SO MANY FEELINGS.
1. I know there have been a few complaints from the fans about the way this All-Star season went down – the concept of the queens competing in pairs didn’t sit well with everyone, challenges like Queens Behaving Badly were deemed unworthy of the contestants and so on. I’m not going to say I necessarily disagree with any of that, but I think that however we got here, this is a pretty solid top four. I’d maybe swap Shannel out for Manila Luzon, but overall I think Chad Michaels, Raven and Jujubee have proven themselves time and time again. Interestingly, I think they also divide neatly into two categories – not quite good vs evil as this week’s challenge dictated (more on that later), but slick vs spontaneous, polished vs pizzazz. While Shannel and Chad have sailed through the competition with three challenge wins, Raven and Jujubee have faced three consecutive Lip Syncs – but they always survive, because they both have a spirit and an indefatigability that’s truly becoming of an All-Star. Which is why I was really excited for this episode, because I felt like all of the queens who had an air of expendability about them are now gone, and now things are about to get REAL.
2. Every so often a mini-challenge comes along which has almost nothing to do with drag itself, but tests their ability to perform a fairly mundane task while dragged up to the nines. This week’s challenge didn’t even do that: instead it challenged the queens to a straightforward game of FISH (which is like HORSE, only with one letter less, and if you don’t know what HORSE is, then you didn’t read enough YA books about summer camp in your formative years) while sporting daytime drag, which basically meant that nobody even bothered to shave and all four queens headed to the basketball court looking like Shangela in season two. (There was a nice doff of the cap to the expectations of the outside world here, as even the Pit Crew were wearing shorts instead of briefs since they were outside and didn’t want to gouge out the eyes of any unsuspecting passers-by.) While you might have expected such a task to be the cue for a load of “ugh, I hate sports, I was always picked last in gym” monologues, we were spared that for the most part, a few goodnatured grumbles from Chad notwithstanding. Interestingly, the firecrackers in this one weren’t who you might have expected: that Raven had game might not come as a huge surprise, but who would’ve suspected that pint-sized Jujubee was a baller in waiting as well? Indeed, Rujubee didn’t miss any baskets (that we saw), while Shannel was the only member of Team Shad to score any points at all, meaning that they were quickly serving FISH and Rujubee were rewarded with phonecalls home. These were sweet, incidentally, and taught us that Jujubee’s boyfriend has a nice line in affection shade, that Raven can talk to his mother while delivering product placement at the same time, and that Raven’s mother is very supportive of him even if it seems like she isn’t entirely sure what he really does. It was very “yes dear, I’m sure you’re the best dresser-upper of them all, now send my pumps back when you’re done.”
3. Fittingly for a show that’s frequently a live-action cartoon all by itself, this week’s challenge was for the queens to turn themselves into comic-book heroines and villainesses. Jujubee in particular was greatly excited about this, informing viewers that no matter what your other interests when you were growing up, all kids agreed that comic books were the shit, at which point Chris and I both did this at the screen:
Unsurprisingly, giant hams Raven and Shannel were quick to cast themselves as the villainesses, while the more wholesome Chad and Jujubee were the role models. It’s also no surprise that this eventually led into a discussion about how villains are always better than superheroes, especially in Disney films, and Raven confessing her belief that the Wicked Queen from Snow White is the fiercest bitch ever to throw shade. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I understand Raven so much better now. Also, it made me think how much better Once Upon A Time would’ve been if they’d done it with drag queens. I mean, I’m fairly certain Lana Parrilla plays Regina very deliberately as a drag queen anyway, but I can’t help picturing how awesome Raven could’ve been in that part. And Jujubee as Jennifer Morrison. And Manila as Ginnifer Goodwin. That’s about as far as I’ve got in terms of re-casting, although I figure Josh Dallas, Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan can continue to make occasional appearances, since their outfits of leather, ruffles and guyliner are drag of a sort anyway, right?
4. Anyway, I digress. While this was a fun challenge, I think the problem with it is that there are no distinct lines denoting the boundaries of the comic book genre any more – it’s so blended in with cartoons, movies, and live-action TV shows that it was a bit hard for the queens to know exactly where they were supposed to be pitching themselves. As a result, both teams got a little bit thrown: Chad and Shannel had brilliantly over-the-top outfits as doe-eyed superhero Firecrotch and her arch-nemesis Lactasia (is it just me, or should Lactasia have been an early season queen who never managed to survive the initial Lip Sync For Your Life?), but their backstory was kind of lame and the judges didn’t find their histories (herstories?) or personalities distinct enough, while Jujubee and Raven (as Melanina and So.Phia Fierce) spent ages constructing a detailed backstory only to be informed by Ru that they’d made it overcomplicated and confusing, so they simplified it right down to a more accessible level, but Jujubee’s awesome shiny jumpsuit was criticised as too safe a take on the material, and Raven (who was wearing a truly sinister gel mask over her face that gave her a truly otherworldly aesthetic) was told by guest judge Wendi McLendon-Covey (no, me neither) that while they were supposed to have created a catwalk look and a comic-book look, her bird-like villainess looked like she could walk the runway for Alexander McQueen. Which, to me, feels like a more appropriate critique for the fashion industry than for Raven, because I thought she totally worked it out this week, but McLendon-Covey was part of that rather dreary breed of guest judges who take the whole thing ever so slightly too seriously, so ultimately it was counted as a strike against Raven.
