It becomes increasingly clear, week after week, that this All Stars cast is among the show’s best to date. And that’s not due to drag excellence, although there’s plenty of that. It’s because there are so many grown-ups in the room. From the very beginning, Drag Race has been interested, sometimes too interested, in the emotional lives of the queens. This show just loves the vanquishment of an inner saboteur, a step necessary to achieve that most precious reality TV qualities: authenticity. The show has often pursued those arcs and moments relentlessly (and, ironically, often inauthentically.) Fans love to joke about Michelle and Ru patiently waiting for the queens to trot out whatever trauma they feel like sharing that day, and while that’s led to some incredible moments, it’s made for some uncomfy ones as well. There’s capital-D Drama (heathers vs. boogers, Derrick vs. India, etc.) but there’s also real pain, and it’s not always handled well by the show.
For the most part, this season has dodged uncomfortably vulnerable moments, because most (though not all) of the queens are seasoned and secure in who they are. Self-awareness and emotional fortitude are things that the vast majority of us have to work toward; they don’t appear overnight, and they require maintenance. They’ll get you through life as well as reality TV. But when you’re navigating the latter, there’s another reason they’re useful: they are essential to finding the perfect level of performed authenticity. It’s how you show “the vulnerability the judges are looking for” without having a total emotional breakdown. It allows you to bring your authentic “self” into an inherently false world. Latrice Royale is a master of performed authenticity. So are Shea Coulée, Chad Michaels, Bianca Del Rio, Jujubee, the list goes on. In “Pink Table Talk,” most of the queens nail that balance, but for those that don’t, it’s disastrous.
The results aren’t uniformly stellar, but still: What a great challenge. “Pink Table Talk” asks the queens to separate into teams and host their own chat shows, in the style of Red Table Talk, The View, and The Talk, on which guest judge Aisha Tyler appeared. Each team gets a topic—Ginger and Scarlet rock-paper-scissors for motherhood, which the former is drawn to because of their own impending parenthood, while the latter’s “two moms” make it an attractive subject. But all three teams could easily handle any of these topics, since we all have bodies, are all impacted by sex in some way, and were all born. The topic isn’t the key here. It’s about being able to have a genuine conversation and be entertaining at the same time.
That’s where performed authenticity comes in, and it’s a quality you can really master only when you know exactly who you are. And it really trips up Jan and Scarlet.
Let’s start with the great stuff, though. As with last week, there’s a clear top team. A’keria, Trinity, and Ra’Jah’s growing friendship has been a highlight of the season, and it comes in handy here for the first two, who team up with Eureka to talk about sex. They’re all “on,” but it feels like they’re trying to make each other laugh, not trying to prove how charming they are. Add in the fact that each has a different but equally compelling perspective and their victory is all but assured. But—twist!—the victorious team does not include the week’s winner.
I imagine some fans may quibble, but while some of the judging seems off here (as it did last week), I actually like Ginger’s victory a lot. Moderating conversations isn’t easy, and Ginger is far and away the best moderator of the episode. She keeps things moving, asks smart questions, and sets both Pandora and Jan up to shine. (When they stumble, it’s certainly not because of the lead-ins they’re getting.) But she also doesn’t fade into the background, and instead sets the pace. It’s really well done. Not flashy, but really well-handled. And her runway look is great. Sounds like a win to me. Ra’Jah also does well; while Ginger was the best moderator, Ra’Jah and Kylie are responsible for the best moment, when the latter responds compassionately and thoughtfully when the former breaks down a little while discussing her mother.
And yet Kylie winds up in the bottom! Between that wonderful moment, a great challenge look, and a terrific runway, her lipstick eligibility doesn’t track. As with A’keria’s placement in the bottom last week, it smacks of Rigga Morris. The same can’t be said of Scarlet, whose gorgeous and personal runway look can’t make up for the fact that she seems to fundamentally misunderstand the brief. She waffles back and forth between playing a character and speaking sincerely, and the whiplash makes it hard to invest in the lovely story she’s telling. (Her response to the critique, especially in Untucked, can’t help much with her fellow All Stars, either; taking it personally is understandable, but not endearing, and Trinity is right to say that someone has to go home.)
That leaves Pandora and Jan, who have the same struggle but arrive there from opposite directions. I am a Pandora fan from way back, but her performance seemed like clear bottom three material to me; it’s as if she knows exactly what she wants and needs to talk about, but keeps shying away from it like a candleflame. Jan, on the other hand, pushes way too hard, playing joyful self-confidence rather than exuding it. (Watch this week’s Untucked.) That said, Pandora’s runway look, a gorgeous Nightmare Before Christmas homage, is more striking than Jan’s shopping spree look (also good), so maybe that’s the difference.
Ginger’s challenge victory leads to a lip sync victory, netting her $30,000 when she bests the marvelous Mayhem Miller in a top-notch lip-sync to Lizzo’s “Phone.” And while she still has to eliminate someone, she also takes the opportunity to give $2,500 of her winnings to each of her teammates. Hopefully that takes some of the sting out.
As I mentioned above, Untucked is well worth your time this week, thanks largely to Jan’s confusion about what it is she’s missing and the kindly way her fellow All Stars try to help her understand. In those scenes, Jan really taps into “that vulnerability the judges are looking for”, a phrase she repeats several times this episode. Let’s hope she can bring some more of that to the mainstage next week, in a way that’s healthy and positive, not heartbreaking and frustrating. She deserves another win, from the show, and from herself.
- Kate’s corner: “I really enjoyed this maxi challenge. One of Drag Race’s biggest strengths is its earnest heart-to-hearts, and this challenge played right into that. Well done Ginger, Trinity, Eureka, and A’keria. It’s hard to say goodbye to Scarlet, who’s been underappreciated all season, but this was not her challenge. As for the lip-sync, what a waste of a Bianca appearance! Fortunately, the episode recovered with that battle. It’s great to see queens slay a lip-sync without relying on tricks and reveals. Congrats Ginger, nice work and welcome back Mayhem, and let’s keep this ride rolling. All Stars 6 is killing it.”
- Untucked: continues to be great. That was Jan’s best edit of the season so far. Very sympathetic, incredibly relatable. Made me say, “Oh god, It’s very similar to LaGanja’s struggle to understand what “real” is, but a lot less extreme and much gentler. And TKB is just killing Untucked.
- “I will run with it. No, I won’t run with it, but I will walk briskly until I get winded and then I’ll sit down.”
- “Oh, I didn’t realize all of us were so fucked up.”
- The backfiring-strategy thing for Jan ended up being nothing, although she’d probably have avoided some of the tension had she just said “You’re amazing, but I had to pick someone, and Yara had a win.”
- My gif-t to you for the week: