By this point, we all fully expect RuPaul’s Drag Race to pull stunt shows and shenanigans with the format, but the recent trend of pulling a big “…and one more thing” switcheroo at the last moment to decide the winner irks in a way that feels unfair to both competitors and viewers. This show has dubbed itself the Olympics of Drag, but imagine watching an actual Olympics basketball tournament and seeing the judges flippantly announce: “Actually, the gold medal will be decided by a slam-dunk competition,” or, “The eliminated teams will cast their vote for who they felt was the best sportswomen.” It just cheapens the experience. We’ve been asked to invest in the show for an entire season, to care about the results of each episode, to believe that it all actually matters. Now, for the second season in a row, we’ve seen instances in which the rules are rewritten at the last moment and the bona fide and deserving frontrunner doesn’t even get the chance to make it to the final face-off. This season’s twist somehow feels even more gut punching than the last.
If you’re going to switch up the rules, at least let everyone know from the beginning. The heightened sense of drama for what amounts to 40 minutes of television isn’t worth feeling like the previous eight hours we’ve watched were utterly meaningless and the hangover of bitterness that causes. Let us know from episode one, and let the drama of the impending twist permeate over the entire season.
Don’t be mistaken: This show may be “prestige” reality, but it’s not actually Game of Thrones. No one is watching for the equivalent of the Red Wedding. A sense of justice and competition has to prevail in some sense. Not only are we left to feel that Shangela was robbed, but now it’s making us feel certain ways about Trixie that we’d really rather not. No one wants to see someone they actually like in a Hall of Fame with an asterisk next to their name.
Though, before we really get into the finale, we best explain how we got there.
The challenge this week was to give a “live” one-take performance of a remix of a RuPaul song with each queen providing her own lyrics. We didn’t get anything nearly as iconic as “But your dad just calls me Katya,” or, in its own special way, “I know you love me, baby, that’s why you brought me here.” In fact, we didn’t even get anything as iconic as the verses the girls wrote and performed just two episodes earlier. So this particular challenge really was going to live and die by the choreography aspect, and, you know what, it worked. We won’t be listening to the track on the elliptical machine like we do with “Read U, Wrote U,” but we were thoroughly entertained in an opening-number-of-an-awards-show kind of way. Good, clean fun, and the performances were about what we expected out of each queen.
What we did not expect was the twist Ru announced at the beginning of the episode. As it turns out, the remaining queens would be returning to vote for who they felt should make the top two. Mind you, whether or not the jury got to view any rough footage of how the queens performed during the rest of the season was conveniently not mentioned.
Watching the queens plead their case in front of there peers was, in and of itself, a compelling bit of television, and all the eliminated queens looked gorgeous wearing their best remaining outfits (clock Bendelacreme dressed for last week’s all-red runway dress code). Thorgy probably gave her best performance of the season by taking lead as main prosecutor, and Aja proved that she really has become a confidant and intriguing queen since her season. While watching the deliberations, we really didn’t get any hint that we were going to get anything but the Shangela and Trixie top two that most of us probably expected. Sure, they were kind of toying with the idea of Kennedy making the top two, but we figured that was just some editor-inserted drama.
As it turns out, nope. Morgan, acting as jury forewoman, revealed Kennedy’s name first. For a split second, we actually felt sorry for Trixie. Surely there was no way Shangela would be denied the top two. Again, our intuition was way off, because Trixie’s name came next, and for the rest of the episode we were in some sort of sunken place where we’re not even sure what we saw was real.
For the most part, we remember Kennedy giving one hell of a lip sync performance, with choreography fitting of a Sia video, while Trixie kind of stood in one spot, made some vaguely sad facial expressions, and tore little bits of her wig out—but in a less compelling way than Stacey Layne Matthew had torn bits of her wig out on stage. Then Trixie, somehow, was deemed winner, all without turning her wig into a flower-bombing magic trick. She didn’t even pull Wite-Out from her wig and declare that a mistake had been made.
Were we in some sort of nightmare? Did the padge just get pulled for the second time in a row in favor of a teenage girl–appealing white queen over the more deserving black frontrunner? Is that what actually happened? We’re not even sure any more.
