The queens reenter the workroom for the penultimate episode of the season, with Jinkx and Trinity having just won the roast challenge. With ten competitive episodes complete, it appears that Jinkx, with four stars and five wins, has secured a place in the top four, with Trinity and Jaida close behind with three stars each. The fourth spot seems up in the air with a four-way tie between Monét, The Vivienne, Raja, and Yvie with two stars each. Shea, in last place with a single star, seems destined to sit this competition out. However, if she can win this episode along with Jinkx, Trinity, or Jaida, she does have the opportunity to join the two-star queens for some sort of tiebreaking scenario. The mathematics of the competition are important to know considering an eleventh-hour twist thrown in by producers that completely overturns the entire competition.
Shea, aware that she has the slimmest chance of advancing, is disappointed but courteous celebrating Jinkx and Trinity for their wins. After recognizing Jinkx as the winningest queen in the competition, Trinity pats her own back for conquering a challenge that has tripped her up in the past. It is a narrative that the series should have focused on more throughout; queens overcoming obstacles. Instead, the series has suggested that, as winners, these queens are infallible. However, RuPaul’s Drag Race is best when the queens face adversity and persevere through determination and talent. In this respect, the spotlight shifts toward Shea this episode. While seemingly convinced that she cannot win, Jaida reminds her that on Drag Race anything can happen. Even with three stars, Jaida doesn’t feel secure. There is always a twist that can shake everything up.
The twist is revealed sooner than later when RuPaul enters the workroom the next day to announce the final challenge. The host announces that the queens will partake in a variety show. The All Winners season has reversed the standard All Stars structure, which commences with a talent show and ends with a verse performance challenge. There is something else different about this week: In addition to winning a cash prize of $10,000, the winning queen will win $30,000 for a charity of their choice. More pertinent to the competition, though, is that the top two queens will win three Legendary Legend Stars instead of the standard single star. While somewhat exciting, it is also a stunt that both undermines and negates all the work the queens have put in all season. With three stars up for grabs, anyone can make it to the top four simply by winning this single challenge. In addition, each queen will also get a Tic Tac Chit Chat with RuPaul and Michelle Visage.
The idea of eight Tic Tac Chit Chats in a single episode feels daunting, as these normally occur after weeks and weeks of eliminations. However, they flew by, and it was fairly enjoyable to see the queens confidently interact with the hosts. Trinity discusses the opportunities afforded to her by the franchise, her experience of growing up gay in the south, and how she hopes to inspire future queer southerners to be themselves. Her selected charity is Planned Parenthood, which is a timely choice considering threats to reproductive rights, contraception, and medical care in the United States. The Vivienne reveals that in addition to a few pounds, the competition has also made her gain confidence. She discusses her early nerves and how she has conquered some of her self-doubt through the challenges. The Vivienne has had a great arc, as well as an interesting rivalry with Jinkx, that makes it disappointing she’s been put on the back-burner for the last couple episodes by the edit. She is competing for Trans Lifeline, a trans-led organization that connects trans people with needed resources. When Monét takes her seat, RuPaul wants to explore “something that has shifted in” her. They discuss how with each appearance in the franchise she has gained comfort that allows her to shine brighter. She informs them that her charity will be Color Of Change, an organization dedicated to creating systematic change to combat racial injustices. Yvie has one of the more moving chats when she discusses her condition and deteriorating health that threatens her ability to perform drag. She feels blessed to get to showcase her talents again. Her choice of representing Coalition Against Domestic Violence comes from her own personal experience with that epidemic.
Shea’s chat focuses on her sudden rejuvenation after thinking victory was impossible. Her charity, Poverty Project, is focused on supplying women with necessary sanitary products and destigmatizing menstruation. Providing the best conversation is Raja, who manages to be both vulnerable and strong simultaneously. She discusses how she has always been Raja and never allowed anyone to tamper down her essence while also discussing religion. She also lets everyone know what happens to a Tic Tac after a decade. Advocating for the National Center for Trans Equality, Raja considers it karmic payback for all the trans women who taught her the art of drag. She also expresses her gratitude for coming back into the competition while definitively declaring her desire to never do it again. Jinkx, also returning after a long absence, is exceptionally proud that she has held nothing back this season. She is pleased to have become a stronger person and competitor this second time around, which she attributes to entering therapy and achieving sobriety. Her disclosure serves a catalyst for one of those rare moments when RuPaul is emotionally overcome when she discusses her own sobriety and importance of support systems.
Interspersed inside and outside the chats is the performances each queen has planned. Variety show is a generous term, as a wide majority of the queens are doing a musical number. Perhaps the most original is Raja, who will be performing a Balinese dance known as “the androgyny dance,” which was her introduction to “all things extra.” It is both personal and educational, celebrating her cultural heritage and drag journey. Trinity is also focused on her upbringing with a campy musical number about growing up gay in the south. While also singing, Monét is differentiating herself by performing opera, which she studied extensively before devoting herself to drag. It’s also a chance for Monét to redeem herself after a poor vocal performance during the talent show of All Stars 4. Similar to Trinity, Yvie, Jaida, Shea, Jinkx, and The Vivienne also have musical numbers planned. As the queens prepare, there is a sense of calm and excitement about getting a front row seat to enjoy a great drag show. The only source of tension is the statistically inevitable potential for a tie of some sort.
RuPaul enters the runway in picnic blanket realness: A sparkly red and white gingham bodysuit paired with matching gloves and voluminous crimped platinum blonde hair. She welcomes Michelle, Carson, and special guest judge comedian and Hacks star Hannah Einbinder. This episode forgoes a runway category, which allows the focus to remain completely on the queens’ talents.