5. Another interesting dynamic showcased this week was the fact that, while these queens have grown used to competing in teams, ultimately they’re all going to have to cannibalise each other, Survivor-style (or, if you’re Chad, this is the moment you shoehorn in another laboured Hunger Games reference) because only one queen is winning this thing, and RuPaul dropped the bomb that not only would the losing team be lip-syncing against each other, but that all four queens would have to collaborate on a spectacular lip-sync with which to open the runway show. This at once became both a pairs challenge and an individual free-for-all as Shannel attempted to micromanage the choreography for the entire number, ultimately to ensure that she was showcased at all times, to the point where even her own teammate Chad was telling her to cool it already. As frustrating as this must have been at the time, it was all worth it for the moment in Untucked where Jujubee, enjoying some rare team-bonding alone time with Raven, declared that Shannel looked like she was “chewing a sandwich” in the lipsync and proceeded to do a wickedly cruel but uncannily accurate impersonation of Shannel’s exaggerated expressions.
6. While I may not have been thrilled by Wendi McLendon-Covey as a guest judge, I was definitely pleased to see one of my favourites from season four make a comeback, as Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark took a seat on the panel again. She absolutely gets the tone of this show completely right and knows how seriously to take it, while still being sure to dispense a one-liner in a way that makes it sound entirely unscripted even if it wasn’t. You know who else is a fan of Elvira? Shannel, who decided to inform Elvira in no uncertain terms that she was AMAZING and an INSPIRATION and a TRAILBLAZER and all sorts of things like that – and such unreserved brown-nosing did not go unnoticed or un-commented-upon by Raven and Jujubee once those Absolut cocktails started flowing. Whether such transparent flattery influenced Elvira’s vote is undetermined, but she was wholeheartedly pro-Shad when it came to making the final call of who would win.
7. The occasionally capricious nature of the judging on this show is nothing new, but at such a crucial stage in the proceedings it did seem a little unfair both to the queens and the viewers that no one seemed to know exactly what they were looking for, and as a result it was impossible to tell who had won: both teams received positive feedback and valid criticisms, and ultimately the panel’s deliberations fell into the “I like this”, “well I like this” arena. If nothing else, I suppose it was an illuminating week in terms of discovering how much sway Michelle Visage has on the panel (ie little to none), since she was adamant that Raven and Jujubee should win, only for Ru to ultimately announce that Chad and Shannel were this week’s winners. Personally, I think Rujubee were robbed, because their story seemed a lot more coherent and they both looked fierce on the runway – although Chad probably did have the best costume and make-up out of the four of them, and if the days of Tyra Sanchez taught us nothing else, they made us realise that looking drop-dead gorgeous on the runway covers a multitude of sins.
8. So it came down to Raven and Jujubee lip-syncing against each other – devastating news for both of them, not just because it meant one of them was going home but also because they’ve grown so close that having to compete against each other felt like a cruel betrayal of everything that they’ve done up to this point. What followed was one of the most surprising, understated and (dare I say it) moving lip-syncs of all five seasons: as Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ played, Jujubee and Raven sobbed and held each other while playing to the gallery, and every single tear looked 100% genuine. In any other weeks this would’ve been a disaster, but Robyn’s always been the absolute queen of smiling-through-the-heartbreak dance-pop (see also: ‘With Every Heartbeat’, ‘Be Mine!’), and their genuine distress was perfectly fitting for the moment, making this one a lip-sync for the ages that I have no doubt will in years to come be as fondly remembered as Manila Luzon’s ‘MacArthur Park’, Jujubee’s ‘Black Velvet’, Latrice’s ‘(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’, Dida’s ‘This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)’, Raven’s ‘My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ and Raja and Carmen’s lestastic ‘Straight Up’. It was so definitive, in fact, that Ru decided just this once, everyone should live and neither of them was instructed to sashay away, leaving us with a Top 4 instead of a Top 3 – which, to their credit, both Shannel and Chad were thrilled about. If nothing else, it’s been a very sporting competition this season.
9. This week’s Untucked was another muted affair, as it was likely to be at this point, with too much at stake and the remaining queens all too respectful of each other for there to be any drama beyond that caused by fatigue and fraying nerves. One part of note, however, was the discovery of some fan questions in the Furry Pink Box (how did I not know about this? I can think of a few questions I would’ve liked to submit), one of which complimented Raven on her face and asked her who her surgeon was. It’s possible Ru has a camera in our living room, because Chris and I were discussing that very point while watching last week’s episode – though Raven’s answer to the question was that she is very much au naturel and has had no surgery done. Hmmm. The fan questions also served to put me off Chad a little bit because, faced with answering whether she felt she should have won over Sharon last season, Chad replied that she should have because she would’ve represented Ru and the show with more grace and dignity. It’s not necessarily that I can’t see her point, but more that “gracious” is one of those adjectives that you really can’t apply to yourself without sounding exactly the opposite, like “modest” or “feisty”.
10. So, with that in mind, who’s going to win this year? Up until recently I would’ve said that Chad had this in the bag, as Raven and Jujubee’s three successive stints in the Lip Sync ought to rule them both out, and I can’t see them handing the All-Star mantle to Shannel, so Chad would seem to be the winner by default. However, shortly after declaring both Raven and Jujubee safe, Ru invited the viewers to cast their votes on who should win via Twitter and Facebook, throwing the whole thing up in the air once more – especially after an episode that painted Raven and Jujubee as such tragic heroes overcoming adversity, which might just have put them both back in the game. For what it’s worth, my overall ranking at this point would be as follows:
And a cursory look at the Facebook post where fans are encouraged to cast their votes (at the time of writing this) shows a lot of support for both Raven and Jujubee, a fair amount of support for Chad, and little to no support for Shannel. So essentially I’m fairly confident in predicting a fourth-place finish for Shannel, but frankly I’m stumped as to where the skittles will fall for the other three. Still, that’s a very respectable top three, and barring any sort of shock write-in campaign in favour of Mimi Imfurst, I think I’ll be fairly happy with the result.