Ariel Italic joins me to discuss the All Stars finale! Ariel is a Brooklyn queen and the writer of blisteringly funny Drag Race recaps that you should read immediately (after you finish this discussion, obvs).
Chad: Ariel, what do you make of Alaska's depiction over the last few weeks? Do you think she managed to ru-deem herself by the end of this episode?
Ariel: I've been thinking about this A LOT. And I think Alaska's challenge is that she is so focused that she basically chose not to show any sincere emotion. And as a result, the only moment of truth we got from her was her outburst when she was in the bottom. Even her final speech was extremely rehearsed, and compared to the other contestants, she seemed cold. And I think that hurt her with the viewers.
Chad: I agree! She had the same issue in Season 5, right? I remember an overly rehearsed, if not entertaining, final speech from her. She's poised and smart and sharp, but.... she was right: she didn't come across as very likeable throughout the show. In a lot of ways, I think Alaska and Katya are very equally matched, but we've seen that Katya, with all of her quirky vulnerability, seems to have stolen our hearts.
Ariel: Alaska's performance was undeniably incredible. She's great at what she does. It's a shame that she felt the need to keep her guard up, though, because her win, while completely, completely deserved, has left people cold.
Chad: Did she entirely deserve the apparent fan backlash? The snake emoji? Will those butthurt feelings subside fairly soon?
Ariel: Tough to say. The fans are easily swayed. It's funny, I think the editors made a conscious decision to highlight some of Alaska's weakness, because otherwise it would have been way too obvious that she was going to win. But they worked so hard to cast doubt on her chances that they ended up making her look somewhat undeserving or ungrateful, which isn't necessarily the case. Alaska herself seems perfectly nice and charming, even if she's quite collected and poised. Her behavior didn't do her any favors, but she was also shown in perhaps too harsh a light.
Chad: Right. As she pointed out, she had never previously been in the bottom, so it was new for her. And she doesn't deal well with that uncertainty. When she's on top of her game, though, she's unstoppable.
Ariel: I did think that made her look bad. "I've never been in the bottom" is a terrible defense for her behavior. Like, no one feels bad for you that you win all the time, girl.
Chad: What role did Rolaskatox play this season, and holy god, can we stop talking about it soon?
Ariel: I think that was another problem mostly for Alaska because of how hard she worked to deny it. When Detox saved Roxxxy, she was pretty up-front about saying that she was saving one of her best friends. It's not fair, but it's at least understandable. Alaska was bending over backwards to justify her choice, and it's like, we see you, babe. Just say she's your friend and move on. The efforts to downplay it only made her look shady.
Chad: Right. It was strange that "Rolaskatox-ism" came up so much this week. Yes, those three queens are still on the show. Yes, they are friends. But at least they didn't seem to be actively excluding or ganging up on their competition. Except for the part where they kicked them all off. Okay, maybe I just talked myself in a circle.
Ariel: It's clear that Roxxxy wouldn't have made it as far as she did if her two best friends weren't there to save her, so in that sense, the clique is still very much in play. I don't think they were necessarily excluding anyone else, but they certainly had each others' interests in mind.
Chad: Right. And certainly, it wasn't a formal alliance, just... their bonds and past that held them together. Do you think it was wise to cast all three of them on the same season again?
Ariel: I don't think it changed the outcome, and it brought its fair share of drama. I don't think it did Alaska any favors, because it drags down her image. But that's also how she handled it: you can blame the producers for casting all three of them, but the fact that all three of them lasted the entire competition is their own fault.
Ariel: But it seems pretty clear that Alaska had the crown in her hand from the moment she walked into the workroom.
Chad: Agreed. I don't know whether re-casting Rolaskatox was a boon or hindrance to Alaska. Surely, given the structure of the show, having friends really helped! But there was that moment this week when Alaska saw the parallel from Season 5, and I think she had to wonder: "Have I been played?? Did the producers plan another lovable, quirky underdog??"
Ariel: It was so weird that she had that freakout right before the crowning. Like: they've been there the whole time. And she's been asked about it the whole time. To come around at the last minute and decide she needs to distance herself from them was so odd. It was WAY too late.
Chad: Yeah, Detox and Roxxxy seemed especially confused. Okay, speaking of Detox and Roxxxy -- how did they do this week?
Ariel: You know, I felt bad for Detox. She seemed to be a background player in a lot of this competition. At the end, she seemed so confident, and she did so well, and I was thinking, "Wow, I never realized that she's totally killing it, but she's never going to win." And Roxxxy... well, she did a really good job of staying positive. She's such a good drag queen, but even she knew that she had outstayed her welcome.
Chad: Roxxxy definitely deserves credit for maintaining grace under relentless, soul-crushing pressure all season! And yes, I agree -- Detox is an amazing queen with innovative, gorgeous looks. I just think her skillset isn't the kind that wins this show anymore. If we had seen her on Season 2 or 3, up against Raven or Raja, yes, she would have been more formidable. But I feel like the show has shifted more to comedy and acting, where she's middle-of-the-pack.
