TV

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Recap: Winner? I Barely Know Her

Finale it has happened to me.

RuPaul's Drag Race

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Well, well, well. As I predicted at the start of the season, Trixie Mattel has been crowned the winner of All Stars 3 (PLEASE JUST RE-READ MY FIRST RECAP BUT THEN NONE OF THE OTHERS).

The heart-stopping challenge and finale somewhat made up for an otherwise lacklustre season. But it was also emblematic of the season as a whole: discombobulating, off-kilter, or, in the words of one All Stars goddess…

It seems there is now no rule, rhyme or reason to the end of a RuPaul’s Drag Race season. In the show’s quest to keep the format fresh and engaging, a surprise twist at the end means a total disruption of the narrative. This trend started at the end of RPDR season nine, where the remaining queens had an epic elimination lip-sync off until just two queens were left standing.

In AS3, this disruption took the form of the eliminated queens returning once more, this time on jury duty. (More like jury doody, right folks?) In a genuinely shocking twist, the sheject shop grab bag of discarded queens were given the power to choose who of the final four would make the top two and lip sync for the crown.

Judge, Judys and Executioner.

After weeks building up Shangela’s narrative, it was the face crack of the century when she didn’t get to proceed to the final lip sync. Instead, Kennedy and Trixie duked it out for the crown.

So after eight episodes of build up in which Shangela carved out a path to the winner’s dais, Trixie stumbled but stayed the course, Kennedy kept on keeping on, and BeBe said “Cameroon” a lot, all their journeys and our investment in them amounted to nothing, thanks to a broken electoral system. Sound familiar?

Democracy Doesn’t Work

How did this happen? In the bonus scene above, we can see who the eliminated queens voted for. In a bizarre turn of events, Shangela only got one vote, from Thorgy “Fuck that shady bitch Shangela” Thor. Now, ain’t nothing wrong with Ms. Kennedy Davenport getting love and support from her sisters — she is and always has been a compassionate queen who commands respect from her fellow competitors, and is known for putting in the work.

That respect paid off, as every queen apart from Thorgy voted for Kennedy. Even BeBe got more points than Shangela. BeBe.

BEBE!

This triggered my unresolved hurt about Ricki-Lee Coulter getting booted off early on Australian Idol…in 2004.

Hats off to Ru, who has managed to take the heat off himself for making “the wrong” (read: impossible) choice and instead allowed the rabid RPDR fandom to place the blame squarely on his drag daughters.

Shangela’s heartbreak was visible below the surface of her professional composure, and boy did it reverberate through the screen.  Shangela’s story arc has involved a constant struggle with feeling judged and disliked by other queens, so for her to only earn one vote from a jury of her queers was a Shakespearean twist of the knife. Her to-camera summary of that feeling was the most moving moment of the entire season:

“You get right there to the edge and you don’t get it… It’s a horrible feeling. But the way Ru’s looking me is like… ‘Look at my daughter, that’s my child up there.’ That makes me really, really proud.”

Love is not a victory march…It’s a cold and it’s a broken Halleloo.

Shangela doesn’t need the crown in the same way that Katya didn’t need it in AS2. If anything, this will solidify her already huge fanbase and, like Katya, allow her to keep working the underdog narrative that has served her so well since she was eliminated way back when in season two, and returned in season three, pluckier than ever.

Trixie on the other hand now ascends to the lofty heights of genuine Drag Race royalty, with her first ever lip sync win being the one that nabbed her the crown. As many of those queens know, that is a moment of celebration, recognition, but also punctuation. Like when two characters on a sitcom finally get together, RPDR fans soon start to look for the next narrative to attach themselves too. Like I’ve always said, it’s lonely at the top/as a top.  

As I stated from the beginning, this crown was Trixie’s to lose and Shangela’s to win. Trixie more than deserves her spot in the winner’s circle, but Shangela deserved to win this season of All Stars. I just didn’t expect to be so sad that Shangela didn’t get the chance to fight for it until the very end.

The Challenge

Beyond the drama of the crowning, it would be remiss of me to not point out that the finale challenge was a return to motherfucking form.

THAT is how you build on a pre-existing format and up the ante (without unpicking at the very fabric of universe. Jury my ass!). As with the AS2 finale and the every-iconic Read U Wrote U , the four queens had to drop their own rap verses into a pre-existing Ru track, and just like Read U Wrote U there were three great performers and one “Oh…” moment. BeBe’s limp verse could never be another “I’m Roxxxy Andrews and I’m here to make it clear…” but her sewing machine choreography was enough of a WTF moment (especially after her “sewing gate” incident with Aja earlier than season. Ayo, sis!).

Playing The (Drag) Race Card

Spill the diversiTy, hunty.

Finally, this season was the first time in RPDR herstory that three black queens and a First Nations queen made the top four. There is some irony perhaps in the fact that an immigrant queen from the African diaspora and two hardworking African-American queens from the South were pipped at the post by Trixie Mattel whose character is, in her own words, “full-on white, Valley Girl and rich.” Mattel has spoken about her Ojibwe origins in the past, and the struggles associated with growing up in a Native American family.

The wonderful Mathew Rodriguez has this to say about Drag Race’s race issues, particularly off the back of what has been a rocky road for Ru and RPDR in recent weeks.

We now round the corner towards the start of RPDR season 10. This in and of itself is an extraordinary achievement for a show that began as a low-budget experiment on a LGBTIQA cable channel, and now boasts a global fandom, mainstream success, and as of yesterday a star on the Hollywood walk of fame for Ru himself.

As Ru says each All Stars, with great power comes great responsibility. As the show plateaus out to a broader audience, its OG fans and supporters (largely, queer people and our allies) may start to find themselves marginalised within the fandom, and may quickly learn we are no longer the target market for RuPaul and his growing empire. This is not just an issue for the quality and tone of the show, but also how the show and its stars articulate and communicate their worldview as one of the most visible representations of an aspect of LGBTQIA culture.

It would be an unfortunate irony if the show that marketed subversive queer culture to the mainstream ended up throwing its own under that oft-mentioned bus.

Is the bus still running, Ru?

RuPaul’s Drag Race is fast-tracked from the US on Stan. Read more Drag Race recaps here.

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.