Image: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars
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For the first time this season, the elimination comes as a genuine surprise. The producers and editors on RuPaul’s Drag Race have made sure each of the All Stars 4 eliminations have felt organic and earned, and in retrospect, inevitable. With “RuPaul’s Best Judy’s Race,” that changes. The audience will find out next episode what motivated Naomi’s choice, and whether Monét pulled the same lipstick, but right now it feels like the first strategic elimination of the season, and one of only a handful in the entire run of All Stars. This could easily blow up in Naomi’s face. One of the front-runners is out, and based purely on report card, she shouldn’t be. But this episode, that queen did not deliver and after a season full of dithering about who should be eliminated and when and why, Naomi’s strategic choice may wind up winning her fans. It’s a truly shocking elimination, and as the season enters the home stretch, all bets are now off.

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The episode begins with Latrice and the other queens heaping some love on to Valentina, then checking in with everyone’s report cards. Monét speaks for the audience when she calls out Trinity and Manila as the frontrunners. With margins this close, however, a lot can change in one episode, and it will all come down to the next challenge. When the queens enter the workroom the next day, they’re greeted with a welcome surprise: All the RuPaul glamour shots have been swapped out with iconic images of beloved Hollywood star Judy Garland. As Ru explains, they’ve reached this season’s makeover episode and this time, each of the queens will be making over one of their best Judys, or best friends. Each duo will pay tribute to the late great Judy Garland with a lip-sync performance then walk the runway, showing off the queens’ work transforming their Judys into members of their drag families.

Ru wastes no time introducing their Judys, and the queens are overwhelmed to see familiar faces and a reminder of home. They jump with excitement and a few even tear up. Drag Race is a challenging, grueling experience. Watching the queens interact with their Judys, it’s apparent how tired they must be. The camera stays on Monique as she hugs Danny, for example, and she sits in that hug, not letting go until she’s ready. It’s beautiful to see these queens get a little boost and a moment of respite before the competition picks back up.

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Eyebrows? Who needs ‘em?
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

While the queens introduce their Judys around and get to work, Ru does a walkthrough. First up is Monique. Ru comments to Danny about Monique’s tight-set face and body language each time she faces judges’ critiques, with an entertaining quick edit of a few examples. Watching Monique, Danny, and Ru banter is a lot of fun, but then Ru pivots into life coaching. It feels out of place in All Stars, and certainly with Monique. This works much better on original recipe Drag Race, when Ru is interacting with greener queens. Things stay light with Trinity, Monét, and Manila, then Ru goes into mentor mode with Naomi, whose fear of looking foolish is holding her back from taking bigger risks. After encouraging Naomi to think outside of the box, Ru moves on to Latrice for by far the most emotional of the walkthrough interviews. Latrice’s Judy, Tim, is her best man for her wedding and has been her friend for over 20 years. Their connection is bone-deep, and dates back to before Latrice went to jail. They both get emotional talking about how they’ve been there for each other over the years, and Ru chokes up too, equating that kind of unquestioning support to Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard Of Oz and her friends’ saving of her in the poppy field.

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The connections Ru makes to Judy Garland in these interviews aren’t exactly elegant, but they’re a nice addition. It would have been easy to make this episode a Judy tribute in name only and limit her presence to a few images and songs. Instead, the warm affection shown Garland and the history Ru touches on about the Stonewall riots gives the episode heft and shows respect and understanding for what has helped Garland endure in the minds of so many. Ru talks with Monique about Garland’s vulnerability and how the more tragic parts of her story are essential to understanding her appeal and status as a queer icon. The episode also gives a brief glimpse into why so many relate to Dorothy’s story of found family. It would have been great to go into even more depth, touching on Garland’s struggles with addiction and mental health, but at least we get a few moments. Unfortunately, these are limited almost entirely to the first half of the episode and once the queens head out on the runway, this thread is all but abandoned.

Michael meets Iyowife Luzon
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

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The next day, the queens head into the workroom with their Judys for a long day of makeup, costuming, and filming. The Judys are fully onboard and game from the jump, down to Patty being willing to let Monét shave off his eyebrows. Makeover episodes usually draw their content from the workroom interactions with the queens and their subjects, but because the Judys are such supportive collaborators and because they already know each other, the episode skips through the prep portion fairly quickly. The producers do allow a moment, however, for Michael and Tim’s delightful reactions when they first see their painted faces. Michael’s feeling his oats and after a moment to adjust, so is Tim. The celebratory, fun tone set when the Judys first entered is in full effect right up until the deliberations.

