RuPaul’s Drag Race has never had a reunion this awkward and stilted. In mimicking the format of Bravo’s Real Housewives reunion shows, Drag Race sacrifices its own character with a strangely under-produced episode that feels like a rush job put together to capitalize on the huge ratings of All Stars season 2. This show is known for going over-the-top with editing and sound cues, but tonight’s “Reunited” is both sluggish and uncomfortably quiet. There’s a hush surrounding the queens that should really be filled by some sort of incidental music, and while the silence makes emotional moments more genuine, the lack of sound cues is detrimental to the overall reunion by preventing the show from reaching its usual levels of exaggeration.

Phi Phi O’Hara refused to return for the reunion as part of her very public condemnation of Drag Race, and Ru makes her disapproval of this behavior very clear at the start of the episode, right after she pulls out her new Emmy for everyone to see. Phi Phi does come up at various points in the episode, but the reunion doesn’t linger too much on her absence. Coco thinks Phi Phi should have gone home the first week and Alaska says that, had she won, she would have eliminated Phi Phi at the start, but later in the episode Phi Phi’s futuristic cosplay is praised by the other queens as some of the best work on the runway. The queens spend some time on Phi Phi not giving Alyssa a hug when she was eliminated, but Katya stands up for her and says that it’s a totally legitimate reaction to not want to hug the person that just took this great opportunity away from you.

I don’t know how Phi Phi would have been treated at the reunion, but this episode doesn’t paint her as a villain. If anything, there’s a strong sense of pity in how the queens talk about Phi Phi. This is one of their sisters, and she’s going through a serious personal crisis right now that could very well extinguish her passion for drag. That’s a shame because Phi Phi is damn good at it, and she did well enough on All Stars that she could have gained even more fans if she wasn’t trying so hard to discredit the image of herself portrayed on Drag Race. The reunion would have been the perfect place to defend her actions and argue against her depiction on screen, but I understand why Phi Phi refused to come back. She’s afraid that the show will once again betray her expectations in the final edit, and doesn’t want to play into the drama that has been set up for her.

It’s possible that this reunion could have been a positive healing experience for Phi Phi, but her emotional volatility suggests she’d probably be very confrontational and aggressive, which is exactly what the editors need to make her look like a villain. Then again, the general vibe of this reunion is pretty chill and lighthearted, and the established relationships all these queens have with each other makes it easier for them to brush off any personal slights during the competition, which were committed under the immense stress of the competition.

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That stress is what pushed Adore to leave the competition early, and she does a very good job tonight making the viewers understand why she left the competition while also showing her embarrassment and regret. She’s not proud of her decision, but there’s no point in beating herself up too hard about past mistakes so she doesn’t. She sheds a few tears to start, explains the difficult emotions that compelled her to leave, and says that she’s probably still not ready to get back in a competition environment. RuPaul respects that, and responds by telling Adore what is expected of All Stars on this show—namely, custom outfits or significantly altered off-the-rack pieces—before reminding her and the rest of the queens that the reason they were named All Stars is because they earned that title. I don’t know if this is just good editing or Adore’s real reaction, but you can see Adore light up when RuPaul says that last bit, and it makes me sad that Phi Phi denies herself a potential moment of catharsis like that one by not showing up.

Alaska has dominated this entire All Stars season, and she’s the saving grace of this episode, dramatically changing the energy of the room when she responds to her haters with an expertly deployed Real Housewives reference. Alaska channels Aviva Drescher as she addresses the people mad about Tatianna’s elimination (both times): “If you wanna say that I’m fake, if you wanna say that I’m a snake, I have this to say: The only thing fake about me is this!” She reaches under her dress, grabs a fake leg, and throws it during that exclamation, shattering the icy atmosphere that dominates the first third of the reunion. The episode gets much livelier from that point on, and Alaska further proves why she deserves the All Stars crown with the work she does to make this an entertaining reunion.

The Stray Observations below are filled with Alaska, Katya, and Alyssa quotes, and they’re the three queens who have the most fun with the reunion and demand the most attention. The other queens look very demure by comparison, like this is a far more serious affair than a drag queen reality TV competition. These three know that this is their last chance to make an impression on international television for the foreseeable future, so they go big with their personalities and gleefully stir up drama because they’re not personally offended. Alaska has no problem dragging Alyssa for her horrible performance in “Wha’ Ha’ Happened To Baby JJ”, which Alyssa nods along with approvingly, and Alaska calling out Alyssa’s camera dress inspires Katya to go after Alaska for the bullshit “funeral shroud cloud of black trash bags” that hid Lil’ Poundcake.

