs of even that as an option. “Sewing is not the answer,” she replied. “Thread costs money. Fabric costs money. Fabric ain’t cheap – good fabric ain’t cheap. Zippers cost money. Trimmings cost money. Mannequins cost money. This show ain’t cheap.” 

And even all of that doesn’t account for the short prep time (queens have reported two to three weeks in the past between knowing you’re on the show and leaving for it) as well as other finishings like wigs, which Hershii says can cost from $200 to $500 for the quality that is expected on the series.

Hershii isn’t the first queen to voice this concern, but it’s important to remember considering the level of work we see on the franchise. Heidi N Closet said she spent $4,000 for season 12, Gottmik said she put down $20,000 for season 13, Yvie Oddly said she spent $14,000 for season 11, and in a new seres called Drag Financial, Farah Moan said she spent over $10,000 for season 9. 

There’s no problem with criticizing the queens’ looks — it’s a competition, so that comes with the territory — but being mindful of this context and the sheer pressure they are under is the least we can do.