For the finale of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars season 4, Out editors describe why their favorite queens have already won.
No matter who ends up snatching the crown on the season finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4, the winning queen will end up playing second fiddle in the court of public opinion, where the only winner is clearly season 3 and All Stars 1 contestant Manila Luzon.
Anyone who watched All Stars 4 among other queers in public knows that Luzon’s untimely exit induced gay screams the likes of which we haven’t heard since — well, since the last time Drag Race pulled some stunts, shenanigans, and buffoonery. And the frustration was well-earned: when Luzon exited, she had the best track record of all the girls. She won three challenges, two lip syncs, and took zero trips to the bottom.
Though Trixie Mattel has the scepter, crown, and $100,000 that comes with being All Stars 3’s champion, most of the headlines after the jury were concerned with the last-minute jury twist and how it robbed Shangela of her title. For a while, it seemed like Drag Race went on a jury apology tour. Even Michelle Visage admitted the twist did Shangela dirty. There are other “robbed queens” in All Stars history, including All Stars 2’s Alyssa Edwards and Tatianna, both axed in the name of the three-wigged hydra, Rolaskatox. Manila now officially gets to hold the same “robbed queen” narrative that has made the other queens so popular in viewers’ eyes; She’ll always be thought of as not having gotten her due, as having understayed her welcome. When the show crowns its latest victor, it’ll be hard not to imagine an asterisk with the words “Manila was robbed” etched into her scepter.
This isn’t even the first time Manila Luzon has been robbed. On All Stars 1 the season’s teams format left many hamstrung, and Manila — along with every other queen involved — didn’t get to shine the way they deserved. Manila came back to All Stars only to be done in by the updated format’s emphasis on strategy and sabotage.
Aside from the narrative, there’s no doubt that Manila also has legions of new fans who didn’t watch the show when her original season aired. Manila currently has 295,000 Twitter followers, more than any of the girls in the top 4. In September 2018, according to the WayBack Machine, she had about 225,000 followers, meaning about one-fourth of her following was amassed in just the past few months. And on Instagram, Manila is part of the coveted “1 million club” of queens who’ve surpassed 1 million followers on the platform. Of the top 4, only Naomi Smalls can boast a larger IG following.
Manila hasn’t left her new following unsatiated, either. Anyone who watched All Stars 4 knew that Manila’s fashion game was one of the best each week and she has continued to serve looks on her Instagram. When the show’s penultimate episode featured a “kitty couture” runway, the queen shared her own version of the runway theme. The post not only garnered a ton of clicks, it proved to followers that their hunch was right: Manila should be delivering this look on the show, where it probably would’ve been one of the night’s best.
Ru said my ORIGINAL Curves & Swerves Runway look was in “bad taste” and production told me to wear my back up. I was really looking forward to wearing this gown that I think celebrates a perfectly normal human experience! Many of my fans are young women who may feel pressured by society to be embarrassed by periods. It’s empowering to teach young women about their bodies, encourage them to celebrate them AND to question people who tell them not to! My goal with this look was to normalize menstruation by looking sick’ning even if I was on my period! Instead, i decided to wear the beautiful quilted dress you saw in the episode because it is not my show, it’s Ru’s. But because of Ru, I have my very own platform to speak for myself and show you all my interpretation! my Period Gown is by @theladyhyde
Earlier in the season, Manila also used her Instagram to show her original “curves and swerve” runway, a dress that looked like a menstrual pad soaked in blood. She revealed that production told her the dress was in “bad taste” even though she wanted to “normalize menstruation by looking sick’ning even if I was on my period!” The post was a success, garnering more headlines than any single outfit this season.
Manila’s period dress synthesizes why people love her. Her style conveys how meticulous a designer, while maintaining a signature irreverence. And the post itself shows that, while she loves Drag Race as an institution, she’s willing to draw back the curtain and show fans the reality of production — not just for the hell of it, but to raise a larger issue.
For some people, Luzon’s elimination was a sign that the All Stars format doesn’t work. Given that most of the Drag Race fandom is still exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress after All Stars 3 saw BenDeLaCreme and Shangela exit the competition early, it’s easy to blame the format. But Luzon’s elimination wasn’t a fault of the format, it was part of its architecture. Shangela and BendelaCreme’s eliminations were aberrations from the norm. Manila’s showed just how much the All Stars format punishes winners by painting a target on their back. When Naomi Smalls eliminated Manila, for which Naomi faced a racist backlash, she wasn’t bending the rules, she was following them. And while that meant Manila won’t be in the Drag Race Hall of Fame, she does have a place in fan’s hearts and memories. Which is the true victory.