It’s always the quiet ones. BenDeLaCreme, the queen who largely eschewed interpersonal drama, did the unthinkable on a reality competition show, and eliminated herself. On Thursday’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, the eliminated queens returned for their shot at “RuVenge,” creating a girl group to face off against the remaining five queens: One would return, and one would go home. But in the end, the queen who has been on top, stayed on top: BenDeLaCreme won the challenge (making it her fifth this season), as well as the subsequent lip-sync battle against Bebe Zahara Benet. With her great power, she decided to bring back Morgan McMichaels, whom she eliminated in the first episode, and sent herself home with help from a bit of Wite-Out. In a phone conversation the day after the episode, Ben explains why she decided it was time to go, and how she smuggled that Wite-Out in her bra.
I love drama, and I’m truly shocked. I did not expect that.
Isn’t it ironic that the queen who likes drama least provided you the most?
How did that happen?
Because real drama is a product of following your natural instincts. I don’t know, I’m just talking bullshit. I don’t know.
When did you decide to eliminate yourself?
It was really in real time. I don’t need to reexplain what you saw on the show, but all these different pieces came together — the girls came back, this drama kicked up that was just not what I give a crap about. I’m not here for the drama. I literally did not go on the show because of that aspect of it. I went on the show because I love drag and I love performing, and so when that was happening, I was just like, Oh, bleh. All right, here we go, I guess. I’ll just buckle up and wait this out. I worked really hard on the challenge and won it and Morgan and I had that conversation, and all of the top five were so devastated of possibly having to go home that episode, and I just realized how good I was feeling. Even though I went through it because I was feeling bummed about my interaction with Morgan earlier, I was genuinely the least pressed. I had the least emotionally to lose in this moment and it just all came together. It was a pretty gut decision.
Did the producers try to talk you out of it?
No, I was shocked. But I worked very, very quickly. I fully hid that. I scribbled out the name on the lipstick with a Sharpie and then I wrote in mine with the Wite-Out. I totally, secretly snuck those into my bra when I knew there were no cameras on me. I was like, If I’m going to do this, it just has to happen fast. So I just pulled that Sharpie out, scrawled my name on there with that Wite-Out as fast as I could, and shoved it in my bra. The only people in the room with you are the director and the cameraman — there are some secret producers somewhere else — but they just both were staring at me, slack-jawed. So I was like, Oh great, nobody’s going to stop me because they’re all dumbfounded.
Did you talked to Ru or Michelle Visage afterwards?
No, Ru keeps herself fairly private. Not a lot of people get to chat with Ru. But Michelle and I are friends outside of the show. We’ve worked together a lot, and so we talked a bunch because [I wanted] Ru and Michelle and all these people that I really respect to know that this was the right decision for me, and really fell in the spirit of drag. I wanted to make sure that they didn’t feel like I was somehow disrespecting them. I reached out to Michelle basically immediately, and she talked like Michelle, so she was like, “Oh baby, baby, I don’t pretend to understand why you made the decision you did, but it was the right decision for you and I’m so proud of you and I love you.”
What made you bring back Morgan as opposed to, say, Aja?
My mind-set is that, yes, this is a competition, but it’s also a showcase. It’s a chance for drag artists to show the world what they have to offer. I adore Aja and she was incredible and she did incredible on the challenge, but Aja also got to showcase so many things to the world, as did I. I was at a place where I chose a lot of great stuff and now I can step down because people have seen. The person who really hasn’t had the opportunity to really show what she’s about is Morgan, and so it just made perfect sense.
It sounds like you’re thinking more practically. That it’s not about winning a competition, but about the bump you get as a working drag queen from doing well on the show.
I think it means different things to different people, and I would never say objectively that that matters more than the competition. To some people, the competition is the most important piece and that’s a completely valid perspective. To me, personally, yeah, the competition is not the most compelling aspect. I think that it’s amazing and I think that the format of the competition is what brings out so much of what you get to see. If we weren’t competing for that spot, we wouldn’t be turning it out as hard as we did. The fear of going home at any moment really makes you get on your A game, so certainly it’s valuable, but yeah, overall, there are so many other places to find value, you know?
