On RuPaul’s Drag Race, the ball format is largely always the same: Three looks, two were brought from home and one constructed on the spot. Season 7 varied this format up, with one look created on the spot, and the other being a “character” look—in that case, a new best friend for Hello Kitty. All Stars actually prefers this format as its standard: In All Stars 1, the final four had to create secret identity and superhero (or supervillain) looks, with character details built around them. In All Stars 3, in addition to creating one disco look, the queens had to design Andy Warhol-esque soup cans to wear on the runway.
I’m more of a fan of the traditional format, which makes its return this week. I like a mix of looks brought from home and those created on the spot. Character creation can be fun, but it does turn a pure look challenge into a hybrid fashion/comedy task. And because queens who are good at turning looks are often not the funniest—and vice versa—it can lead to some mixed results.
Luckily, the All Stars 5 queens, on the whole, excel at both parts of the Backyard Ball. The “play cousin” characters the dolls come up with are fun and well-conceptualized, and while most of the Backyard Eleganza looks have one problem or another (too simple, too many construction issues), no one looks a mess on the runway. I imagine there will be plenty of disagreements on who deserves to win, considering how close the results are, but it’s most impressive to me that it is that close at all.
Before we dive into the challenge, though, we have unfinished business from last week to attend to! India Ferrah’s bombshell accusation that Alexis Mateo campaigned to get Shea Coulée out in Week 3 rings in the queens’ ears during the cold open. Shea admits she was very close to pulling Alexis’ lipstick instead, and while the other queens unanimously voted to send India home, that seems to be more about India deserving to go on her track record than their belief in Alexis.
The common thread this week is that while the queens have no proof either way when it comes to Alexis, they no longer trust her the way they did. Alexis realizes this, and knows the only way to get through this week is to win it—to be “perfection,” as she puts it. That’s a tough spot to be in mentally, thinking the only way to make it to the next week is to win. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to perform, and not everyone is at their best with such pressure on them.
Blair, Shea and Alexis all finding letters from India doesn’t help matters, as Alexis wants the group to just move on from the subject. India’s letter to Alexis ultimately isn’t a big deal, just an “I still love you” (though Jujubee hilariously reads a fake, harsher letter first: “You are the potato salad with raisins that nobody eats at a barbecue”). Alexis isn’t interested in the note without an apology for lying. “You don’t love me, bitch,” she says in confessional. (A Farrah Moan allusion!)
But Shea isn’t willing to give up that particular ghost, and as she notes, the other girls are looking both ways with Alexis as well. The drama from last week hangs over Alexis throughout this episode, like the spectre of elimination that isn’t quite ready to let her go yet.
While Alexis does turn a pretty stunning silhouette on the runway in her eleganza, complete with a full kiddie pool under the mermaid tail of her gown, the proportion is a little wonky. And her character monologue for her play cousin persona, while specific and well-thought-out, isn’t as funny as some of the others. She lands in the bottom next to Blair St. Clair, who thinks this challenge is made for her to win as a look queen. Unfortunately for her, while her play cousin look is solid, the monologue is the least detailed or funny of the lot, and while she goes for a high-fashion silhouette with her eleganza, the look itself is all over the place.
Technically Juju and Shea fall into the bottom as well, under the new everyone-in-the-bottom rule, but both receive positive critiques and aren’t considered viable choices for elimination, Juju is a blast in her play cousin persona, cracking more jokes per line than anyone else, and wearing a comically oversized hat with her look. Shea is strong throughout, pulling out a shirt for her play cousin look that references her Grandrea Zuckerman character from Season 9. Her backyard bridal eleganza look is immaculately detailed, but judge Carson Kressley argues there’s one or two too many details on it.
This leaves Miz Cracker as our big winner this week, taking home her second win of the season (and third overall, as she won one in Season 10). Owing to just how close everyone is this week—particularly Cracker, Juju, and Shea—it seems the judges go with who averaged the best performance across all categories. While her play cousin look is simple, it’s just enough to build a great character around in her monologue. She delivers that comedic piece pretty perfectly, timing her stops and moves on the runway to the jokes in her monologue. And in the eleganza portion, her outfit is still simple, but she uses really unconventional materials to put it together and pairs it with a great mug and hair look. Again, it’s really close this week, but I get why Cracker takes the win.
