There’s no “I” in team, but there are two in “bitter bitch”.
Hello, it’s Steve here again. Now that The Great British Bake Off is over for another year, Chris and I found ourselves in need of another project – just as RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars was starting. So, for the benefit of the six people who read this blog who are likely to know anything about that, here’s the tea from episode one.
1. First of all, let’s run through the 12 queens who were invited back for the All-Stars contest. First to arrive is Pandora Boxx, who enters to an empty room and thus her opening one-liner gets about as good a reception as…well, most of her gags in the season four Rewind show. She’s soon joined by Latrice Muthafuckin’ Royale, who is looking sickening, and while bonding over their shared position as Miss Congeniality of their respective seasons, they wonder who else will be joining them. They don’t have long to wait as another Miss Congeniality arrives in the form of Yara Sofia, who’s every bit as bonkers and unintelligible as she was last time. Next to arrive is Shannel, who clearly hasn’t lost her taste for dressing as Serpentra The Snake Empress since season one, then Raven, whose sequinned party dress earns instant shade from Pandora. After her comes Alexis Mateo, who doesn’t really have a lot to say for herself at this stage, and then Chad Michaels, who quotes The Hunger Games portentously a lot (is there any other way to quote The Hunger Games?) and spends the whole time talking on an imaginary Bluetooth headset. Incidentally, the captions that accompany each queen’s entrance says that Chad made “top 3”, but I think we can all agree she made the top 2, yes? Then Manila Luzon turns up wearing a fascinator that is actually a gloved hand clutching a cigarette holder, and everything else in the world becomes irrelevant. Speaking of which, Mimi Imfurst rocks up next and kind of bungles her own entrance line in typically scattered Mimi-style. “Why?” wonders Raven. Manila points out that “someone’s got to go home first.” Then we have Nina Flowers. LOCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! After her comes Jujubee, who admits to feeling a little underdressed in her casual (but very appealing) black dress. “I look like I work at the mall!” she groans. Finally, we have the amazingly insane Tammie Brown, who arrives in a blaze of non-sequiturs much as you’d expect.
2. Of course, this being RuPaul’s Drag Race, it’s not long before Ru deals the teams a devastating twist that turns everything on its head. The Pit Crew bring out a large pink box, but contrary to everyone’s expectations, it does not contain Shangela. Instead, it contains a set of paddles for each queen, because All-Stars is going to be a team sport, and they’ll have to compete in pairs. They’ll be asked to simultaneously select the queen they feel they’d be best matched with, and any queens whose answers match each other will be paired. It’s schoolyard bullshit, of course, but it’s the sort of schoolyard bullshit that this show excels at executing in a devastatingly brilliant way. The first round works out well, with several players getting their first choices: Raven and Jujubee, aka Team Rujubee (cue the first of many shots of Pandora looking unimpressed, as she had also picked Jujubee); Chad and Shannel, aka Team Shad (cut to Mimi looking greatly distressed, as she had picked Chad – and while I appreciate the value of aiming high, I’m wondering in what universe Mimi thought that was ever happening); and Tammie and Nina, aka Team Brown Flowers (they seem genuinely giddy to be paired together, which is nice, although it could equally just be because they’re both insane). We then go into our repechage round, where the remaining unpaired queens pick again: Manila and Latrice are a match, aka Team Latrila (Manila grumbled good-naturedly that she had to pick Latrice twice before they got paired up officially), and so are Yara and Alexis, aka Team Yarlexis (this prompts Yara into some sort of profanity-strewn rant, the exact content of which remains a mystery).
