Why does RuPaul’s Drag Race have reunions? The show actually didn’t for quite a while; the finales from Seasons 4 through 8 served as part-finale, part-reunion, doing a fairly ineffective job at both. They only returned when the show moved to VH1 full-time, although All Stars 2 did see a pitiful attempt at a reunion best not discussed.
Back in the original three seasons, the reunions were nasty (but oh-so-compelling) affairs, with queens tearing at each other with abandon. Remember Delta Work’s “Did I read? Absolutely,” or Tatianna’s “I’m not done talking, you will speak when I’m done”? Iconic moments all around. And that’s not even getting into the genius of Tammie Brown saying that she didn’t see RuPaul walking children in nature.
Now, the reunion format is very clearly based on the Season 9 reunion, hoping to emulate the success of that particular outing. That reunion, it must be said, was sheer genius, from Shea Couleé calling Valentina out on lying about her social media use, to Aja questioning the validity of Valentina’s Miss Congeniality win, to Farrah Moan’s legendary “you don’t love me!” declaration — again — to Valentina. Really, it was the strength of such a beguiling, divisive character as Valentina that led that finale to success.
But here’s the thing: for fans that weren’t keeping up with every single development on the queens’ social media channels, that version of Valentina was brand new to us when we met her at the reunion. RuPaul’s Drag Race as a show had given no inclination that Valentina was a villain; she won Miss Congeniality for a reason, after all. But so much had transpired after the show, like Valentina and Farrah’s friendship falling apart, that the reunion gave the girls plenty to chew on. It was also only an hour long, which gave the event far better pacing.
What’s clear in watching this season’s reunion is that anything that’s happened since Season 11 filmed has only been positive. Controversial characters like Ra’Jah Davenport O’Hara, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Yvie Oddly seem to have patched things up. Brooke Lynn Hytes and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, though indeed confirmed to not be dating now, don’t seem all that heartbroken over it not working out. (I also generally question how much was “dating” and how much was a queerer, more fluid idea of friends who hook up, but I digress.)
Any drama left for the camera — which, as Yvie notes when explaining some of her behaviour this season, should be on camera — feels low-stakes. Plastique Tiara takes the Davenport cousins (sans an all-but-silent Honey Davenport) to task for questioning her authenticity, but who cares? Plastique’s got over a million followers on Instagram, as Ru says, practically beaming. Plastique ultimately doesn’t care about this drama. She’s bringing it up at the reunion because that’s what you do at a reality TV gathering.
But honestly, what is the purpose of a Drag Race reunion? Is it really to update us on what’s happened since the show? Is it to rehash old drama, or at least clarify it? (In the case of Wig-Gate, the increasingly dubious scandal involving potential theft of Ariel Versace’s wigs, the answer is apparently neither.) Is it to play a bunch of clip packages and have a laugh before the finale? Is it to reverse-engineer a Valentina moment, come hell or high water?
I don’t ask these questions facetiously; I think Drag Race really needs to examine what it wants to do with these reunions. As it stands, this format has already grown stale. Season 10’s reunion was mostly a toxic mess, but at least it had the drama of The Vixen’s walk-out to hang its hat on. This reunion is just a snooze, and the girls look as bored throughout as I was watching.
Even what should be the most iconic moment of the reunion — Ra’Jah admitting she lifted one of Ariel’s wigs, and throwing it across the stage — is played for a laugh. Which, maybe it should be! It’s one drag queen throwing a probably stolen wig back at the original owner. That’s comedy. Except we’ve been told for much of this season that this is one of the major dramas. Ending it on a joke feels . . . I don’t know, like reunion blue balls. It is, I’ll say, the most endearing moment Ra’Jah’s ever had on the show.
I’m still excited for the finale, and I’m glad that everyone seems to be on good terms. That will make future tours and All Stars runs less awkward. Now we wait to see if the final four can upstage the opener. It seems like it won’t be a difficult task, but with this crew, it’s best to keep expectations low and just hope for the best.
💋 Nina West gave the only good reads of the Reading Is Fundamental Redux part of the reunion. These girls just can’t stop failing at the signature challenges, even after the season is over.
💋 Speaking of Nina, she is one of three to get big, positive feature segments, the others being Miss Vanjie and Scarlet Envy. Keep an eye on those three to get All Stars spots in the future.
💋 One thing bothering me in retrospect about this reunion: very little of it was actually about drag! Yes, there was the cute little toot-or-boot segment to talk about the fashion, but we didn’t get to hear much about how some of the stunning work — looks, comedy performances, group challenges, etc — came to be. It was a lot of petty drama being hashed out, to say the least.
💋 A lot of the girls have completely changed their makeup styles since Season 11 shot, particularly Vanjie, Nina and Plastique. The latter is particularly stunning; she’s reshaped her face in a way that is much fresher and more complimentary to her natural good looks.
💋 I’d love to see Michelle Visage host these reunions if we’re going to keep doing them. I think Ru thinks more like a producer (Branjie! Wig-gate!) but has little interest in actually listening to the girls and asking good follow-up questions. That’s the kind of thing Michelle is made to do.
💋 Poor A’keria C Davenport, getting that last-second villain edit in the reunion. We call that the Valentina Reunion Edit. Last season, Kameron Michaels got it, and now it’s A’keria’s turn. (From my perspective, A’keria did do more than she’s saying to question Plastique’s story, but Plastique blaming A’keria for everything that went wrong in her Drag Race experience felt extreme.)
💋 Judging just based on this reunion — the way it went out of its path to give certain queens time to express themselves, based on who got apologies, and so on — I’d say Yvie is being painted like our winner. We’ll see if she can beat the odds next week in the finale.