RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars has felt like a genuine Drag Race event this entire season, so it’s a strange sensation to watch an episode that feels more like a regular installment of the series. I can’t imagine what the show would have to do to top last week’s Ru-venge, and instead of trying to reach higher, the show gives the queens a breather with a more traditional episode.

“Drag Fish Tank” is the first episode since the premiere to give the queens a mini-challenge, and it’s a very silly game of “Butt Butt Golf” with Andrew Christian’s gaggle of underwear models. It has nothing to do with drag (although it does have the queens get into hilariously haphazard “golf drag”), but it does provide some solid laughs and helps diffuse some of the tension created by bringing back two eliminated girls. The addition of the Untucked-style backstage deliberations means that there’s not much time for mini-challenges this season, which is a pity because they’re a great way of easing the audience into the episode. The post-elimination conversations set up the drama, but the minichallenges get the viewers comfortable and ready for the main action. It’s nice to have that element back this week, and it also makes the workroom feel like a more playful, joyous atmosphere now that Phi Phi isn’t souring the mood with her bad vibes.

The main challenge this week is an especially practical one for the All Stars, asking them to create a piece of merchandise and sell it with a commercial they write, direct, and star in. These are valuable skills for the queens to have in the merchandise-heavy world of Drag Race fandom, and the winners will have their products made and sold at Drag Con next year. The queens get some guidance from RuPaul and Marcus Lemonis of CNBC’s The Profit, and while Lemonis doesn’t quite understand the camp appeal of some of the merch (specifically Katya’s Krisis Kontrol body spray), he gives useful advice that can help the queens reinforce their individual brands after All Stars.

Many of the Drag Race queens end up working on WOWPresents YouTube videos, and the commercial half of this challenge tests how well they do on camera in a situation that is closer to the vlogging format. Outside of live drag, this is the kind of performance the queens will be doing most often after the show, and it’s not a coincidence that this week’s strongest queens are those that have considerable experience in this field. Alaska, Katya, Alyssa, and Detox have all had their own WOWPresents shows, and they’re the most comfortable and charismatic on screen. Alyssa and Detox’s commercials don’t have the wit and creativity of Alaska and Katya, but they have a vitality that is missing from Roxxxy and Tatianna’s videos. Their commercials aren’t bad, but they don’t have that extra shot of energy that really sells the product.

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Alaska and Katya have passion and imagination in their commercials, and there’s an ambition in their work that makes it especially engaging. The sci-fi trappings and deadpan humor of Alaska’s commercial for the Alaska Thunderfun Fashion Tape give it a slightly alienating tone that makes it stand out from the rest of the videos, and the undercurrent of darkness in Katya’s commercial makes it an evocative reflection of Katya’s own issues with anxiety. They’re the winners of this week’s challenge, which means they face off against each other again in the lip sync, just like in this season’s Snatch Game episode.

There’s a strong feeling of Snatch Game déjà vu at the end of this episode: Roxxxy and Tatianna land in the bottom, Alaska wins the lip sync, and sends Tatianna home again. It’s an underwhelming conclusion because it’s so repetitive, but it’s hard to argue with any of these decisions. The queens wear pants on the runway this week, and while the looks aren’t as dramatic as a lot of what we’ve seen this season, they’re strong across the board. That leaves the commercials as the determining factor for the bottom, and Roxxxy and Tatianna do the worst.

While Katya gives Alaska some tough competition in the lip sync, Alaska cements that she’s the queen to beat this season because no one gives it as hard as she does. Alaska is on from the second she steps on the runway for the lip sync, strutting down the aisle while Katya shuffles along in her clunky platform Mary Janes. Alaska is giving the judges fierce from the first second they see her, and she never lets go of that attitude. She clinches the win when she pulls a U.S. flag out of her wig, and while throwing the flag on the ground is a risky choice, I think RuPaul probably admires that boldness.

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Given Roxxxy’s repeat trips to the bottom, it’s disappointing to see Alaska send Tatianna home, and while many will accuse Alaska of being influenced by her personal relationship with Roxxxy, I don’t think Rolaskatox is to blame here (even with that Rolaskatox bonding moment in the workroom). This is a competition and Alaska is here to win. She knows that she’s a front-runner after already winning two challenges, and Tatianna poses a threat that Roxxxy doesn’t. Tatianna steals the show on the runway with an ensemble inspired by T-Boz in TLC’s “Creep” music video, and the judges rightfully gag over her flawless appearance and smooth dance moves. Her commercial is tepid but her outfit is fire, and that creates a problem for her when she lands in the bottom.

Tatianna shows how dangerous she can be with her runway look, and in deliberations she makes sure both Alaska and Katya know how desperately she wants to stay in the competition. Tatianna sees this as a positive because it shows her dedication to the game, but why should Alaska and Katya keep a competitor that is going to put up a real fight when they can keep the already defeated Roxxxy? She doesn’t care if she stays or goes at this point, and that lack of drive makes Roxxxy valuable. I don’t know how Katya decides, but if she’s smart, she would get rid of Tatianna, too.

The queens can talk all they want about fairness, but at the end of the day there’s $100,000 on the line and committing to fairness is a liability. Sometimes you have to make the unfair decision to guarantee your own success, and while that’s not something I condone in everyday life, I can accept it in the context of a reality TV drag queen competition. I don’t mind if the decisions are motivated by self-preservation as long as the queens keeps it classy, which Alaska does. She gives a convincingly heartbroken performance when she says goodbye to her eliminated sister, and even if there’s selfishness driving her actions, Alaska makes the audience believe that this is a hard decision for her so she never looks like a villain.

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Stray observations

  • During the judges’ evaluations, RuPaul tells the queens, “I’m a marketing genius! I marketed subversive drag to 100 million muthafuckas in the world.” She’s earned those bragging rights, and her marketing prowess gave Drag Race its highest-rated episode in three years last week. Audiences can’t resist Ru-venge!
  • Having a minichallenge means time has to get shaved off from something, and the filming of the commercials ends up being very short. The queens get a few seconds and then it’s on to the next one.
  • Alyssa absolutely loves watching Alaska impersonate her. She’s like one of those heart-eyed emoji when Alaska starts rattling off catchphrases and replicating Alyssa’s body movement. It confirms to Alyssa that’s she created a distinct drag character, so she should be happy in that moment.
  • Katya is so good on camera. See: Katya in her commercial, Katya booty popping during the minichallenge, Katya throwing her paper in the air after a disappointing visit from RuPaul and Marcus Lemonis.
  • Dynasty is an aesthetic that works very well for Alyssa Edwards. She should keep working that over-the-top ’80s glamour.
  • “I was concise, I was consistent, I was confused…‘bout all this conflama.”
  • “First you swing your thing to hit your ball through the legs of these manimals. And the All Star that can sink the ball into the big pink hole in the fastest time wins.”
  • “Is there a pig? Oh, there’s a turkey, even better.”
  • “Anusthing is possible.”
  • “Hey, you like talkin’ shit?” Tatianna should have opened her commercial with this exact line.
  • “I am giving you 1980s lesbian literary agent, disinterested pissed off Ellen Barkin fantasy.” Katya’s descriptions continue to be the best.
  • “Gimme some of that Tongue Pop, baby.”
  • Graham: “I know it’s just a prototype, but it’s a piss poor prototype.” Detox: (Petting trash can.) “He didn’t mean it.” Graham: “I did.”
  • “What makes this product different, you might ask? That’s a stupid question.
  • “From the neck down, you’re going to some fabulous Studio 54 disco. But your hair is going bowling.”

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