The runway begins with the queens’ Judy Garland tributes. Each pair is dressed in the same outfit, allowing editors to pare down the six performances into one sequence, saving time for the more dramatic resemblance runway. Overall, the queens do well with their makeovers. The All Stars came prepared- they know by now to expect this challenge and they each brought a paired look they felt comfortable working with. Latrice and Alexis Knight (Tim) are up first. They could look better and their wigs are surprisingly different shapes and looks, which does not help their case for family resemblance. Monique and Shanida Heart (Danny) wear a paired face look, going campier and more fun than the other queens. Manila and Iyowife Luzon (Michael) wear nondescript white, flowy dresses on a Queen of Clubs/Diamonds theme, dresses that Manila is rightfully read for. Naomi and Extra Smalls (Ricardo) rock paired Cher looks, before Naomi does a wig reveal and throws on a mustache to become Sonny. Trinity and Indigo the Tuck (Leo) are perhaps the most distinct drag sisters of the episode in bright blue and gold Versace-inspired looks, and last up are Monét and Patty Cash, who look fabulous in gold body suits that are pure X Change.

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Monique and Shanida Heart
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

After the judges’ comments, Monét and Naomi are in the top and Manila and Latrice are in the bottom. Monét is the definite winner of the challenge and a strong case could be made that Trinity belongs in the top with her, but it’s more interesting to have Naomi finally get a win. This levels the playing field a bit and throws more of a question mark into the proceedings. Trinity’s vote will be clear: Latrice has the worst record, so that’s who will get her vote. However Naomi and Monét have ties to Latrice and Manila from earlier this season that could potentially cloud things and make for more compelling TV. As for the bottom, Latrice’s makeover isn’t the best and the looks for Manila and Michael are uninspired and basic. They’re a far cry from what Manila’s worn in the other runways and not remotely up to par with the other queens’ looks. This is All Stars; costume store cosplay doesn’t cut it.

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Deliberation takes up a surprisingly long portion of the episode. Manila and Latrice are dear friends, but they also both know what they signed up for and are looking to stay. While Manila relies on her record, Latrice goes for the social game, asking the queens who they want to be up against in the finale and underscoring just how badly she wants to be there. Latrice ultimately plays it smarter. In the lip-sync, Naomi’s exuberant, comedic take on Judy Garland’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine” beats out Monét’s more emotional, reserved approach and she reveals the eliminated queen to be Manila. Unlike previous episodes, there’s no hand-holding narrative preparing the audience for the queen with the best record and some of the best looks all season to go home. If anything, the time given Latrice and Tim early on hints towards this being Latrice’s swan song. But all it takes is one off week and you can go home—Manila has said as much herself—and she was not on her A game this episode.

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

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Manila’s been a force all season and it’s a shame to see her eliminated before the finale. Naomi’s decision changes the trajectory of the season and at this point, the final four is wide open. Will the queens continue their pretenses toward fair, report-card eliminations, or will the final cuts be pure strategy? A lot can still happen, and of course, RuPaul may very well have one or two twists left up her shiny, silver skirt.

Stray observations

  • Frances Bean Cobain is a beam of sunshine on the judges panel, and Ellen Pompeo is terrific, serving up plenty of face in her introductory shots and laying down specifics in her runway critiques. Yet another great guest judge in a season full of them.
  • The Judy Garland content did a lot to boost this episode, but as warm and lovely as it is to see the queens get to visit and work with their Judys, the episode lags in the middle. Having the queens makeover strangers gives plenty of fodder for conversation and without that, there isn’t enough to sustain the 90-minute runtime. If the producers return to this idea next time, hopefully they’ll include a mini challenge to kick off the episode.
  • Favorite Judy pun: Ru’s, “Toto she better don’t.”
  • Ru must have felt it was important to highlight Manila and Michael’s married status (it’s brought up several times). Not only are they adorable together, but it’s actually rather rare to see two men genuinely kissing on Drag Race, due to the format of the show. This is a lovely moment of representation, and one I’d be all for the show repeating in the future, if they can find more good reasons to bring in the queens’ significant others.
  • I wish I felt confident shouting out Valentina’s performance in RENT Live, but unfortunately we didn’t really get to see her polished, final take on Angel. Alas!

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