For its first two seasons, Project Runway had three-person finales. But for its third, it had four. (I know, you’re reading a RuPaul’s Drag Race recap. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.) That third season’s final four episode started with an intriguing tease by judge Nina Garcia: The show was not committed to showing three finalists’ collections at Olympus Fashion Week that year. If only two designers impressed in that last challenge, they would only take two. What went unsaid, of course, is that Nina’s wording allowed for four contestants to be taken as well.
RuPaul’s pre-challenge speech this episode gives me a similar feeling. After four straight seasons with top-four finales on All Stars, we’re suddenly getting a top 3 this season. (And this was filmed long before Sherry Pie’s disqualification forced a top 3 finale in Season 12!) Instead of saying this final competitive challenge will determine the top 3, however, Ru says this challenge will determine who goes to the finale—no number mentioned. It feels a bit like keeping the door open for moving everyone forward in the case of something unexpected happening.
More on that possibility in a second, but let’s jump back to that Project Runway Season 3 episode. The challenge was to create any kind of garment that really expressed who the contestant was as a designer. Vague, right? That’s what three of the contestants thought, as Mychael Knight (a frontrunner all season long), Jeffrey Sebelia (a provocateur the judges loved, even in his worst moments) and Laura Bennett (a glamorous New York City mom with a terrific track record in the competition) all struggled at the final hurdle. One contestant, on the other hand, didn’t: Uli Herzner. The German-born, Miami-based designer with a love of prints hadn’t won a challenge since Episode 2 and headed into the final four episode with a shaky track record. Not as shaky as Jeffrey’s, but the judges were never letting him go.
To stay in the competition, Uli needed to win, and that’s exactly what she did: Her dress was a marvel, uniquely her but in a fresh way. She won the challenge, and thus could not be sent home. But instead of sending any of their other favoured contestants home, Project Runway instead just advanced all four to the finale. It was the exact kind of episode you want in a reality show: The audience thinks they know what’s coming, then they’re genuinely surprised by the result.
Which brings us back to All Stars 5! If Miz Cracker, Jujubee and Shea Coulée are the locks to make it to the finale, Blair St. Clair is the Uli. She’s got the chance to surprise us all and pull out a win, forcing either a difficult decision of who to eliminate, or, more hopefully, no one going home. The success of this episode rides on Blair’s shoulders: If she can surprise, we could have a real shocker penultimate installment on our hands.
Unfortunately, Blair’s final challenge is not something she can ace quite as well as Uli did her task: It’s a stand-up comedy challenge. And while we’re told repeatedly that Blair has been funny this season, I would perhaps challenge that version of events! (“Blair has been cracking the judges up all season,” Shea says, and for the first time this season, I do not believe her.) While Blair has been impressive at points this season, particularly on the runway, nothing she’s done this season has been that humorous. In fact, that was the glaring problem with her Snatch Game: Her performance of Ellen DeGeneres was solid, but it wasn’t funny. The only challenge she really excelled in comedically was the Reading Challenge, which she notably tied with Jujubee.
So while I believe Ross Mathews and guest judge Jane Krakowski when they tell me Blair’s got jokes in her rehearsal with them, I’m still skeptical of how that will translate on the main stage. Blair not only has to be funny, but she also has to be funnier than Jujubee—who has been hilarious all season long—and Cracker, a noted comedy queen. That’s not even mentioning Shea, who admits she’s nervous about doing stand-up, but who performed quite well in Season 9’s Roast of Michelle Visage. It’s a tall order!
Sadly for Blair, the hopes of this episode being surprising are dashed the second she hits the stage. She’s got jokes, yes, but they’re just OK—and more to the point, her delivery is disastrous. As Shea notes in Untucked, she’s seemingly written punchlines on different pages of her notes than the setups, meaning she has to actually turn the page to finish her joke. And boy, do the editors have fun with Blair turning the pages. It’s just a second or two every time, but it feels like it goes on for an eternity. She not only isn’t funny but on a pure performance level, she’s the clear worst of the three.
Jujubee and Shea both acquit themselves well, but you can feel their nervousness shine through. Juju starts slow, only finally getting on a roll in the back half of her set, while Shea is overall a bit more hesitant. You can feel her discomfort with the format, even as she lands most of her jokes. She looks flawless, though, in a red dress that is easily one of the best looks of the season. It eclipses her actual runway look by a mile.
So the episode once again belongs to Cracker, who picks up her second win in a row and third of the season. Unlike last week, when competition at the top was tight, Cracker runs away with this one. Her set is the funniest, the most professional, and the clearest example of a real performance. Blair puts it best in deliberations: Cracker put on a show, while the other queens felt like they were just trying to get through the challenge. I’m not sure Cracker having three wins properly represents the season as a whole—she’s been relatively low-key in the edit, while Shea and Juju (and Alexis Mateo before she left) are much more the focus of the season’s narrative.
Cracker plays around with the idea that track records shouldn’t decide who goes home, but it ultimately feels like she’s just humouring the idea of keeping Blair around. The same goes for Shea and Juju in voting, as they both give Blair a lot of credit for her work this season, but seemingly know from the start what they’re going to do. Shea says in a confessional that it’s Blair’s time to go, while in an emotional Untucked conversation, Juju says she voted against Blair without actually saying it.
