RuPaul's Drag Race
8 min

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ recap: Which queen returned to the competition?

Despite the show’s valiant effort to try something new, holy hell, this episode is rough

The cast of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 4 Credit: Courtesy VH1

I’m very excited to be joining Xtra to recap the rest of All Stars 4! For those who don’t know me, I’m Kevin O’Keeffe, and I’m proud to call myself one of the internet’s leading Drag Race herstorians. I previously recapped the show at Mic and at the recently shuttered, Into, where I was covering this season up to this episode. A few things you should know about me up front: I believe Season 5 was the best ever. Wig reveals and death drops are tired. And Manila Luzon deserves to win this season.

When you deliver criticism, a good rule of thumb is to start with a positive. That way, when you transition into the negative, you’ve softened the blow a bit. So I’ll start my dissection of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’s sixth episode, the fabled “LaLaPaRuZa,” with this: It’s nice to see that the production team is really committed to trying new things.

Giving every All Star a chance to come back to the competition by winning a Lip Sync for Your Life against a remaining queen is a genuinely new idea, and a true gag of a concept.

Okay, now that that’s said: holy hell, this episode is rough. It’s easily the worst of the season, and may have irreparably damaged All Stars 4’s momentum.

In theory, a Lip Sync for Your Life smackdown is a good idea. It’s a way to translate the Lip Sync for the Crown format from the main series’ finales into All Stars, and responds to the criticism that a Lip Sync for Your Legacy is never quite as thrilling as a Lip Sync for Your Life.

The problem is that, as we know, there’s a lip sync in every episode of Drag Race, and they take up about four minutes of television time.

Four minutes multiplied by four lip syncs — one for each of the eliminated All Stars 4 competitors trying to win their way back into the competition — is 16 minutes total. Every episode of All Stars 4 is, without commercials, just over 60 minutes. To quote Katya, “I didn’t go to fucking school for math,” but I’m pretty sure that 16 ≠ 60. Hell, even with eight minutes for the intro, five minutes for RuPaul to explain the challenge, and a generous 10 minutes for runway, we’re still only at 41 minutes.

What does Drag Race give us in that 20-plus extra minutes? Filler. So much filler. More filler than what currently resides in Trinity Not Taylor, Not Yet the Tuck. We get a ton of scenes of competitors talking about the lip sync smackdown, weighing all the possibilities, sharing just how much they’re shaking in their boots. Seriously, I think we hear about 200 different permutations of the phrase “shaking in your boots” this week.

Combined with some very expected challenge results, the final product is an episode that is, sorry to say, dull as dirt. It’s not the production catastrophe that was “Handmaids to Kitty Girls” in All Stars 3, but that episode at least had the gag of BenDeLaCreme self-eliminating.

No, sadly, all “LaLaPaRuZa” did was prove once again just what a miraculous episode of TV All Stars 2’s “Revenge of the Queens” really is. That first installment of the returning queens twist was surprising, thrilling and organically dramatic. This one just proves that returning queen twists really aren’t the tea.

Let’s break down the episode by talking about the four lip-sync matchups. As the most recently eliminated queen, Latrice Royale gets to choose first, followed by Gia Gunn, then Farrah Moan, and finally first eliminee Jasmine Masters.

Manila Luzon and Monét X Change, as the winners of last week’s challenge, are immune from participating, and thus are basically absent from the episode. Here’s how the battles between the remaining eight shake out:

Jasmine Masters Vs Trinity The Tuck

Jasmine Masters and Trinity The Tuck Credit: Courtesy VH1; Kevin O'Keeffe/Xtra

This is the matchup least informed by storyline, despite Trinity sending Jasmine home way back in the premiere, because Jasmine didn’t get a choice of opponent. Trinity spends most of the episode bickering with Gia, actually, but Gia wisely didn’t choose to go up against Trinity. Her and Jasmine’s face-off to “Peanut Butter” proves exactly why. Trinity handily beats Jasmine, who can’t even get a good handle on the lyrics.

It’s a redeeming moment for Trinity, who has been making more of an impression recently for her insistence on fairness in the elimination process than for her performances in the challenges. Hopefully she can keep this focus on her own work moving forward, because when she’s determined, there’s no one more threatening in this competition.

The good news: Jasmine’s a good sport about her loss, even laughing about her poor rump-shaking in her confessional. She’s been a good sport throughout All Stars 4, and mostly just seems happy she got the chance to come back.

Farrah Moan Vs Valentina

Farrah Moan and Valentina Credit: Courtesy VH1; Kevin O'Keeffe/Xtra

Who didn’t see this one coming? The storyline that never quite was chugs right along this week, as Farrah asks Valentina if she really thinks she was the worst the week that her former best friend sent her home. Valentina’s response? An emphatic yes. This crushes Farrah, until a pep talk with Trinity gets her head on straight and teaches her to believe in herself. Or something. It feels very forced, to be frank.

Anyway, Farrah does turn out her best performance in a Drag Race lip sync — though admittedly, “Woman Up” and “Baby I’m Burnin’” in Season 9 built a low bar for her to clear. It doesn’t matter, though. Valentina absolutely slays “Kitty Girl,” and makes her already good “Into You” performance from Episode 2 look pedestrian. This is the Valentina I admire and respect. When she knows she has a chance to be a star, she really knocks it out of the park. She is declared the winner, and Farrah once again sashays away.

Gia Gunn Vs Naomi Smalls

Gia Gunn and Naomi Smalls Credit: Courtesy VH1; Kevin O'Keeffe/Xtra

I give Gia all the props in the world for thinking strategically here. Of Naomi, Trinity and Valentina, Naomi is the least impressive lip syncer. Her performance of “Causing a Commotion” in Season 8 is one of the weakest winning lip syncs ever. Gia even notes how she lost to Laganja Estranja who pulled out every trick in her bag way back in Season 6. She wants the easiest playing field she can get.

