Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars serves up fashion and frustration at “The Charles Family Backyard Ball”

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/i serves up fashion and frustration at “The Charles Family Backyard Ball”
Image: Courtesy of VH1
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

The final cuts are always the toughest on Drag Race, but the format of this season of All Stars twists the knife. Usually, viewers can fall back on the judges’ critiques and ultimately, RuPaul’s instincts to make sense of the rankings. With this latest change, however, the safety net is gone. Putting every queen but the challenge winner up for elimination seems like a good way to up the drama, but that only works if queens are willing to play boldly, like India did. With more cautious players, it destabilizes the proceedings, resulting in muddled deliberations and this episode, a frustrating elimination. The combination of fairly uniform performances from the queens and RuPaul abdicating responsibility for who goes home saps the episode of its energy, setting up a perfunctory march to the finale.

Advertisement

The episode begins with the queens still reeling from India’s elimination and her allegation that Alexis campaigned to vote out Shea. Alexis is emotional, very aware of how close she came to going home. Shea goes quickly for the voting box: One vote for Alexis (presumably India), the rest for India. Alexis is heartened, but as she says in her talking head, she’s well aware that the queens don’t trust her. She’ll need to win the next challenge or she’ll be out.

Advertisement

The next day, the queens are surprisingly muted. Going to a strictly popular vote for elimination, no safe queens, is already impacting the workroom dynamics. RuMail teases some family togetherness and Ru comes into the workroom to announce the challenge. They’ll be having a backyard barbecue ball, with the queens serving up two looks. First they’ll create a country cousin persona and write and record a comedic monologue to walk to, then they’ll need to construct a high fashion second look using materials found in one’s backyard. Michelle Visage narrates a game show-style display of the materials—table cloths, picnic supplies, pool toys, etc.—a fun and efficient way to show what the queens will be working with.

The queens return from choosing their materials and immediately, Jujubee’s in trouble. Alexis may be tentative about her standing with the queens, but she has experience sewing. Jujubee can’t even tell which side of her fabric is the front. Shea went to college for theater costume design, so she steps in and helps Jujubee get started, encouraging her to power through. Cracker’s family has a tradition of crafting garments from found objects so she’s in good shape considering, but even she hits a wall trying to sew her unconventional materials. After some quick pointers from Shea about the sewing machine’s settings, Cracker gets back on track and seems confident. As for Blair, she seems completely at home pinning her fabric, excited to have a challenge that plays to her strengths.

Advertisement

Ru comes in for a walk-through and stops by Alexis’ station first, asking about her relationship with Vanjie, her drag daughter, and Alexis’ emotions during the previous lip-sync. Nothing like poking at a fresh bruise. Over at Shea’s station, Ru reminds viewers of Shea’s ball challenge win in season nine and they discuss design before pivoting to family. Shea’s father died from cancer two days before the season nine cast was announced, so while the season was filmed while he was in remission, he never got to see Shea compete on the show. Then a month later, Shea’s oldest sister died from breast cancer. Because of the timing, these losses are wrapped up in Shea’s experiences on Drag Race, coloring what would have felt to viewers like a thrilling whirlwind as Shea slayed her way through season nine, only to get eliminated in the finale. Shea is emotional as she shares with Ru and the audience. The loss still incredibly painful, but she holds both her father and sister close to her heart.

Ru stops off at Jujubee’s station before leaving, fishing for an emotional, cathartic moment by asking Jujubee about her family. When Jujubee was a teen, her father died and six months later, her mother had a breakdown, abandoning the then 15-year-old Jujubee and her two sisters. Jujubee was able to live with her aunt, but her sisters were placed into foster care and they remained disconnected for five years. RuPaul then asks after her friends and Jujubee shares that a couple years ago, she made the difficult choice to separate herself from the found family she’d built, including her fiancé of 12 years, and start over in order to stay healthy. She stopped using drugs and drinking and has built her current circle from friends she’s met at meetings. Ru is moved and encourages Jujubee to hold fast to these new friends. Without going into specifics, Ru underscores the need for that kind of support, saying, “I wouldn’t be here today without those friends.” They banter their way back from the emotional edge joking about potato salad and Jujubee’s lack of sewing skills, but the weight of their moment lingers.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/i serves up fashion and frustration at “The Charles Family Backyard Ball”
Image: Courtesy of VH1

