by Kevin O’Keeffe
So, a slow week since we last met, right?
I mean, sure, BenDeLaCreme eliminated herself in a blaze of glory that circumvented the rules. Then RuPaul embroiled himself in a controversy by commenting that he’d “probably not” allow transitioning or transitioned contestants on “Drag Race,” a controversy that saw previous contestants like Monica Beverly Hillz and Gia Gunn criticize his statements. Then, just as Ru was recanting those statements, Shangela and BenDeLaCreme briefly got into an ugly confrontation in which Shangela implied bad behavior on Ben’s part — all while Ben was speaking up about Ru’s comments.
But other than that, slow week.
In the spirit of complete honesty, I have to admit I don’t really know how best to write about “Drag Race” this week. My colleague and friend Mathew Rodriguez has been beautifully covering the stories about and around RuPaul’s comments, and INTO commissioned a fantastic op-ed on the subject from writer Precious Brady-Davis. I strongly urge you to read their work; their reporting and writing on the subject is definitive.
From my personal perspective, I’ll say this: I’m having a hard time with Drag Race right now. Not just because of this controversy, although that’s certainly not helped. I respect and love this show so deeply, and reading its figurehead espouse such backwards logic — logic the show itself contradicts — is maddening. But even before that, “All Stars” season three was draining me. After a fun premiere, the season has failed to cohere into any kind of sensical story, and has emphasized drama over showcasing the queens’ talents at nearly every turn.
Additionally, conversation around the show quickly got bogged down by complaints of production favoritism and infighting between fan groups over queens’ performances. The ugliest of this has come to a head in complaints about season one winner Bebe Zahara Benet, who has been so harangued by hateful and racist fans that she’s had to speak up multipletimes about it. In the face of this, she’s remained regal, choosing to elevate the good (like fans’ versions of her “Drag Up Your Life” verse) instead of indulging in the bad. I admire that fortitude. I wish I had her grace and strength.
“Drag Race”’s fanbase is more toxic than ever. Racism, transphobia and misogyny have seeped into every fan platform of the show, and moderators of those platforms can only do so much to curb it. I truly thought it’d never be worse than it was during season nine, when Valentina’s fans directed such vitriol at queens like Alexis Michelle and Nina Bo’Nina Brown that the hate was actually addressed at the reunion. But here we are. Combine that with a lackluster season and this new controversy, and I’m feeling a little tapped out. It’s taxing to immerse yourself in negativity, particularly when it’s about something you love so dearly.
But then, as I watched this week’s episode, I saw Kennedy Davenport talking about what Drag Race can do for a career. She sees the way it’s boosted others — a boost she didn’t really receive, because she was depicted as the villain of her season. She’s back for “All Stars” because she wants to be the queen that fans are excited about. That’s the power of this show.
“Drag Race” has made dozens of gay men, trans women and gender non-binary people into international stars. It’s done that while entertaining millions of fans. There’s great power in that, and it makes “Drag Race” a show worth fighting for. Should Ru turn the reins over to another queen? Maybe. Should the show change its casting practices to be more inclusive? Perhaps. That’s the discussion we should have next.
At its best, as Tatianna put it, “Drag is fun. Drag is not to be taken too seriously.” Watching Shangela lip sync in a fat suit this week, going for every gag in the book, is a reminder of that. Watching the queens kiki before deliberations, joking about Bebe not knowing Ornacia or Kennedy not knowing how to pronounce “meme,” is a reminder of that. But so much of the culture around the show has gotten deadly serious. Some of that is for good reason, as the show battles with its own identity. Some of that is because fans get too invested, to the point of spouting hateful rhetoric sending death threats. But the end result of all of it is that “Drag Race” is not very fun right now.
That said, I have faith it can be again.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is changing. Some of that is physical: For example, the upcoming 10th season will boast a redesigned workroom and main stage. But most of it is more spiritual. “All Stars” season three will likely be remembered as one of the show’s lesser seasons, and perhaps that’s a good thing. This is one version of the show dying off. Another will rise from the ashes. But “Drag Race” will never be the same.
Thanks for reading what became a more abstract recap than usual. This episode is mostly unremarkable — a forgettable challenge, rushedrunway, relatively low stakes — but here are some points that stick out:
- “Drag Race” should never have an acting challenge this late in the game, particularly considering they already had one this season. Where was the makeover challenge this season, I ask you? My Best Squirrelfriend’s Dragsmaids Wedding Trip is a nonsense challenge that has the queens performing a raunchy comedy as prestige actresses. Trixie’s easily the best as a Julia Roberts facsimile known as Sharon Brockovitch, and I bow to her for figuring out how to excel despite the lame idea and script.
- Going into the finale, Shangela officially has the best track record, having landed in the bottom only once — I refuse to call last week’s a bottom three — and winning three challenges and lip syncs. (At 5-1, she holds one of the most impressive “Drag Race” career lip sync records.) Trixie and Bebe were each in the bottom once and won two challenges, but Bebe has a lip sync win as well. Kennedy, with one challenge and lip sync win and three trips to the bottom, looks like the Roxxxy Andrews of this lineup.
- With her lip sync loss this week, Trixie furthers her record as “Drag Race”’s worst lip syncer. She is now 0-4. (I tweeted out this fact when she was 0-3, and was delighted by how many Trixie fans take pleasure in their fave’s terrible record.)
- Bebe was smart not to reveal her lipsticks from last week, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
- It feels weird to not have Ben here, right? I remain fully gagged and impressed by her move last week, but boy, whoever wins next week is going to have a major asterisk by their title.
- Despite her having the best track record, I don’t quite believe Shangela has this. My guess is Trixie takes home the crown, but I’m bracing myself for hysteria if Bebe wins.
- I just got to the end of this recap and realize I never told you who went home. Morgan McMichaels went home, and very deservedly so. It’s a shame. She’s such a talent. But she seems ill-fit for modern “Drag Race.” (But hoo boy, what a waste all this returning queen drama has been, huh?)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” returns for its season three finale next Thursday, March 15, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.