All Stars 7 finally gave us a Drag Race season where the queens were nothing but praised and celebrated in the final edit, which is something that many fans have long asked from the series. But with this all-winners edition coming to an end, it begs the question: did the lack of negative critiques really benefit the show?
On one hand, due to the intensive nature of the fandom, there's some logic to the thought process that producers didn't want any of these former Drag Race winners to receive negative critiques that could potentially tarnish their original seasons and perhaps make a case as to why one -- or some -- of them shouldn't have won in the first place. This approach also isn't anything new, as we all saw how season one winner BeBe Zahara Benet went through the entirety of All Stars 3 without receiving any major negative critique.
This critique-free format of Drag Race is also something that many viewers had asked for over the years. More often than not, "harsh" critiques or feedback from the likes of Michelle Visage, Todrick Hall, and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman got absolutely dragged by the fanbase, whereas more "positive" judges were either praised by viewers or at least left uncanceled.
As a result, recent seasons of Drag Race have gone through many episodes without eliminating a single queen. In season 13, no queen was eliminated until episode four. It also took three episodes for anyone to be really eliminated in season 14. This started a social media outcry where viewers complained about the length of those seasons and that "no one was going home for way too long." Never mind the fact that certain contestants went home in the first episode with a bag full of clothes to wear for an entire season...fans now got upset that the queens got too many chances to show too much of themselves on the show.
And then came All Stars 7, a season that not only didn't have any eliminations (something that most fans loved), but that also didn't showcase any negative critiques whatsoever. No matter how poorly a contestant objectively did during a challenge, a negative critique was never uttered by the judging panel. The closest we saw to a negative critique were things that sounded like, "You tried your hardest and we appreciate that" or "You stumbled but then recovered from it."
As pointed out by cohosts Colin Drucker and Johnny Also in the Alright Mary podcast, one could literally skip the judges' critiques during most episodes of All Stars 7 and their viewing experience would be completely unchanged.
Instead of the usual pros and cons offered by the judges, the critiques section of these episodes became about excusing weak performers, giving non-committal opinions about contestants that weren't supposed to win a challenge, and raving about the queens who did well but were also clearly set up to win a challenge during a particular week. This resulted in numerous great performances from Raja in the first few episodes being completely dismissed in the critiques, while clear stumbles in the first ball challenge and in the roast -- just to name a few -- felt like they never even happened.
Though the drama-free editing between the queens and the lack of eliminations on All Stars 7 are very exciting elements that most fans have justifiably praised, it is still extremely odd to watch a competition show where contestants are not critiqued according to the performances that they actually delivered. Moreover, given that there were such few stumbles throughout the entire season, it wouldn't have hurt to point out the very few times when this or that contestant did deliver a weaker performance than the rest of the cast. At the end of the day, no one was going to walk out of this season looking like a failure or a loser anyway.
More often than not, this series is precisely about queer artists who fail, stumble, and even fall, but who are always able to get back up and prevail...and RuPaul himself has dubbed Drag Race as being about "the tenacity of the human spirit."
While All Stars 7 will still be considered one of the best seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race of all time, maybe the judges -- and most importantly, the fans -- should really let go of this idea that a negative critique from a judge is the end-all-be-all to the career and/or the track record of drag performer who's appearing on a TV show. These are all still fabulous queens who aren't perfect at everything, will absolutely stumble, and won't ever have their original reign erased from herstory.