The kicker is that we don’t get time to let our feelings cool off. We’re expected to be back here next week for an all new season, “forced” to watch more episodes that we’re not even sure will matter in the end. We’ll do it, but only with the understanding that there’s no way they can find some crazier way to decide season 10’s queen. Can they? I mean, it’s not like they’ll have some American Idol–style hotline voting. Oh, wow, that’s exactly what they’ll do, isn’t it?
Sigh, anyway, on to our traditional power rankings, which we actually decided from the first 35 minutes of the episode we were provided beforehand, and which we see no real reason to change now.
Few queens seem as baked into the very culture of the show as Shangela. So much so that we really believed some prophecy had foretold it was her destiny to win All Stars 3 long ago.
Drag Race has inspired countless people to pick up drag, but Shangela became the first queen inspired to start drag by the show to actually wind up on it—for the second season, in fact! Though she was dismissed in the first episode, Ru sent her off with something to the effect of, “I have a feeling this won’t be the last we see of you.” Maybe it was at that moment that the plan was hatched to have Shangela pop up out of the box during season three (a moment that has been referenced nearly every season since), but her relative inexperience still got the best of her. The eventual winner of that season, Raja, dismissed her as someone who could win season seven, eight, or nine of the show. She was right, she definitely deserved to win a later season. This one, in fact.
Her speech before the girls made us legitimately tear up, even if Shangela has always told us, “Everything I have I’ve worked for and gotten myself. I have built myself from the ground up, you f**in’, bitch.” It was nice to hear it without a drink being thrown, but she didn’t need to punctuate it with an outburst. She’s done a lot since her time on drag. She’s appeared on numerous television shows, including Glee, The X-Files, and Bones. She’s headlined reviews in Vegas. She has a speaking part in Lady Gaga’s upcoming A Star is Born.* She is a professional, and she shined bright during this episode. In her final dress tonight, she was the most elegant she’d ever looked. It was like something a veteran actress would wear to pick up the Academy Award she’d waited decades for.
Shangela’s snub feels like a slap in the face not only to her obvious talents but to all the fans who have actually stuck with this show since its early years.
2. Trixie Mattel
We hate to feel in any way salty about the delightful Trixie, but all we can muster right now is that Katya deserved the All Stars 2 crown more. Moving on.
3. Bebe Zahara Benet
The factors that won Bebe season one were the exact ones that lead to her failure to win a second time: She’s a fully realized and polished queen who is completely confidant in what she does. Whatever room there was for growth in the nine years in between, Benet didn’t seem that interested in exploring it. She was a bit of an odd fit in a season that otherwise could have been labeled a true Rudemption season, but we always got the feeling that the behind-the-scenes reason she popped up here was to introduce her to newer fans who hadn’t tracked down season one. For the most part, she succeeded at that, but her confidence also came out on the less charismatic side of the edit in the later parts of the season that lacked a true villain.
In short, she never really made a solid case for why she should be crowned twice, but, no matter what, she will always be the first-ever winner of Drag Race, and she will always be (rrrrra-ka-ta-ti-ti-ta-ta) pussy, bitch.
4. Kennedy Davenport
For better or worse, her arc was otherwise similar to Roxxxy’s in the previous All Stars. She is an experienced, well respected queen who exemplifies the culmination of several generation of passed-down old-school drag knowledge, and who, thanks to friction with younger, more “appealing” queens during her original season, came off as a villain. For the most part, All Stars 3 showed her in a much more sympathetic light, and she did make the case that she deserved to be here. Though, like Roxxxy, she also got dragged to placing higher than she deserved based on the strength of her friendships.
We also got to see Kennedy in a much more vulnerable light all season. The fact that RuPaul is so hands-off during All Stars seasons has become a recurring joke. The finale this time around didn’t even come with that trademark Tic Tac lunch or podcast session we had come to expect (there were no emotional stunts here, folks), and yet, it kind of seems like Kennedy really needed that.
Then again, she can always find solace in the fact that she can tear up a nightclub performance better than almost any queen who has ever been on the show, and you’d be a damn fool if you don’t go and see it in person the next time she’s in your town.