RuPaul's Drag Race
7 min

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Season 5 premiere recap: Let’s get All-Started

It’s Old School versus New School on the fifth season of ‘All Stars’

Shea Coulée one of the cast members of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5’
Shea Coulée one of the cast members of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5’ Credit: Courtesy VH1

It’s a new game on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and no one is safe. The choice to have top queens not lip sync against each other but instead against a Lip Sync Assassin from Drag Race herstory would have been enough of a gag. Add a Survivor-style vote between the queens as to who should go home, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of drama this season.

That said, it’s not a perfect recipe. Lip Sync for Your Legacy’s previous form—in which two queens would battle for the power to send one of the bottom queens home—never quite reached its full potential. Queens were hesitant to scheme too openly, and those who did (like Naomi Smalls, who sent frontrunner Manila Luzon home on her first trip to the bottom) were lectured for getting too clever. When the most iconic moment of your twist involves a queen completely circumventing the point of it, you know it’s not quite working right.

Would this crop of queens, a mix of those from the show’s earliest seasons and some of its most recent, be the types to strategize, form alliances and use this twist to its full potential? And would the queens actually vote with their hearts, or just come to a unanimous consensus and vote accordingly?

Luckily for us, this is a feisty group. We already have deals being made, disagreements on who should go home and questions about Ru’s decisions. It all makes for a fun, fresh premiere—one that makes All Stars feel sharp in a way it hasn’t since All Stars 2.

The cast of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5’
Credit: Courtesy VH1

The mini- and maxi-challenges are the same as always for this premiere. We start with the Reading Challenge, making its return after a hiatus in Season 12 (although, since Season 12 was filmed after this iteration of All Stars, chronologically this isn’t a return). It’s a pretty lively installment—not every joke lands, but those that do really do. The only real failure is Ongina, who has never had to do this challenge before and maybe doesn’t really understand what it requires? That’s the only explanation I can offer for her poor performance.

Season 2 veteran Jujubee’s reads are largely similar riffs on jokes we’ve heard before (Season 3 ballroom queen Mariah Paris Balenciaga isn’t a true All Star, Season 10 early eliminated queen Mayhem Miller is a filler contestant, etc.), but her delivery is unparalleled. Season 10 ingenue Blair St. Clair’s delivery isn’t quite as strong, but she has some strong barbs. The two tie for the win, as announced (and seemingly decided?) by guest judge Ricky Martin. Here’s a fun bit of trivia: If the Season 12 change is permanent and Reading is Fundamental is retired for good, Jujubee will have won the first and last Reading Challenges.

The most vicious reads, however, are thrown between Season 8’s resident Britney Spears impersonator, Derrick Barry, and Season 3 underdog India Ferrah. India’s casting was a surprise to many Drag Race fans since her record on the show was underwhelming, and she hasn’t become a fan favourite online in the years following her stint on Drag Race’s third season. In fact, as is brought up on the main stage during critiques, India publicly and messily quit drag at one point. But upon Derrick’s entrance into the workroom, the reason for India’s casting becomes clear: She and Derrick have mad beef over Derrick’s partner Nebraska. The exact details are a little muddy, in terms of who shaded whom first (“You called her a pig in a wig!”), but the end result is clear: These two not only don’t work together, but have each other blocked on social media. They hate each other.

“I thought you had retired, but now I just see that you’re tired,” Derrick fires at India. “Ru, can we open the door and #FREEBRITNEY?” India shoots back. It’s not quite the stuff of Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese, but their dislike for each other emanates over everything in this episode. The other contestants, delightfully, are living for it. I love a group of dolls who want all the tea. As I said in my recap of the Season 12 finale, the kind, come-together vibe of that group was welcome in quarantine. But I’m glad to have some gals thirsty for drama in that workroom once again.

The cast of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5’
Credit: Courtesy VH1

The maxi-challenge is the usual talent/variety show, but it’s branded as a Werq the World challenge this time. Although this is a bit of a bummer, similar way to the RuPaul’s Drag Race Live task in Season 12 in that we can’t actually go to a Werq the World show for the foreseeable future, the live shows and WOW Presents Plus docuseries about Werq the World softens the blow. What it does to the challenge’s mechanics, on the other hand, is interesting: There’s no stated change in judging criteria, but Ru clearly looks for the queen who best encapsulates the Werq the World performance aesthetic. This means a flashy dance number, preferably with backup dancers, and a high-energy performance, typically while lip-syncing to a song that encapsulates your brand.

The three high-scoring queens do exactly that: India, Season 3 finalist Alexis Mateo and Season 10 fan-favourite Miz Cracker each take something about their Drag Race experience and turn it into a performance. Alexis goes with her catchphrases from her USA PSA (“Bam!” and “Sickening, no?”), while Cracker starts her act as a pickle, referring to her Dr. Dill character from Season 10. India gets the smartest; she uses the time when Mimi Imfurst picked her up in a lip sync to her advantage and turns Ru’s admonishment that “drag is not a contact sport!” into a whole song. Combined with some truly impressive hair-flipping, it’s easy to see why she takes the win.

