The genius of RuPaul’s All Stars is that every queen shows up armed with a bigger budget, an established fan base, a personal relationship with every other competitor, and a thorough knowledge of how filming the show works.
Bringing back previous contestants ups the ante in every possible way: The runway is more fabulous, the drama is more dramatic, and picking a challenge winner often means splitting hairs because so many people are performing at the absolute top of their game.
With AS4 premiering on VH1 December 14 8/7C, you might need a little refresher on the major moments that made the third iteration of this juggernaut so compelling.
Here’s a quick crash course on the top ten explosions in last year’s fabulous demolition derby of drag.
1. BEBE ZAHARA BENET IS BACK
Fans who have only watched recent seasons might not grasp the full impact of this moment, but those of us who were around from the beginning understood the meaning of “shook” when this embodiment of royalty entered the room. Bebe was the first-ever winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and she’s only gotten fiercer since then. Throwing a legend like this into the mix raised the already-high bar into the stratosphere: the message was to either outdo someone who already took the crown or don’t bother playing.
2. THE AJA GLOW-UP
This Brooklyn banjee queen is perhaps most remembered for starting the Miss Congeniality showdown during Season 9’s reunion. Aware that her middle-of-the-pack performance and early elimination made her an underdog, she came to the workroom with upgraded fashions, a more refined beat, and a slapping single under her belt. The first week’s talent show gave her a chance to prove just how much talent she hadn’t yet shown us. Her whirlwind of self-penned rap verse, high-energy dance, and full-tilt attitude catapulted her to a win. “Is she going to jump from there?” asked Morgan in disbelief. No, Morgan: she’s going to death drop from there.
3. IS STEVIE NICKS A DIVA?
Nothing gets the gays arguing quite like a discussion of the pantheon of earthly goddesses they worship. So when Ru assigned the task of diva impersonation, things were bound to get heated. Quirky favorite Thorgy Thor seemed like an ideal choice to embody the witchy weirdness of Stevie Nicks, so her dissatisfaction with the role seemed out of place. Pitted against enthusiastic portrayals like Bebe’s Diana Ross and Shangela’s Mariah Carey, she got lost in the shuffle and became a surprise early dismissal.
4. SPOILED MILK
Confidence is important in any field, but it’s foundational to drag. It makes sense that Milk showed up feeling proud of her abilities and entered each task convinced that she would win it. However, her eyes-on-the-prize outlook rubbed the workroom the wrong way, and she found herself in the role of unexpected villain during her three-episode run. When the eliminated girls returned, her plot arc also yielded some of the juiciest drama: her tearful realization that she might have come off poorly was like watching someone else’s therapy session.
5. SHANGELA STEPS UP
While the people around her were having meltdowns, Shangela toughened up. Other than a direct confrontation with Trixie over a note from Thorgy (it’s a little convoluted, but it made sense at the moment), she stayed out of the fray and in the limelight. Ever a showgirl, she brought spectacle to the runway. And after building momentum with a Diva Week win, Shangela capitalized on her vibrant personality during an uneven Snatch Game. While many struggled, she excelled as Jenifer Lewis, earning her a second spot in the top and a second lip sync victory. (If you count a tie as a win, which we will.)
6. TRIXIE STRUGGLES
There was a lot of pre-season heat for Trixie: since her first lap of the Race, she had found two-pronged success with a promising music career and a hilarious chat show with Katya. But she started in the middle of the road and fell from there: After getting overshadowed in the acting challenge, she found that her tried-and-true RuPaul impersonation worked better in the ten-second sprints on YouTube than in the fifteen-minute marathon of the Snatch Game. No tension crackled quite like the anguish of watching a fan favorite doubt herself.
7. BENDELACREME WINS. A LOT.
If self-doubt was a problem for Dela, it certainly didn’t show. Her six-episode run included a whopping five challenge wins. As a contestant, she was an unstoppable force: her tasseled talent show performance, side-splitting improv in The B*tchelor, and gothed-up girl group character proved she had range, resilience, and that unnamable X-factor required to reside in the Hall of Fame. Plus, from a pure numbers standpoint, she arguably had to win. It seemed like a foregone conclusion.
8. BENDELACREME ELIMINATES HERSELF
Until it wasn’t. Easily the most unbelievable turn of events all season was Dela’s choice to remove herself from the competition at a moment when there were no obstacles between her and the grand prize. Her white-out lipstick reveals elicited genuine shock from the other queens, the judging panel, and everyone watching at home. It also completely revitalized the race: With the obvious choice out of the way, it was suddenly anyone’s game.
9. MORGAN MCIMCHAELS RETURNS
Further shaking things up, Dela had brought back the first sashay of the season. Morgan became an early target for her candid reveal that she’d happily send home the strongest competitor if given the chance, and the threat that she might do so added one more disruptive element to the chaos. Her roller coaster journey from first out to top performer was destined for another dip, however: Shangela sent her home the very next week.
10. THE WHOLE ENTIRE FINALE
Everything about the last challenge of the season was BIG. The girls wrote and performed their own verses of RuPaul’s hit “Kitty Girl.” And they had to perform a choreographed music video for the song in one take. AND all the former contestants came back to judge their performance and decide who would be in the top two.
AND Shangela only got one vote and didn’t make it to the last lip sync, which instead featured Trixie Mattel and Kennedy Davenport in all their glory.
Watch the trailer for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, premiering on VH1 December 14 8/7C.