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Marc Snetiker
June 23, 2017 09:17 PM

A version of this article originally appeared on EW.com.

Somewhere along the way in RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9, everything changed. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this season transcended into something greater, but the result is more exciting than the reason anyway. What began as an ambling cycle transformed into a real contender in the Drag Race hierarchy, as season 9 ended its run with some of the strongest finalists we’ve ever seen and a true nail-biter victory, elevating this latest cycle to a height where it can easily knock elbows with the likes of those cherished seasons 4, 5, and 6.

Wild season notwithstanding, there can only be one queen crowned as America’s Next Drag Superstar, and with Miss Congeniality already claimed (whether you agree or not), Friday’s season finale did, in fact, anoint one lucky queen into Drag Race herstory.

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The winner … of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 … is …

SASHA VELOUR!

The bald beauty is your new Drag Superstar!

As always, Ru’s interviews with the girls unveiled their share of sentimental surprises — i.e. Shea Couleé opening up about her personal family struggles at the onset of the season, Peppermint shining a brighter light on the issues she faces as a trans woman in drag. The real wig-pullers, though, came not in the revealing conversations but the astounding lip syncs the queens were forced to perform.

For the first time, the final four knocked each other out in two semi-final lip syncs on their way to the crowning battle. Trinity Taylor was randomly selected as the first contestant, and she chose — CHOSE!! — to go up against proven lip sync assassin Peppermint to Britney Spears’ “Stronger.” The fight was incredibly well-matched on Trinity’s behalf, but the outcome was basically cinched the moment Peppermint pulled off a genuinely showstopping moment: A simultaneous wig and costume reveal. It sounds simple when explained by the limitations of the English language, but really, it was f—ing incredible. (In fact, I was in the audience for the finale taping and have never screamed nor leapt to my feet so fast in my entire life, and I once saw a cockroach and spider crawling separately toward my feet.) Anyway, the crowd roared, time stopped, and suddenly, Peppermint landed a spot in the final two with arguably her most momentum to date.

In the second semi-final lip sync, Shea faced off against Sasha (serving up some sort of Frances Conroy Poison Ivy Riverdale moment). In any other world, these two would have likely been the final two queens of the season; however, in this reality, all signs pointed to what could have been a fairly one-sided battle (to Whitney’s “So Emotional”). And then, shockingly, Shea lost everything — her frontrunner momentum, her energy, and perhaps her focus — as Sasha emoted and blossomed in a torrent of hidden roses. It was, in a word, devastating. (Forget Valentina for a perfect, beautiful, Evangelista second — I want to harp on this point because Shea’s elimination deserves to be remembered as one of the season’s most surprising moments, even if it did happen in a flash in the finale.)

At long last, we’re down to the final two: Peppermint vs. Sasha in the final battle of the season to Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Despite being the climactic match, both girls slayed in moderate amounts. The reveals didn’t even come close in magnitude to the previous rounds (wow, Sasha took off her helmet — who could have seen that coming?). Nevertheless, the ultimate decision rested with Ru, who has seen both Sasha and Peppermint excel throughout the entire competition, with Sasha having an edge of consistency and Pepper riding a wave of late-in-the-game inertia.

Ultimately, Sasha Velour was crowned, and that’s that. Now we just count down the days until Eureka gets her redemption on season 10 and Valentina and Shea get theirs on the can’t-come-soon-enough All Stars 3.

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