That said, there are three performances in the safe group that are head-and-shoulders above, and seem to lose because they don’t fit the Werq the World template. I’m not sure how specific the instructions were about that; maybe the contestants didn’t really understand a given assignment. But from where I’m sitting, Season 9 frontrunner Shea Coulée deserved the win for her incredibly sexy pole-dancing routine, while Jujubee’s beautiful vocal performance and Mariah’s powerful spoken word routine (which gets a special shout-out from Ricky Martin) should’ve scored high. All of them would’ve earned the nod from me before India’s.

But from a storyline standpoint, this is the best possible result. Derrick falls into the bottom two, next to Mayhem Miller, after a surreal act in which she does 15 celebrity impersonations. By “impersonations,” I mean she says the celebrity’s name, then mimics their voice for a line or so. She’s dressed in Britney drag the whole time, and there’s no real rhythm to the performance. It’s anti-comedy in a way. The other contestants are surprised she’s in the bottom two over Season 1 OG queen Ongina, who disappoints with her Drag Race-inspired dance routine. Personally, I’d put both Derrick and Ongina there; although her act wasn’t great, Mayhem’s inflection errors aren’t enough to put her in the bottom two.

The cast of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5’
Credit: Courtesy VH1

Deliberations take on a new form, as the bottom queens must both pitch their case to India and the entire group of safe queens. While she does hear Derrick out, India’s mind seems pretty set. She even offers Mayhem a safety deal, a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” of sorts. Her and Derrick’s previous drama is just too much to get over.

Among the safe queens, opinions differ. There are enough queens who think Mayhem is worse (Jujubee being the most vocal of them) and that her place in the competition really seems in jeopardy if India can’t beat the Lip Sync Assassin. And indeed, India is in for a rude awakening: Yvie Oddly, who is half-responsible for one of the most iconic Drag Race lip syncs ever and won her season in a Lip Sync for the Crown. Still, Yvie’s already proven herself; surely she won’t be too hard on India?

Well, guess what Mimi? She is. Yvie absolutely destroys this lip sync, pulling out all kinds of reveals, bends and drops. At one point, she does one wig reveal, pops up out of a bend, and does another wig reveal on her way up. I know reveals are passé these days, but Yvie makes an argument for why, used correctly, they can still absolutely gag us. India actually performs well, but it’s just no contest. It’s a total knock-out by Yvie.

The $10,000 cash tip rolls over to next week, and Yvie is charged with revealing who the queens have chosen to eliminate. In a bit of a surprise, just based on how many queens seemed fond of her performance (or at least the idea of it), Derrick goes home. She’d be my pick of the two to go, considering I don’t think Mayhem deserves bottom two. But I do think the contestants are largely right that Ongina should be the one packing her bags instead. That kills me to say, because I love Ongina, and I think she’s a far better queen for this format of competition than Derrick is. But on the merits of this performance alone, it should’ve been her.

I’m also bummed to be losing such a juicy source of drama in Derrick. Considering how thirsty the other queens are for tea, I’m surprised they send the best entertainment in the room home. But with that slate cleared, the table is reset for another queen’s story next week.

RuPaul's Drag Race

💄It’s funny to see the entrances fully fleshed out—I’ve watched the edited RuVeal version so many times that it’s genuinely a surprise to see what happened in between the cuts. My favourite entrance looks: Shea’s for pure fashion, Ongina’s for opulence and Blair’s for glow-up.

💄Untucked is back as a separate show! I was a little confused when I first heard about this, considering an Untucked-esque element already happens within the episodes. But it’s really nice to catch up with the safe queens, especially since, by virtue of not being critiqued, they don’t get as much time in the episode. That’s something that’s been missing from the last three All Stars seasons, and I didn’t really know how necessary it was until this week.

💄I love seeing Blair and Shea talk in Untucked about how inspired they were as young queers by watching Jujubee and Mariah. I worried that the Old School vs. New School theme would lead to Season 7-style antagonism between the groups, but so far it seems this group has a tremendous level of respect for each other.

💄Another Untucked highlight: Shea giving a full tutorial on how to block someone who has blocked you on Instagram. We love tech support from our queens!

💄Odd bless Mayhem for calling Mariah “Mariah Angelou” after her performance.

💄“Michelle Visage gave me good compliments, motherfucker.” Alexis has been waiting a long time for praise from Michelle!

💄Ricky Martin makes for an excellent first episode guest judge. He’s so game and fun throughout, both showing up for the reading challenge and excitedly watching the performances. He seems really eager to be there—I like it when a guest judge really throws themselves into the process, beyond even just a trip to Untucked.

💄“My WiFi network is The Petty Palace. I am here for it.” God, I’m just so glad Shea Coulée is back on our TV screens.