In Defense of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 1

690Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race can’t agree on much: favorite queens, favorite seasons, who was robbed, who should’ve gone home earlier, etc. But there’s one thing that they can pretty much all agree on: That All-Stars 1 was the worst season in the history of the show.

And I get it. There are some things about the season I don’t like: For starters, it’s too damn short. Six episodes (12, if you count Untucked) just isn’t enough. (Although people who hate this season because it’s too short bring to mind that old Vaudeville joke: “This restaurant is horrible: The food is terrible and the portions are too small!”)

And yes, the season did weird variations on some of the classic challenges we all know and love (Snatch Game became this Laugh In style variety show; Reading is Fundamental became a cheerleading challenge; the closest thing to a ball was the. . .Superhero Challenge?) Also, the show felt scattershot, made up on the fly, a bit too “work-in-progress”-y. But honestly? You could say the same thing about All-Stars in general. Season 2 introduced the Lip Sync For Your Legacy, which worked. Season 3 mucked that up with the final, ill-fated popularity vote. Season 4 has “suspended All-Star” rules for reasons not yet made clear (pssst, it’s to keep Valentina). It’s not like they have this thing nailed down.

But the thing most people hate about All-Stars 1 is the thing I loved about it most: The teams. No, I’m not saying I want them to adopt the team format for All-Stars going forward. To me, it was an interesting—and wildly entertaining—TV experiment. It emphasized the thing I love most about the show—the relationships among the queens—and it added a bunch of new emotional dynamics and stakes. So with that said, I thought I’d go through the pairings, describe what I liked (and didn’t like) about them and once and for all, try to reclaim All-Stars 1 to its rightful place as, well, at least WAY better than Season 7!

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PANDORA BOXX AND MIMI IMFURST: When people disparage the buddy system of All-Stars 1, they point to this pairing first. The general consensus is that Pandora Boxx got completely screwed over by being paired with Mimi Imfurst. Here’s a counter argument: Pandora was the one who screwed over Mimi.

I talk a lot about the great life lessons I’ve learned from watching the Drag Queens on the show (be fierce, stay true to yourself, always have a second wig under your wig, etc.), but Pandora’s behavior is more like a cautionary tale. The minute she got saddled with Mimi, she got this totally defeatist attitude. She should’ve thought, “Okay, this isn’t ideal, but I’m going to make it work!” Instead, she got all self-pitying and “woe is me.” It was Chad who pointed out that Mimi and Pandora could’ve been a formidable comedy pairing, but not with Pandora acting like she could barely stand to be in the same room as Mimi. The moment of truth for me came when Mimi and Pandora were put in the bottom. If you recall, the team was able to decide together who would lip sync to save them. And Pandora picked Mimi! I see the psychology here: Pandora wanted to hold onto the narrative that if she lost, it was completely Mimi’s fault. If Pandora had done the lip sync and lost, she couldn’t lay the whole thing at Mimi’s feet. That’s not exactly a winning attitude. I suspect if Pandora was being honest with herself, she’d see how she sabotaged her own chance at glory. So yeah, our first elimination was a fascinating and instructive one. (That being said, I’d love to see Pandora on All-Stars 5. Her Carol Channing is one of the best Snatch Game performances of all time!)

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TAMMIE BROWN AND NINA FLOWERS God bless this wacky pairing. I honestly have no idea why Nina chose Tammie—she’s just too weird to conform to the rules of the show (or the rules of life)—but I think it’s adorable. Nina worked with Tammie from Season 1, so she knew what a wild card Tammie was—and she obviously didn’t care. These are two very eccentric, very avant-garde queens who were simply drawn to each other as artists. And although they didn’t fare very well on the show, I’m glad they chose each other. Also, any season with Tammie Brown in it is a good one, as far as I’m concerned. How can anyone not like a season that includes the immortal: “Well, come on Teletubby, teleport us to Mars!”

 

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MANILA LUZON AND LATRICE ROYALE This one hurt. I love these two queens sooooo much and I love the reasons they chose each other (Manila so some of Latrice’s “likeability” would rub off on her; and Latrice so some of Manila’s elevated fashion sense would rub off on her). They showed their great chemistry and creativity by winning the first challenge, but the mismatch might’ve been a little too much to overcome, and they went home on the third episode. BUT…silver lining alert:

The Latrila friendship endures to this day and has provided some of the best drama of All-Stars 4.

They made this great music video together!

Also, I will forever be charmed by the fact that Manila exited the show looking like the saddest goth waif ever.

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YARA SOFIA AND ALEXIS MATEO: Fun fact: Yara wasn’t Alexis’s first choice to be her partner (she picked Shannel; although Yara picked Alexis). Kind of surprising, since we tend to lump these S3 compatriots together. I get why Alexis was resistant. Alexis is a pageant girl, through and through. Yara is more of a free spirit. While Alexis gives you professionalism and consistency, Yara gives you flashes of mad brilliance. This partnership underscored one of the most interesting sources of tension All-Stars 1: The intimation that one person on the team was “carrying” the other. It infuriated Alexis when Shannel suggested that Yara was carrying her. (She shot back that Shannel was being carried by Chad—a popular opinion that I tend to disagree with.) (But then again, I’m a known Shannel stan, so what do I know?) And in general, it was a fear that all the girls had. To this day, Manila feels she let down Latrice by losing that lip sync (even though it was clearly Latrice who placed them in the bottom 2). And the “who’s carrying whom” dynamic played out all season long and was a defining feature of the Raven/Jujubee partnership. There’s no doubt that Yara and Alexis proved themselves by coming in third, beating out lots of other more celebrated queens. And their adorable girl-group friendship with Kelly Osbourne was one of the highlights of the season.

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RAVEN AND JUJUBEE: This is it, people. The heart of All-Stars 1 and the pairing I point to when people say the whole “Synergy” thing didn’t work. The thing about both these queens is that they’re the epitome of “bitch with a heart of gold.” Jujubee is arguably the snarkiest queen in the history of the show. Raven has that “too cool for school” aloofness that makes her so beguiling. But they adored each other, and it was touching as hell. Their dramatic lip sync against each other was, without a doubt, the emotional climax of All-Stars 1. “When we lip sync, I want you to lip sync for your mother fucking life!” Raven said to Jujubee, who responded with “Don’t do this to me” (i.e. don’t make me love you more than I already do.) (Damn, I’m tearing up just thinking about it.) Then, when they got on stage, it was more like a mournful duet than a lip sync, with the two best friends ending up in tears, in each other’s arms. Ru herself was so moved, she sent neither packing. Seriously, this didn’t get to you? Are you MADE OF STONE, people?

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SHANNEL AND CHAD: In a way, these two pros had the least drama, which is probably why they did so well. But the backstory between them was pretty beautiful: In Vegas, they were longtime friends and colleagues, who had some sort of falling out. Then after a few years of not speaking to each other, Chad showed up at Shannel’s mother’s funeral and any lingering animosity melted away. (Hey look, it’s another Life Lesson From a Drag Queen ™: Put aside your petty bullshit and show up for your friends.) Shannel kind of idolized Chad and Chad felt somewhat abashed and humbled that a queen as fierce as Shannel would look up to her so much. But, bottom line: After a brief wake up call in the Bottom 2, these two perfectionists slayed the competition, winning challenge after challenge, with Chad eventually ending up in the All-Stars Hall of Fame. But she couldn’t have done it without Shannel. And that’s the point.

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