After a couple of Lip Sync Assassins who many fans thought stretched the definition of the term (particularly with Vanessa Vanjie Mateo), I’m thrilled to see Roxxxy Andrews as our Assassin this week. She’s never lost a lip sync on Drag Race, and while her challenge performances in All Stars 2 may have left something to be desired, her drag is always flawless. That does not change this week, as she lip syncs against Cracker to “One Last Time” by Ariana Grande. She made her outfit herself and includes multiple reveals all the way down to a special belt around her ass labelled “THICK & JUICY.”
That reveal leaves Ru cackling, which means Cracker’s solid lip sync is otherwise mostly ignored. It’s a shame because I do think she’s improving as a lip syncer on this show. I can’t quite tell who should’ve won, as the performance is edited within an inch of its life (seriously, count all the judges’ reaction shots), but Roxxxy’s reveals are enough to earn her the win. Cracker will have to try again next week for that $10,000 tip, as it rolls into the final pot of the season.
While Blair worries in deliberations if Cracker would eliminate her, Juju and Shea seem more inclined to eliminate Alexis. So it’s not a huge surprise to see Alexis’ name on Roxxxy’s lipstick, but it is a bummer. Alexis truly brought the entertainment all season, and I think the top 4 would’ve been stronger for her presence. But she leaves knowing she’s never placed lower than 5th on three different seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. That is no small feat. What a legend. There’s only one word to encapsulate just how great Alexis Mateo has been through her sickening Drag Race career: “Bam.”
💄I didn’t get to see India’s full elimination before writing last week’s recap, so briefly I want to give a hearty bravo to the queen of stunts for that departure speech. I’ve been asking my friends if they remember the four Hs all week. We all should remember them! India asked! She may not be my favourite queen this season, but in terms of sheer shenanigans, India is unmatched. Juju is right when she calls India smart: She may be gone, but we’re still talking about her.
💄With this win, Roxxxy joins the small pantheon of Drag Race queens who have won (or at least tied) lip syncs in three different formats: Life (“Whip My Hair,” tied with Alyssa Edwards), Legacy (“Shake It Off,” defeating Tatianna), and now as an Assassin. Monét X Change accomplished the same feat when she beat Jujubee on “Juice” (she won two Lip Syncs for Your Life in Season 10, and tied Manila Luzon on “Jump to It” in All Stars 4), as did Yvie Oddly when she beat India Ferrah on “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” although her third type of win was in a Lip Sync for the Crown in Season 11. (She also tied with Brooke Lynn Hytes in a legendary Lip Sync for Your Life to “Sorry Not Sorry.”)
💄“I am in the top five! I do know what this feels like. Twice.” Juju!
💄Perhaps my favourite running joke this season is that the queens are convinced Trinity the Tuck, Taylor No More is the Lip Sync Assassin nearly every week. Only one more week it could be her!
💄We see Jujubee juuling in Untucked as she and Shea talk about their lingering Alexis concerns. When Juju juuls, does that make it jujuuling?
💄A very cute move to bring Ru’s sisters Roxy and Renae in this week for a family barbecue challenge. They get to go up on the judging dais for a bit in Untucked, in which they clap and silence Ru in a turn-the-table moment. Fun!
💄As with Sarah Hyland, I’m not sure Bebe Rexha is who I would have picked to be a solo guest. Her critiques are okay, but a bit basic. The guest judging hasn’t been as strong in All Stars 5 in general. We’ve got Jane Krakowski coming next week, though, so hopefully, she can liven things up.
💄I’m bummed we don’t actually get to see the queens fighting to get their materials for the challenge! That’s a classic reality TV bit. I’d love to know what Juju planned on doing with all those hoses.
💄“What the fuck is backyard eleganza? I don’t have a backyard, I live in Boston!” Nothing delights me this week as much as Jujubee openly declaring she hates the challenge. She even does it on the main stage! It does take nerve, and she’s got nerve in droves.