Why was this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars so good? A few thoughts.
Before unpacking the finale, it’s important to look back at the season as a whole. The show broke ratings records by bringing some of show’s favorite stars back together to play the same game. It was like Saw: The Final Chapter where Cary Elwes returns from part one after movies and movies and movies of the same shit, different people: he’s the original brought back to play the same game. It was enticing, albeit underwhelming, but it felt like a nice closing of a loop.
That’s what All Stars did: it satisfied by being a comfortable throwback based in the now. As was stated weeks ago, the success of All Stars lies in the lack of setup of characters. The left-out introduction leaves room for play—and play they did.
The throwback-ness is particularly important given that at no point did this season try to be anything bigger than it is. Sure, the hashtags were all there as were the product tie-ins but there wasn’t a moment where it appeared that our little RuGirls were wandering around in heels too big for them by forcing too many group challenges or making everyone sing or, you know, having a live finale. The fact that this was so firmly “then,” happening in a vacuum above the hullaballoo or influence of social media rousing, All Stars was able to be a show—not a puppet to “something bigger.”
Thus, All Stars became appointment viewing. It became something isolated and special, a unique expression of what once was. Drag Race might be big now but that doesn’t mean the show has to bite off more than it can digest. Being simple and intimate is cute. All Stars, season two, was exactly that.
Now let’s dissect these queens.
And of course: spoilers ahead. Get last week’s recap here.
4. Roxxxy. Roxxxy. Roxxxy.
“What if Roxxxy wins?” Alaska asked, deadpan and biting during the episode. Katya rolled her eyes to stare inside herself and we, as an audience, grumbled in spite of Roxxxy’s ongoing presence, her existing despite expiring last week or the week before or the week before or the week before. As fans have noted, Ru herself had to let Roxxxy go. Roxxxy is indeed great but she was the biggest hanger-on of any Drag Race season. Yes, Detox “kept Roxxxy” for easier competition but—Girl.—the real competition is to the left and right of you: Alyssa, like Detox, was no threat. Y’all three stood no chance. What’s impressive about Roxxxy and Detox is their complete lack of self-awareness and, no, that isn’t masked as confidence: they have no idea how non-successful or non-exciting they are. Beloved but they junior high schoolers play acting seniority to Alaska and Katya’s literal high school seniority. Cute—just not reality.
By the end of the season, the only thing to say about Detox is that we all need to cleanse ourselves of her. She really is her trashcan: beautified plastic that “looks good” and “sounds crass” but is a poor, cheap imitation of much better queens. Yes, her rap was decent (“I love to rap. I feel like Lil Kim.”) but she doesn’t have a point of view. Like in Westworld, Detox is the old model of what a fashion queen is, before the actual beauty and actual fashion. Because people like Miss Fame and Pearl and Violet Chachki perfected that model, landing beauty gigs and modeling contracts, they’re no longer in the Drag Race universe because they are actually working in fashion. Detox? She is a suggestion of high fashion looked over because girl ain’t high fashion. Brainwash ourselves all we want, that she “looks great,” but her taste level is akin to a bottle of Manic Panic™.
2. Clearly, Katya Couldn’t Win.
Yes, we all wanted Katya to win. But did she win? No. She could never have won over Alaska because Alaska was the most winningest in a slightly rigged system. She is hysterical, making great choices as a performer, but she too often falls so slightly left of center that it doesn’t work. Example: her finale ensemble and upcoming reunion makeup. LOL, sure, but what else? Why not go above and beyond to look the part of queenly? I appreciate both the bustle-y gilded mama and the “burn” victim but it feels like a one-note LOL that doesn’t stretch as far as a visual. Her rap and choreography was so great! But then she followed it up…with that look? Girl. Perhaps that is Katya’s biggest hurdle: she is a queen of the present locked into the Internet. She works on Instagram and YouTube and Twitter and Tumblr but seeing things stretched into a show are only so entertaining. Yes, she was the lone lip-syncher whose lips actually moved because they weren’t over inflated but, no, she didn’t slam dunk it because Katya doesn’t slam dunk. She does a layup. Both score the same but she’s unable to slam dunk it. Whereas Alaska…
1. It Was Always Alaska.
Always a slam dunk, this one. No, she did not end on a high note and, yes, she lost fans but she knows very well that she fucked up. “Winning doesn’t make you likable,” someone said at some point and it was so befitting of Alaska. She had to win and, if ugly crying was included to get you there, so be it. The case-in-point for Alaska was her pre-win speech. Are you kidding? That was such an intelligent, funny, well performed piece. She knows what she’s doing and, unlike Detox (Who went obvious and “crass.”) and Roxxxy (Whose speech was great for a Make-A-Wish kid or Special Olympian.), delivered in that moment. Katya attempted a similar funny reflective romp through the season but, unlike Alaska, halfway through she dropped character and did the performative equivalent of shrugging and saying, “Who am I kidding?!” That’s the thing about Alaska: like her or not, she commits. Aesthetically, performatively, intellectually: Alaska owns it. None of the other queens could do that. This was a well deserved win, even if they ending was produced to conjure the season five finale.
Below is the final power ranking, untouched from last week but annotated.
10. Adore Delano
9. Coco Montrese
8. Ginger Minj
7. Phi Phi O’Hara
Roxxxy Andrews(Maintained—and out.)
1. Alaska Thunderfuck (Maintained—and won!)
Compare that to my initial theory…
10. Coco Montrese (Void. This was the first episode.)
9. Adore Delano (Technically correct?)
8. Detox (Way off. This does feel right though! I stand by this assessment.)
7. Alyssa Edwards (Underestimated as she finished much better than she did.)
6. Phi Phi O’Hara (LOL….but nearly right?)
5. Ginger Minj (Poor Glamor Toad didn’t stand a chance.)
4. Roxxxy Andrews (Correct! Sadly.)
3. Tatianna (Still crying.)
2. Katya (Correct!)
1. Alaska Thunderfuck (Correct!)
Thoughts? What do you think? Did Alaska deserve her win? Let me know what you think, fam. And see you at the reunion which will be delicious.