‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Recap: All Scarred
That finale was the most disappointing, disrespectful episode in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory.
How quite to put this without sounding overly dramatic: that finale was the most disappointing, disrespectful episode in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory.
Even newer fans would have felt cheated by the double crowning of Monet and Trinity, but for the long-term fans, it was yet another indication that our loyalty counts for nothing at RuCo Enterprises.
This will be my last ever RPDR recap for the good folks at Junkee, and going out on this episode is a pretty sad way to end things.
This finale brought home some uncomfortable truths about RPDR, but unlike previous disappointments, this time it felt like something had cracked for good. Let’s take a look at all the ways this week went wrong, and what it means for the franchise.
So, What Had Happened Was…
I mean, where do we begin?
Firstly, there was the shockingly bad top four finale number, then the criminal waste of having Chad, Alaska, and Trixie there, followed by the clunky dubbing of the Ru announcing the double win, and insult met injury with that split screen footage of Trinity and Monet being crowned.
As Detox would have put it, “it was a shit show!”
Something was up when the top four delivered that up-tempo balladeer version of Super Queen.
It’s no fun living in the shadow of Read U Wrote U, but even AS3 managed to deliver the goodies with Kitty Girl. This guitar-driven finale number sounded like the eight track on a late-career Atomic Kitten album, which usually I’d be all for. A good Samaritan has doctored the video to give us the dance version, so we can all imagine what might have been.
I was fucking overjoyed to see those Hall of Famers in the workroom. Alaska is my ride or die RPDR queen, but all three are great talent.
Imagine my displeasure when I learned they were just there to have a cocktail in the workroom and hand out the crown and scepter (to both queens). Oh, and be props in that disastrous musical number.
I’ve watched every single episode of RPDR multiple times, I can tell you every narrative arc, every twist and turn, and have analysed each crowning to the point that I can tell you precisely how that queen won her season and what her winning represents.
I attended the Sasha Belle School of Code Cracking, where I graduated summa cum laude (summa cum not-so-loudly, too).
I don’t say this to blow my own horn (summa cum by themselves), but to illustrate that in fourteen seasons and one Christmas special, I think this is the most disappointed and disheartened RPDR has ever made me feel.
Going into the All Stars 4 finale, many fans were already feeling nonplussed about the final four.
By the numbers, Trinity had earned the crown with the most challenge and lip sync wins, and the fewest times in the bottom. However, this is only the second first time in Drag Race history that three African-American queens made it to the top of any season, and it felt like this season was going to break the diversity curse.
Given the caucacity of the current Hall of Fame, a person of colour AS4 winner would have been a great outcome.
So when we got both, why did it feel so empty?
Well firstly declaring it a tie runs counter to the show’s entire neo-liberal meritocracy framework that demands queens above all “play to win”. Only one athlete wins the gold medal, only one sports team wins the premiership, only one person gets elected president. It’s America’s Next Drag Superstar, not plural. That’s what we invested in, i.e. whether you love them or hate them, one queen gets the crown.
So when the show copped out and declared it a tie, we feel duped.
More insulting was how embarrassingly obvious it was that Ru and producers decided to crown both queens and had to rush a post-production edit in which they used split screens of both queens being crowned and a dodgy voiceover from Ru.
For years now, they have filmed all the finalists being crowned, firstly to avoid spoilers but also so the producers can get a sense of which way the wind is blowing and what the fans want. For them to use both shots and expect us to not stare at the puppet strings on display has me thinking Ru and producers take us all for fools.
The double crowning also hollows out both victories.
While that can’t feel great for Trinity, the symbolism of Monet’s victory as the first black All Star (and only the fourth black queen to win the crown, out of fourteen) is surely diminished.
Ru could have sent a message to viewers and declared Monet the winner. There have been other queens to snatch the crown who won because of who they are, and what they represent. But splitting the win with Trinity makes Monet’s victory look tokenistic, like Ru was more worried about the optics than the outcome.
That being said, Manila would have made a great addition to the Hall of Fame as a rightful winner who also happened to be a person of colour.
Also, if Latrice and Manila made the top four and Ru added them both to the Hall of Fame, I’d have stood up and applauded because duh.
So yes, I am an old, bitter stickler for respecting the show’s legacy queens and yes, I DO want these kids to get off my lawn.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like All Stars?
To be fair, the fandom is spiralling out of control and it must be impossible for the producers to arrive at an ideal outcome that would make enough of the fans happy.
All Stars is particularly vicious as well know and love these queens, but for years now the toxic nature of the fandom and the seemingly endless audience expansion has meant the show has gotten away from the showrunner.
Part of the problem is the All Stars format, which was so exciting when it debuted in AS2, but has now twice proven itself to be too flawed to continue.
When Alaska jokingly announced that All Star rules were being suspended forever, I was happy. What once created tension now just gives us all a headache. There is a new All Stars format waiting to be discovered, one that will refresh the brand.
For the potential All Stars, coming on for AS5 and beyond is going to be seen as a brand risk.
There are very few queens from this season whose brands weren’t at least a little tarnished or dulled by going back on. I found myself disliking queens whom I’d previously loved and supported, be it for them getting in the way of the queens I believed deserve to win, or just because they cracked under the high-stakes pressure of All Stars.
Naomi Smalls has been listing some of the hate mail she’s received since eliminating Manila, and it’s ugly.
Why would any smart queen put themselves in that line of fire after this season? It didn’t even look like Ru wanted to be there for the finale. This is not a show that has these queens’ backs. It has always been a vehicle for Ru’s stardom and legacy, but it’s now gotten so far from the original pretence of supporting other queens.
What began at the dawn of the Obama presidency was something (like America): full of hope and asking the world to look at it differently. Now it has descended into something the Trump children would gleefully market: cynical, over-exposed, and lacking heart.
In what is increasingly a divided America and a polarised world, Drag Race should be a gleeful refuge. It’s a shame to see it descend into the same pit of despair as the outside world.
Maybe we can’t have nice things…
Now, Sashay Away
I loves me some Drag Race, and like most of you, I’m not going to stop watching anytime soon.
The show is still a love letter to aspects of queer culture — it showcases out resilience, our creativity, our humour whilst being imperfect, flawed, and at conflict with its own internal tensions.
Just like us.
But how many more failures do we need before we send a message to Ru and his producers? At what point do the loyal long-term LGBTIQ viewers acknowledge that beyond this show not just being just for us anymore, it actually doesn’t care about our investment over the years
I hope this has just been a blip in an otherwise great run, but for that to happen there needs to be renewal.
Just like Ru asked the world to look at drag differently, so too should he (and all of us) look at Drag Race differently. As the great Alaska would say, anus-thing is possible…
PS Thanks for reading these recaps over the last few years, it’s been a blast.
Nic Holas has written for The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Archer Magazine, and Hello Mr. You can find him on Twitter @nicheholas, or in his role as co-founder of HIV movement The Institute of Many.