Unfortunately for her, she runs into two problems: one, the song she gets, “Adrenaline,” is a song Naomi’s actually had to lip sync on Drag Race before (during Season 8’s “Bitch Perfect” challenge). Two, Naomi has apparently quietly become a lip-syncing beast. Hers is actually my favorite performance of the episode. It’s just as body-focused as we’ve come to expect from Naomi, but she manages to use her frame in unexpected ways. The section of the song where she bends back on her legs so far it nearly defies gravity? Absurd. Iconic. I stan. It’s Naomi’s best moment of All Stars 4 so far.

Sadly for Gia, who actually does put up a good fight during the lip sync, it’s a TKO. And though I admire Gia for coming into her own as a proud woman who does drag, it’s clear her arc is over. Every workroom moment she has in this episode is just rehashing what came before.

Latrice Royale Vs Monique Heart

Latrice Royale and Monique Heart Credit: Courtesy VH1; Kevin O'Keeffe/Xtra

Here it is. The big one. The creme de la Ben. The battle (Latrice) royale. Latrice makes very clear upon returning to the workroom that she is not thrilled with Monique. She thinks Monique lied about her motivation for eliminating Latrice post-Jersey Justice challenge, and was always planning on saving her friend Monét. When the option to pick her opponent comes up, Latrice eagerly picks Monique to lip sync against, citing “unfinished business.”

If you’ll permit me a moment: Latrice, what the hell are you thinking? Sure, Latrice is an excellent lip syncer, but not an infallible one! Once upon a time, she lost to Chad Michaels. Chad Michaels! Monique Heart is a far better lip syncer than Chad, due respect to the legend herself. The correct choice was either Naomi or Valentina, both of whom, based on previous lip syncs alone, wouldn’t have beaten Latrice.

Picking Monique is a decision motivated entirely by Latrice’s ego. It is very clear that Latrice, grand dame of drag that she is, is deeply unsatisfied with the state of Drag Race right now. She hates stunt-based lip syncs, and wants queens to handle their business in front of each other versus behind their backs.

The decision to battle Monique, a Season 10 queen, feels entirely motivated by these feelings. This queen, who can barely even keep her wig on in a lip sync? This queen who loves to do splits and jumps? This queen with a battery of catchphrases, almost all of which Latrice mocks in the opening segment of the episode? That’s the queen Latrice wants to take down. It doesn’t help that Monique refuses to acknowledge her potential other motivations for eliminating Latrice.

In theory, that would make for an interesting battle — maybe thrilling enough to make up for the otherwise very predictable outcomes of every other battle, and the lethargic pace of the episode overall. Unfortunately, the pair’s lip sync to “Sissy That Walk” is kind of a mess. Both have wig-under-wig reveals, while Monique pulls a full Shangela circa season 2 and all but strips on the runway. Latrice looks too focused the whole time, never really giving over to the song, while Monique’s stunts-on-stunts-on-stunts get tiring.

That said, I blame the returning queen more than the existing All Star in this case. This is what Latrice, who ranted about stunts in a lip sync, came up with for her battle to get back into the competition? A wig reveal? This main event showdown is no Tatianna versus Alyssa Edwards, let me tell you that.

Worse even, to be blunt, is the result: Both Latrice and Monique stay. The entire conceit of the episode — that one of the still-standing All Stars could go home over one lip sync — never comes to fruition. All we’ve done is reverse the clock three episodes, and we’re back to top seven.

(From left to right) Gia Gunn, Latrice Royale, Farrah Moan, and Jasmine Masters Credit: Courtesy VH1

This season has been a pleasant surprise so far, with many even rushing to call it the best season of All Stars ever. Unfortunately, I think this episode puts that dream to rest.

“LaLaPaRuZa” is nothing but a retread of stale storylines, with a twist that can’t even execute itself properly. All Stars 2 remains the gold standard of All Stars seasons because it nailed the returning queens challenge so perfectly, That episode refreshed and reframed the season. All Stars 4 proves this week that it has little story left to tell — unless it has some massive tricks up its sleeve.

Now sissy these final thoughts:

  • Rather than try to perfect the returning queens twist, I’d prefer if All Stars abandoned it entirely and instead just extended the season by adding two more girls. There have been over 120 Drag Race contestants, most of whom have gone on to major drag careers. We have enough to include 12 a season.
  • Love her as I do, I’m really growing tired of Latrice this season. I hope she can pull out a couple of wins and get her momentum back, because as of now, all she’s doing is damaging her beloved legend brand.
  • I really do stand by the compliment I used to open this recap. It’s great to see the Drag Race production team experimenting! And not every new idea is going to work. At least this one didn’t cost a promising frontrunner her chance at the crown or anything (*cough* jury twist).
  • Though a lot of the individual lip sync performances are very good, none tops Manila Luzon’s “How Will I Know” as my favorite of All Stars 4. (My favorite of this episode is easily Naomi’s “Adrenaline,” followed by Valentina’s “Kitty Girl.”)
  • No guest judge this week! It’s a “just family” episode, as Ru likes to call them — which befitting, since the judges don’t actually do anything this episode. They’re just there to make faces during the lip syncs and sit beside Ru as she makes her decisions. (Honestly, I’d rather have just had Manila and Monét on the dais next to Ru as color commentators.) This means Episode 1 guest judge Jenifer Lewis reigns supreme as the best of the season, with Episode 5 coach/judge Cecily Strong right behind her.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 returns next Friday, Jan 25, at 8 pm ET on VH1 in the US and OUTtv in Canada.