Expectations were high leading into RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season five. The cast, an even split of early season stars and recent favorites, seemed like a great mix of serious contenders and queens with something to prove. The changes to the series format, particularly the addition of lip-sync assassins, boosted the premiere and distracted from an underwhelming opening talent show. However by episode two and now three, the excitement of these new changes has waned and the queens have not stepped up to fill the vacuum. This season is shaping up to be an intriguing one on the social front, but forgettable on the main stage.
The episode begins with the queens reacting to Shea’s well-deserved win, as well as Ongina’s elimination. While the queens are sad to lose Ongina, and frustrated she gave up, their focus is on Shea. She’s got a target on her back to go with that $20,000 tip. Everyone de-drags and, after a couple very relatable moments of awed glee from Shea, India, and Blair over Shea beating Alyssa in the lip-sync, the episode moves along. The next day, the social game returns with Alexis quizzing Cracker on her motives over her comments to Ongina. Cracker tries to explain her intentions, but Mayhem, India, and Alexis call shade. Some of this feels inflated, but just as the discussions threaten to get too self-important, Jujubee pops up in with her own skewering of Alexis’ no-nonsense approach. Shea and Jujubee linger for a moment to buck up Cracker as the queens head over for RuMail and seeing where the fault lines start to appear in the cast promises to be interesting.
Ru heads into the workroom to announce the maxi challenge. The queens will need to work in teams to design a suite and vacation experience for a five-star hotel, a twist on All Stars season four’s “Queen Of Clubs.” Instead of picking teams, the queens have been randomly assigned, with Mariah, Cracker, and Shea on one team, Jujubee, India, and Alexis on the second, and Blair and Mayhem partnered for the last team. The queens head over to the tables and get to work, and Blair and Mayhem quickly settle on an exclusive, glamorous experience. Jujubee, India, and Alexis take longer to find common ground but they get there, deciding on a jungle theme for their suite. Shea suggests The Golden Girls for her team and Mariah is immediately on board. Cracker seems more hesitant, but that is likely because she’s still focused on her interactions with Alexis and Mayhem from that morning. As she explains in her talking head, she can feel herself starting to spiral into anxiety and it takes a lot to pull herself out of that and get her head back in the game.
With each team clear on their concept, they head to the challenge space and start putting together their suites. As in season four, there’s a big show of the queens painting the walls, but like every Drag Race recording session, their finished suites will be benefiting from producer sweetening. Given the interpersonal angst that’s run through the season so far, it’s nice to see the queens goof off a bit and enjoy the process. Back in the workroom, Jujubee, Alexis, and India draw the audience’s attention to the core of the challenge. While their concept and design is important, the win will ultimately come down to their performances (see Manila’s criminally overlooked design work for “The Hive”). They need to exaggerate their personalities and really sell the room. India is hesitant, having been dinged for not standing out in the previous group challenge, but she’s determined to make her mark. The episode pauses for some completely organic Blair and Mayhem chatter about Cracker, before moving on to Cracker herself, who is happy on her team.
Sensing screen time in the water, Alexis jumps in when she hears Cracker list queens she respects in the competition and doesn’t hear her name. The Alexis and Cracker tension is thick, with Shea unable to diffuse the situation and Jujubee, Mayhem, and India enjoying the show from the sidelines. Some Drag Race fans live for this aspect of the show, and if these episodes are any indication, there will be plenty of sparring and mind games to enjoy as long as Cracker and Alexis are both in the competition. For those less enamored, Jujubee is a tonic, and her reactions ground this entire portion of the episode.
It’s time for Shantay: Enjoy Your Stay, with Michelle Visage, Ross Mathews, and guest judges Martyn Lawrence Bullard and Nicole Byer checking in to and assessing each of the suites. First is Mariah, Cracker, and Shea’s suite, The Golden Gal’s Palace And Resort. Their Golden Girls-inspired suite looks alright, with bold colors and some nods to the series, but their banter lacks specificity. Mariah is the Blanche of the group, while Shea takes on Dorothy and Cracker goes for Rose, but none of them approach the energy and humor of the original characters. These should feel like Snatch Game performances and instead, they’re mildly amusing at best. This would be a middling performance in a regular season, let alone for All Stars.
Second are Alexis, India, and Jujubee, with their jungle-themed suite. Not unlike Naomi and Valentina’s “Club 96,” which gets a shout-out later, the trio return frequently to a gentle cat growl and hand motion, playing up the ridiculousness of their Glamazone. Jujubee stands out from the others, butting in and making space for herself, but Alexis and India fall flat. Their signature drink doesn’t even have a name or ingredients, beyond being spiked, and the lack of detail is a bad sign. Last are Blair and Mayhem, who goes by Lamé for the challenge. Their gold-themed suite is fine, but they’re selling it like it’s everything, and that’s what matters. They commit fully to the bit and wisely interact much more with Michelle and Martyn than the other teams. Both judges seem to be having a lot of fun with this team, and theirs is by far the most cohesive experience. Blair and Mayhem won this challenge, and it isn’t close.
On the main stage, Ru comes out in a bright, fun, yellow dress with plenty of texture. She welcomes Martyn and Nicole and introduces an intriguing runway. Category is: Three Looks In One. First up is Blair, in a pink ’50s dress to a yellow ’60s dress to a glittering brown ’70s jumpsuit. Next is Mayhem. She starts in a cute vintage brown and pink coat dress, then takes it off to reveal a strapless dress version of the same look, before taking off the skirt and her wig to reveal a period bathing suit. Mayhem looks good, but her outfits lack the drama and distinction of Blair’s. Next is Alexis, who goes for a carnival theme. She comes out in a big coat and hat, the big top, then strips it away to reveal a neon green ballerina-inspired look and ultimately, after taking off her wig, a trapeze artist’s leotard. India looks chic in a houndstooth ensemble, but unfortunately all three of her looks are in this same material. She takes off pieces of her look to reveal different silhouettes hiding within it, but it’s not as impressive as the distinct looks of some of the other queens.