That moment is one of my favourites of this week, as Juju is clearly unable to confess who she voted for, but does everything but. She explains how hard it is to see Blair after casting her vote, knowing how she just voted. This group has clearly gotten very close this season, and Juju’s emotions seem very real. Shea is also upset, but both know what needs to be done. As, of course, does Cracker.
While Shea is upset to be up for elimination, she confesses to the other girls that she thought, “Well, at least I don’t have to do that lip sync.” It is a bear of a song, Reba’s “Fancy,” and Cracker is daunted at the possibility of having to do it. “It has 29,000 words,” she says. “All the words in the English language are in this song.” After her suspicious tie against Morgan McMichaels and loss to Roxxxy Andrews (not to mention her Season 10 loss to Kameron Michaels), though, this is her last chance to pull out an unconditional lip sync win on Drag Race. Who will she be facing off against?
Oh, just Kennedy Davenport, the Dancing Diva of Texas. “My track record lip-syncing? I never lost one,” Kennedy says in Untucked. (“I really believe I didn’t lose All Stars 3,” she hilariously adds.) Cracker knows just how stacked a deck she has against her, considering Kennedy has won three lip syncs—against Jasmine Masters, Katya, and BenDeLaCreme—while Cracker has yet to outright win one. She even walks back down the stairs and says a very Jan “Not this” upon seeing Kennedy. Does she have any hope of winning?
Well, uh, yes. Although it’s not so much of a win as Kennedy loses, as she delivers a truly terrible lip sync. Fun fact that surfaced on the show’s subreddits: After this season was filmed, NewNowNext published a piece asking different queens about the hardest song to lip sync to. “My least favourite is ‘Fancy’ by Reba McEntire,” Kennedy said. “It’s too many words to learn. Too many!” And indeed, Kennedy clearly has trouble keeping up with the lyrics and can muster little more than some walking around the stage and sweeping cape moves throughout the performance. Cracker isn’t great on the song, but she does more than Kennedy, and that’s enough to get her the $20,000 cash tip.
While it’s easy to imagine a disaster scenario of Cracker eliminating either Juju or Shea—and fans scarred by Manila Luzon’s shock boot last season would have reasons to fear such a result—Cracker is far too invested in fairness to do such a thing. She eliminates Blair and thus is responsible for eliminating both of her Season 10 sisters. (Blair and Mayhem Miller’s annoyance with Cracker earlier in the season was perhaps prophetic!)
And so a ho-hum installment of Drag Race comes to a close. The “Uli” couldn’t pull out a win, and the expected finalists move forward. While it does make for an unsurprising episode, it does instead make for a potentially great finale next week. Give or take an Alexis Mateo, I think this is the right final 3, and a very good one when compared to Drag Race herstory. I have my guess as to who will win the season based on the edit, and I have who I personally want to win. But that can wait until tomorrow’s power ranking.
For now, let’s just raise a glass to Cracker, Juju, and Shea. They gave us a show amid all the shenanigans this season, and consistently delivered in the challenges, in their confessionals, and on the runway. Now all that’s left is to find out who will win All Stars 5. May the best queen win!
💄Due respect to Blair, the cold open talk about voting Alexis out because the group wanted to see more of her feels like blowing smoke up her ass. Alexis was clearly bigger competition, and as Shea admits, she couldn’t fully trust Alexis. Keeping Blair made the likelihood of all three making it to the final three easier.
💄Is the voting twist a flop considering the top All Star of every week made the same choice as the queens voting? I’d say no: It still produced plenty of drama, and the season was all the more entertaining for it. But I do hope, if this twist returns, the queens make better use of their votes. All Stars encourages cutthroat gameplay, and as a Big Brother fan, I’d like to see more of it! Unfortunately, considering fan backlash to such choices can be severe, I’d imagine the odds of the queens changing their voting patterns is unlikely.
💄I hoped last week that Jane Krakowski would be the best guest judge of the season, and indeed she delivers! She’s incredibly helpful in the coaching with Ross—I appreciate that she acknowledges the intellectual comedy Juju is going for as Ross tries to dumb down Juju’s act—and her critiques are on point, despite her laryngitis. Sam Richardson is just fine in comparison, although his note that Blair’s jokes would’ve worked better as tweets is on the money.
💄The fandom seems to have largely turned against Ross Mathews this season after his infamous “crafty” critique of Shea, and I’ll admit that his critiques have depreciated in recent seasons. (He used to be my pick for best judge on the panel, but I think Michelle Visage has reclaimed that title.) His bit this week with encouraging Shea to make jokes about the Sasha Velour “So Emotional” lip sync comes from a decent place—it’s been so much of Shea’s storyline this season—but it doesn’t come across quite right. It’s different for Shea to communicate her own feelings on that subject, as she did in her prom runway look and subsequent chat on the runway. If that’s not a place she feels comfortable going to with humour, she shouldn’t be pushed into it.
💄Of the Freak runways, I do like Cracker’s and Shea’s, although Cracker’s feels like a bit of a stretch in terms of the theme (Death is an interesting idea, but not really a Freak) and Shea’s is a little more casual for her. Jujubee is the clear winner, turning out a club kid look that’s easily the most impressive garment she’s ever worn on the show.
💄JANE: “Sorry, a sea witch stole my voice.”
MICHELLE: “I’m right here.”
💄“I’m a big follower of yours on Instagram.” Jane gives Blair one hell of a compliment, and gays on Twitter one hell of a meme to use.