The next day, spirits are high in the workroom. Cracker is over Blair’s love of high fashion and Shea has a lot of work left to do, but the mood stays light, buoyed by moments of silliness like Jujubee quietly noshing on her fake watermelon. As the queens paint, Cracker asks how everyone plans to vote. Jujubee says she’ll vote with her heart, and then immediately admits she has no idea what that means. The other queens more or less keep quiet, not wanting to ruffle feathers, and the episode heads to the runway.

Advertisement

Ru comes out in a delightful yellow dress with light green accents, a terrific on-theme choice. After welcoming guest judge Bebe Rexha, Ru introduces her sisters before kicking off the runway with the first category: Country Cousin Realness. First out is Cracker as Jocelyn Opal Rose. Cracker looks good in a flowing and somewhat tattered beige dress and stocking feet, but the standout is definitely her backstory, which is a hoot. Jujubee goes a different way with her character Ping, aka Amber, sporting shredded Daisy Dukes, a pink top, and a truly massive hat. Jujubee gives good specificity to Amber, though her secret family gossip isn’t quite up to Cracker’s “I need a kidney” reveal. Blair’s next as Darlene, aka Stinky, Ru’s Nascar-loving cousin from Indianapolis. She’s also in cut-off jean shorts, but goes for thigh-high boots, a racing tee and bandanna, a star-spangled fanny pack, arm tattoos, and a mullet to complete her look. Darlene’s backstory is entertaining but a bit wordy, though her paternity test gossip helps her finish strong.

Shea is up next as Sheaquita, aka Lil’ Kiki, Ru’s baby niece. She looks great in a head wrap, studded collar, and an airbrushed tee-shirt dress, paying tribute to her grandma Grandrea, Shea’s character on season nine’s 90210 parody. Her secret—Auntie Ru is her best friend—is lacking, but the rest is on point. In contrast, Alexis’ Carmen, Ru’s former housekeeper, falls flat. She’s in a tight lime green mini dress and bright pink wig, but while the others went outsized with their details and accessories, Alexis just carries a bottle of coquito. Alexis does have a wig reveal, but rather than getting bigger or more ridiculous, it tones down her look. The queens all look good, but compared to the others, Alexis’ comedic persona lags behind.

Advertisement

The second category is: Backyard Ball Eleganza. Cracker comes out in a red cocktail dress with a red gingham tablecloth for a skirt, red seat belt material for the top, a red choker, and Wiffle ball, badminton racket, and birdie accessories. It’s creative and fun, albeit stiff, particularly in the top. Jujubee is next, in a cute yellow body-con dress with magenta trim and watermelon accents, and carrying a watermelon purse. The dress is shaky in its construction, but it’s cute and a good fit for the backdoor barbecue setting. Blair’s look is much more fashion, a draped striped tablecloth with lavender accents, paired with a lace choker and wet hair. The garment is part dress, part leotard, and Blair works it down the runway, though it starts to come apart as she leaves.

