This week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars sounded like it might be a trainwreck, but it turned out to be one of the most consistently hilarious episodes of all time.
And also a trainwreck. But, an intentional one!
RuPaul assigns the eight remaining queens characters to improv through an episode of The Bitchelor, a straight-up copy of The Batchelor where all of the women are horrible people.
The queens of most seasons would likely flounder in a totally free-form acting challenge, but The Bitchelor has a secret weapon – the preternaturally handsome Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, from Unreal, who plays a very convincing (not so) straight man to the various hilarity that the queens bring on their dates.
With a “wigs on wigs on wigs” runway that nods to Roxxxy’s Andrews’ iconic “Whip My Hair” wig reveal and an elimination that plays up some of the biggest tension in the cast, this episode was a deliciously nasty surprise from start to finish.
BenDeLa continues her uninterrupted reign in the third week of the season, mastering yet another performance challenge with nary a misstep.
Even if we can all agree she was tossed another softball with a “cougar” character, BenDeLa doesn’t waste a single moment with her ultra sloppy, slapstick performance. RuPaul isn’t looking for a believable character here, but for ridiculous parody, and BenDeLa’s hard-drinking mommy looking for a baby bird boy to eat her regurgitated food is everything.
While Alaska also dominated challenges in All Stars 2, she spent the entire time fending off hall-of-fame fashions from Detox and biting comedy from Katya. BenDeLa doesn’t have that kind of competition here, aside from perhaps Shangela.
On the runway, BenDeLa starts out with what I’d call her basic look – a simple black dress with a pleated skirt and a retro updo. First, she pulls off the wig to reveal an absurdly long ponytail that stretches below her waist. Then, just when we think she’s through, she unfastens her skirt to reveal a long dress covered in hair fringe. This works a lot better than past hair-dress looks because the colors are carefully varied for a sort of full-skirt ombré effect.
(It’s a mild BOOT for me. I just couldn’t with all the black on black with brown hair. It needed a color.)
If we’re going to see BenDeLa falter, it’s not going to come in a performance or a creative challenge like marketing or politics. For her to somehow fall short of the final, it seems like it will be from one of the same weaknesses that felled her in Season 6: either having to show her real life personality on the runway or settling into a fashion rut that repeats tonights starting look too often.
Shangela was safe this week in a strategic performance that shows that she is ready to navigate past any obstacles placed in her path this season.
There is no question Shangela could have come out on top of the improv challenge had she not been saddled with the ball-and-chain of a weak partner (Chi Chi) in her concept as a polyamorous couple.
Yet, she doesn’t let that stop her. First, she tries coaching Chi Chi. Then, at the start of the challenge, she lobs a lot of softballs her way. When that doesn’t work, Shangela shifts into a blizzard of punchlines, all of which somehow manage to straddle the line of flirting with the Batchelor while really trying to land him to make her wife happy.
And, the coup de grace, Shangela turns out an un-bootable runway with a ridiculous update of her classic failure, the corn runway (ridiculous, but still a TOOT). She could have easily used this look last week for the RuDemption runway, but her Mariah Carey performance was clearly safe and her bubble was low-effort and high-drama.
This week, where she could have been in trouble if the groups were judged in pairs, she went full-throttle on high-concept runway to make sure she would have a tie-break if she wound up in the bottom against Chi Chi.
It turns out that the combination of her goals-oriented lesbian character and her corn dress made her safe, but that safe showing just proves how much of a threat Shangela is this season. I feel like she has the ability to manipulate any challenge in her favor between her performance chops and her refreshed fashion sense.
3. Kennedy Davenport
Kennedy Davenport delivers a knockout comedy performance, a lovely runway, and a nuanced lip sync this week, which finally shows her off to be the contender we know her to be.
Despite this strong showing, I think the subtle lip sync (to Lorde’s “Green Light”) represented the only piece of new information for fans who watched Season 7. While we all saw Kennedy’s low-key spinning lip sync against Jasmine Masters, we haven’t seen her act out a song with this smoldering intensity before on the show.
