Warning: This review contains spoilers for the most recent episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 3.”
Last night, gay bars across America were filled with the cries of shock and awe at the most recent episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 3.” After spending the first half of the season winning challenge after challenge and leaving an incredible impression, fan-favorite BenDeLaCreme (real name Benjamin Putnam) pulled a move that was practically unheard of on the show: she chose to leave the competition on her own terms rather than eliminate a contestant. She’s not the first contestant to quit the show, but the way she quit the show was something no other competitor had done before. Even more surprising is how daring this move was, and how it was fitting to see something like this in this current political age.
First, a little background for those who are unaware of this show and its rules. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a reality TV competition series hosted by drag legend RuPaul Charles. The show, which has been on since 2009, pits drag queens in a variety of challenges that test their “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent,” in challenges that require skills in sewing and costume design, acting, comedy, hair and makeup, script writing, dancing, improvisation, and more. The winner of the competition receives a check for $100,000, a crown, a slew of other prizes, and the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”
The “All Stars” versions of this series test fan-favorite queens by putting them through new challenges in an attempt to affirm their “legacy.” These seasons also mean the elimination process is different than a regular season. In a normal season, RuPaul would name the bottom two queens and force them to “lip sync for [their] life,” pitting them in drag gladiatorial combat by having them dance and lip sync to a song at the same time. RuPaul spares the queen she determined did the best (or eliminates both if they were underwhelming, or saves both if the decision was too hard to decide).
The method introduced in “All Stars 2” that was carried over to “All Stars 3” involves RuPaul naming the two top queens and a number of queens in the bottom, usually two or three contestants. The top two queens will select a lipstick tube with the name of one of the bottom queens to go before they “lip sync for [their] legacy.” Whoever wins the lip sync then reveals their chosen lipstick tube, and the person whose name is on it goes home.
This elimination procedure calls for strategy, alliances, and the queens to be way more critical of their competition than before. Do they eliminate someone who has been underperforming and will be less likely to win the crown at the end? Or will they eliminate a stronger competitor in order to remove a threat? Both “All Stars 2” and “All Stars 3” have proven how this concept can be both mentally and emotionally taxing, but also produce really great TV.
“All Stars 3” has seen the discussion of the best way to eliminate queens challenged in virtually every episode. The first episode saw Morgan McMichaels being sent home because she announced she’d send home the stronger threat no matter what. Milk and Kennedy Davenport had a bit of a feud when Milk made it clear she would have rather seen Kennedy go home over the recently-eliminated Thorgy Thor. Another episode saw Kennedy and BenDeLaCreme having a debate over elimination procedures, with the latter discussing the option to send someone home over cumulative performances each week while the former feels whoever is given the choice to eliminate should choose whatever she feels is best in that given moment.
This season’s continued discussions about “fairness” and elimination feels way more relevant now than ever considering most of America is torn over a variety of subjects, most notably gun rights following the Parkland, Florida school shooting. We see debates over whether or not it’s constitutional to ban assault weapons, who is culpable for Nikolas Cruz’s attack, and whether or not there needs to be serious reform in the sale of guns, from the age to purchase firearms to the banning of bump stocks and other accessories.
Last night’s episode of “All Stars 3” did not address the gun debate in any way — this was an episode where the contestants formed girl groups and gave themselves monikers like “Lil’ Banjee” and “Jungle Kitty,” so why would it? — but it did have a move played by BenDeLaCreme that speaks a lot to how Washington should approach matters as divisive as gun reform: be fair, but think of who will benefit from the action.
In the episode, the five previously-eliminated queens competed for a chance to re-enter the competition, with one of the five remaining contestants being eliminated in their place. BenDeLaCreme won the Lip Sync for your Legacy and had two choices to make. First, she decided to bring Morgan McMichaels back into the competition, as she had eliminated Morgan weeks earlier and felt Morgan needed more time to show what she could offer. But then, rather than eliminate Trixie Mattel, Kennedy Davenport, or Shangela, BenDeLaCreme revealed a lipstick with her own name crudely applied with Wite-Out, announcing that she was choosing to exit the show rather than eliminate any of the contestants.
At this point in the competition, BenDeLaCreme had won five of the six challenges and two and a half lip syncs (having tied with Shangela in the fourth episode). Winning a lip sync earns a queen $10,000, and winning challenges earns the queen a prize of some kind. Going into this episode, this is what BenDeLaCreme had won from all the challenges:
- $25,000 from winning two and a half lip syncs.
