Hmm … okay.
That phrase unfortunately became my refrain this week as I dove into the penultimate episode of All Stars 5. Blair stayed instead of Alexis because she’s “the future of drag”? Hmm … okay. Miz Cracker is showing her “true colors” by putting Blair second in a four-contestant line up? Hmm … okay. Bringing out the legendary dancing diva Kennedy Davenport as our lip-sync assassin and assigning her a mid-tempo country ballad? Hmm … okay. Not every episode can be a winner, and we were recently blessed with two top-tier installments in a row, so I am inclined to give this episode a pass. However, there is still something tickling the back of my head. It’s a peculiar sensation right under my wig that feels a bit like … well, rose petals. Yes, Drag Race fans, it’s time to talk about the specter of Sasha Velour, and the show’s fixation with viewing everything Shea Couleé does through the lens of our season nine winner. But first, let’s talk about the challenge.
This week we have the much anticipated stand-up comedy challenge. While Ru does not specify a theme or format, we are dealing with drag queens so that means this is effectively a roast battle. (“Write a joke about literally any subject? Vicious reads of my friends and colleagues, copy that!”) But before they perform, the queens get to rehearse their material with Ross Mathews and comedy legend Jane Krakowski. Listen up fives, a ten is giving helpful feedback!
Up first is Jujubee, who takes a very Jujubee-esque approach to this challenge (as she should). She offers Jane and Ross a stream-of-consciousness run of observations, which Ross and Jane giggle at, but ultimately question. It’s cute, but is it right for a stand-up set? I think it’s a helpful note, because while we all adore Jujubee’s musings in a confessional context, making a live audience laugh when it’s just you on a hot mic is completely a different beast. In the show itself, Juju gets off to a rocky start, pointing out who of the judges panel, contestants, and audience members has had visible plastic surgery with no punch line to bring it home. She recovers quickly, however, and quickly wins the audience back by calling Blair dumb and Ross a talentless hack. Your classic comedy old faithfuls! On the runway, I dare say this is the best Jujubee has ever looked. It’s a trippy, well-constructed, mismatched bodysuit with a ten-foot chain boa. The judges gag for the look and praise her Ross Mathews takedowns. Juju enters the finale episode with fewer wins than any of the other top three, but a definite fan favorite. I find it difficult to imagine her walking away with the crown, but hey, stranger things have happened (*cough* the All Stars 4 finale *cough*).
Next up, Blair St. Clair. I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for Blair this episode. A little. Blair fought hard to stay last episode and it worked. She correctly surmises that she needs the win this week, and the first half of the episode would have you believe she just might get it! Blair breezes through her workshop with Ross and Jane. They’re laughing at her jokes and their one note is that she has just too much material! An embarrassment of riches! Blair goes back into the Werk Room cocky, and makes sure to tell Cracker she should “watch out” for her killer routine. Unfortunately, when it comes time for the show, it does not work out so well for Icarus St. Clair. Our hubristic queen bombs this week in spectacular fashion. We’re shown Blair attempting painfully unfunny roasts of the guest judges, and delivering ass-eating jokes to recoiling audience members. The shot of Blair struggling to turn the pages of her notebook is so excruciating that, when reached for comment, Yorgos Lanthimos called it “a bit much.” It should be no surprise then when Blair kicks it this week (though Jujubee and Shea perfunctorily plead their cases in the Werk Room as well). I came into this season not sold on the idea of Blair St. Clair. But I am emotionally mature enough (read: afraid of Reddit enough) to admit that she consistently delivered on the runway and occasionally surprised me in challenges. I’ll always be bitter that we lost Alexis Mateo too soon, but for now, I’ll put that aside and say, “Adieu, Blair!”
It’s time to talk about Shea, and, by extension, Sasha Velour. In the workshop, Ross and Jane are a little lukewarm on Shea’s material. Ross then suggests she rework her set so that it includes jokes focusing on her experience losing the season nine finale. “I still haven’t been able to laugh at that experience yet,” hesitates Shea. But Ross is insistent, and he tells her that this is the next phase in the healing process, and what she needs to do “to go all the way.” Shea takes the note and, by all accounts, does well this episode. While the judges critique her runway for not being as inventive as those of the other queens, her stand-up set goes off without a hitch (rose petal jokes included). But I can’t help but question the assumption that Shea’s narrative must include showing that she’s “so much more” than that moment with Sasha. To myself, and I think to many fans, Shea has always been more than that moment, both on the show and off. Shea’s drag is in a league of its own. So it feels disingenuous to imply that, in order to be deserving of the crown, Shea must “prove” she’s grown from that one singular lip sync in every episode leading up to the finale. Shea acknowledges that Sasha is a part of her story. She even flipped the narrative on its head with her “Carrie at prom” runway a few episodes back. But I think that the insistence that Shea continue to bring it up episode after episode implies that Sasha’s rose petal moment represented some sort of personal failing of Shea’s, as opposed to a gag-worthy moment of excellence on Sasha’s part. Shea narrowly loses to Cracker, but finishes in a clear second place this episode.
Finally, Miz Cracker. Damn! Talk about momentum. Cracker wins her third challenge tonight, and her second in as many weeks. Miz Cracker is a hostess at heart. If you want to see Cracker at her best, look no further than any Hell’s Kitchen bar on any weeknight where you’re sure to find her mesmerizing the gays with a hot mic. As Blair points out, “Cracker is being Cracker at a show.” Ding ding! As it turns out, that is the key to success this week, and Cracker summarily claims the title of roastmaster at this season’s unofficial RuPaul Roast. This earns Cracker the right to lip-sync against Kennedy, to which Cracker says “NOT this.” As she should! However, Cracker is in luck: We don’t get a true showcase from the Kennedy we know and love, and this lip sync ends up being a lot of walking on her part. To her credit, Cracker knows every word of the verbose McEntire ballad, and earns her second lip-sync victory. She goes into this finale with three wins, but don’t think she has this season all tied up! While Cracker has the math on her side, Shea and Jujubee have groundswells of online support from fans and alumni alike. (On a related note, please DM me if you’re interested in phone-banking for Shea this weekend).
Next week is the finale, people! Soak in every moment because it might be a while before we get any more Drag Race. (Okay, bummer alert, I’m sorry!) Until next week!
“It DO Take Nerve!”
Quotes that left me mouth agape
• “I’m a big follower of yours on instagram.” —Jane Krakowski
Blair claims the real crown this week (Jane Krakowski’s approval of her Instagram).
• “I do declare this is a dumpster fire” —Jujubee
She didn’t lie, America! I’d like to give one more moment of thanks for all the confessional moments Juju has given us this season.
• “I feel like an all star is someone who doesn’t necessarily have to win every challenge, or have to be in the top.” —Blair St. Clair
Gonna be honest Blair, I don’t see this working out!