Ariel: I mean, anyone who made it to All-Stars has incredible abilities. I would never claim to be half as good as any of those queens. Nitpicking their performance is in some ways silly because they're all KILLING IT. I think you're right, though, that as the show has become more of an event, and as the producers have become savvier about the importance of pleasing the audience, the show has become much more interested in performance. (Just look at the reaction to Violet vs. the reaction to Bob the Drag Queen.)
Chad: Right. And given this week's challenge, which was stupendous, Detox really did shine.
Chad: I was very skeptical when I heard about the rap challenge, but it was a runaway success, right??
Ariel: They all killed it! Everyone found a way to shine and show their strengths. Detox had great lyrics, Roxxxy had a phenomenal look, Katya had her splits, Alaska was blue... Since it was a multi-layered writing/performance challenge, it gave each contestant a chance to show off what they did well.
Chad: Yeah, and it was so refreshing to see Travis Wall (swoon) cater to their strengths, rather than just chastise the less adept ones. I have to say, my faves were Detox and Katya. Alaska was strong, but... splotchy?
Ariel: That body paint moment totally confused me. Like, if you're not going to do it well, then maybe just don't do it? Her rap also started out weak for me, but it found its way by the end. Detox was perhaps the challenge winner for me, but I feel bad saying that, because it seemed like Katya was forever coming in second this season. She's such a great performer, and she won NOTHING.
Chad: Well, I mean.... I think Alaska won the crown, but Katya won the show. Katya was so endlessly likeable, funny, and adorable throughout the entire season.
Ariel: She definitely cemented herself as a fan favorite. But I'm sure she wouldn't have minded earning a tip of "ten thousand duulahz" along the way.
Chad: After her heartfelt runway speech, I really really really thought that mayyyybe they'd give her the crown!
Ariel: My overall opinion of the season is that it was set up for Alaska to win, and then toward the end the producers realized that Katya might be the better pick, but they were already locked in with Alaska. She had won so much and so consistently that it was too late to change course.
Chad: I feel like any in-depth discussion of this show invariably digs into questions about how they actually MAKE it. In recent seasons, they would apparently film each of the final three winning the crown -- do you think they did the same thing this time around?
Ariel: I've heard that they did, though you never know if the information on Reddit is real. But I know that in Katya's Total RuCall series, she talked about the final episode as if she still didn't know who won, so that lends credence to the idea that all three got a crowning moment filmed.
Chad: Haha, I was going to cite Total RuCall, too, for the exact same morsel of info! Yes, it really sounded like the finalists weren't sure who'd win. I can't help but wonder whether the producers waited to watch social media responses over the last few weeks to determine the winner or not.
Ariel: If they did, they didn't use what they saw. Katya had ten times the audience support of any other contestant. I don't even think that's exaggeration, I think that's a literal statistic.
Chad: Yup, I agree! I have a gut feeling that they made the decision a few weeks ago when the reunion was apparently filmed. Which, of course, would have been too early to see the fan backlash regarding Alaska. Do you have any idea when we'll see the Reunion? I didn't see any mention of it at the Sidetrack screening party, but I might have missed something.
Ariel: Two weeks! They're taking next week off, and then back the following Thursday. It would have been nice to know that earlier, Logo: some of us didn't give our bars enough advance notice and now can't host a viewing party on the 27th.
Chad: Yeah, that... really sucks. Really really.
Ariel: I mean, it'll be nice to be able to focus on the show for a change. Mostly I feel sad for all the people who won't get to watch while basking in my radiance and hearing the gay gasps whenever something juicy happens. ;)
Chad: Ha! I think this has been an incredible season, and although it was fairly short, it feels like it's been an EPIC journey through endless, endless drama.
Ariel: Definitely some of the best TV I've ever watched. That mirror moment is right up there with Kimberly's wig snatch on Melrose Place.
Chad: I feel like it was most fun at the start, when we were all excited to see these queens again, and the stakes didn't feel too high. But as the competition got more fierce and the eliminations became more contested, it got more stressful to watch each week!
Ariel: It was sad to watch some of my favorites go. And the structure of having the queens eliminate each other definitely led to some moments of blame. It was tough to see Alyssa and Tatianna go without harboring a bit of resentment for the people who sent them away, even if they were just doing their jobs.
Chad: Can you imagine what Alyssa would have done with the rap challenge and Travis Wall's choreography??????
Ariel: I literally cannot.
You can go bask in Ariel's radiance at Stonewall this Sunday for Erika Klash's Invasion, and then Friday the 21st, at Catland for Nobodies Worshiping Satan (a talk show vaguely about Old Man Splitfoot himself), and then at a Halloween party at Terra Firma on the 28th.
And stay tuned for news about my All Stars 2 art book!