- $3,000 shopping spree to l.a. Eyeworks.
- A five-night stay at the Grand Resort Hotel and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, with air fare included.
- $1000 gift card from Sparkles Rhinestones.
- $1000 gift card from Fierce Queen Heels.
- A jewelry pack from Fierce Drag Jewels.
- $1000 gift card to Nailed by Cristy.
- A wig wardrobe courtesy of Rockstar Wigs.
- $1000 gift card from Coolhaus Ice Cream.
- $1,000 gift card to The Spa on Rodeo.
- $1,000 gift card to MuLondon.
Without even knowing how much the Fort Lauderdale trip, jewelry pack, and wig wardrobe are valued at, BenDeLaCreme earned at least $25,000 in cash and $9,000 in various gift cards. Coupled with the salary-per-episode the contestants are owed by the producers, she would have walked away with more than $35,000 in money and prizes. This may not be the $100,000 check and crown, but it’s quite the haul for someone who finished sixth-place in a reality TV competition.
In her explanation for why she chose to eliminate herself, BenDeLaCreme said she returned to prove her abilities, having not been on the show since Season 6 in 2014. Since she had killed nearly every challenge at this point, she simply felt her desire for the crown wasn’t as great as the remaining contestants and decided to bow out on her own terms. She had also made it clear throughout the series that the matter of deciding who would go home nearly every week weighed heavily on her mind — she had eliminated contestants Morgan McMichaels and Chi Chi DeVayne (with Shangela) but still had to make a decision on who to send home had she won the lip sync in any of these weeks, meaning the anxiety that came from potentially sending someone home was still there — so, like Kennedy had said previously, she chose to do what felt right in that moment. With that, BenDeLaCreme left the competition, and the competition was greatly changed.
What made BenDeLaCreme’s elimination so fascinating to me is how calculated it was, but also how honest it was. BenDeLaCreme had won the fan-voted title of Miss Congeniality during her original season and had struggled with being genuine and congenial during this season, with more than one queen questioning the honesty of some of her statements. Some of her responses to elimination choices did read as calculated at times, but it was ultimately unclear how much of this was calculation or innocent statements that were poorly thought out (or the result of producer editing, but that’s another matter that isn’t worth discussing here). However, even if this act was calculated to run off with her slew of prizes and none of the obligation that comes from being the winner of this competition, BenDeLaCreme showed something that I think should be applied more in political discussions and debates.
What BenDeLaCreme’s sacrifice showed was that she was thinking about more than just her own personal satisfaction and worth. She could have easily eliminated any of the other three queens and kept on going until she won the crown. However, by choosing to leave when she did, she made it clear she knew when she had gained enough and that her needs and wants could be pushed aside for the benefit of others. Compared to queens like Alaska in “All Stars 2,” — who infamously threw a hissy fit the one time she landed in the bottom after a series of challenge successes — BenDeLaCreme knew there was a time to hold back her own success to allow others to shine.
Compared to politicians who are debating various issues and are facing criticism for furthering their own interests and wealth, BenDeLaCreme showed that there comes a time to put aside her wants and focus on the overall picture. By doing so, she still left with plenty of prizes, exposure, and memorable moments that will surely benefit her career going forward. What our politicians can do by following her example is looking at the greater picture and deciding that what they want or believe may not matter as much as what the public needs.
For example, with the matter of gun reform, while it may be in the interest of some politicians to vote against the ban on bump stocks or to combat the proposed raising of the age to purchase guns, it might help if they stepped back and decided to think more about the effects such reform may have on the public. Maybe it won’t be good for them if they accept money from the NRA or if they got their position by promising to protect gun rights, but the benefits in the long run may help their own legacy.
It remains to be seen what BenDeLaCreme’s sacrifice will do for the competition. Morgan could get sent home next week, or none of the three she saved from elimination will win the crown at the end. But by putting the show and her competitors over her own interests, BenDeLaCreme affirmed her legacy as “terminally delightful” and congenial. There was a degree of calculation, but it was one that didn’t shaft any competitor and produced highly-discussed and interesting television. It’s the sort of attitude that politicians could stand to apply more as they vote and debate controversial subjects.
After all, reform and legislation shouldn’t have to be such a drag, especially when it means it can benefit everyone.