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These three queens take full advantage of this time back in the spotlight, but Adore, Detox, and Tatianna don’t fare too poorly. Adore makes great use of a fan question to start a conversation about sex with fans, and both Detox and Tatianna chime in with their fan experiences, which include Detox sharing groupies with Adore and Tatianna having her foot licked in Chicago. Roxxxy, Coco, and Ginj are the least compelling presences at the reunion, and most of the time it looks like they don’t want to be there. (Granted, nearly all of the queens look like they don’t want to be there at some point in the episode.)

The lack of production in this episode makes me wonder if Logo wasn’t initially planning on having a reunion and then changed its mind when it saw how well this season was performing. I can easily see the queens needing to cancel planned bookings to come back for the episode, and perhaps that’s why so many of them look less than thrilled to be back. There’s a lack of enthusiasm that is highlighted by the absence of sound cues, and if there’s going to be no music, the show could have at least gotten a small studio audience together to provide laughter and other reactions that would have made the reunion feel less hollow. There’s enough good material here from Alaska, Katya, and Alyssa to make this worth a viewing for fans that have enjoyed All Stars’ second season, but anyone that decides to pull a Phi Phi isn’t missing out on all that much.

Stray observations

  • I interviewed Alaska about her win! Check it out here!
  • Coco reveals she had just gotten out of the hospital when she was offered a spot on All Stars season 2, and she had fought her way back to health when her lungs were failing her. She doesn’t go into too much detail—Coco makes it sound like it was a mix of exhaustion and malnutrition—but Ru uses this as an opportunity to remind the rest of the queens to take care of themselves.
  • Ginger Minj was so boring this season. I have a very hard time pinning down specific characteristics of Ginj’s drag persona, and I think that’s the big problem with her.
  • The use of both “Choices” and “What you see isn’t always the truth” in this episode shows how valuable Tatianna was in the catchphrase department this season. I wish she had more opportunities to give us material.
  • Alyssa’s experience after her mother’s death has done so much to make me care about her as a person. It’s like she’s a cartoon character who has stepped into a more multi-dimensional reality, and it makes me root harder for her.
  • Anyone else shipping Katyanna right now? I’m obsessed with Katya’s obsession with “Same Parts.”
  • “Oh, and if any of you are questioning my qualifications to host tonight’s reunion, I have one thing to say: (Pulls out Emmy Award.) Talk to her.”
  • “Baby, nothin’ was notarized. No contracts are signed. My attorney was not present. That was hog wash.”
  • Ru: “So Tatianna, do you feel Alaska based her decision to send you home on the critiques?” Tatianna: (Pause.) “Which time?”
  • “Girl, I’ll send you home again right now, does anyone have a lipstick with ‘Alyssa’ on it?”
  • “I’m holding the camera dress, and now here’s the camera dress!”
  • “Coco Chanel says take off two. Alyssa Edwards says add 22.”
  • “Girl, reach in your kaboodle. That’s your shit!”
  • Siliconecyclone (via Ru): “On a scale of Gila monster to BEAST!!, how well do you think you have slayed the runway this season?” Alyssa: “I think I was a…wilderbeast. ‘Cause it was wild, bitch! It was all out!”
  • Katya on Roxxxy’s finale look: “Snatching wigs, colostomy bags, and toenails out of every living room in America.”
  • Katya on Ginj’s futuristic look: “Space ho and robot chicken.”
  • “Phi Phi, I tried to hug you, though.” God I love Alyssa’s delivery of this line.
  • “I don’t necessarily believe that it was because she was gonna cry. Also, she did not cry.”
  • “If you can’t fuck your fans, who can you fuck?”
  • “Shut up, Tatianna, you’re a whore!”
  • “I thought it was strategic. But it was fun to watch you crumble!”
  • “You put me through drag school. I was gonna go to grad school. Switch the ‘d’ and the ‘g.’”
  • “Somebody put their bone in my body, I’m so lonely.”
  • Alaska: “Fuck you.” Katya: “You’re a pig from hell!” Alaska: “Fuck you! (Pause.) They’re gonna edit that in the commercial to make it look like I meant it.”
  • Alaska: “Chad, do you ever get lonely in here?” Chad: “Snap out of it!”

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