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Another exciting series finale of The Amazing Race!  Well, it wasn’t that exciting, as the teams kind of spaced out in both of the two hours, so the TAR Editors had a tough time making it look like the outcome was in doubt.  However, there were some fun moments in the finale.  Four teams went in – The Hockey Bros Bates and Anthony, who were most dominant throughout the race, the Newlyweds Katie and Max, who have recently outperformed the other teams, the Roller Derby Moms Mona and Beth, who have lots of energy, but never really outpace the competition, and Caroline and Jen, who are country singers and highly skilled at flirting with the guys they encounter.   Who will be eliminated and who will win it all?

Let’s kick things off with Bog Snorkeling

The teams started out by taking a ferry from Scotland to Northern Ireland.  The first challenge there was to do a very physical challenge called “Bog Snorkeling”, where a team member had to jump into bog water, and then swim 100 meters and back, all within 4 minutes.

It was a messy, strenuous, and probably super-cold challenge.  The first team to get there was Bates and Anthony, where Anthony ably did the challenge.  Then Katie drew the lot of having to get into the wetsuit, and blasted through the first part of the challenge, and kind of trailed off toward the end, but finished it within the time limit.   Nice work, Katie!  This teed you up nicely for the rest of the leg, and you know you did well, because you got the title credits theme song playing when you completed this Road Block.

Then it was Mona, who had a bad attitude going into it, but she did it.  Then, finally, it was Jen.  Jen rushed her way through the first part of the bog, then got out and got stuck in a part of the bog she wasn’t supposed to go into, and then got cold and tired.  After warming up, she tried it again, and couldn’t make it.  At least this second time Caroline was giving her some better coaching and was helping her out of the bog.  Then, after a rest period and, a significant time delay, Jen tried it again and finished it barely under the time limit.  At this point, they were doomed.  So when the question arises – what did in the country singers?  It was bog snorkeling.

A Titanic Detour

Meanwhile, at the Detour, the top three teams chose the Titanic challenge.  It was a well-designed challenge, and one I hope the TAR Producers learn from, as it created the drama they are most likely looking for.   The challenge was to serve an authentic  five course meal to costumed Titanic cruisers, in the actual dry dock where the Titanic was built.  One person had to put the dish on the tray, and the other person had to carry the dishes down the several flights of stairs and deliver the dishes to the correct patron.  So this element of teamwork required both parties to be on the game – the first person had to choose the right dishes for the course, and the other person had to deliver the dishes to the correct diner, both over significant distance.

What proved to be the confusing part for the teams was that the full menu was on a large placard, and the individual selections for two of the courses were on a different card.  The teams universally seized on the individual selections — which had only two selections – and started serving that course.

All teams, except for Katie and Max.  Katie, whom we’ve learned from her new husband has a “big brain,” picked up on this detail early in the challenge, and started delivering to her new husband the correct plates.  They cruised through the five courses.   But on the fifth course, the TAR Producers throw another curve ball that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The dessert featured “Chartreuse Jelly”, but there were plates with a red jelly and a green jelly.  Katie at first thought that Chartreuse was red, when, Max, in fact, knew that Chartreuse if a bright green.  In my liquor cabinet, I have a nice bottle of Chartreuse Liqueur, which is quite green and I think makes the basis for some very nice martinis.   Here’s a recipe, Max, you earned it.

Anyway, Katie and Max figured this out soon enough, got to the pit stop, and finished first in the first part of the two hour season finale.  Good job, Katie and Max!  Another prize – this time a trip to the Dominican Republic, so you’ll get a proper honeymoon soon enough.

Meanwhile Bates and Anthony and Mona and Beth struggled, frequently receiving the dreaded feedback, “This is not what these people ordered.”

Bates and Anthony bickered and the words “worst partner ever” were muttered, as they struggled to figure out the essence of Chartreuse.   As they wrapped it up, Anthony gave a great tip to Mona and Beth, still stuck on the first course, on how to finish it.  Mona and Beth didn’t really listen to the tip and kept serving dishes different from what the people ordered.  I think that they might have been getting hungry!  Eventually Mona and Beth got their act together, didn’t get tripped up on Chartreuse, and finished the challenge.

