RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
At times, I feel less like I’m watching a drag competition series and more like I’m a participant in a re-creation of the Milgram experiment studying the psyche of the urban homosexual. In the original experiment, psychologists instructed men to administer lethal electric shocks to a person on the other side of a wall. In RuPaul’s re-creation, 20-something homos are tasked with live-tweeting along as NYC’s own Jan is gaslit and psychologically tormented for the duration of this All Stars season. And much like the Milgram participants, I’m kinda down to see where this is going!
The torture starts up top, where we find out Jan has gotten herself into a little bit of a pickle. Jan, of course, badly wants to win. But more than that, she wants to do the right thing. And by “do the right thing,” I of course mean “make sure no one is ever mad at her.” Therein lies her first mistake. As opposed to deciding for herself which contestant most deserved to be sent home last week, Jan instead tried to run as many game-theory simulations as her Drag Race–addled mind could handle. She arrived at the conclusion that since the group was most likely to vote A’Keria out, so should she (so as not to ruffle any feathers). The problem? She was wrong. And, even worse, she lost the lip sync, so A’Keria is around to give her an earful. She tries to justify her choice, but it comes out sounding something like, “It’s not that I hate you, it’s that I assumed that everyone else hated you!” This not only fails to appease Miss Davenport, but also has the added effect of turning Kylie and Scarlet against her. But Jan’s struggles don’t end there; they continue throughout this week’s challenge and well into deliberations. So let’s get to it.
If you told me a year ago that Drag Race would be doing a parody of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Facebook talk show Red Table Talk as a maxi challenge, I would’ve said: “How’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s chemo going?” That conversation wouldn’t end well for me, but maybe it would give me some solace to know that the creativity of the Drag Race challenges this season seems to be on an upswing! After a brief debate over who has the strongest claim to the subject of “motherhood,” the queens are broken up into three groups to discuss three different topics.
Up first, discussing the topic of “sex,” it’s Trinity, A’Keria, and Eureka. Much like a real talk show, these three-queen panels consist of semi-spontaneous, outlined-but-not-scripted banter. The queens are judged on their ability to seem at ease, be personable, and strike juuust the right balance between kiki-ing and trauma dumping. Easy peasy! Overall, the team has excellent chemistry, with Trinity in particular striking a great balance of entertaining, educational, and vulnerable. A’Keria, however, definitely spills the best tea, revealing that while she used to identify as a trans woman, she now lives her life out of drag as a man. I love this detail (and wish we could hear more!), as it’s an example of something that’s not just a fascinating anecdote, but also a conversation that Drag Race is uniquely situated to discuss. Green-light this crew for five more seasons! Rounding out the bunch, Eureka excels as the de facto moderator. She’s quick, engaging, and gets in some great jokes to boot: “What’s this about chubby chaser? Bitch, I’m not running nowhere!” The judges give this group tens, tens, tens across the board, but ultimately, none of them is awarded the grand prize of the evening.
No, that honor goes to Ginger Minj, who’s talking body (her second-choice topic) with co-hostesses Pandora and Jan. Ginger is clearly the Whoopi of the group, at once deftly guiding the discussion and opening up to the audience about her medical history, weight gain, and the dangers of relying on external validation. Pandora is light on the vulnerability, but great at injecting very draggy one-liners (“I went from Goldie Hawn to Oldie Hawn”) and livening the discussion with a little humor. Jan, however, is just along for the ride. Her jokes are more derailing than charming, and when compared to topics of ageism and fatphobia, “Am I still a twink?” just doesn’t quite hit the same. On the runway, Ross critiques her for being just a little “too much,” a near-constant refrain in the Jan-discourse canon.
Finally, Scarlet, Kylie, and Ra’Jah chat “motherhood,” a hard-fought topic pried from the manicured hands of Ginger Minj. We learn about Scarlet’s lovely two moms who found each other late in life (Sherry Squared! I live!), Ra’Jah’s fraught relationship with her own deeply religious, conservative mother, and Kylie’s beautiful relationship with her … dog. This group, while notably less strong than the previous one, wasn’t bad at all! To me, Ra’Jah was the obvious MVP, Scarlet held her own just fine, with Kylie taking third place. The judges, though, seem to disagree. RuPaul in particular comes down hard on Scarlet for … being funny? The critiques are surprising to me and feel more than a little contrived, but are damning nonetheless. It seems like a wrap for Scarley … that is, until she launches one final, desperate gambit. A tried and true strategy invented by RuPaul herself on season 12 of this very television program: gaslighting Jan.
As the bottom three girls (Kylie, Scarlet, and Jan) walk back into the Werk Room, Scarlet makes it clear that she will not be going home without a fight. “What did they say about you, babe?” Ginger asks. “I got pretty rave reviews,” she replies matter-of-factly. If you’ll recall, as Jan does, not two minutes ago RuPaul stated that Scarlet’s performance made her “uncomfortable.” Which would make Scarlet’s statement … a full lie. But the gag is? It goes completely unchallenged. Scarlet’s lie (or rather, her girlbossification the truth) serves three purposes: One, the lie itself might convince the girls who weren’t onstage to pull Jan’s lipstick. Two, the sincerity of the lie makes the girls who were onstage question their interpretation of the critiques. And most importantly, three, it gaslights the hell out of the now extremely mentally fragile Jan. Elegant. Breathtaking. Genius. Scarlet is the Sun Tzu of All Stars 6.
Back on the main stage, we’re treated to a lengthy (but entertaining) bit of lip-sync assassin theater. Bianca Del Rio herself comes back to roast the dolls, before exiting stage left to make room for the real lip-sync assassin, Mayhem Miller. If I’d been betting money, I would’ve gone all in on Mayhem Miller beating Ginger Minj in a Lizzo lip sync. I would’ve been dead wrong. Serves me right for underestimating Ginger Minj. Ginger is truly excellent in this performance, and if you’re anything like me, you probably rewound the episode to watch her do it again. Several times. Thank God for streaming! Ginger earns a win and a whopping $30,000 for the three-minute performance. That’s Jeff Bezos–level wealth accumulation right there. (A future lip-sync assassin, perhaps!)
But back to the question on everyone’s mind: Did Scarlet’s machinations work? Did she convince Ginger? Is Jan about to go all Carrie-at-the-prom on live TV? Unfortunately, no. Or at least not yet. Ginger pulls Scarlet’s name, sending her home and staving off Jan’s mental breakdown for at least one more week. But for keeping us on the edge of our seats throughout the last quarter of this episode? Brava, Scarlet. I tip my wig to you.
See you next week!