Shea has a smart concept—a backyard wedding—but her look doesn’t quite sing as one would hope due to the clash between her faded check leotard and bright blue check chaps. Her veil is clever, but given Shea’s track record, it’s hard not to want a bit more from her. Last is Alexis, who comes out in a fabulous red gown with Solo cups, forks, and paper plates repurposed into accents for her shoulders and bustline and on her train. She also shows off the kiddie pool she used as a hoop, giving her gown its mermaid shape. It’s a dramatic, creative look, and one that celebrates rather than obscures the materials she used.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/i serves up fashion and frustration at “The Charles Family Backyard Ball”
Image: Courtesy of VH1

It’s time for judging and unfortunately, it’s a rather even match. Cracker takes the first category, but Alexis’ gown is the standout in the second, though Carson doesn’t love her proportions. Jujubee and Shea do well in both, with Jujubee getting particular praise for her comedic touches, and Blair is critiqued for her construction of her second look. Unfortunately for Alexis, her memorable second look isn’t enough to make up for her underwhelming first look, and RuPaul gives the win to Cracker, who is now headed to the top four. That leaves Jujubee, Blair, Shea, and Alexis in the bottom and the queens waste no time getting down to business once they return to the workroom.

Advertisement

Cracker is very clear with the other queens: She’ll be judging based on report cards, and for her, Shea and Jujubee’s previous wins keep them safe. That leaves Blair and Alexis as the bottom two. Shea and Jujubee are happy to cosign, and the conversation quickly closes in on the oldest and the youngest queens in the room. For her pitch, Blair focuses on her hard work, her library challenge co-win, and her pre-All Stars friendship with Cracker. Alexis keys into her track record and her staying power, the fact that she’s still delivering at this high level nine years after her Drag Race debut. There’s almost no discussion of their specific performances in this challenge, and little sense that the remaining queens are all that interested in considering performance. The tension builds as the queens vote. While there’s some uncertainty, Cracker, Jujubee, and Shea seem to be voting as a bloc, and when it’s down to the final five—assuming the challenge winner breaks ties—that’s all it takes.

Back on the main stage, Cracker has changed into a blue dance ensemble and the lip-sync assassin is revealed to be Roxxxy Andrews, queen of the Drag Race wig reveal. She makes an entrance in a giant red ostrich plume coat, a striking contrast to Cracker. The song is Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time.” Cracker does a few more restrained moves early, while Roxxxy remains still, working her coat to dramatic effect with fewer, more pointed moves. After the first verse she shakes it off, revealing a red leotard and sheer throw. This is only the first level, though, as Roxxxy eventually takes off the sheer layer as well and reveals the final look: The same red leotard front and a barely-there back with a stoned “Thick & Juicy” strap lovingly labeling her cheeks. Roxxxy looks amazing, but it’s the audacity and playfulness of this move that takes the cake. She works her final look, completely in the moment and joyful, and despite Cracker’s attempts to sell Ariana, all eyes are on Roxxxy. She takes the lip-sync by a mile, a ridiculous breath of fresh air after an episode full of drama.

Advertisement

With the queens assembled on the stage, Roxxxy reveals the result of the group vote. Alexis has been eliminated, leaving the top four as Cracker, Shea, Jujubee, and Blair. Alexis has certainly done well on All Stars, but her elimination is both surprising and entirely predictable. She is arguably a stronger competitor than some of the queens still contending, but she did have the weakest first category look. Had India played the previous episode differently, Alexis’ second look may have been enough to save her, but it didn’t even factor into the deliberations. Alexis’ elimination also puts the nail in Blair’s coffin. Unless she wins the next challenge, Cracker, Shea, and Jujubee will cite track records and vote her out. This season’s twist of a popular vote has merit, but there are still some kinks to work out to keep the show at its most compelling. Hopefully RuPaul and the producers have at least one twist left up their sleeves.

Stray observations

  • India may be gone, but she looms large over this entire episode. The letters for Blair, Shea, and Alexis are a particularly canny touch. Alexis shakes hers off, but Jujubee gets surprisingly distracted, and India manages another several minutes of airtime without even being present.
  • Props to Shea for playing the India and Alexis drama just right. Her confession at the start of the episode that she wanted to pick Alexis’ lipstick, but couldn’t quite justify doing so paints her in a highly sympathetic light. That’s how you play the social game.
  • Jujubee’s cackle and “[you live]to die another day, stupid” is exactly why we love her. She is talking head gold all episode.
Advertisement

Share This Story

Get our newsletter