Start your engines… RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is back for its fifth series, giving another set of seasoned queen one more chance at winning the crown.
While most spin-off series tend to pale in comparison to their original show, All Stars has consistently proved to be the exception. The familiar contestant line-up, made up of redemption-seeking Drag Race alumni, combined with the iconic All Star rules, regularly draw in half a million VH1 viewers on average each season.
Although the All Star rules – which give the power to eliminate one of the bottom contestants to the top queen of the week – are what keeps the series so fresh, RuPaul announced ahead of season five that they have been “suspended forever”. Instead, the top queen will lip sync for her legacy against a ‘secret assassin’ queen – if the top queen wins, she gets to eliminate a bottom queen, but if the secret assassins wins, the other contestants get to vote on who leaves the competition.
Dramatic twists and turns are embedded within the show’s DNA, so a rule change like this is to be expected. However, suspending the classic All Star rules – if you can really call this a suspension – and implementing a more convoluted version could prove to be a big mistake for Drag Race All Stars 5.
The traditional All Star rules, which were introduced during season two, are a defining element of the show – they are what makes the spin-off so different to the standard Drag Race series. Asking the top two queens lip sync for their legacy, with the winner choosing which bottom queen goes home, adds a political layer to the existing drama. The queens with the potential power must decide whether they eliminate with the judges’ critiques in mind, or factor in personal reasons – for example, during season two, we saw Alaska send home Tatianna in a shock elimination in order to save her Drag Race season four friends Roxxxy Andrews and Detox.
Queens have even taken the opportunity to knock out their fiercest competition – just look at Naomi Small’s shady choice to eliminate Manila Luzon in All Stars 4. The one time that Manila found herself in the bottom two, Naomi decided to get rid of her while she could.
You could argue that the new All Star rules don’t change that much – if the top queen of the week wins the lip sync, she still chooses who goes home. However, if the lip sync assassin steals the show and all the queens vote for their elimination choice, that’s when we lose the biggest fuel for drama on the show – the element of accountability.
In previous series, top queens have always had to face ramifications for their decision, especially those that lost their lip sync and would have sent home a different queen to the one who got the chop. Watching certain queens take the decision personally and vow revenge, while others begin to form alliances to save their skin in future weeks adds another dramatic dimension to an already excellent show.
However, introducing a rule where all the queens anonymously vote to send someone home not only removes that element of accountability but could result in an unjust result – a prime example being All Stars 3.
Arguably the worst season of All Stars, the huge twist during the final episode saw RuPaul bring back all the eliminated queens, who voted to choose which two semi-finalists would lip sync for the crown. The queens, many of whom were bitter after being eliminated by front-runner Shangela, chose Trixie Mattell and Kennedy Davenport to battle for the crown, despite their track records of landing in the bottom. Trixie ultimately won the series, robbing fan-favourite Shangela of her rightly-deserved place in the Hall of Fame.
Of course, switching up the rules of a show like All Stars keeps the format fresh, the outcome unpredictable and it’s always exciting when a guest queen is added into the mix, but introducing a new set of complex rules which turn one of the show’s most controversial twists into a permanent fixture could result in past mistakes being made once again.
We’ll have to see how the new rules pan out, but whatever happens, I’ll still be glued to this season of All Stars.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 5 will be available on Netflix in the UK from Saturday 13 June onwards.