SPOILER ALERT: Thailand is out. On this week’s tumultuous episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs the World, another strong contender for the first ‘Queen of the Mothertucking World’ title was unceremoniously booted from the competition by one of her fellow sisters – generating enormous amounts of controversy online (even Ru and Michelle were fucked off). After securing two “coveted” RuPeter Badges – statistically making her the frontrunner for the crown – Pangina Heals slipped into the bottom two this week, for the first time we should add, after failing to impress the panel with her impersonation of Mariah Carey on Snatch Game. Following in the footsteps of Jimbo, another queen with an excellent track record cut too soon, viewers have started to question the merit of the current All Star rules and whether Drag Race is still a show about the best of the best. Here, we explain why the format of Drag Race’s All Star editions needs to be scrapped – like it states in the headline – indefinitely.
Lip-sync for your life >>> Lip-sync for your legacy/”the world”
The lip-sync for your life format has always been one of the most memorable and captivating aspects of any Drag Race episode, with the bottom two queens usually deploying a variety of sickening tricks, flips, kicks, splits and other campy dramatics on the main stage to best one another. As it’s their last chance to impress the Peanut Butter singer and secure another week in the competition, there’s a sense of urgency in their smackdowns; Kennedy Davenport’s jaw-dropping display of acrobatics against Katya and the tense lip-sync between former rivals Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese, for example, are two of many fierce showdowns that have helped propel the series to worldwide galore. These lip-syncs also showed how much the queens wanted it, and how far they were willing to go to showcase their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to the world – creating unmissable television in the process.
When the “lip-sync for your legacy” format change was introduced in All Stars 2 – which sees the top two queens lip-sync, with the winner deciding which bottom queen should be eliminated – there was some merit to it. First off, the winner sashays away with a cash prize of $10,000 dollahz and secondly, for those who were unable to showcase their lip-sync skills the first time around, it’s a shot at lip-sync rudemption. Although there were still some issues with this new format, which we’ll touch upon in a little bit, it felt fresh for the franchise. This all changed with All Stars 5 and 6.
While the format mostly remained the same, the episode’s top queen competed against a former lip-sync assassin. If the top queen triumphed, her lipstick decision alone determined which bottom contestant exited the competition. If the lip-sync assassin won, the next queen to be chopped was a result of a majority vote. While this again felt like new territory for Drag Race, it didn’t benefit the returning lip-sync assassin in any way – meaning they performed for pleasure and nothing else. No cash prize. No chance to re-enter the competition. Nada. That urgency we mentioned above was gone. ANOTHER EXAMPLE INCOMING: When Alyssa returned to battle Shea Couleé, a fellow lip-sync veteran, viewers were expecting a showdown for the ages. Sadly, the former was bested quite easily – prompting fans to question whether she even tried. And, if Alyssa didn’t try, do you blame her? What’s in it for her?
UK vs the World featured the comeback of All Stars 2-4 rules, which we’ll once again admit we’re not opposed to, but just imagine the goopery of the following smackdowns: Lemon vs Janey Jacké, Cheryl Hole vs Jujubee and Pangina vs Janey? The top two queens lip-syncing eliminates the high drama and tension that we’ve come to expect from the final moments of Drag Race – there’s a reason why Alyssa and Tatianna’s performance to Shut Up and Drive was the peak moment of All Stars 2.
Is Drag Race a show about the best of the best, or the best at creating alliances?
Initially, when the format change was introduced in AS2, the queens “agreed” – or did they? – that they would base their lipstick decision on who was the worst competitor of the week, while others contended that their overall performance in the competition had to be taken into consideration. This all went to shit, unsurprisingly, when the contestants started eliminating their sisters based on friendships and, later, who they deemed their strongest competition. In AS2, Tatianna and Alyssa were memorably sent packin’ when it was, arguably, way before their time. Although Roxxxy Andrews delivered the most memorable verse in rap music history on Read U Wrote U, she shouldn’t have been anywhere near that final based on her track record.