This focused, emotional side of Kennedy is something none of the other queens here can supply and she needs to learn how to channel it more often.
The other facets on display are aspects of Kennedy we already knew about. We saw multiple times on Season 7 that she can go broadly comedic in an ugly way – in fact, it might be her specialty. I don’t say that to diminish her party girl improv character, because it was very funny with tons of punchlines – perhaps her best comedic performance
Then we come to her wigs on wigs on wigs runway, a trio of wigs on top of one of her customary beaded dresses (an unenthusiastic TOOT). This is a weak spot for Kennedy despite the fashion itself being finely-detailed. We’ve yet to see her break out of this fashion box that’s always pageant-ready and a bit overly-gaudy.
I would be genuinely happy to see Kennedy get her due as a finalist this season, but to hold onto this spot she will need t deliver performances like this one three more weeks in a row. Her best bet will be to show us surprising new sides of herself like this lip sync while never letting her inner Bitter Old Lady start up a new brigade, which almost happened last episode.
Aja turns in a strong and even funny improv performance that misses the mark on her character assignment while turning out what could be the best look on the runway for the third week running.
Honestly, if she was in the bottom but got a pass on being up for elimination I’d having her rising to the number two spot in the rankings.
Aja is playing close to an error-free game right now, and I wouldn’t even call her misunderstanding the assignment of “needy girl” an error. It was more of an editing problem. She wanted to show her neediness in too many different ways. The result was a funny muddle. Had she stuck to just one of her initial concepts – the Farrah Moaning or being Christian for attention – I think the inherent neediness of her character would have shone through more clearly.
Aja’s runway this week was amazing. The massive body-height foam pigtail wig alone would be a TOOT from me, but the overly-accented pastel body-suit and the her second wig reveal to a shaved-sides lavender wig left me gagging. I agree with Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Aja really did look like she was right out of a video game.
I think it was telling that BenDeLa didn’t seem to consider ditching Aja for a single moment during their 1-on-1 meeting. It reminded me of the “get out of here” reaction to Detox being in the bottom after Snatch Game while wearing her “vinyl fetish girl with the pearl earring” look, which was one of the best runways of all time.
Both Aja and Detox were needlessly dispatched as bait as part of a Bottom Three to see if a top queen would risk becoming a villain by cutting them. Yet, that also shows that RuPaul was willing to risk them both just for drama – so, were they ever going to be winners?
The queens on this season seem as impressed with Aja as the audience has been so far. Even if she might not be able to win outright, she has a real chance to lock up the permanent “Runway Ruler” spot in a totally different way than Detox did last season.
5. Trixie Mattel
Trixie Mattel has every one of the necessarily skills to follow in RuPaul’s footsteps as a drag all-star, yet none of them seem to distinguish her from the other girls during the course of competition on Drag Race.
Trixie has one of the best talents in this cast, but it was too low-key to stand out in the Variety Show. She had one of the best diva impressions and is a terrific dancer, but her low-key featured spot failed her in Divas Live.
In this episode, she delivers hands-down the best improv performance. It’s not just a human cartoon, like BenDeLa and Kennedy. Trixie is a real-life-adjacent character who is still a merciless parody. She comes off a lot like a glammed up version of Eleanor from The Good Place. Her punchlines would have been non-stop if not for the major stoppage of Milk shouting at the top of her lungs in every scene.
It seems like she’s cruising for a sure win, but Trixie goes way too low-key on the runway with her caftan-into-mod-dress realness (just barely a TOOT, mostly for the make-up and glasses). If she turned out something high concept like her legendary Bearded Jesus, she could have out-punched DeLa’s duller runway for a top two placement.
It’s frustrating to watch Trixie being trapped in the safe zone, so it must be incredibly frustrating for Trixie to experience. After Season 7, I thought it might simply be that Trixie is an introvert, but it’s more than that. She’s a stunning queen, but she’s not a showboat performer who stands out from a pack. She’s a superstar, but she’s not a super reality competition star.
