Shantay, you all stay.
For the past six seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, it seemed like the producers were experimenting. As fan-favorites returned to drag queen competition to once again contend for a crown, the show came up with increasingly sophisticated ways of sending them home and then bringing them back again via lip-synching contests. . . with varying degrees of success.
Beginning with Season 2, the top two queens would lip-sync, and then the winner would have the power to choose which of the bottom two would fly away. A few seasons later, the show switched gears and had the episode’s winning queen dubbed against a former contestant known as the Lip Sync Assassin who has the power of elimination at stake. If the queen won, she chose who went home; If the assassin won, it was a group decision.
In Season 7… nobody goes home before they should. Most importantly, everyone has a full season to prove themselves.
The problem? Nobody ever figured out how to decide who to eliminate. Should it be the queen who had done the worst in all the challenges? Who did the worst in that particular challenge? Should it be the shady queen? Or should it strategically be the best queen to knock out the competition? The decision was so stressful that frontrunner BenDeLaCreme, who had been in the top 2 in five of six challenges, shockingly eliminated herself in Season 3 of All Stars in place of another unworthy queen. And the result of all this was a lot of eliminations (and therefore some winners) that didn’t feel legitimate.
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That all changed for the current, and dare we say it best, incarnation of “All Stars.”
In Season 7, RuPaul decided that no one would fool around at all. For the first time in Drag Race history, eight contestants, all of whom have won previous seasons in the Drag Race television universe, will remain throughout the season. Instead of competing for the power to send someone home, they compete for star badges and the power to prevent someone else from getting a star the next week. At the end of the season, the four queens with the most stars will lip-synch for the crown. Nobody gets penalized for a mediocre Dolly Parton cast or misshapen hip pads. No one is eliminated due to a weakness, like live singing or giving someone else a drag makeover. Nobody goes home before they should. Most importantly, everyone has a full season to prove themselves.
Trinity the Tuck, Shea Couleé, Raja, The Vivienne, Jaida Essence Hall, Jinkx Monsoon, Monet X Change and Yvie Oddly in Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (Jordin Althaus/Wonder World/Paramount+)
It’s Drag Race mixed with The Real Drag Queens of the Werk Room – a whole new world of reality competition television.
It might have lowered the stakes in terms of weekly TV excitement, but boy does it make for enjoyable viewing, especially for longtime fans. In a regular season, every Jinkx Monsoon fan would have to dread the inevitable design challenge, as she’s notoriously unable to sew. Now we can just enjoy all the good designs without the stress and watch these seasoned queens interact with each other in a way we’ve never done before. It’s Drag Race mixed with The Real Drag Queens of the Werk Room – a whole new world of reality competition television.
It’s a world we’d love to see other shows in.
Keep your competitors close… and busy
Yes, the point of CBS’ long-running “Survivor” is to be the sole survivor, but there are other ways to survive than being voted off the island, and there are other ways to eliminate people besides one per episode, too . Season 40, aka “Winners at War,” is still controversial for “Survivor” diehards because old-school “Survivor” favorites like “Boston” Rob and Amber Mariano, Ethan Zohn, Parvati Shallow, and Sandra Diaz- Twine were quickly picked out. That left newer, less convincing castaways for which audiences were less interested to tune in.
Survivor: Winner in War (CBS Entertainment)
And sure, instead of going home, the castaways headed to a weird island where they had to walk (a lot) up a hill to stand a slim chance of getting back into the game. But that’s just not the same as watching them actually play the game they’re known for. Like Drag Race All Stars, it’s all about keeping your competitors active and entertaining the audience.
Instead of sending them to Weird Island, Survivor should have kept them in the game and later eliminated the competitors in a more interesting way. Perhaps a mid-season checkpoint could have been more satisfying? Or maybe set up a mass elimination just before the annual merger? Or a trunk classification based on cumulative performance?
Keeping people close doesn’t have to be just for all star season, either. Can you imagine if The Great British Baking Show consistently kept its funniest or most charming contestants? Then we wouldn’t have to say goodbye to our favorite grandma or mad architect-turned-baker until much later, and maybe we can see them shine beyond this one bread-or-pastry challenge.
And that goes for “Top Chef,” too, where many a talented chef has died with a dessert or a pot of rice. Does every candidate need to know how to prepare each and every cooking style or dish, or is there more to be said for proven growth and adaptability? This is exactly what we can learn from Last Chance Kitchen.
For many seasons, Top Chef has offered a second chance to those who have been excluded. Last Chance Kitchen is an online series running parallel to the main show, allowing the eliminated chefs to compete in short, nerve-wracking cook-offs to re-enter the Top Chef competition. While this seemed like a sad consolation prize at first (many Last Chance Kitchen winners just lost back on the show proper), the eliminated Kristen Kish fought her way back through several episodes of Last Chance Kitchen in Season 10 to become Top Chef. and eventually won it all and took the title.
As with All Stars 7, allowing a person to demonstrate their worth despite a past mistake is a lesson in learning, and Kish has proven time and again that she is a winning talent and personality. In addition to returning as a guest judge on subsequent Top Chef seasons, she has also starred in the TBS series Fast Foodies and joined Alton Brown as a co-host on Netflix’s Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend ” to.” Imagine what a loss it would have been to the culinary world and the media world if Kish had become an obscure footnote forever, thanks to the devastation of Restaurant Wars. Too bad.
Kristen Kish as a judge on Top Chef: Houston (David Moir/Bravo)
From reality TV to the real world
As the world at large has grown harsher in recent years and mental health has become more talked about than ever, attitudes towards television have changed. There’s more than ever that makes choosing what to watch harder than ever, but there’s also a higher demand for shows that take some of the stress out of real life. ABC’s Abbott Elementary has become one of the biggest shows on TV, and Netflix’s Selling Sunset just got renewed for its seventh season because people are willing to devour anything that’s low on the stakes and has a lot of personality. I don’t watch Drag Race or Survivor to find out who’s going home. I watch them to see how a bunch of different personalities show what they’re made of (throw a bit of shadow in the process).
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Enjoying these programs isn’t just about shutting out the real world.
Here are lessons we can all absorb into our lives when we’re not parked on the couch yelling at drag queens, including the fact that we’re not our faults. We’re not our ugly clothes, or our botched lyrics, or our drained soufflés, or that giant wooden puzzle that keeps people tripping on Survivor. Reality show contestants are whole people who, no matter who they are, don’t deserve to be dogged by whatever failures that led to them being voted out of a TV show. (Okay, unless it’s Jeff Varner trying to gain favor during the “Survivor” tribal council by outing another cast member as transgender. He deserves that voice.)
We are not our faults. We’re not our ugly clothes, or our botched lyrics, or our drained soufflés, or that giant wooden puzzle that keeps people tripping on Survivor.
As Yvie Oddly said in her draguation speech a few All Stars episodes ago, “failure makes us the people we’re meant to be.” And as Yvie Oddly also said, misquoting RuPaul’s regular warning before the challenge: “Good luck, fuck it.” What a gift to know that **king it up doesn’t always just throw you out the door.
Now, I’m not saying that every show, or even every season, of Drag Race should fully adopt the rules of All Stars 7. I’m just saying maybe there’s something to be said to give all contestants a real chance to prove why they’re there in the first place and teach us all the valuable lesson that you can actually be a drag on occasion and still be is considered queen.
More stories you might like:
https://www.salon.com/2022/06/25/rupauls-drag-race-all-stars-7-no-elimination/ What we can learn from “Drag Race All Stars 7” and the magic of anxiety-free reality competition