‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9’ Episode 2 recap: We’re on each other’s team

As the competition moulds into place, the queens are playing doubles

For all the reasons All Stars 1 was frustrating to watch at the time—a terrific cast wasted on an all-double-elimination season, with some wonky challenges along the way—what’s proven perhaps most maddening in the years since is the misuse of the teams format. We’ve seen so many dynamic duos come through the door since: Sasha Velour and Shea Couleé! Trixie Mattel and Katya! Even queens from different seasons, like Symone and Gigi Goode, would make for amazing teams. It would be a thrill to watch them compete in pairs, but the idea seems dead on arrival since All Stars 1’s failure.

Colour me intrigued, then, that All Stars 9 is shaping up to be a team battle, though it wasn’t cast that way. We got a sense that this might be happening in the premiere, with unlikely duo Plastique Tiara and Roxxxy Andrews pairing up, and Angeria Paris VanMicheals and Jorgeous falling back into their Season 14 sisterhood. But in this episode, after we see Gottmik and Vanessa Vanjie bond while creating their third looks for the Paint Ball challenge, Shannel makes it plain: this is a season of pairs, with her and her old-school sister Nina West making up the final duo.

Though I enjoyed the everybody-say-love vibes of All Stars 7 to a point, my primary concern with All Stars 9 was that, without the Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent of winners competing against each other, the non-elimination format would fall flat. But I underestimated these queens, who are finding ways to make this competitive despite a lack of competition structure. We’re getting a lot of strategy talk when it comes to who to block next, in a way that demonstrates queens are thinking about the long game. And it must be said that, despite no cash prize on the line for them, the cast is absolutely bringing it on the runway, with the top two of this week producing two of the best ball packages we’ve ever seen.

But it’s the pairs dynamic that has me most excited. Yes, Monét X Change and Trinity the Tuck were the “twinners” in All Stars 7, and tried to be strategic, but the joke of that was that no one would plot with them. These queens, conversely, are already thinking about the long-game, and finding their allies to do battle with. It’s an intriguing setup that adds story structure to the season, but not needless negativity or drama. Because while these queens may be playing for keeps, they’re also having a ton of fun—and that makes for remarkably watchable Drag Race.

Shannel’s home, decked-out in Christmas decor, deserves its own WOW Presents Plus special immediately Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

 

This season’s Paint Ball breaks down into three categories: Monochromatica (which, may I note, has already been done on Canada’s Drag Race Season 2), Drag Imitates Art (again, borrowing liberally from the Paint runway on Canada’s Drag Race Season 3) and Paint Ball Eleganza. It’s the last category that proves the most interesting, and not just because it’s the most original one: the queens must hand-paint their looks. This makes this more than just a design challenge, and it really pushes the queens to do something more than just looks in a single colour.

Early on, it’s clear that Plastique—who Jorgeous now calls “Plastic”—is a frontrunner for this win. She pulls out a spray effect on her fabric that’s instantly impressive, to the point where Angeria mocks Jorgeous for getting too excited about it. But Jorgeous’ excitement is justified: when Plastique hits the runway, she’s created an absolute work of art in no time at all. The dress alone, which is immaculately painted to mimic body contours, is stunning. The overcoat-esque piece she creates with it is out of this world; the way she drapes it is nothing short of breathtaking. Combined with an impeccable first two looks (the red Monochromatica look is another all-timer), and Plastique dominates this ball.

What’s impressive, then, is that despite Plastique being #1 with a bullet, Gottmik also produces an excellent trio of looks. She wears a futuristic, sexy Versace look for the Monochromatica runway, as well as a jaw-dropping (pun intended) take on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for the Drag Imitates Art category. Her punk rock look for the final category is striking as hell, all the more so for how unfocused it seemed when she was putting it together. It shows Gottmik really had a vision for it, and it comes together beautifully. Overall, this is a much stronger set of looks than she won the Season 13 ball with, and she easily takes the other top two slot next to Plastique.

Everyone else is playing on a different level, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of fun to be had. We see Roxxxy pick up where Sapphira Cristál left off in Season 16 by helping all of her fellow queens with their looks (“Now serving number seven!”), admitting that back in Season 5, Roxxxy would’ve never helped another queen. We see Shannel getting architectural with her look, even asking if anyone has pliers. We also get to see them painting outside, in the rare Drag Race moment of seeing them outdoors! Overall, the vibe of the episode is very fun and easy to watch, and I’m very hopeful this stays the case all season long.