Shit continued to hit the fan in the next two seasons with the eliminations of Shangela and Manila Luzon. After BenDeLaCreme voluntarily exited All Stars 3, the former became a shoo-in for the crown – until RuPaul bestowed the eliminated contestants with the power to decide the top two queens of the season. Shangela was booted off the show, while Kennedy Davenport and eventual winner Trixie Mattel – who had both flopped multiple times in the series – lip-synced for the crown. In the years since, it has been hailed as one of the worst decisions in Drag Race herstory. There was a similar amount of backlash when Naomi Smalls revealed Manila’s lipstick the following season – which marked the first time a queen strategically sent another home based on their chances of winning the crown – and Pangina opting to eliminate Jimbo over Jujubee. And, of course, Blu Hydrangea’s controversial choice to cut Pangina.
Yes, we live for the drama and conflama of it all, and RuPaul has stated many times that Drag Race is a “game”, but it begs the question: what is the point of competing in these challenges and accumulating wins when, theoretically, a queen with consistently harsh reviews from the judges can get to the final purely based on their ability to make friendships? Is Drag Race a show about which drag queen is the best at creating alliances, or is it a show about who’s the best of the best? Because lately, the best of the best aren’t getting anywhere near that mothertucking crown.
After her elimination, Jimbo said the current All Star rules feel like a “copout” and that the panel need to take matters into their own hands. “Ru and the judges have one job to do and it’s more than just eating snacks and making jokes and sitting there in their outfets. We’re already bringing all of our looks that we bought and paid for. We are the ones learning how to dance. We are the ones under the hot, bright lights working for hours at a time,” she explained.
“They literally saunter in at the end of the day after we’ve done everything, sit there and crack a few bad jokes, eat a snack and then they go back to their hotel. It’s like, ‘Mmm. I’m not the boss around here, but I’m pretty sure if you have the time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. And if you’ve got time to be mean, then you’ve got the time to do your fucking job and judge these hoes so that I don’t get sent home by some bitch.’ Oops, I mean my friend, that I love so much. Please don’t send Mangina hate. She is a glorious, glorious creature that deserves only love… And one day of sun a year.”
The amount of hate directed at the queens isn’t worth it
As the Drag Race franchise continues to expand, so do the amount of viewers at home. And, as we’ve seen over these years, some of these viewers – who still don’t seem to comprehend that Drag Race’s entire ethos is about spreading love, not hate – can be venomous, particularly towards queens of colour. There’s been numerous occasions since the All Star rules came into effect where a queen has been inundated with reprehensible hate from trolls. After Bebe Zahara Benet sent Aja home on All Stars 3, the inaugural Drag Race champion was bombarded with racist emojis and comments on her social media channels.
Naomi was met with similar antagonism for her decision to send Manila home, as well as Pangina for chopping Lemon and Jimbo. Following Lemon’s exit, Pangina was forced to tell so-called ‘fans’: “I have nothing but respect and love for every one of the girls but it is a competition and I had to make a decision. I am not angry do this. I get it but I also have a choice right. […] Okay now its racist remarks and death threats… Please be kind to other humans. You may not agree with my decision and I can respect that BUT violence or threats are not okay.”
Addressing the backlash in her exit interview with GAY TIMES, Lemon said: “I appreciate that people are upset but it wasn’t Pangina’s fault that, a, I was in the bottom and b, it’s just never that deep. It’s never deep enough to tell someone hurtful things for a drag queen competition on TV.” Jimbo also told us: “I would say that drag is all about a sense of humour. Life… If you don’t laugh, you’re gonna cry. And if you’re crying, you’re probably not looking cute! So, I would say: laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Jokes are the best prescription, so write yourself a prescription for a big fat joke and have a laugh. Don’t take things too seriously.”
Of course, removing current All Star rules doesn’t eliminate social media hate. Sadly, we live in a world where reality show contestants will continue to be flooded with negative remarks based on just a single hour of screentime. But, with these current All Star rules, the judges are directly placing our favourite Glamazon Warriors in the line of fire. So, is it really worth it?