‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ Recap: A Very Sad Golden Shower
What even was this week's challenge?
Let’s be blunt: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 5 has had two flaccid maxi challenges in a row.
There’s still hope, but this week’s hotel makeover challenge was pretty much all of the show’s most frustrating habits in one — a weird, confusing challenge, arbitrary judging, and heavy producing, to the point it seemed like we were watching something completely different from the panel.
What was this week’s challenge? In All Stars 4, we got something similar when three teams designed and sold club nights — they also painted sets, furnished them, and filmed little skits. That was already weird — and justice for Club 96, one of the few long-living jokes from All Stars 4 — but that had at least some connection to the drag world.
While I’m sure some drag queens would make lovely hoteliers, this week’s challenge had so many moving parts and mad-lib beats they had to hit — the specialty drink, the room service, the guests coming in — that it seemed like no group could cohesively tie together their work.
Shantay you can just throw that challenge away
— Катя (@katya_zamo) June 20, 2020
The smoothest was the winning team, aka Blair and Mayhem, but that’s because their gold room schtick was both low-hanging fruit and also fruit that had already been served last All Stars and then put back on the tree (why it was hanging so low). It was Club 96 by another name: the vapid duo creating a false luxury experience.
It was smart and safe, with a few solid jokes in there for good measure — but safe, as RuPaul loves to say, is a dirty word in Drag Race. Having said that, they probably deserved to be in the top alongside Jujubee, as the other two groups were much more uneven, if not just by the awkward nature of having three in a scene vs. two.
Still, if none of the queens really shine in a challenge, it’s probably the challenge’s fault. Which is a real shame, because a lot of the audience won’t know half these queens super well — and the likes of Ongina and Mariah didn’t fully showcase why they’re so beloved by people who’ve watched older seasons.
They better come back: one bit of AS4 that did work really well was the lip-sync tournament. Hopefully it returns.
“Don’t Sweetheart Me Because I’m Not Sweetheart-ing You”
Before we get into the main challenge, the queens — aka Alexis, with a bit of support from Mayhem and India — confront Cracker about kicking Ongina while she’s down.
It’s a fair point, but Alexis really digs in and doesn’t really accept Cracker’s apology. It comes to a boil later in the episode when Cracker lists queens she respects and Alexis doesn’t hear her own name, but given how little fucks Alexis has, it’s going to stay high-tension for a while. She really throws Cracker this episode, but who wouldn’t be thrown by someone saying they “could” turn all the girls against them?
Shea is right by Cracker’s side though at both instances: she hugs Cracker and commiserates with her after the first conversation, then sticks up for her, as it’s clear Cracker can’t really say anything right in the situation, but Alexis continues droning on.
It never gets nasty, but the show remains very empathetic towards Cracker — which means that Alexis is now the enemy of the week. She’s been sharing the death threats and hate she’s been getting on her Instagram stories, and given she’s not a white twink, it’s likely the vitriol won’t let up, no matter how much the other queens ask fans to stop.
Send Alexis some love — she’s an excellent performer, was one of the few genuinely funny queens this episode, creates fun drama and gives great confessionals. This recap is a pro-Alexis Mateo zone. Bam!
This week’s teams are Shea, Cracker and Mariah; Blair and Mayhem, who get on well without Cracker’s meddling; and Jujubee, India and Alexis. The first group goes with a Golden Girls theme, which plays to the show’s love of a classic TV reference, but it proves a little too big to fit into the challenge’s narrow parameters.
Jujubee, India and Alexis go with a jungle theme — and I’d strongly recommend rolling back the tapes for a re-watch focused exclusively on India.
As someone who was once in the chorus of a high school production of Footloose and was given a baseball glove by the costume mums so I’d ‘always have something to do with my hands’ in scenes, her low-energy reactions hurt me.
India knows it’s not up to scratch either. Back-stage when she’s in the bottom, she lets out a lot of frustration over stalling in the competition, though doesn’t quite get why as she’s delivering “GOOD DRAG!”. Which she is, but being good at Drag Race is very different to being good at drag, and I think she’s had her narrative arc — this queen is good — ticked off as of E1.
I was sad to see Mariah go when it felt more like India’s time. We’re seeing a repeat of her S3 trajectory, which ended with an all-time cringe acting challenge — the hell no storm is on the horizon again. Prison, honey, but maybe she’ll break free next week in the TMZ improv challenge. Maybe.
Mayhem and Blair, as discussed, do their finest Italian Elon Musk impersonations.
Id, Ego, Superego
This week’s runway is a three-in-one reveal look, with the queens all bringing outfits that required a lot of explanation. Just like in the challenge, Blair and Mayhem’s looks were probably the smoothest — Mayhem looks beautiful, and I was really impressed by Blair hiding that ’70s look inside a Mod dress.
The complicated conceptual looks were much more fun though. Shea, Alexis and Miz Cracker’s looks were super adventurous: the first two didn’t completely work (Shea’s was very ‘busy’, Alexis’ circus storyline makes absolutely no sense), but they were so interesting that it doesn’t matter.
Would take a runway of Alexis-esque swings above the likes Mariah or India’s looks, which were quite well done but weren’t super exciting.
The ‘crafty’ comments around Shea’s looks from Michelle and Ross were frustrating. it’s a codeword for cheap, and beyond that most of these All Stars are out here spending thousands upon thousands on their looks, it’s such an antithetical critique to what drag is.
I think Shea’s look was a bit too crowded — it feels like it fell into a Lisa Frank cauldron and needed one more shake off — but it’s inventive, otherworldly and completely transformative. She definitely didn’t deserve to be in the bottom, but the show probably wanted to put her down.
Even Cracker, who is playing to win, was talking about being on Shea’s team as if she was leagues above the rest of them, and while it’s true, the show probably wants to make it seem like somewhat of a level-playing field.
Jujubee, a shining light, wins this week’s challenge — somehow her first maxi win despite making it into the finale on both S2 and AS1. Between her ‘want a carrot’ moment and her monologue about her cats, it’s clear that Jujubee knows how to play Drag Race: while Shea is the clear front-runner, Jujubee is her biggest competition.
Untucked was pretty moving this week, too, as Jujubee and Blair discuss their sobriety with Mayhem, who wonders if she needs to reassess her own relationship to alcohol. It’s incredibly candid.
Jujubee lip-syncs against Monet X-Change to Lizzo, and surprisingly flubs it: she doesn’t know the words. It’s the first time the winner’s mattered for the show, as Jujubee would’ve send Shea packing if she won — perhaps she realised she didn’t want to win and threw it.
[EDIT: Oh, I seem to have made this up? Jujubee also picked Mariah, so once again the eliminated queen was going home either way — this should change in coming weeks as the voting pool gets smaller. Guess I just wanted to excuse her so-so lipsync, but the reality is Monet absolutely crushed it, and she didn’t.]
Either way, Mariah is sent to grab her pocketbook, and the cast is now leaning much more new than old-school. In Mariah’s words, ‘Congratulations Shea!‘
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 5 streams on Stan, with new episodes arriving each Saturday 1pm AEST.
Jared Richards is Junkee’s Night Editor. He’s on Twitter.