Plastique Tiara’s look for the Paint Ball Eleganza runway category is a pure work of art Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

But back to the game: strategy is afoot! In some of the most stark talk about the show’s production I can ever remember seeing on Drag Race, the queens openly speculate that a comedy challenge must be coming. Roxxxy and Plastique talk about it in the werk room, and Gottmik later weighs the same options they do: Angeria and Nina. Roxxxy wants to cut Angeria off from getting a Beautiful Benefactress Badge next week, knowing that she’s good at comedy and acting challenges, and of course, as a bit of revenge for blocking her the previous week.

Plastique, however, has what I think is the right train of thought. Nina is very well-suited for the comedy and acting challenges that we’ll be getting all season long, even moreso than Angeria. If she gets on a roll, then like Jinkx Monsoon in All Stars 7, she may be unstoppable. With two challenges not to her strengths behind them, now is exactly the time to cut Nina off. (And considering we find out in the preview that next week’s challenge is Snatch Game, Plastique is on the money.)

Ultimately, Plastique does get the chance to fight for that outcome, as she and Gottmik find themselves in the Lip Sync for Your Legacy. The song is Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” which is kind of a funny song for a lip sync, no? It’s a classic, but it’s not what you’d expect. It’s clearly not what Plastique expects, either, as she does a sexy, dance-forward take on the song that’s all wrong for it.

Gottmik on the other hand? Gottmik has learned how to lip sync since Season 13! She gives us such a funny take on the song, not just camping it up but also moving her body in time with the beat. She eats it up, I fear, and there’s no contest as to who has won. Gottmik takes the $10,000 donation for Trans Lifeline, and earns the power to cut off one of her fellow queens.

After some internal deliberation, Gottmik ultimately decides to cut Angeria Paris VanMicheals off from winning a badge next week Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

At first, Gottmik does seem to be weighing both options. She’s thinking strategically, and she knows she needs to cut one of the queens who is stronger in comedy challenges. But ultimately, she chooses Angeria, likely as a way to neutralize future threats. She’s less likely to be blocked herself if she makes fewer enemies here—and Angeria already has to worry about Roxxxy after making her an enemy last week. I get the thinking, but I do think Plastique was ultimately in the right (even without the hindsight of knowing Snatch Game is coming).

I love that, just two episodes in, we’re already getting this kind of gameplay. The fact that it’s not watering down the fun vibes of the cast, but actually enhancing them as they lean into the playful side of scheming, is such a good sign as well. All Stars 9 has pleasantly surprised me in these first two episodes, and made me much less skeptical of the non-elimination format for non-winners. There are still 10 episodes to go, so it’ll be a long haul—but it’s a journey I’m now eager to go on.

Untucking our final thoughts

Jorgeous says in the cold open she was not aware she won a Beautiful Benefactress Badge for placing in the top two. (I love Jorgeous.) When asked who she would’ve blocked, she says Nina, because she’s a major threat—“except for the sewing challenges.”

Roxxxy is perfectly calibrating her persona this season between the kind-hearted side she showed on All Stars 2 and her original, villainous character from Season 5. Take the post-Ruby Snippering scene as an example: she takes it as a compliment ultimately, but isn’t afraid to camp it up with Angeria a bit for the drama. “Baby, you can’t snip the doll!” Ultimately, she calls Angeria’s decision “fierce,” but adds: “But guess what? I love fierce competition.”

“I love saying ‘Mary.’ When I’m really feeling it, I say ‘Mary.’” I’m sorry, Jorgeous is hilarious. The fact that she keeps saying it later in the episode!

A couple of good “Angeria the Drag Race Superfan” bits in this episode: Angeria asks if anyone won their ball. Gottmik confirms she did, and Angeria says it was the Bag Ball, Gottmik’s reply: “Oh, you already knew!” Later, she admits that while her drag mom is a Roxxxy superfan, she herself was actually rooting for Jinkx back in Season 5. This has the werk room howling—no wonder she gave Roxxxy the Ruby Snippers!

World of Wonder, if you do not produce a Christmas special at Shannel’s decked-out holiday house this winter, what are you doing? She has a whole business! She designs the Raiders stadium for Christmas!

A great bit from Ru’s walkthrough with Vanjie: she still has her Season 10 challenge design dress hung up! Initially she hated it, to the point that she left it in the werk room upon leaving, but she found it in the Untucked lounge in Season 11 and took it with her. Since it’s what she was wearing during the “Miss Vanjie” exit, it’s clearly important memorabilia! I’m glad she’s come around to pride in it.

Our guest judge is Oscar-nominated star of Everything Everywhere All at Once Stephanie Hsu, and she is a delight! Again, no negative critiques needed for a season like this, so she can just have fun and enjoy. You can tell she’s really impressed with what she sees—and appropriately so.

Bruno in an artist’s beret! That’s all. I just love Bruno.

The third episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9 will stream Friday, May 24, at 3 a.m. EST on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. We’ll be publishing recaps and power rankings all season long, and you can also subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every month.

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