Drag Race icon Ongina might've quit All-Stars 5, but she's here to stay
It took 11 years for Ongina to return to RuPaul's Drag Race for the series' fifth All-Stars contest, and a mere two episodes for her to sashay away. But, regardless of her comeback's brevity, the OG season 1 queen's presence — even if for a moment — was enough to build a platform legacy for a new school of Drag Race fans to appreciate well into the future.
During her lightning-fast stint back in the Werk Room for the first time since 2009, Ongina gave us masterfully tailored looks, playful shade, and a warm reminder of why she was able to blaze a trail for the fledgling reality show across its freshman season; Her seamless blend of old-school poise and maturity with spectacular flair for progressive fashion hasn't dulled across the last decade, but wavering self-confidence issues (Ongina admittedly lost her drive to fight for the crown and asked her fellow queens to eliminate her after a lackluster performance during Friday night's musical-challenge episode) ultimately cut her All-Stars 5 run well short of expectations.
But, Ongina's enduring spirit continues on, unfazed. Read on EW's full exit interview with the dearly departed queen, who tells us about who she would've done for Snatch Game if she'd stayed around, why season 1 queens don't get the credit they deserve, and the current status of her relationship with Miz Cracker after their fiery exchange on the latest episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Every time All-Stars has been mentioned in the last 11 years, your name has come up as someone fans wanted to see come back so badly. Why did it take you so long to get on All-Stars?
ONGINA: I declined All-Stars 1 due to the fact that I had a different career I was focused on, and I couldn’t get the time off to do it. There was another opportunity for a different season, but unfortunately that didn’t work out, but I’m happy that I finally got on this one!
What career kept you from All-Stars 1?
I was working as a visual merchandising manager overseeing a large region of the company, and I had three store openings because I was spearheading the expansion in the West Coast…. I was like, bring me on, but if I need to leave to do a conference call, can I do that? [Laughs].
How did those pressures from high fan expectations impact you, mentally, both in how you prepared for your return on All-Stars 5 and then being on set filming?
The pressure was really heavy. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted my fans from the very beginning to be proud of me. I think they still are really proud of me…. I prepared knowing that there are high expectations, so I focused a lot on my visual package so people can see my growth as an artist and my mindset to really try and think about what the competition is like now versus season 1. As a fan of the show, you try to mentally grasp what’s happening, but on set all of that fades away because it’s such a different experience from what you see on television. Unfortunately, I got in my head so much that it basically became my downfall.
I was surprised because you were so playfully shady in the Werk Room on the first episode! I don’t remember you being like that on season 1! Was that the cutthroat side coming out to adapt to how the competition has changed since 2009?
I don’t think that I was shady [Laughs]. I think you saw me instigate a situation between Derrick and India, because honestly, I didn’t know! I’ve been living under a rock and I had no idea this was happening, and I think everyone had the right to know! So, who was going to ask the hard questions? Me! As you saw in my reading challenge, I came prepared with the hard questions! I was just asking the tough questions…. In the Filipino culture, I’m like the “chismosa,” that’s a Spanish word for a “gossip.”
On episode 2, Miz Cracker said that you should've been eliminated on episode 1. How did you feel about that?
I think I just got defensive. I don’t think I was shady, but calmly defensive with the way Cracker had been treating me in the last two weeks. Ultimately, for me, I was trying to make genuine connections with every person there. At that time, I was super unsure what our relationship was, and then those comments with the lipstick and the white-out really threw me off. I knew I wasn’t the best, but in my heart of hearts, I knew I wasn’t the worst in the talent show. Like, was she playing mind games, or does she really feel this way?
Had you already doubted yourself before that, or did Cracker saying that plant the first seed that led to you losing the fire to fight?
It was at the end of the first episode where I went home to the hotel. I was so upset with how the episode overall went, because I had put so much pressure on myself. I’m a great performer, and, sadly, at the end of that first episode, I was just bummed out because I felt really bad for myself. Confidence is key to success and being a star, and I needed to remember that same confidence from season 1.
In your Instagram post on Friday, you asked if Cracker would uplift a nervous queen instead of kicking her when she’s down. It’s obviously been months since you guys filmed this, so are you still upset with her all this time later? What’s your relationship like now? Leaving the race, I didn’t know where we stood as far as our relationship. We’ve been doing press together and I’m very professional, and we had a private conversation in April, but it still left me unsure about our relationship. All of the pain and hurt she caused because of her comments, I relived that these past few weeks. That was really tough. I wrote that open letter because I do hope that she would read it and she did. She reached out and said she hears me, she was sorry, and I told her that I forgive her, and I needed time to heal…. Hearing her confessional this past week, it was even harder to heal. It hurt so much more because I really enjoyed her in her season and I was such a big fan of her…. We talked this weekend and opened that lane so that we can have a great relationship. I told her I don’t want this hate for her, and I hope that people continue to support her. My open letter was for her to really listen and maybe remind herself that, in another situation, hopefully she would choose to be more comforting and uplifting regardless of $100,000 on the line. We’re good and moving forward!
So many people were talking about how you voted for yourself as well, what were you feeling in that moment that you chose yourself to go home, with the knowledge weighing on your mind that you’d waited 11 years to compete again?
At the time, I refused to say that I quit, but in reality, that was me voting myself off and I did quit. It was tough for me to do that, but I said from the get-go, I was going to compete ferociously and fiercely, but fairly. When it came time for deliberation, I knew I was the weakest of the three. It was only fair to say that I should go, because that is how I would’ve judged another queen. I’m so glad I got to be genuinely me and got to experience it, and that I get to call myself an All-Star! I’m happy, even though I only had two episodes, I looked f—ing good!
There were also a lot of queens online saying that season 1 queens paved the way and being so supportive of you, and I always felt like season 1 hasn’t gotten a fair shake. How did it feel to see so many people paying tribute to the trail you guys blazed on season 1 after so many years of that season being disregarded in many ways?
I’m so happy that people are now recognizing season 1 and I’m happy to see all of the love and the sisterhood. I hope that this encourages people to go back and watch the Vaseline season! I promise you it’s good. Maybe wear 3-D glasses, because I don’t know what that filter was about! But season 1 has always been the stepchild. But, with BeBe Zahara Benet being on All-Stars 3 and me being on All-Stars 5, people who haven’t seen it can go back and watch how this phenomenon got started. Bitch, you wouldn’t have this without us, so you’re f—ing welcome!
Who would you have done for Snatch Game if you stayed?
I was going to expand on Connie Chung. Obviously very iconic! I kind of referenced Connie from the MadTV version of her. It was this Asian actor [Bobby Lee] who played her, and he does such a great sarcastic take. The other one was Marie Kondo, because I love mess. I was going to be like, “I love mess, you’re all messy!” I don’t know how that would’ve played out, but I was confident enough in the visuals of it! Maybe another time.
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.