One such queen is Jujubee, who starts as a witch, out trick-or-treating for Halloween. Her wig and dress pull away to reveal a mildly slutty Mrs. Claus, followed by another wig reveal and tear-away skirt revealing a fluffy bunny tail, as she turns into a red Easter bunny. Mariah comes out with a fabulous coat that she takes off to reveal a little black dress, which folds down into a sparkling silver and black gown. As Michelle will later critique her for, the first reveal feels like a cheat. She doesn’t convert her look into something new, she just takes off her big coat. The second reveal is solid, though, and she looks fabulous throughout. Cracker, on the other hand comes out as a giant blue and silver egg, with just her feet showing. She lets down her shell—metaphors, anyone?—and transitions the look into a ball gown, a play on Anastasia, then drops the heavy skirts for her final, sleeker ensemble. Last is Shea, who makes an immediate impression in a bright yellow and pink look. She starts as a caterpillar, then moves into her cocoon for the second look, and emerges as a moth, complete with wings. Her look is bright, neon yellow with hot pink accents, and it’s definitely a big swing.
With the queens assembled, Ru announces some results. Her favorite suite is Blair and Mayhem’s, however the best performance came from Jujubee, who Ru declares the winner. Despite coming in third in both season two of Drag Race and season one of All Stars, Jujubee has never won a maxi challenge, so it’s wonderful to see her finally get a win. Even Jujubee is surprised, as much by her emotional reaction as the win itself. She was the clear standout of her team, but on runway alone, Blair had her beat and arguably deserved the win. Unfortunately, Ru sends Jujubee, Blair, and Mayhem out into Untucked without any feedback, so there’s no explanation given for their placement.
That leaves Alexis, India, Mariah, Cracker, and Shea fighting for safe. The judges loved Alexis’ performance, but not her runway. India got opposite feedback, again fading into the background compared to her teammates. As for the others, the judges praise their suite, but call out the utter lack of comedy. Michelle and Nicole do compliment Cracker on getting a few jokes in, but they wanted much more. The same is true for Shea. Unfortunately for Mariah and Shea, the judges prefer Cracker’s runway, so she is ultimately declared safe, along with Alexis. That leaves India, Mariah, and Shea in the bottom.
Back in the workroom, Shea is stunned. From the clear front-runner of the season last episode to potentially eliminated, this is one hell of a comedown. India gives an impassioned mini-speech about how much the competition means to her, and her intensity and fight likely win her some support. Shea is banking on her performance in the previous episode earning her some benefit of the doubt. As for Mariah, she stands by her work and commends her team, which is incredibly affecting to Cracker. She wants to stay and she feels she deserves to, but she wouldn’t change her experience thus far. Blair, Mayhem, and Alexis muse on playing strategically and eliminating Shea. It’s in many ways the smartest move for queens who don’t think they can beat her in the finale, but removing the strongest competitor will not help the caliber of this already struggling season, so viewers have multiple reasons to root for Shea as the episode heads to voting. The editors reveal a surprising number of votes, obscuring only two. Depending on how Cracker and Blair vote, it could go any way. Jujubee toys with the audience a bit, then it’s time for the lip-sync.
Ru raises the screen, and out comes Monét X Change, clad all in orange, to battle Jujubee to Lizzo’s “Juice.” Maybe Jujubee wasn’t feeling the song or wasn’t looking forward to eliminating someone, but her performance is underwhelming. She’s the original lip-sync assassin, undefeated to this point, but here she seems stiff. This isn’t Monét’s best performance either, but she pops with the song much better than Jujubee, hitting the beat and serving up Lizzo. She is rightfully declared the winner, and fans will need to wait another episode for a lip-sync to rival Yvie’s premiere performance.
After much build-up, Monét reveals the queens’ choice: Mariah has been eliminated, and Shea fans everywhere let out a giant sigh of relief. Mariah has served up some gorgeous looks this season and certainly shown how she’s grown since season three. Without having made a stronger case for her place in the competition, though, it’s hard to argue with her elimination. India will need to step up her game quite a bit, or she’ll be next out. However, knowing that at least a couple of the queens are happy to eliminate a front-runner should shake up the dynamic considerably and serve up some fresh drama for the workroom. It’s no substitute for compelling challenge performances, but for now, at least it’s something.
- You’ve got to love Ross: “You were using Sophia’s catchphrases as Dorothy which, I think, I didn’t read the whole Bible, but I don’t think you’re allowed to do that.”
- Nicole Byer, congratulations on being the first memorable and funny guest judge of All Stars season five. Her critiques were spot-on.
- I appreciate Cracker coining being “Manila-ed.” Fortunately, that doesn’t need to be updated this episode to being “Shea-d,” though the vote was closer than I expected.
- Jujubee, Blair, and Mayhem’s conversation in Untucked is compelling and far more interesting than any of the scheming that’s taken center stage in the past two episodes.
- I’m genuinely surprised to be so tepid toward this season of All Stars three episodes in. The challenges have not been strong, but I expected these queens to elevate the material handed to them far more than they have. Shea was terrific last episode, despite the challenge, but no one else has risen above what I’d call a strong safe in a more competitive All Stars season.