That raises an interesting question for this season and for RuPaul. Is a superstar who doesn’t make mistakes but doesn’t shine in the Drag Race format still worth recognizing as an All Star? That’s going to be a riveting question to answer in the next couple of weeks, where Trixie is inevitably going to find herself at risk against this powerful cast.
6. Bebe Zahara Benet
After an explosive reintroduction of our Season 1 champion, Bebe’s All Stars performance is proving to be more of a fizzle than a firework.
Bebe pulls the improv character of “The Virgin,” and while she chooses to play it demurely there is no reason it had to be that way. The Virgin could be just as rude as Trixie’s fake girl or as slutty as BenDeLa’s cougar – which is BenDeLa’s suggestion as Bebe’s scene partner.
Of course, that wouldn’t be very Bebe. Instead, she gets hyper-focused on a one-note character where she throws rose petals and bows a lot. She gets in a handful of good one-liners, but even with BenDeLa giving her ample opportunity to make a scene she still winds up as part of the background.
Bebe’s hair transformation is just fine. She unwraps a silk floral print dress to reveal a slimmer version beneath and undoes a fussy updo to reveal multiple hair balls on a single pony tail chain. (A weak TOOT.)
It’s a very attractive wig, but Bebe is the only girl to not literally remove at least one wig to reveal another one.
As a result, Bebe gets called “safe” along with Shangela. Shangie’s safe was a good thing, but Bebe’s wasn’t. Her understated glamour might not be enough to compete with the massive personalities in the rest of this cast. With Snatch Game up next, she could be in serious trouble.
7. Chi Chi Devayne
Chi Chi Devayne is letting the line-up of show-off performance challenges and the cast full of confident performers undermine the natural star quality that made her so memorable on Season 8.
She seems terrified at the concept of improv. Her rehearsals with Shangela (one of the show’s most formidable actors) consist of her saying “Hi, my name is Chi Chi” in a variety of different accents.
What she and Shangela come up with for The Bitchelor is Chi Chi being a dumb-as-rocks stripper who is a totally subservient bottom to her commanding lesbian partner. It could have worked if she played the airhead as hopelessly fascinated with Boyer-Chapman the entire time. Instead, Shangela just charges forward in sizing up their man like a piece of meat while Chi Chi quietly coos off to the side. it’s relatively late in the game before she starts hanging on him in a fashion that’s so real it’s a little uncomfortable to watch.
(This could have been much funnier if it was played as Chi Chi throwing herself at Boyer-Chapman with Shangela doing her best to cock-block her and try to win back her attentions. Even Chi Chi could have handled merciless flirting, but Shangela would have had to give up too much control of the scene in that situation for her tates.)
In her original run, the main thing holding Chi Chi back after her confidence gap were her fashions. That’s why tonight her runway was so satisfying. Chi Chi turned in an unconventional choice in every respect, from her patterned dress, to her bold make-up, to her reveal of long, glossy wig. It was a beautifully feminine TOOT that proves that Chi Chi has grown and knows how to sweat the small details.
Unfortunately, the confidence gap is still there. Chi Chi says herself in a confessional that she feels like she is back too early, and might have been served better holding out for Season 4. Sadly, she might be right.
Sashay Away: Milk
As much as I lost my taste for Milk across the past two challenges, I’m not sure if I feel she really was the queen most deserving of a sashay tonight over Chi Chi.
Yes, her Bitchelor character was more merciless screaming for attention than laughs, but it was a character (and she stayed in character the whole time!), which is more than could be said for Chi Chi or Bebe. And, while her runway was a bit busted (especially the hair reveal), it brought back the kooky version of Milk we didn’t get to see in her glammed up look last episode.
Even if we rewind to the top of the episode to reexamine her confrontation with Kennedy over Thorgy’s ouster, Milk was pretty even-handed in her criticisms. This show has become so kind that any disagreement or delusion (convince yourself!) comes off as villainous, but Milk was mostly just being her unhumble self. She probably had no chance of winning, but I think it would have been fun to see what she came up with for another week or two.