Hoo boy. Before I begin, I just want to say that writing about Drag Race for the past couple of months has been a real joy. It is unequivocally the most fun show on television right now, and spending any amount of time chatting about it is a life-affirming practice for me. (Getting paid to chat about it seems actually insane, and possibly the closest I’ll ever come to getting paid to jerk off alone in my bedroom in the dead of night.) I love this show and all 100 queens that have stepped through those workroom doors, even Jade Jolie and Serena ChaCha. All Stars season three, perhaps?
All that being said, this reunion is top-to-bottom trash. If you happen to be reading this prior to viewing the episode itself — maybe you’re sad because you had to work late and couldn’t make it to the bar on time, or you’re going through a breakup and don’t have access to a TV because you moved in together too soon and consolidated belongings and your television is still in storage — don’t feel bad. You missed nothing and the best thing for you now is to watch this reunion alone in your bedroom on a tiny computer and have its weirdness send you into an existential spiral, like it did to me. This season was too good to end on such a dour, awkward note. It is a real shame.
Longtime fans of Drag Race will remember what it was like before the grandiose “live” finales that we’ve come to know in these past several seasons, and tonight’s reunion feels a bit like a throwback in that sense. But unfortunately, the lack of any studio audience solidifies the problem I had with the finale: Depriving us of the pomp and circumstance that we’ve come to crave at the end of an especially great Drag Race season makes the whole thing feel anticlimactic.
That’s not to say this type of reunion can’t work without a studio audience, of course. Anyone who’s seen a Real Housewives reunion knows that those affairs, similarly filmed, tend to be the best part of the whole season. Part of this has to do with Andy Cohen’s effortless needling and expert button-pushing, something that RuPaul just doesn’t seem well equipped to do. She’s just not that kind of host. She’s a legend, an Emmy winner, and if you’re a listener of What’s the Tee, you know she’s a charisma bomb when she sits down with these girls in a more informal setting. Tonight, she seems stiff and stilted. At times, I even got the sense that the girls were holding back a bit because of her presence.
The reunions on a regular season are usually short and pretty clearly planned in advance, so RuPaul isn’t required to do too much. She’s just expected to surprise someone with a video message from Charo, make a bad pun, announce the winner, and call it a day. This kind of reunion requires a looser energy, and unfortunately, I’m not sure she’s really capable of that.
In my heart of hearts, I can’t really blame either of these factors, though. At the end of the day, the blame really falls squarely on that fucking edit. What in the world is going on there? Why is there no incidental music? No sound effects? Why the choppy editing? The entire thing is edited like a bad impression of a David Lynch movie; it made me frightened and I felt like I was on drugs. I pray at the altar of reality-show editors and their ability to infuse drama and humor with the simple addition of a shady cymbal crash, but somebody fell asleep at the wheel here.
Cutaways to stone-faced drag queens made the entire ordeal seem like a Between Two Ferns episode, which might have made for an interesting experiment … if it didn’t add an uncomfortable layer of unintentional humor to moments like Coco’s breakdown. I wanted to empathize with Coco, but it was so hard when they kept cutting over to an expressionless Katya in Two-Face makeup.
Even more egregiously, they all seem to cut off any conversation before it even approached a juicy moment. Every fight, every call-out, every shady moment is quickly glossed over and we’re ushered to the next topic. Sad!
But I think I’ve harped long enough about the negatives. Let’s take it queen by queen and talk about the few things that made this reunion a worthwhile excursion.
Coco: Much like her actual tenure this season, Coco doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Beyond her aforementioned breakdown, she rehashes some Twitter beef with Roxxxy, but the whole thing fizzles out fairly quickly. I remember there were some rumblings of a Roxxxy/Coco showdown when the queens returned for their Ruvenge, and maybe that footage exists somewhere, but neither of these girls seem like they have it in them anymore.
Adore: She honestly comes out looking pretty good here, which made me doubly sad that she left the competition so early. Adore is one of the most charismatic queens to appear on this show, and with more confidence than she had in her own season, it would have been interesting to see how far she would have made it. I think she could’ve been a strong contender for the crown. More than anything else, God bless her for taking the conversation a little off-script and parlaying the question about bizarre fan interactions into one about sleeping with fans. This was a fun little detour and one of the few authentically revealing moments in the reunion.
Tatianna: Tati isn’t given a lot of time in the reunion, which is unfortunate because she seems like she gets it, especially when it comes to subjects like Phi Phi. Out of all the queens who’ve spoken about Phi Phi post show, Tati has given us the most measured response: She defends Phi Phi as a nice person and good queen, while also calling out nonsense like that two-faced response to her and Detox’s performance and the nonsense with the hug that never was. Reminding everyone at home that Phi Phi didn’t cry when she hugged every other queen on that stage is definitely a highlight of the night.
Ginger: I have nothing to really say here, and neither did she.
Alyssa: Out of all the queens sitting in that room, only Alyssa posed a credible threat to Alaska’s victory lap. She looks fantastic here, and brings the perfect mix of on-brand aloofness and folksy wisdom that makes her so likable. From her no-nonsense assessment of Phi Phi’s behavior to her defense of Alaska’s breakdown, Alyssa further displays why she’s the fucking best.
Detox: Looks amazing, but she only woke up for a few bits here and there. I did like her alluding that Coco had been “inside” her, which is some T I need spilled.
Katya: One of the best finale looks in history. Also, bonus points for bravely calling out Alaska’s two-in-one look, which in no way was a two-in-one look. Whether by fault of the editing or a result of her own left-of-center personality, it seemed like Katya was the only person audibly laughing the entire night.
Roxxxy: She holds up pretty well here, and thankfully displays a good amount of self-awareness about her position in the top four. It’s hard to walk away from this season harboring any negative feelings for Roxxxy. She did her best, she looked amazing, and she got her Rudemption. Case closed.
Alaska: She’s definitely having some fun here, and the leg bit is a good attempt at making the reunion feel spontaneous. Beyond that, her explanation for her (possibly) hyperfocused demeanor and her desire to withhold anything juicy from the camera is a compelling one, especially since keeping herself wound up so tight led to such a damning blemish by the end. Despite the sour taste that #TantrumGate may have left in some mouths, Alaska seems to be taking it in stride, following up the season with winking videos and dropping trollish singles like “The T.” Both of which are more satisfying than this reunion in a lot of ways.
In the end, Phi Phi wasn’t there, and, who knows, maybe she could’ve saved the whole damn thing from being such a disjointed mess. Although the queens mentioned her a handful of times — she was thrown under the bus at least twice by my count — her absence was something of a letdown. Phi Phi was the only real source of turmoil this season, and without a real villain with in the room, the whole thing felt just a tiny bit deflated. These queens had no reason to muster up any beef.
This will go down as one of the best seasons of Drag Race — it was certainly more satisfying than the first All Stars experience — but tonight’s reunion may not be remembered at all. As disappointing as that might be, it did accomplish one good thing: I am hyped out of my mind for the show’s return next spring. Talk to you all in about six months, I guess!