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The many highs and troubling lows of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars premiere

The many highs and troubling lows of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars premiere

RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars—or is it All-Stars Drag Race?—premiered last night, and brought with it

The episode ended with an elimination—and then another twist, as RuPaul appeared via telescreen to reveal that the eliminated drag queen would have a chance to get revenge. My assumption is that this is some sort of Redemption Island/Last Chance Kitchen/Battle Back that will occur later in the season.

Here are the highlights for me—and a few disappointing lowlights.

The good

  • Thanks to the simulcast on VH1, I’m watching in HD, not Logo’s sad SD channel. So it no longer feels like I’m opening my eyes under water in a cloudy ocean, and I’m ecstatic.
  • Having the queens eliminate each other is a perfect twist and takes this show to the next level. It also echoed season-one Survivor, as we were watching a game and its strategy be created as they queens talked and strategized backstage, there were. Do they make decisions based on performance or strategy? Do they eliminate their biggest competition? (YES DUH) Keep their friends around to protect themselves? Do what they think the judges would do? Roxxxy Andrews chose the latter option to eliminate Coco Montrese, which seemed like the safest choice.
  • As staged as it was, I loved the cutaways to the judges drinking and (pretending to) tell stories while the queens sweated over who would be eliminated.
  • The talent show performances were wonderful, offering both talent and comedy. Roxxxy Andrews’ Burlesque! Katya’s “gymnastics”! Detox’s “singing,” which was more like Blue Man Group meets—I don’t know, something absolutely perfect.
  • The $10,000 prize is nice, and also good incentive to not throw the lip sync and avoid having to make a decision.
  • The judges choose the bottom three, meaning they also give immunity to all the other contestants.
  • Snatch Game is coming next week! Having now watched Match Game all summer, I’m even more excited for this classic challenge.

The ugly

  • The judging was brutal. I’m all for harsh critique of choices people make and the work they do on reality competitions. But many of these comments seemed to be cutting a lot deeper. I don’t know much about drag culture, but as a television viewer alone, it seems like this show and/or its judges have a sense of what drag should be, and when anyone steps outside of that circle, they lay into them. That seems antithetical to the nature of drag, and celebrating differences and transgressions.
  • Michelle Visage’s critique of Adore Delano was far uglier than what Adore was wearing. It seemed somewhat personal, and how fascinating/wonderful when Detox revealed Adore and Michelle had frequent conflict during the Drag Race tour about Adore’s outfits. And that was some shade from the editing, which subtly undercut Michelle Visage by including that information.
  • RuPaul and the producers have essentially retained power over eliminations—or at least, the perception that they can still control who goes home. Here’s why: After RuPaul declares the top two, the queens go backstage to deliberate and talk. Before they return to the stage, the producers have the top two choose who they will eliminate if they win, by selecting a lipstick with that queen’s name on it.

    Why do that at all? Why not just have the winning queen announce who she’ll send home?

    It matters because the pre-selection means that the producers—and potentially Ru—know the two possible outcomes. If queen A wins, X goes home. If queen B wins, Y goes home. If X is boring and Y is drama, maybe queen A will win even if her lip sync isn’t the best. The “lip sync for your life” has always been super-subjective, and so now is this.

    The bottom line: Even if everything is 100 percent fair and honest, having advance knowledge of the winner possibility and perception that final decisions aren’t truly in the hands of the winning queen. And that’s unfortunate.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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