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Drag Race All Stars' Frustrating New Twist Almost Works

The eliminated queens should be able to showcase their runway looks, but a fan vote takes the fun out of it.
  • Monica Beverly Hillz on RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars
    Monica Beverly Hillz on RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars

    RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars is back for its 8th season, after last summer's much ballyhooed all-winners edition. Eleven former contestants from RuPaul's Drag Race — plus one from Canada's Drag Race — are back to compete for the all-stars crown and the $200,000 prize. As has become the custom of late, there is a twist this season that will allow for a second path to prize money, what RuPaul and the show have been calling The Fame Games. Twists like this have been a way for the show to shake up new seasons and keep the audience on their toes. They've also been a way to give the queens more to compete for, as well as additional avenues to recoup what is for many a significant financial investment in their Drag Race journey. Unfortunately, this season's Fame Games twist doesn't do either of those things nearly as well as it should.

    As laid out by RuPaul at the end of this season's premiere, the Fame Games utilizes Untucked, the Drag Race after-show that has become required viewing to get the full picture of what actually goes on in a given week, as well as the show's massive online presence, to give the queens a second chance to win. Each week, on Untucked and online, the eliminated queens from previous weeks will showcase the runway look they would have worn on that week's challenge. "In the final days leading up to the season's grand finale," says Ru, "fans will vote to determine which one of our eliminated queens will win the title Queen of the Fame Games, plus a cash prize of $50,000."

    On the surface this is a great thing, especially for the queens. It doesn't get addressed on the show very much, but the cost for queens to compete on Drag Race at a level that would put them in a position to win is significant. When they get cast on the show, they're asked to show up to compete with 20 to 25 looks (outfit, wig, accessories) that will fulfill the season's various challenges and runway prompts. On a show where spectacle is at a premium, it's become an arms race to come prepared with the most eye-popping ensembles. Often, the queens will outsource these looks to designers, and the costs can vary significantly. A 2021 Vice article, revealed that the queens spend "anywhere from $4,000 on the low end to upwards of $20,000 on the higher end."

    Success on Drag Race isn't just about showcasing one's artistry or the thrill of victory, it's also the cold economics of recouping that investment. The trade-off can of course be worth it. Even for queens who don't win Drag Race, the platform that the show affords them leads to increased opportunities and performance bookings after the show. The longer a queen lasts on the show, of course, the better their financial situation will be after it's done. Conversely, a queen could put thousands of dollars into appearing on Drag Race and get eliminated after one week.

    In recent seasons, the Drag Race producers have shown an increased awareness of these economic realities, and some of the twists in the show's format have seemed designed to help the queens get as much visibility as possible for their investment. All Stars 6 featured the "Game Within a Game," which turned out to be a series of lip-sync showdowns among the eliminated queens that allowed the ultimate winner to re-enter the competition. Season 13 of the flagship series featured a twist called the Porkchop Loading Dock, an elaborate lip-sync competition to kick off the season whose upshot was that no queens were eliminated from the show until the fourth episode. This frustrated some fans, who after all are tuning in to watch a reality competition series, but it afforded the full cast of queens maximum TV exposure before anyone got sent home.

    The Fame Games would appear to have been designed with a similar purpose in mind. Rather than let all these fabulous and pricey runway looks go to waste, the show will now showcase them and give one queen the chance to win a $50,000 consolation prize. The queens have already gotten in the habit of taking to social media to showcase their unused looks after they've been eliminated, the better to keep their online profile prominent as the season rolls on without them. With the Fame Games, the show allows the queens to reap a more tangible reward. Conceptually, this is a good thing for the queens, and it could have been a fun twist for the viewer. Unfortunately, the format deflates it significantly.

    While the runway looks from the eliminated queens will be featured week to week, the fan vote that will determine the winner of the Fame Games won't be conducted until the season is nearly over. And while you can prompt the fans all you want to with instructions that they should be voting based on the quality of the runway looks we've seen throughout the season, fan voting will always be a basic popularity contest — which is fine and will certainly result in a winner loved by the fans, but it won't have much to do with the actual runway looks. And it will almost certainly skew the advantage to the queens who last the longest on the show.

    It's so close to being a truly fun and interesting twist. If the format was closer to All Stars 6's Game Within a Game, that could have worked so much better. If the fans voted every week between two runway looks, with the winner advancing to face the next week's eliminated queen, the voting would have stood a chance to be more based on the ensemble itself. This would increase the chances for an unexpected result, and it could allow for a queen eliminated early to make a run to the top prize.

    Drag Race is on the right track with The Fame Games — more chances for the queens to win money on this show that requires so much of them will always be a good idea. But it's not much fun watching the queens eliminated in these early weeks talk about how they're coming to snatch the Fame Games crown when they're pretty much dead in the waters of an online popularity contest. A better twist would be more of a game and less dependent on the fame.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul Charles