Heading into the Amazing Race finale, it's a little depressing to realize that the most memorable moment of the season happened within its first few minutes—and had actually gone viral weeks before the season premiere. Of course, I'm referring to the challenge in which contestant Claire, attempting to hit a distant target by launching a watermelon with a catapult, instead experienced embarrassing fruit-to-face blowback to the tune of a million YouTube hits. Fortunately, she wasn't injured, and thus, the spectacle of melon ricocheting and going off like a grenade never stopped being funny.
Since then, however, the season has been somewhat less than amazing, exhibiting the same flaws that have plagued the last several editions of the long-running series: lackluster challenges, repetitive airport and taxicab drama, too many unlikeable teams, too many equalizing points along the route, and a distinct lack of suspense at the end of too many legs. Last week, the editors didn't even bother trying to convince us that Nick and Vicki (a.k.a. "the punk team"), who had quit on a task and been tagged with a six-hour penalty, had a chance to stay in the race.
But there is one thing this season has going for it that most recent installments have not: I actually have a rooting interest going into the final leg. I've been a fan of home shopping hosts Brook and Claire since the beginning and not just because Claire supplied me with so much entertainment by whacking herself in the face with a watermelon. Unlike most teams, this bubbly duo seems to realize the race is supposed to be fun, rather than an opportunity to snipe at each other in every time zone. I'd also be okay with doctors Nat and Kat winning—not so much because an all-female team has never won (something host Phil Keoghan has mentioned roughly every 90 seconds for the past few weeks) but because the third remaining team includes pompous tool Thomas, who gets his jollies rubbing his Notre Dame education in his girlfriend Jill's face and making her feel like a dope.
As the finale begins, the final three teams are departing from the 11th pit stop, the Temple of Heaven in Seoul, South Korea. The next and final destination on the race is Los Angeles, and just in case you're not sure where that is, a helpful snippet of Katy Perry's "California Gurls" plays on the soundtrack. Clearing the rights to that song probably cost as much as it would have for the show to switch to HD cameras by now, but we'll get to that later.
There's another equalizer at the airport, and all three teams are on the same flight to L.A. (And hey, how about a little bit more "California Gurls"? We already paid for it, after all.) All teams race to the Port of Long Beach, where they must ride a tiny elevator to the top of a gantry crane and bungee jump for a 150-foot descent. This is a staple of the race and didn't seem to be the most terrifying such jump we've ever seen, but Kat is afraid of heights, so Race milks the maximum commercial-break tension out of the moment before she drops. It's Brook, however, who provides the best freak-out on the way down.
Next up is a helicopter ride to a mystery destination, which turns out to be the Rose Bowl. The Roadblock task entails decorating a float for the Tournament of Roses Parade, which proves to be about as pulse-pounding a challenge as it sounds. I'm sure the producers felt this would make for a visually stimulating segment (and maybe it would have been in HD ... but there I go again), but I would have preferred something a little more intense than gluing roses to a float at this stage of the race. Also, by now, it's becoming increasingly clear that Nat and Kat have a considerable lead on the other two teams. A competitive finale can go a long way toward redeeming an otherwise mediocre season, but by this point in the episode, I was pretty sure that wasn't going to be the case unless the doctors made a major gaffe.
The clue to the final challenge is a three-part puzzle that nobody can figure out without calling information or stopping at a hotel with Internet or yelling at a hapless cab driver who keeps trying to offer the use of his GPS. The clues are: 1.) I am Sancho Panza's master; 2.) I am the place to hear The Symphony in the Glen; 3.) Monroe's year of the itch. Yes, Mr. Notre Dame education has never heard of Don Quixote, and can only howl in disbelief as his uncomprehending cabbie drives him further into Loserville. Very satisfying.
The clues lead to Stage 7 at the Quixote Studios in Griffith Park, where special guest villain Bob Eubanks awaits to host the final challenge. In a variation on the memory quiz that most seasons end with, the contestants must pick the faces of their greeters from each of the eleven pit stops out of an electronic lineup and place them in the correct order. Nat and Kat are way ahead at this point, and the only surprise remaining is seeing how ridiculously excited Brook and Claire are to meet Bob Freakin' Eubanks.
There's a halfhearted attempt at manufactured suspense as Nat and Kat fret over the gridlock traffic en route to the finish line, but they are indeed the first all-female team to win The Amazing Race. Historians will be staying up late tonight, trying to place this event in its proper context, but the rest of us will be content to get our final looks at the loser teams waiting with Phil to greet the winners. Remember adorable father/daughter team Gary and Mallory? Team Glee Connor and Jonathan? And, uh, those blondes who wore bikinis in the intro? Did they actually participate? Ah well, the outcome was fairly satisfying, even if it was never in doubt after the first commercial break. All things considered, though, this show could really use a makeover. Speaking of which ...
- Phil made the big announcement at the end: Next season, The Amazing Race will finally be in HD. This is a long overdue development for one of CBS' flagship reality series, especially one that offers so many visually stunning locales that have been crying out for high-definition.
- But also: Phil unveiled next season's theme, which is "Unfinished Business." That's right, it's another all-star season. It's hard to say which teams are participating, since about 50 of them appeared in the preview montage, but I'm sure the spoilers are out there somewhere. I'm guessing the cowboys, the goths, and the Harlem Globetrotters are all shoo-ins, though.
- Nat and Kat "approached the race with surgical precision." Oof.
- I didn't get nearly a long enough look at Brook in her cheetah shorts.
- I can't see Bob Eubanks without thinking of the joke he told in Roger & Me. Google it. I've gone on far too long already.