Do you feel like this season is more about strategy and interpersonal drama than it is about talent and art?
I don’t think so. I don’t know what it looks like as an outside observer, but for me, this is a really strong cast. All of these people are incredibly strong performers. They’re not just TV personalities — they’re queens. And so, the competition is always about, How do we perform and how do we interact? I really felt like every challenge, everyone was really showing up. I had a great time in season six and I’m proud of my time on season six, but this time around, I felt really able to just let loose and perform. I was definitely more focused on just doing drag than I was on the interpersonal stuff, and I think that’s reflected in my leaving. It’s also why I did so well before that. I was like, I just want to do the challenge because it’s fun, and I think that’s part of what helped me.
Then why wouldn’t you just stay to the end?
Because I get to do that with my life. I didn’t feel like I had anything more that I had to prove. I don’t stop making art when the cameras turn off, but I do get to stop fighting when the cameras turn off. [Laughs.]
Some might argue there’s an asterisk over the season because you were the front-runner.
I mean, that’s not fair to the queens that are left. I think that criticism is devaluing what else is happening. Everybody’s caught up in this right now. The attention span is very short. By next week, everyone is going to be talking about next week’s performance. They’re going to be excited about what the queens are bringing from this moment forward, and so, no. By the time we get to the crowning, we’re going to be fully reengaged with what’s going on. I made a big impression this week. People are a little bit gagged, but they’re going to get back into it.
You did an interview with the Stranger not too long ago, where you talked about why you wouldn’t go on All Stars. What made you change your mind?
When that interview came out, All Stars 2 had just started airing. I actually had just watched the episode where Adore went home, and I was so upset, so I was definitely in the throes of my passionate feelings that I did not like the format of girls sending each other home. I felt like it was kicking up more drama than was necessary for the show that I love. But the thing is, it’s all more nuanced than people want it to be. Do I think there are ways in which the competition doesn’t need to pit girls against each other as much as it does? Sure. But Drag Race is a piece of cultural history that is absolutely groundbreaking and that is giving a platform to an art form that I’ve been passionate about since I was a child. It’s a pedestal for a community that has been very, very marginalized. We’re now being celebrated in the mainstream.
Last night, All Stars 3 was the No. 1 Twitter hashtag in the world. That’s mind-boggling from the perspective of my past self as an 11-year-old weird, queer kid sitting around in rural Connecticut. If there had been a TV show featuring drag queens and my future self that was like, Hey, it’s going to be okay, this is a possible future for you, it would have changed my life. I went in there and I helped to define how people see drag and how people see the art in a competition. It’s like, you can’t sit outside and critique. It’s easy to get on Twitter and criticize. It’s hard to get involved and just play the game how you want to play the game.
Do you have any regrets?
Yeah, my biggest regret is that my final runway dress is so freaking gorgeous and now the world is not going to see it walk down RuPaul’s runway. That dress was amazing. I worked really hard on it with three different designers. We were really figuring out what it was going to be and how it was going to function. I wore it to my viewing party in Seattle last night, but I need to find the proper media venue in which to show it to the world because it’s spectacular, but it also needs to be seen in movement. It can’t just be stills because it has technical elements to it.
I’m still wondering, did you plan this all along?
You are, by far, not the first person to ask me if this was something that I had planned all along. It was absolutely not. I’ve had conflicting feelings and I really had to soul-search about going back on. It wasn’t an easy decision. It took me a long time and I really had to think about it, but when I thought about it, I was like, There are so many amazing things about this competition and so many people that I respect who are a part of this. Namely, RuPaul, who was a night-light in the dark for me when I was a kid, so it was a hard decision to come to, but when you’re offered this opportunity, you sit there and you go, Okay, so I can say yes or I can say no, and I will have conflicting feelings either way. You just have to do the best you can with it. The way things ended, I didn’t plan on, but man, do they make me feel square. I feel like, Oh, it all can make sense together. You can love the things you love, you can have complicated feelings as well, and you can change all of that. You don’t have to just make one choice.
This interview has been edited and condensed.