Trinity’s number is a wonderfully campy celebration of her southern roots. While her vocals are not strong, the humor and production design shine through. The finale of being drenched with sweet tea is a surprising conclusion, but it makes you wish she had embraced a full Flashdance reference substituting water for tea. Yvie enters the stage dragging a green trunk too small to fit anyone but Yvie Oddly. In a wonderful misdirection, Yvie pops out of the trunk revealing the other figure to be an imposter. It was so delightful, you almost wish she had amped it up with more misdirections (some sort of nesting doll reveal). She proceeds to perform a complex rap track with her unique brand of acrobatic moves. Jaida, also a rapstress, gives a ’90s vibe complete with references to her time of Drag Race. The Jeff Goldblum reveal at the end is the off-kilter humor that makes Jaida so special. Another referential number, Jinkx skews more cabaret, going over how she has changed as a competitor since her original season. In a sea of musical performances, she gets extra points for singing live and the swallowing of the mic was a hilarious touch.
Shea’s musical number differs from the preceding ones in that it doesn’t rely on her experiences on Drag Race. Something about Shea’s musical numbers transcend Drag Race. Her polish, professionalism, and precision make her performances feel as if they could be on the stage at the Grammys. It is a truly great performance that shows her talents and ambition perfectly. Raja is a much-needed break from musical numbers with a dance celebrating her heritage. It’s worth looking more into the tradition of Balinese dance, as it differs greatly from western traditions. The movements are about theatricality, with particular focus on the eyes. Raja nails it in that respect, and the traditional garment she wears gives a window into the origins of her unique aesthetics and flair for design. The Vivienne gives a sleek performance, in the vein of Shea’s, with a number written by perennial Oscar nominee Diane Warren. It’s a strong number, but it lacks the presence of Shea’s. The microphone seemed an odd choice, as it didn’t seem to be live vocals, and the prop hindered her full embodiment of the song. Monét closes the show with an opera number that shines brightly for its individuality. It was unique, and no one else on that stage could do it. She also gets the additional points for doing it live and in a corset. All in all, it was a terrific talent show with everyone performing their best. The one lesson for future contestants is to come up with a talent other than singing to set yourself apart for the rest of the competition.
The judging is again all positive, but it seems warranted this episode as everyone performed very well. The two who really stood out during the critiques were Yvie and Raja. Their performances dovetailed nicely with the issues they discussed in the chat with RuPaul and Michelle. While RuPaul identified the thrill of watching Yvie perform as if she will survive the death-defying stunts she performs, there was a more somber half related to the ephemeral nature of performance accentuated by Yvie’s deteriorating condition. It was a wonderful end to Yvie’s run on the season as well as a celebration of her talents. Likewise, Raja’s critique revealed a touching story about her father when she was found in the airport dancing the dance she just performed. Both these critiques elicited genuine and natural emotion in a series that often struggles to manufacture such moments in the past. In classic Raja style, she punctuates it all with a joke about contacting the Indonesian tourism board for sponsorship. While it seems unlikely that Yvie or Raja will win, it gives them both a wonderful conclusion. In the end, Shea and Monét are declared the winners, both deserving, providing a sense of symmetry to the premiere episode.
Before the lip sync, RuPaul attends to some housekeeping. She asks Jinkx, Shea, and Monét to step forward as they have secured their spots in the final four. The tie discussed in the workroom comes to fruition when Jaida and Trinity, who both have three stars, must vie for the final position. Trinity comically laments “not another tie,” before RuPaul reveals that the Sophie in this Sophie’s choice will be Monét, as the winner of the most stars. There is a false sense of drama as the decision seems inevitable. There seems to be no strategic advantage for Monét in either case as both Trinity and Jaida are strong lip syncers. This boils down to the twinner alliance that Trinity and Monét have had all season. Jaida seems to see the writing on the wall when Trinity is selected to enter the final four. There is a sense of people being over the competition at this point. The Vivienne and Raja seemed checked out. Yvie seems to be enjoying all the arbitrary twists and turns and Jaida just looks resigned.
These aren’t absurd reactions considering the last-minute machinations employed by the producers. Monét and Shea are very deserving to be in the final four. They are talented queens. However, the seemingly arbitrary decision to make the final challenge so heavily weighted begs the question of what were the previous ten episodes for, then. Of course, Drag Race is always guided by producers who need to advance certain narratives and contestants. The issue is in the sloppiness of the decisions. Shea, who performed well all season, could have easily been awarded more challenges. The decision to pick between Trinity and Jaida going to Monét after winning three stars (the exact amount Trinity and Jaida earned over the season), instead of Jinkx who won the most challenges also feels suspect. Producers should think more about employing these twists to see if they really have the intended impact. It was less surprise and more exhaustion at random rules being employed on a whim.
The lip sync between Monét and Shea to Kylie Minogue’s “Supernova” is evenly matched. At a couple points in the number they even accidentally mimic the same movements including a runway walk down the stage and coordinated floor work. Just when you think Monét will win by a jump split, Shea is declared the winner, earning herself $10,000 and her charity $30,000. In a positive twist, RuPaul reveals that each queen’s charity will also receive $10,000 each. The final twist of the season comes after the top four is decided and the remaining queens are informed they will compete in their own lip sync extravaganza for $50,000 and the title of “the queen of she done already done had hers.” With the promise of six lip syncs, two titles, and a quarter million of prize money on the line, the queens prepare of the final episode of the season next week.