3. You may have noticed that there are only two queens left, so Pandora and Mimi are stuck with each other. I considered phrasing that as “Pandora is stuck with Mimi”, but looking back at it, it looks as though the only queen who ever voted to be paired with Pandora was Mimi herself in the final round (Pandora voted for Manila), so in effect they’re both the wimpy kid with glasses who can’t kick a football without falling face-first in the mud. Or, to put it another way: me. I can understand being disappointed by this outcome, but Pandora actually seems pretty ungracious about it, standing there pretty much for the rest of the episode looking like she’d rather be paired with anyone or anything else. She’s like a hair’s breadth away from sticking a spare wig onto one of her shoes and trying to form a team with that. The bitterness is apparent to all, as while they unwind with some Absolut cocktails (*wink to camera*), the other queens spot that Pandora is not happy. Latrice, ever the den-mother, goes over to try to soothe Pandora’s ego, but things are rather interrupted by Mimi asking one of the most hilariously obnoxious questions in reality TV herstory: “Are you feeling unhappy that I’m your partner, or are you feeling guilty that you didn’t pick me?” Latrice asks if Pandora feels like she was last picked for the team, and Pandora sulks that Mimi did pick her, but Pandora didn’t pick Mimi. With Mimi standing right there. Pandora Boxx: keepin’ it classy.
4. Some time passes off-camera, and Pandora clearly resolves to make the best of a bad situation. The challenge for this week is an editorial photo spread consisting of two categories: “Half-Baked”, where the queens must show themselves mid-transformation (no tea, no shade, no wig) and a wet ‘n’ wild “Opposites Attract” photo that shows off the dynamics of their relationship. Interestingly, this is where some of the other pairs start not to look so strong: Team Shad, for example, display a propensity for massively overthinking things, while Latrila worry that they might actually be too different to work together effectively. Pandora’s resolve, sadly, crumbles like a finely-baked croissant the second that it’s poked – Ru asks her why she thinks the universe has paired her with Mimi and Pandora replies “because I’m a glutton for punishment”, in that sort of this-is-so-a-joke-but-also-secretly-kind-of-not way. I feel like this is a large part of where this team went wrong: Mimi might have been manageable if she kept a lid on her neuroses, but with Pandora clearly checked out from the moment they were paired up, Mimi’s insecurities went into overdrive, so Mimi started to overcompensate like Mimi inevitably does.
5. The photoshoot presented its own challenges: mostly of the rain variety, which some queens coped with better than others. Raven and Jujubee hit on the inspired idea of “dressed and undressed” for their contrast, with Raven drawing the short straw of having to go out in her birthday suit. The cherry on the top was Jujubee giggling “I can see your penis!” Quite how Mandora get on is up for debate: Pandora is seen in a talking head fairly contentedly saying that they nailed it, but Untucked hints at there being some tension, particularly with the shot where they’re kissing – it’s implied that this was initiated by Mimi on the spur of the moment and not discussed beforehand. Yarlexis turned up dressed as each other, which was a nice idea but not really what the theme was about – and also it was kind of hard to even notice unless you were really looking closely. Meanwhile, Latrila’s “uh oh” edit continued as they struggled to make it work in the rain.
6. Guest judges this week were the returning Ross Matthews and newcomer Rachel Hunter. There was some serious fierceness being served on the runway – Latrila worked it out as Teletubbies (Manila was Tinky Winky with a tablet computer strapped to her chest playing her own video – nice work – while Latrice was, she admitted in Untucked, a “Po’ black Teletubby”), while Rujubee served up Chicago realness, arguably managing to be more convincing than Catherine Zeta-Jones was in the movie. Somewhere in the middle were Brown Flowers with their peculiar Sharon Osbourne realness, while Shad gave us a highly stagey “welcome to the jungle” act that again might have benefited from being a little less rehearsed. At the bottom of the pack were Yarlexis, wearing each other’s faces on their outfits, and Mandora, both of whom happened to have packed aqua blue catsuits with lime-green dead-muppet trims. This sartorial decision is not appreciated by the judges (though Michelle Visage concedes that Pandora works it the better of the two), nor is it enjoyed by the other queens. For all that Pandora claims she’s stepped up her game and wanted to come back to show how much she’d improved (and to be fair, her outfit for her entrance at the top of the show was pretty bangin’), I’m at a loss to explain what that monstrosity was doing in her suitcase in the first place, unless Santino put it there as a direct sabotage.
