While this has been an overall successful installment of All Stars, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s starting to feel like a marathon. Up until now, we’ve been dutifully chugging along, keeping a good pace, and checking our cute little runner’s watch (idk, I do NOT do cardio). But this week, we find ourselves at the base of Heartbreak Hill. Yes, we’ve whittled the queens down to a strong top four, but (if the cliffhanger is any indication) next week we may be right back to top five again. Combine that vague, anticipatory exhaustion with a challenge that falls on the “filler” end of the spectrum and a disappointing lip sync and we’ve got ourselves a weak episode. But much like a marathon runner, we shall persevere! So take your weird runner’s goo out of your unfashionable utility-belt thingy, slurp it down, and journey onward with me.
Part of why the Drag Tots challenge doesn’t work for me is that the parameters are constantly shifting. At first, it’s a pseudo–branding challenge, then it’s a comedy challenge, and by the end of the episode it’s a design challenge? Confusing! My tiny gay brain rebukes it! But let’s backtrack a little. First, Ru comes in and explains the rules: Create a fully formed character to appear in the Drag Tots Cinematic Universe and design a costume to bring them to life on the main stage. You have to give props to RuPaul here. This challenge is virtually a carbon copy of season nine’s Draggily Ever After challenge but repackaged to plug Ru’s newest IP. Genius! Who’s doing it like her? Ru’s next gig should be hosting a competition series to find America’s next multilevel-marketing-scheme superstar. I’d watch every ep! After her explanation, Ru makes her Werkroom rounds to check on her contestant-prisoners’ progress. By my count, three-fifths of the girls are teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Trinity is spiraling because of the superlatives mini-challenge where she was branded “moodiest” and “most likely to go home next,” Ra’Jah is worried that she may have to rework her entire character based on Ru’s lukewarm response to the name (Heidi N. Closet has entered the chat), and Kylie is just having good-old-fashioned time-management issues. This is, of course, par for the course for Drag Race, but in this instance, watching the season’s fan favorites anxiously obsess over their runway products doesn’t feel particularly useful to the episode’s narrative.
Trinity, who up until now has been leaps and bounds removed from her season-six persona, reverts to her insecure past self for the majority of the challenge. Ultimately, Furleasha (her catlike Drag Tot fursona) is successful, and the judges lap it up. But by putting her success in the context of her earlier floundering, the show casts a pall over her performance, making it seem less like overcoming her inner saboteur and more like dumb luck. That said, Furleasha is a fun direction to take for this challenge, and her runway presentation and physicality are easily the most fully realized of the night. There’s never been any doubt: Trinity K. Bonet is a true talent. Let’s just hope she can stay out of her own way long enough to reach the end.
Next up, the top All Star of the week, Ra’Jah O’Hara, as “I See You Queen,” the artist formerly known as “Queen See Me.” True to her brand, Ra’Jah dances out onto the stage decked from lacefront to toe in various shades of purple. Ru even dubs her the queen of purple in the Werkroom. (Somewhere, Jan’s nose just began bleeding profusely.) I’m not sure I’m as in love with her ensemble as much as the judges are, but as usual, I just adore Ra’Jah. And I can’t help but fall in love with her all over again seeing her groove about the runway in a joyous display of infectious energy. She also boasts the best-written line of the night: “If someone makes fun of you for being offbeat, you just tell ’em, ‘Baby, you can’t hear my song.’” When I tell you I wept. Another flawless ep for Ra’Jah. At this rate, she just might end up taking the whole damn season.
To round out our anxiety-ridden trio, let’s discuss Kylie Sonique Love as Miss Behave, who (to my mind) is the most unjustly maligned queen of the evening. Kylie starts off the episode in a better place than most after being voted the prettiest, most boyfriend-stealing queen of the remaining girls (where’s the lie?). But things take a turn when we watch her fall behind the rest of the group late in Act Two. As the other queens put the finishing touches on their makeup, Kylie is still hunched over her sewing machine, eking out props and costumes for her Drag Tot persona. Ginger throws some pointed comments her way, and the underscoring would have us believe Kylie is in panic mode. However, much to her credit, Kylie never lets us see her sweat (though that may just be the Botox). And it turns out Kylie was right because it all comes together perfectly on the runway. I mean … the details! The heterochromatic contact lenses, the rhinestoned grimoire, the stunning dress, catching the broom and setting it upright onstage? I was floored. I was shocked when Kylie got (albeit minimal) negative critiques from the judges because, to me, she was easily top two. But alas, despite all my campaigning and all the hits I’ve taken out on Carson Kressley, I am still not a judge on Drag Race, so my opinion counts for naught.
Next, our All Stars golden child, Ginger Minj. Ginger finds herself in a pretty unimpeachable first place this season between her duo of wins, countless high challenge placements, and general #girlboss demeanor. So why doesn’t she seem to have the winner’s momentum online that we often see in queens like Symone or Gottmik? One big reason, I think, tends to be the fandom’s anti-pageant-queen bias. On a regular Drag Race season, we’re often subjected to some version of a narrative like “I’m not one of these front-runner pageant queens! I’m a weirdo!” And the “weirdo” queens are thus given an underdog edit, one in which they must embrace their weirdo-ness and pull ahead of the polished pageant girls. Well, at this point, I think it’s pretty clear that being a weird queen is actually quite the boon on Drag Race and it’s the pageant girls who are at much more of a disadvantage. (Full disclosure: Although I’ve been enjoying Ginger this season, I can’t say I find myself rooting for her to take the crown, so I’m not exempt from this bias myself!) So Ginger yet again delivers a pretty darn great performance this week as Tara Belle. If I had to note her, I would say she uses the term bitch an awful lot for a children’s show, but I also don’t know any children with WOW Presents Plus subscriptions so this critique is very theoretical. I tip my comically large southern-belle hat to Ginger, but I still have a hard time picturing her winning this season.
Finally, our other born-and-bred pageant queen, Eureka, as Alexandria McQueen. Her concept for this challenge is solid — stand out from the pack by creating a villain character with unsavory qualities. That said, her character doesn’t seem particularly evil! Bossy and gassy? That’s just me at an afternoon meeting after my chicken-pesto-parm bowl from Sweetgreen. Annoying? Absolutely. But hardly villainous. However, all of Eureka’s jokes land with the judges, and there’s no denying she looks good. The gown is straightforward but well executed, and the castle atop her head is a nice touch. Yes, Eureka is sent home in this episode, but it’s clear that it’s mostly because of her track record and not attributable to any major missteps she made this evening.
After some deliberations that are quite light on drama and/or intrigue, Kameron Michaels is revealed to be this week’s lip-sync assassin competing against Ra’Jah. I don’t wish to spend too much time discussing the performance this week because, well … it wasn’t that interesting. Not even hyperpop princess Charli XCX seems pleased to hear her hit single, and I can’t say my face looked much different. Kameron lives up to her nearly spotless lip-sync track record, however, and claims victory over a languid Ra’Jah, revealing that Eureka will be heading home this week … or will she? Finally, after two months of buildup, the “game within a game” has arrived. Eureka dons a travel wig and is tasked with sprinting right back onto the main stage. From the little info we have, my best guess is a return of the lip-sync LalapaRuza from All Stars 4. A fun diversion to be sure, but it all feels rather pointless given that returning queens have a nasty habit of getting eliminated just as soon as they’ve unpacked. But who knows! Maybe this season will be an exception.
We’ll find out next week!