Watching eight of the best queens to ever compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race show off their talents for 12 consecutive episodes on Paramount+’s All Stars 7 has been an absolute pleasure.
Without weekly eliminations, we got to see all eight contestants—Jaida Essence Hall, Jinkx Monsoon, Monét X Change, Raja, Shea Couleé, Trinity the Tuck, The Vivienne, and Yvie Oddly—all shine, over and over again.
They offered looks to gag over; gave us jokes, performances, and shade to laugh at; and shared stories of their lives and experiences.
If only they’d been in a better show.
Watching this season—and the last few years, honestly—I kept thinking: What if Drag Race’s producing was as creative as its queens?
Drag Race’s influence, as a cultural phenomenon, is undeniable. Not only has it brought this art form mainstream attention, it also elevates the careers of its cast, which can change their lives.
“You are an actual angel in my life,” Raja said after winning the “She Done Already Done Had Herses” prize. Ru said, “It gives me so much joy and so much pleasure to have you on this stage,” and I believe that.
The series has given its viewers an appreciation for drag as entertaining performance art, and also the challenges LGBTQ+ people deal with just to be themselves—and stay alive.
Even as its audience has widened, moving from poor forgotten Logo to VH1 and then Paramount+, Drag Race has continued to include queer content, from balloon-busting challenges to stories about life as a LGBTQ+ person, from being disowned by family to transitioning.
“You represent kids all over the world who don’t have a way out,” RuPaul said at the end of All-Stars 7, clearly emotional, “and you found a way out. … you’re all heroes.”
That empathy and those real-life stories are more necessary than ever as fascism pimples up across the United States.
Meanwhile, Florida’s imbecile of a governor is joining in the anti-drag hate, pretending as if watching people in costume while eating brunch is a threat to children. (Has he ever been to a Florida beach to see how people dress there?)
So, representation matters, and for its role in that, RuPaul’s Drag Race should be celebrated and commended.
At the same time, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s ideas about drag are rather limited. Just watch an episode of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula for immediate, visceral examples.
It was only four years ago that RuPaul said his view of drag excluded trans women, which thankfully changed soon after.
Episode to episode, RuPaul and Michelle Visage reward and enforce what they think makes a great drag queen, and they also do that in other countries now, since they host and judge both RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
The produced by World of Wonder stick closely to the template, copying and pasting what they’ve done in the U.S.
Just look at how the show’s licensed and produced locally, Drag Race Thailand and Drag Race Canada, break from the formula.
Canada copied much of the format, but it also elevated the production values and shared decision-making power. Thailand did much more, taking the central idea and making a better show, from its separate challenge winners to its large panel of rotating judges, which keeps the competition from reinforcing just one person’s/one producing team’s view of drag.
What WOW copies is not only its narrow concept of the art form, but some increasingly inept producing.
All Stars 7’s format was embarassing
World of Wonder’s lack of creativity was on full display in this seventh all-star season. Having gathered all previous winners for the first time ever, Drag Race subjected them to nearly the same challenges as always, and an especially ill-conceived twist.
Like Survivor, it’s in a challenge rut, repeating the same challenges over and over. Repeating classics like Snatch Game are great; doing a terribly written acting challenge or Rusical every season is not necessary.
I realize the show doesn’t spend any money while making fists full of cash for its parent company, but good lord does it need some actual writers for the scripts the queens get.
Its most-creative challenge this season, a dance challenge for TikTok, was a last-minute substitution for a Rusical that fell through. Look at the creativity that emerged there, and also allowed each queens to showcase their strengths, rather than wedge their skills into something else.
Drag Race isn’t a total drag, and this season wasn’t without some great choices. The spoken-word lip sync, to Dixie Carter’s Designing Women monologue “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” was an instant classic, and the kind of creativity I’d like to see more of.
When I first heard that All Stars 7 would be keeping all contestants all season and using a scoring mechanism, I was thrilled. Objective scoring works well for other reality competitions.
Leave it to Drag Race to find the worst possible way of implementing a scoring mechanism. Instead of having, say, each judge score the queens in a variety of categories, and totaling those up over the season, they instead awarded a star (i.e. a point) to each of the two winners.
Except when they didn’t: One episode the winners were awarded two stars, one to keep and one to give away. The winner also earned the right to prevent someone from earning a star the following week, by handing them a toilet plunger, an obvious attempt at trying to create animosity among the queens.
That seems to be a driving force behind twists, like the usual all-stars format, which has the queens vote each other off.
