If you don't want spoilers, stop reading now. If you would like to enter a support group about what happened last night, I'm happy to help organize it. If you have an emotional support animal, can I borrow it?
I watched the episode alone, which was a mistake. Afterward, I needed people to process it with. Yes, I know, it's a silly TV show about men who wear dresses and try to out-do each other in the theater department. But I love this contest, I love performance, I love RuPaul, I love what this TV show has done to reinvigorate a formerly moribund art form, and I love how good Seattle queens have been doing on this franchise.
Seattle's own BenDeLaCreme has been outdoing everyone else on All Stars 3—again and again and again and again. It was almost starting to get boring how thoroughly she was kicking everyone else's ass. But what made it not boring, what made it exciting, was the idea of Ben going home with the $100,000 and the crown, and Seattle having had two Drag Race superstars, following Jinkx Monsoon's win on season five. I was getting very excited. After the first few episodes, I had no doubt DeLa would be in the top three, and the only remaining question was whether she or Shangela would get the crown.
But last night... Jesus... last night.
A New York Times headline calls what happened last night "Shocking."
A Vulture headline says: "BenDeLaCreme Just Delivered the Face Crack of the Century."
A person on Reddit writes: "We will remember the details of this episode on our deathbeds."
BenDeLaCreme, after placing in "the top two" on five out of six episodes, collecting more than $25,000 in tips, winning free wigs and fancy vacations, had to eliminate one of the three remaining queens. She also had to choose a previously eliminated queen to return to the show. She chose the most unlikely queen to return (the person she'd had a major disagreement with on episode one) and the person she chose to eliminate was... herself.
Which was not one of the options the producers had made available to her.
She clearly wanted to leave on a high note. But more to the point, she clearly wanted to leave. She has been unhappy with how the rules of this season have been structured from the get-go. "I had to decide every week who was going to walk out of this room," she lamented two episodes ago. "I don't want to be on the judge's panel, I want to be one of the girls."
I have to say: I'm with DeLa on this. I don't like the show as much when queens send each other home. I like it when RuPaul makes the decision. It makes RuPaul the star of the show—her judgement, her temperament, and her sense of humor are what make this show work. Tossing out the decision-making to the whims of the participants is like watching people argue on Twitter, and the whole reason I turn on the TV is to get away from people arguing on Twitter.
And it was starting to seem perverse that DeLa, of all people, had to bear the burden of giving other contestants the chop, because it was DeLa who explained to The Stranger in 2016 that she didn't want to be on All Stars 2 because of how the producers pit the queens against each other. She said:
Those TV producers are willing to ruin friendships, professional relationships, feelings of self-worth—all for some cheap entertainment. You won't remember the details of that episode in a week. Those queens may have to work through that experience for years. I'm grateful for the experience I had [on season six of RuPaul's Drag Race], but I've already been through hell in my new show—I don't need to go through it on theirs.
Given that that was her mindset about All Stars a year and a half ago, it seemed especially perverse that it always fell to DeLa to have to decide who to send home, and plausibly destroy a relationship with, all because she had worked her ass off and done well in the challenge.
"I'm not here for the drama. That's not what I'm here to do," she said on last night's show.
Later she said that having to send other contestants home "doesn't resonate with me."
She also wondered aloud: "Am I compromising my personal ideals about not wanting to be part of unnecessary conflict [by being here]?"
When the time came, and the girls up for elimination came out onstage, DeLa said, in front of God and RuPaul and everyone, "This is the easiest choice I have had to make this entire season." She pulled out the black lipstick case on which she had written, in White-Out, her own name: "DELA."
"I'm going home," she added.
"What?" RuPaul said.
"What'd she just say?" Trixie said. "Did she say her own name?"
"I am so, so grateful for my time here," Ben said. "Both on the last season and on this one. I hope you don't see this as disrespect," she said to Ru. "I see myself as a Drag Race success story."
RuPaul stammered, "I'm... Actually... I don't know how... how to take this."
Ben said, "I feel so good. I feel like I'm going home winning."
RuPaul, clearly shocked, said, "As it is written, so it shall be."
Ben said, somewhat awkwardly, as she sashayed away, "Thanks for letting be my kind of winner. I had a real good time."
The awkwardness stemmed from the obvious fact: She hadn't had a real good time. She'd been talking since episode one about her displeasure with the elimination system, and she kept saying she wished she could "quantify" how well each person was performing to relieve herself of the decision-making. She wanted to "do some math about it." She said, "I want it to be like, 'OK, this is the technical way I want to do this.'" She hated the responsibility Ru and the other producers had given her.
So where does this leave us?
On the one hand, it bums me out because the person I was cheering for decided she didn't want to be cheered on anymore. I feel like I've been ghosted on. I'm not really interested in watching the rest of the season now—any win will be sullied because the person who won the most challenges, the obvious frontrunner, said to the world, essentially, "Screw this show, I don't even want this." There's a part of me that wishes Ben could be less fussy, less of a control freak, less worried about what others think of each move he makes. I wish he went in with more of a sense of humor about the competitive aspect. Then again, I'm a control freak myself (hello, Virgos!) and without being fussy and a control freak, there's no way Ben could have built the extraordinary career he has built out of nothing. Well, nothing but hard work, an art degree, and mountains of talent.
On the other hand, follow one's bliss. Do your thing. Part of being a Ben fan means respecting Ben's decision. It sure was a bold move. I've never seen anyone pull a power move on RuPaul... until last night. Ben out-RuPaul'ed RuPaul. Dommed her. Total power move. Ben essentially said, "Oh, these are your rules? Well, guess what, here are mine—suck it." Which is a pretty punk move. And it suggests the opposite of what I said in the paragraph above; it suggests Ben doesn't give a damn what other people think. A lot of people don't realize this, but Ben doesn't come from a theater background. Ben comes from a visual art background. He studied painting in art school. Institutional Critique is a big deal in visual art, and Institutional Critique is what Ben brought to RuPaul's soundstage last night.
It was certainly the most powerful possible moment in Ben's career to hand RuPaul his critique of Ru's show. According to a tally in the Gay Times:
These are the following records Ben’s broken: the only queen to win 5 challenges in one season; the only queen to win 4 challenges in a row; the only queen to win Snatch Game twice; and the queen with the most challenge wins ever, at 7.
New York Times called what BenDeLaCreme did last night "a shock, a lightning bolt in a hazy season she’d been gliding through like Allison Janney toward Sunday’s Oscars. She was the clearest front-runner, self-possessed and chameleonic, and a benevolent, if up-talky, presence. But the weekly elimination drama got to her, and she was clearly no longer interested in it."
Vulture says the episode "makes us doubt whether or not the All Stars format is really working," adding: "Can a reality competition show about drag queens jump the shark?" Vulture's answer is ultimately no, it hasn't jumped the shark, but I'm not so sure about that.
I'm going to give BenDeLaCreme the last word: