I lost my favorites in this season's "Amazing Race" relatively early on when Justin & Zev mislaid their travel documents during a leg they actually won. I lost my guilty pleasure favorites a couple weeks later with the Poker Girls ran up against a task that required more physical strength than they collectively possessed. And my other favorite went out just last week, when Team Globetrotter (or Big Easy, to be specific) hit a mental block on a Roadblock.
 
So I entered Sunday (Dec. 6) night's "Amazing Race" with only a minor vested interest. Given the choice, I'd have said I was rooting for Meghan and Cheyne, Team Tetherball. Probably Team Miss AmeEricka, Brian & Ericka, would have been my second pick. But I wouldn't say I was invested in any real way.
 
Fortunately, Sunday's finale was a really compelling episode, generating ample tension even without a rooting interest. The finale made good use of its final destination, Las Vegas. All three teams had advantages and seemed to have captured momentum. And even if the tasks weren't necessarily exciting or creative, they were shot in a way that had me perched on the edge of my couch, tapping my knee nervously. And when the winning team reached Phil Keoghan, I found a way to be happy for them, which I might not have been with a weaker finale.
 
[Recap of the "Amazing Race" finale, with spoilers, after the break...]
 
OK. Let's get into the spoilers.
 
Up-front: Meghan & Cheyne unquestionably deserved to win this season of "The Amazing Race." Before the finale, they'd won six legs and finished second in three others. That's pretty dominant. From the fifth leg on, they never finished worse than second and they won the last four legs (including the finale). Nick & Starr, the most dominant team in recent memory, also won six legs before winning it all. This is the fifth consecutive season of "The Amazing Race" won by a young male/female team. The last team to win with a different combination was Tyler & James in Season 10.
 
Sam & Dan were a worthy second place team, having finished second in the last three legs (four if you include the finale). They got a bit of a bum rap for attempting to play the game competitively, but it should be noted that Brian & Ericka weren't eliminated the week the Gay Brothers stole their cab and Big Easy and Flight Time basically eliminated themselves last week. By two-thirds of the way through tonight's finale, I'd decided I'd be perfectly content if Sam won. Not Dan. He was annoying.
 
And as for Team Miss AmEricka? They did exactly enough each week to avoid elimination and very little more. They, particularly Brian, were likable enough that there wasn't any point in rooting against them, but had they won, they'd have been the weakest time to take the million bucks since I started watching. 
 
But for a few minutes in Sunday's finale, it looked as if the incredible upset might be possible. The leg began, as we all knew, with an equalizing flight. Team Tetherball has been playing from well ahead each and every leg and they started the finale with an hour lead over the Gay Brothers. There was a very nice moment at the Prague airport where both teams expressed shock that Team Miss AmEricka had survived the last leg, complete with an embarrassed apology from Sam and Dan about the cab stealing team.
 
Upon arriving in Las Vegas, amidst the episode's second montage set to Katy Perry's "Waking Up in Vegas," the teams rushed to the Graceland Wedding Chapel and sang along to a chorus of "Amazing Grace" with The King. Leaving the chapel, Team Miss AmEricka's cabbie took a different path to the Mandalay Bay Casino. With the luck they've had all season, I expected them to be driven out to the desert and buried or, at the very least, driven to Laughlin and forced to watch unaired episodes of CBS' "Viva Laughlin." Instead, their cabbie actually knew something and they arrived ahead of their rivals.
 
The episode's Roadblock asked one player to rappel, face-first, down the side of the Mandalay Bay, with its shimmering gold exterior. Yes, it was telegenic. Yes, it was fun. But if I'm watching an "Amazing Race" finale, I want a killer final Roadblock, ideally one of those tasks that tests the player's memory of the season. This just required somebody to be mostly not terrified of heights, which is why Ericka had to tackle the task, leaving Brian behind at the bottom.
 
