RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
Drag Race has gone through a lot of format changes since All Stars 2 premiered almost five years ago, but the central theme the series attempts to explore hasn’t shifted: “Rudemption.” For some, redemption is (relatively speaking) pretty easy. For queens like Katya or Trixie, who came into their All Stars seasons with robust fanbases ready to watch them thrive, redemption can be as simple as seeing the support that surrounds them and letting it in. Other times, it’s a welcome surprise. Queens who may have been overlooked pleasantly surprise Drag Race viewers with their suddenly dominant performances (think Tatianna, Alyssa Edwards, Blair St. Clair.) While both categories of queens fall under the redemption umbrella, a true about-face — to go from villain to champion — is almost unheard of. Phi Phi O’Hara couldn’t do it, Gia Gunn couldn’t do it, Derrick Barry couldn’t do it. (Arguably Aja pulled it off, but I would characterize season-nine Aja a Villain Lite™ at worst.) That’s what makes this season, and this episode in particular, so remarkable.
If you’re trying to think of a queen who was considered a capital-V Villain on her season, look no further than Silky Nutmeg Ganache. She was loud, often obnoxious both in front of and behind the camera, she would double down when called out on problematic behavior, and (worst of all, from a fandom perspective) she outlasted fan favorites. Coming into this season, Silky is painfully aware of her reputation. She explains as much in her first couple of episodes. And it isn’t just the fanbase: Silky has been persona non grata among her fellow queens, promoters, and industry gatekeepers alike. So it felt not unexpected (indeed, even a mercy) when she was eliminated third this season after finding herself in the bottom for the first time.
Enter this season’s “game within a game.” A returning queen is nothing new for an All Stars season, and while it provides a fun diversion of an episode, it usually feels a little like a waste of time. Herstorically, returning queens seldom make it to the top and have never won. Partially because there’s usually a reason they were eliminated in the first place, but it would also feel a little unfair. Are you telling me a queen gets to skip three-to-six episodes and mosey on into the final four? I think not! But that’s what makes this season’s spin on this Drag Race trope so good. Apparently, all season long, while the competing queens have been dragging and returning to their hotel rooms, a lip-sync tournament has been taking place on the main stage, with each queen needing to win the same number of lip-syncs as the number of episodes they’ve missed. Not only does this tournament format feel new and exciting, it solves the issue of returning queens not “earning” their spot. Of course, that’s a tall order for queens like Serena, Jiggly, and Silky, who have a veritable mountain to climb to get to the finals against Eureka. But Silky is undeterred.
I wasn’t rooting for a Silky return at the beginning of this episode. A’Keria or Yara climbing the lip-sync ranks was a much more fun prospect to me. But as I watched Silky, a queen I never connected to, fight like hell in the first few lip-syncs, desperately pulling handles of Jack, bags of ice, and bottles of water out of her titties just for a chance to come back, something began to shift. “Ok, Silky,” I thought begrudgingly. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” My turning point came when A’Keria elected not to lip-sync, effectively giving Silky a bye to the next round. Silky, however, refuses: “Even though I’m not on the stage with those girls doing maxi-challenges, I take this seriously like it’s a maxi-challenge.” She proceeds to give a truly batshit, sloppy, and (above all) thoroughly entertaining performance to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” As I watch Silky eight-count about the stage, dressed in half a leotard and half a tracksuit, I have no choice but admire that sheer gumption of it all. I picture Silky (who has been quarantined in a hotel room for weeks) spending her days listening to the lip-sync songs on repeat, sewing her outfits, and crafting bizarre props, all for the infinitesimally small chance of returning for another episode. I don’t think I’ve worked that hard for … anything! But Silky has, and she makes it clear lip-sync after lip-sync. It’s categorically different from any “redemption” narrative we’ve seen thus far. It’s not a producer-prompted monologue in front of the Werkroom mirror, where Silky explains how she’s seen the error of her ways since season 11. It’s a queen who’s decided not to edit or disguise her obnoxiously earnest love for performing and saying: “Whatever opinion you may hold of me, you are going to watch me roll around on the ground in half a wig and a pube-like sideburn hot glued to my cheek.” And honestly? It’s excellent.
By the time Silky’s lip-sync to Eureka rolls around, I’m completely #TeamSilky. Silky’s energy and commitment has won me over, and I’m eager to see what she’ll pull out of her bottomless bag of tricks this round. Eureka, however, is not going down without a fight. She’s light on tricks and reveals, but she more than makes up for it in her emotional connection to this vintage Kelly Clarkson bop. Up top, the battle is neck and neck as we await whatever surprise Silky has hiding under her inflatable body suit. But, unfortunately, our lip-sync assassin is an Icarus. While her gags and props let her soar to the finals of this lip-sync tournament, her bodysuit has brought her too close to the sun. And as Silky is stumbling upstage with one arm in and one arm out, Eureka is taking us home and nailing the final chorus.
In true Drag Race cliffhanger fashion, the episode cuts off here, and we have to wait until next week to find out who will return to the competition, but I doubt they give it to Silky. I’d bet Eureka’s mom’s Life Alert necklace on it. But even though she probably won’t collect the final prize, today is unquestionably a victory for Silky. It’s a “Rudemption” for the ages, and she makes what could have been a filler challenge one of the most memorable Drag Race episodes in recent memory. So brava, Silky. Tonight I raise a titty cocktail in your honor.
Until next week!