7. In a break from the normal judging set up, Latrila and Rujubee are instantly declared the two best performing teams of the week, with Latrila just edging it on merit and winning a custom-made gown each from sequinqueen.com. That’s sequinqueen.com. They’re sent off to safety while the others are critiqued. SPOILER ALERT: Santino hates what Pandora is wearing. Shocker, right? Michelle wants to know why Mimi went to the trouble of losing weight only to hide her waist behind a feather boa. Team Brown Flowers are, it seems, not actually in that much trouble since the judges love their brand of stylish craziness, though a little concern is expressed that Nina got lost in their picture by wearing all-black and standing in front of a black background. Shad’s runway look is deemed a bit too much, and their artistic efforts on the “Half-Baked” shoot are not appreciated either – their attempt at painting bruises on their necks to indicate that their heads are on the chopping block leads Michelle to question “were you in a fire?” Finally, Yarlexis are criticised for not really having “got” the “opposites attrack” aspect of the photoshoot. Ultimately, however, Yarlexis and Brown Flowers are safe, while Mandora and Shad will be lip-syncing for their lives.
8. There’s an interesting twist to the LSFYL this season: only one queen from each team can participate in the lip-sync, while the other stands and watches. However, the non-participating queen is right next to a button that she can press in the event of a “shemergency”, where she can switch places with her partner and take over. This is only for direst cases, however, as each team can only use it once in the entire season. For some reason, Team Mandora nominates Mimi to lip-sync, while Shad puts Chad forward. It’s not an even match at all – Mimi looks amateurish with her over-exaggeration next to Chad’s slicker performance, and even Mimi’s big showstopping moment – a costume change – is a let-down, since the spotted dress she’s wearing underneath is completely underwhelming. As Manila puts it: “the big reveal…THE BIG REVEAL!…oh, that’s it?” Meanwhile, Pandora glowers on the sidelines, making no attempt to buzz in, content to let Mimi sink the team. This was pretty much the problem with them from day one – Pandora’s determination that Mimi would get them sent home became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with Pandora’s refusal to do very much (even to the extent of actually talking to Mimi when she wasn’t being held in place by the camera crew and forced to do so at gunpoint) so that it would look like Mimi’s fault ironically becoming just as much of the reason for their defeat as Mimi’s general Mimi-ness.
9. Naturally, Mandora are sent home while Shad live to fight another day. The new elimination ceremony involves the defeated queens removing their portraits from the All-Stars gallery wall, except Mimi’s too much of a mess to actually turn up for this, so Pandora is left doing it all by herself, all the while grousing that “if I was by myself, I would’ve won” in a most unflattering fashion, and saying that even though she’s the (joint-) first to go home, she remains an All-Star. To be fair, it’s a grand tradition of reality shows that a formerly beloved contestant returns for an All-Star season only to make a bit of an ass of themselves and erase a lot of the goodwill people held for them – I just never expected that contestant to be Pandora. Still, given her sullen presence in this episode, I can’t say I’ll really miss her.
10. So much wonderful stuff happens in Untucked that there’s barely room for it here, so I’ll just provide some edited highlights:
- Teams Latrila and Rujubee boggle at the fact that Mimi was even selected for the season in the first place, and decide to name the queens they’d much rather have seen. Among them are Shangela, Willam, Morgan and Jessica – but the crowning glory is when Jujubee deadpans “and Rebecca Glasscock.”
- There’s a cameo from Willam who brings the victors a fuzzy pink box and gets them to play Fuck, Marry, Kill. Interesting revelations from this are that everyone would kill Mimi without a second thought, Raven would fuck Tammie and Latrice, and Manila would kill everyone, then fuck and marry herself.
- Raven questions the veracity of Mimi scoring so highly in the online “vote for a favourite to return” contest.
- Shannel does not know what Santino’s aesthetic is. Does anyone?
- Mimi changes her outfit because the judges didn’t like her original one, which earns her the ire of Yara, who thinks “that makes you not as stronger as I thought you are”, because you shouldn’t change who you are to suit someone else. Even if you’re Mimi, surprisingly.
- There’s some sort of pre-show drama involving Mimi taking Alexis’s job at her local club, but the details are a little sketchy.
- Tammie’s father fucked Marlene Dietrich. There’s really nothing I can add to that.