Meanwhile Caroline and Jen did a much less stressful Detour by doing some graffiti with a hipster Irish bloke, and we were treated to one more bit of flirting.   But they still finished behind Mona and Beth, and were eliminated.

This set up the final hour.  Max and Katie were on a roll, but Bates and Anthony are still there, and Mona and Beth – while not great, could somehow pull an upset.

Arrival in Washington D.C.

Prior to the final destination, teams traveled by ferry and train to London, and were told which counter to go to, so there were no dramatic airplane booking issues.  So I was hoping that the TAR Producers had something great up their sleeves.  Not so much.

First they had to go to the Lincoln Memorial, then to 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue where they would get their photo taken with “the president”.  By forcing Max to acknowledge that a Democrat is in office, it was as though the TAR Producers put this task in just to needle Max.   But instead of the actual president, which all of the teams sincerely thought they were going to meet, it was a tourist trap they went to and got a doctored image of them shaking hands with Barack Obama.  Psych!

So basically, the first third of the hour was spent going from point to point.  Mona and Beth somehow screwed this up, and found themselves at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and had to be helped by an actual secret service man.  They were now officially behind, so now it’s between Katie and Max and Bates and Anthony.

Another switchback?

OK, so we’re 22 seasons in, so I guess the TAR Producers are looking to save some money, or maybe are a little tapped out creatively, so they brought back a challenge from before.  All the racers had to do was to say the same code phrase to the 50 operatives.  I think that the idea was that it would somehow be like Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy, with him being replicated many times:

Instead it just felt like the racer was shouting the same thing over and over again, and that success was determined by luck.  And Bates was lucky, finishing this task much faster than Max.

Or was it pure luck?  Bates seemed to take it at a steady pace, while Max was running at a sprint.   Bates clearly caught his guy on the first encounter, so he was efficient.  Max blew through all of the agents, and had to backtrack, so evidently he missed his man on the first go-round.  Max’s rushing probably was the thing that cost him the race.

The rest of the hour, things weren’t ever really in doubt.  Bates and Anthony went to Nationals Stadium, finished the silly ball catch challenge, and then made it to the showcase challenge just before the pit stop.

Beach Ball Showcase Challenge

I like the showcase challenges, because they have the opportunity to really trip up a team, and a well-constructed one can provide lots of drama.  This one had elements of it, provided all three teams were doing it at once.  In it, on team member had to jump into a ball pit with beach balls made to look like globes.  The team member had to find balls with the countries they visited circled on it.  So it had a knowledge component and a seeking component.  It was highly physical in the ball pit, and, conceivably, a rushing teammate could get the order of the countries incorrect, or they could have trouble picking out a globe with a particular country highlighted.  But Bates and Anthony seemed to find their globes well enough, and finished the task, and made it to Mount Vernon, and won the race.

Was there any doubt?  These guys had the highest average finish (2.6) going into these last two legs, with the closest competitors being Mona and Beth at 4.9.    In the final cab ride, the TAR Editors had to put in some self-doubt moments where the hockey bros were fearing going to the wrong place for the pit stop, but even this wasn’t really in doubt.

In second place were Katie and Max, and in third place were Mona and Beth.  Clearly the best team won, so there was some justice for those who like to see the top team win it all.  At the same time, going into the race, two physically fit men who were also competent racers makes them instant favorites.  Anthony and Bates definitely benefitted from strong teams (Connor and Dave, John and Jessica) who showed the ability to win early also getting eliminated early.  It also helped that the other teams had a particular fixation on U-Turning lower performing teams like Joey and Meghan and Mona and Beth.

Congrats to Bates and Anthony for winning it all!

Overall, it was a quality season of The Amazing Race, and I think that the casting was especially good this season.  If only they could get a dramatic photo finish next time!


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