"RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars" Episode 1: Pair shaped

In which teams are selected, and I fall in love with Tammie Brown all over again


A regular season of “Drag Race” is a ridiculous reality-TV spectacle like no other, so an “All Stars” season has the potential to be…pretty much the gayest thing ever. A dozen of our favorite queens (well, at least 11 of our favorite queens) are back for another chance at the “Drag Race” title and $100,000. Season 1’s Nina Flowers, Shannel, and Tammie Brown! Season 2’s Raven, Jujubee, and Pandora Boxx! Season 3’s Alexis Mateo, Yara Sofia, Manila Luzon, and Mimi Imfurst! And Season 4’s Chad Michaels and Latrice Royale! In case you’re keeping track, that’s every runner-up and every Miss Congeniality in the show’s history. The competition is stiff. Or it would be, if it wasn’t so tightly tucked.

But all of our armchair shade throwing over who could or SHOULD take the tiara was rendered moot when the big “All Stars” twist was revealed: the 12 queens would be split up into six teams of two, and competing as duos for the entire season. That explains how they were going to work the short season (I’ve read that “All Stars” will only run six to eight episodes), but it really changes the entire dynamic of the show. If one member of a team screws up, both members go home. Meaning a very strong contender could get bounced early due to a weak partner (I can already think of one team where that’s likely). The queens seemed genuinely shocked at the team announcement, and several of them were downright pissed. Chief among them: Rochester’s own Pandora Boxx. As it turned out, she had very good reason to be.

The teams were selected by each queen picking one of her competitors. If two queens picked each other, they were automatically paired. If there wasn’t a match, they kept picking competitors until they got their wish. Here’s how the teams shook out:

Team Rujubee: Raven and Jujubee (first round match)

Team Shad: Shannel and Chad Michaels (first round match)

Team Brown Flowers: Nina Flowers and Tammie Brown (first round match)

Team Latrila: Latrice Royale and Manila Luzon (second round match)

Team Yarlexis: Yara Sofia and Alexis Mateo (second round match)

Team Mandora: Mimi Imfurst and Pandora Boxx (de facto pair)

Most of the teams seemed to get along well, but as soon as the draft was done the mood changed for Team Mandora. Specifically, Pandora retreated into her shell and Mimi’s insecurities at not being picked by ANYONE started to get the best of her. (And as we all saw in Season 3, Mimi’s insecurities are a self-propelling engine of personal destruction.)

Here’s the thing: Pandora’s already been getting a lot of heat on social media because of her sullen reaction to the teams in general, and being paired with Mimi specifically. Even Pandora’s been making fun of her behavior in the episode on Facebook. Having seen the episode, I didn’t think she came off nearly as badly as I was expecting. Seemed to me that what you had here was someone who was an underdog in Season 2, who became embraced by the show’s fans, and who was legitimately excited to come back and show off her stuff now that she had more polish, more resources, and -- key for Pandora -- more confidence. The team twist took her unaware, and suddenly she was no longer in control of her own performance on the show (well, even less in control than usual on a reality show). I can’t blame her for being shellshocked, although the same could be said for all of the returning queens.

The rest of them, however, didn’t have to work with Mimi. Coming into this I was willing to give Mimi the benefit of the doubt. After her notorious boot in Season 3 -- which I always read as a DQ for physically assaulting another competitor -- I sympathized with Mimi. I felt like she was an insecure person who got caught up in the reality-TV machine. So when they said she was coming back for “All Stars,” I hoped that she would have pulled herself together and become an unlikely dark horse. Say what you will, but Mimi IS memorable and has a unique style and point of view.

Instead, Mimi quickly unraveled and it was back to the same hysterical antics as her first time around. If you only watched the main episode you missed her full-blown meltdown aired on “Untucked,” when she tried to walk off set before the lipsynch because her dirty laundry was being aired publicly and the other queens were taking her to task for apparently poaching Alexis’s gig at a Florida club. She apparently DID walk off after the elimination, since only Pandora was around to take down her portrait from the “All Stars” wall. I’m sure it sucks to go home first, but that kind of behavior, along with poor showings in the photo-shoot challenge, a bad outfit on the runway, and a desperate lipsynch, just underscored that our first impression of Mimi was, unfortunately, pretty much on point. She’s emotionally volatile, immature, and a terrible sport. Tough to root for her, much less work with her.

And so, because of the team nature of this season, that meant Pandora got axed too after Mimi went up against Chad Michaels in a lipsynch to Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat’s “Opposites Attract.” (Side note: I call bullshit on Team Shad being up for that elim instead of Team Yarlexis. Yeah, Chad and Shannel blew the photo shoot, but they killed on the runway. Yarlexis looked tacky and cheap on the runway and their photo wasn’t much better.)

That’s really unfortunate for Pandora and her legions of fans. The trick with all-star seasons of these shows is that by coming back, fan favorites run the risk of damaging the reputation they earned the first time out. Pandora was not portrayed positively here -- although she also wasn’t nearly as bad as the gossip would have you believe. If anything her failing was not taking control of the crazy train that Mimi was apparently hellbent on riding, although Pandora DID manage to talk her into going through with the lipsynch. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders what would have happened had Mimi walked away. Would Pandora have lipsynched by herself? Would they have allowed a one-queen team? I guess we’ll never know.

Speaking of teams, I’ll briefly handicap the rest of them. To me the duos to beat are Rujubee and Shad, which are evenly matched with two very strong queens apiece. Team Latrila -- which won this week’s challenge, thanks in part to dressing like fucking Teletubbies, thank you show -- is the wild card here, because the two of them are so different that they may actually raise their respective games. Team Yarlexis is easily the weakest of the bunch, while Team Brown Flowers has one very strong competitor in Nina and one seemingly weak contestant in Tammie.

HOWEVER! If this episode was any indication, I want them to give the tiara to Tammie Brown right now. Many people wondered why Tammie, the second queen ever eliminated on this series, was brought back for “All Stars.” This episode and “Untucked” made it clear: because Tammie is fucking nuts in the best possible way. She was the breakout star of this first episode, leaving my entire viewing party doubled over in laughter every time she opened her adorable kooky mouth. I think that Tammie operates on a different psychic plane than most mere mortals, even other drag queens. It’s like she’s speaking in tongues, but the babbling is in English, and riddled with pop-culture non sequitirs. I want to clarify, I don’t think Tammie is actually crazy. I just think she’s cuckoo, and I fell in love with her all over again tonight. “Teletubby, take us to MARS!” Instant classic.

To top it off, over on “Untucked” -- which was actually more entertaining than the actual “Drag Race” episode -- we got to check in with our beloved Willam, and got one of the funniest/meanest segments I’ve ever seen when half the queens absolutely eviscerated S1’s Rebecca Glasscock without saying a word. God, I missed Jujubee and Raven. Sassy bitches FTW.