Another season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars has wrapped up with a crowning that feels deserved, if a little expected. After three All Stars seasons in as many years, the signs of Drag Race burnout are starting to become increasingly noticeable. I’m going to dive into this past season with an in-depth review and see why exactly this season ended up fairly forgettable. I’ve got a lot to say so make yourself comfortable! There will be spoilers throughout, so don’t read until you’ve watched!
When you cast Shea Couleé on All Stars, you know she is going to be fierce competition, and the fanbase are expecting her to make it all the way to the end. To prevent Shea Couleé from steamrolling the season, (and stop us from spending eight episodes waiting for her to win) you need a fierce cast that can give her strong competition. The All Stars 5 cast wasn’t quite there. There were simply too many early-outs from previous seasons that, while possibly being fan favourites or meme queens, were never true contenders for the crown. The eventual top three of the season (Jujubee, Cracker and Shea) were exactly my predictions for the finale, simply because the remainder of the cast didn’t stand out against these drag powerhouses.
Part of this is because there are simply too many All Stars seasons being produced so quickly that they are unable to collect a group of queens with the kind of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent worthy of the Drag Race Hall of Fame. It also didn’t help that the public expectation was for Shea to perform well, which definitely influenced some queen’s decision-making processes when it came to voting, but we’ll touch on that later.
There were several challenges throughout this season where I felt that there were no standout performances whatsoever: the SheMZ improv challenge, the hotel design challenge, and even the finale performance, Clap Back, all felt confused and chaotic. It was hard to determine clear winners or losers for these challenges. That’s not to say that there were no entertaining or enjoyable performances this season, but many of the challenges were ill-conceived and poorly judged.
Throughout the season, the consistent top performers were the eventual top three, (Jujubee, Miz Cracker and Shea) with most of the queens not really giving us much to remember from the season. I love Mariah, but do I remember anything she did in a main challenge in her three-episode run? I do want to give credit to Alexis Mateo for also really standing out, but the judges did not seem to enjoy her as much as I did. Her Snatch Game performance was hilarious, and somehow she found herself near elimination despite it – but more on that later.
There is an expectation on All Stars for the queens to bring show-stopping garments and incredible eleganza to the stage. Thus, the first half of the season left me disappointed. Some pretty poor runway themes (“Camo Couture”?) combined with a bunch of queens with fairly questionable taste really made me miss the consistent fashion provided by former All Stars contestants (Trinity The Tuck, Manila Luzon, Naomi Smalls, to name a few.) The 3-in-1 runway was quite possibly my least favourite runway in Drag Race history, where I feel no queen really brought the elevated drag we are used to on All Stars. Also, the point of a reveal is that you don’t know it’s coming! The runway theme was doomed from the beginning.
I still think we got to see some sickening looks from the queens, and they certainly improved as the season went on, ending in a stunning set of top three looks that may be the best in the show’s history (I’m not over how amazing Jujubee looked in the final episode.) Other notable looks are Shea Couleé’s “Love The Skin You’re In,” Jujubee’s “Freak Out!” and Blair St Clair’s “Prom Realness.” Also, I really enjoyed the “Prom Realness” runway generally (bar India’s) and really all of them could be in my list of favourite looks.
This season rejected the old All Stars format and replaced it with a similar system, with a new twist. The winning queen faced off against one of Drag Race’s “lip sync assassins” at the end of each week. If the contestant won, they received $10,000 and the opportunity to eliminate one of the bottom queens. If the assassin won, then the $10,000 rolled over to next week and one of the bottom queens was eliminated by way of a group vote.
There is a lot to unpack about this twist and its execution. I’m not convinced they chose the best group of assassins for this twist. Where was Peppermint? Where was Coco Montrese? Where was Jujub- oh, she was a contestant. Obviously, it would be slightly embarrassing if the contestants could never out-perform the assassins, but I was still disappointed that they didn’t manage to get Drag Race’s best performers back.
Furthermore, since only one contestant perfomed each week, we saw very few queens lip syncing overall. Only four queens ever Lip Synced For Their Legacy, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see other cast members perform. Instead of using their performance skills and drag talent to save themselves from elimination, (which, by the way, is why they are casted) they are forced to use Big Brother-style tactics and persuasion. It stops the competition being about “who’s the best drag queen?” and makes it “who can survive under these arbitrary conditions and rule changes?” It’s not as enjoyable as it used to be.
And my final important point is that the twist literally had no impact on the eliminations whatsoever. The top queen always made the same decision as the rest of the group. There could have been so many opportunities for dramatic moments and shocking eliminations with this twist, but none were achieved. It’s another symptom of rushed production and a poorly-thought out twist that ended up making the season less entertaining than it could have been.
As much as she probably didn’t deserve to stay much longer, it was a huge loss for the show that Derrick Barry went home on the first episode. Her rivalry with India had so much potential that was never really seen through, especially given that India managed to remain the centre of attention throughout her run on the show. India was in the bottom for four weeks in a row, yet managed to wriggle her way out of it several times. This culminated in her accusation that Alexis Mateo was plotting to send Shea Coulee home (an accusation I highly doubt). It didn’t save her from elimination, but it really got the girls in their heads to the point where they felt they had no choice but to eliminate Alexis the following episode.
Other than those dramatic ten minutes of television, nothing much else happened. There was a brief attempt at giving Miz Cracker a villain edit, but that evaporated by the fourth episode. However, there was a lot of sadness and bitterness with respect to the elimination process. Forcing queens to vote each week on who to send home put the onus on every single contestant, not just the winning queens, and this process clearly messed with their heads. By the last elimination of Blair St Clair, despite how obvious this elimination was, the entire cast was in tears over the fact that they had to play a part in it.
The return of Untucked! was nice, but never really amounted to much. It mainly just fleshed out the storylines from the main show and revealed the voting patterns of the queens. I stopped watching it halfway through because it was 20 minutes I could have spent doing something else, like washing my car, or making a pizza. You know?
I can’t say I’m surprised that Shea Couleé won the season. (Most people were definitely not surprised, given that her crowning was unfortunately made the thumbnail of the episode on Netflix UK.) She really did give us iconic moments throughout this season, and never faltered significantly throughout the season. I would have liked to see Jujubee win, purely because season 2 was my first Drag Race season and it would have been a lovely full-circle moment. She also performed exceptionally well all season, but she did struggle somewhat in the final challenge, and track records aren’t as important as they used to be in modern Drag Race.
The other queens’ perceptions of Shea definitely changed the competitive environment. Throughout the season, it was deemed “ridiculous” to send home Shea because she was such fierce competition. Even when she had the worst critiques of the week (Episode 3) the queens thought it was crazy when she received some votes for elimination. While Shea has a powerful star-quality, she isn’t perfect. The playing field was tilted from day one.
At the end of the day, it was Drag Race – it’s a format that works, and it was still decent entertainment. But coming off Season 12, which had a stellar cast and fantastic storylines, this season disappointed, especially considering the hype surrounding All Stars seasons. Drag Race needs to wait a loooooong time before they have another All Stars seasons (at least three years or so) so they can collect a cast of top talent and plan better challenges that really let them shine. In addition, they need to find a new twist. Queens eliminating each other was fun for a while, but it’s getting old and is no longer fun to watch, especially when an aggressive fanbase scrutinises the queens’ every move.
Anyway, I’m watching Canada’s Drag Race now and it’s managing to satisfy my Drag Race cravings in a way All Stars 5 never did. The judging is questionable, but I adore the cast. If you want to invest your time in a new season of Drag Race, Canada’s the one I’d go with.