I agree with what Jimbo said in an interview about that: “It’s a little bit of a cop-out putting it on the other performers in the midst of everything else—being like, Okay girls, like, you decide. It’s like, I think we’re doing a lot of work already. … Bit lazy to me.”
As with almost every format tweak the producing team creates, the stars were at once silly, unfair, inconsistent, and easily rigged. (Having such a bad twist was reminiscent of Survivor: Winners at War watering down its all-winners season with the Edge of Extinction.)
Those with the most stars all season would compete for the win in the last episode.
Yet when the final episode arrived, three stars were suddenly available—an embarrassing way of putting the producers’ fingers on the scale, bringing Shea Couleé to the finale despite her one previous star (and that’s nothing against Shea).
All these are is mechanisms of manipulation, which are totally unnecessary because Drag Race already has a mechanism for manipulation: RuPaul being the sole arbiter.
Because the queens are pros, and know that what matters most about Drag Race is the exposure on this international platform, they embrace the nonsense, which is perhaps the best acting and improv all season.
They also find ways to have fun with it, such as pretending the plunger came with a secret, which Raja eventually learned was bullshit, or playing with each other as the plunger-holder walked down the line.
Last season’s chocolate bar immunity was equally dumb, in part because it had no connection to anything else (there was no season-long theme, nothing). While the show embraced that silliness (“it’s chocolate”), just give Michelle Visage a Tim Gunn save and save having to pretend that the golden chocolate bar was truly random.
It is. Even if Drag Race’s game elements are completely legitimate, that they appear so easily manipulated makes the competition seem illegitimate, and its contestants deserve better. They deserve to be judged fairly and on clear criteria. They also deserve more than the $500 an episode they make.
The sketchiness includes filming multiple endings. That may have made sense for finales filmed in front of large studio audience.
But for this season, why did Jinkx have to learn of her win this way? Every other reality TV show has figured out how to keep its winners secret for a year—or does not mind if leaks out and becomes knowledge in a corner of the Internet.
Filming multiple endings is just another way for the producers to manipulate the outcome. They can follow fan sentiment—but of course, fan reaction is led by the stories the editing chooses to tell.
Yes, I’ll blame it on Drag Race’s editing
Last year, RuPaul released a song called “Blame it on the Edit” that criticizes contestants who find fault with the editing. I’ve certainly done my share of that. But RuPaul holds all the power on Drag Race, and seeing him ridicule the cast members for daring to question the show’s decisions seems particularly cruel.
An edited TV show is always going to be insufficient at summarizing a full range of experiences, because it has to condense so much time, so I don’t understand why RuPaul doesn’t have empathy for that, although I suppose I don’t have any empathy for fracking on his ranch.
The editing on RuPaul’s Drag Race can be clever, using comic juxtapositions and cutaways to reactions in confessionals, but the story producing—the decisions about what storylines to follow and/or create—is often clumsy, and sometimes downright misleading.
The editing tried to hide what actually happened during the finale of All Stars 7.
Notice how, at the start of the final lip sync between Monét and Jinkx, Monét briefly has a lipstick. That’s just a flash of a gag she did with the lipsticks of eliminated queens. The editing cut that out.
I’ve been a fan of Jinkx Monsoon since her Little Edie performance in season five. She has completely dominated this season, winning seven out of 11 challenges, and I’m in awe of her as a performer.
But if Monét had the better lip sync, she should win. That’s the game, right?
Or here’s an idea: Don’t make your entire season comes down to one performance of one song. The entire format is within the producers’ control! So why resort to shady editing?
Before announcing the winner, RuPaul even said the decision is “based on this lip sync and your performance all season long,” so there was no reason to not show us how amazing Monét was.
Again, this is all just bad producing. And it ultimately affects real people.
Recently, Yvie Oddly wrote on Instagram stories,
“I truly wish you could’ve seen even a quarter of the REAL journey we experienced together (instead of all the strategy bs). But I guess that’s what I get for participating in a “celebration” season of a global reality television franchise.”
“Going back I learned a lot about myself, as I was forced to question whether or not I fit into this specific world (even as a winner). But instead of showing ANY of that struggle (or really any reason for me to be there) I’ve been lobotomized and presented as some goofy big-dicked mascot, bravely laughing through my chronic illness, happy to be along for the ride. The only part of my truth that was shown was how the girls were my rock in this competition, and how happy it’s made me to share any more of my art with you….so for that I’m truly thankful.”
I’m thankful for that, too. And I hope that the production and Paramount can find a way to honor the queens’ stories and art without subjecting them to a show that’s far less creative than they are.