It was here that I started thinking that Ericka was getting the champion's edit. Suddenly the camera was catching every funny -- "Have a good life," she told the couple getting married by Elvis. "Marriage is wonderful. Just don't race each other." -- or heroic -- "Today I'm fearless." -- word out of her mouth. This was a much more appealing Ericka than we'd seen for weeks and I assumed that we were being prepared for a great underdog story.  She raced down the side and Team Miss AmEricka was first as they went to the Mirage, where one player had to get strapped to fun elastic ropes and flung at a clue, all on the set of Cirque du Soleil's "Love."
 
Then things started to go wrong for Team Miss AmEricka, who had a problematic contestant ratio. Brian wasn't quite strong enough for the tossing and Ericka wasn't quite strong enough to propel herself on the rebound. That's why Team Tetherball was able to rush in and complete the task, as Ericka started to get more and more and more frustrated. Ah. There was the Ericka I remembered. 
 
Thus, advantage Team Tetherball leaving the task. The momentum had swung, but it was about to whiplash back. Their clue told them to go to the most popular casino in Monaco. Now here you had choices. You could either just know that the Monte Carlo was the answer. Brian did. Immediately. Or you could do what the Gay Brothers did, finishing right after Team Tetherball, which was to get on the phone and call the front desk at the Mandalay. The people at the desks of a Vegas hotel know EVERYTHING and while ideally they'd like to entrap you in their casinos forever, if you ask them a question, they'll answer. That's why the Gay Brothers grabbed the momentum here. They called the desk at the Mandalay, got their answer and rushed off to the Monte Carlo.
 
Meanwhile, Team Tetherball had a cabbie who didn't know and they were next to another cabbie who didn't know and who answered The Venetian. It's here that if Team Tetherball had been just a smidge smarter, they'd have gone, "But Venice is in Italy and Monaco isn't Italy. It's Monaco." But they didn't. They didn't know what or where the Principality of Monaco is, nor did the people in the street. The valet at the Venetian? He know Monte Carlo and told them, but they didn't believe. Boo. So they wasted another two or three minutes going inside and asking at the desk. Monte Carlo. Sigh. 
 
So the Gay Brothers had a big advantage at the Monte Carlo, where the ask asked them to collect a million bucks in chips from tables covered with all denominations of financial proxy. Team Miss AmEricka, after completing the "Love" task and with Brian's quick thinking, got in second. Finally, well after the fact, Team Tetherball arrived.
 
From here, I guess you can only say that Team Tetherball won because they had better teamwork. We saw nothing to give any other indications. With the clicking and clacking of the chips and the cameras swirling around the table, things got tense, but Meghan and Cheyne found a collaborative system and stuck to it. Sam and Dan yelled at each other. Or, rather, Dan yelled and screamed and acted crazy. Team Tetherball made up the time and all three teams completed their first counts at almost the same time. Team Tetherball was right. The other two were wrong. And really, that was all she wrote.
 
The next casino stop was the MGM Grand (See what I mean by making good use of the locale?), where they met Wayne Newton, who told them that the final pit stop was at his house. Despite going to two different wrong gates, during which time my nervous knee-tapping may have gotten the best of my downstairs neighbors, Meghan & Cheyne ran down the gauntlet of vanquished foes and gave Phil a big hug. While Cheyne got wishy-washy at a couple key moments and Meghan got a little shrill under pressure, I don't mind them at all. Congrats!
 
Other thoughts on the "Amazing Race" finale:
 
*** The editing tried to suggest otherwise, but it's my guess that Team Tetherball won comfortable. The chip counting wasn't easy and I don't think Sam & Dan could have recounted and resubmitted without some time. Team Miss AmEricka had to do it several times and, as a result, we didn't even see them get to meet Wayne Newton.
 
*** The meetings with Wayne Newton, or the embalmed spirit of Wayne Newton were hilarious. Meghan & Cheyne hugged him and then rushed right out. "That was really Wayne Newton. I feel bad running out of there," Cheyne observed, to which Meghan responded, "Whatever." At least Team Tetherball took two seconds to make sure they knew who Wayne Newton was before getting to his suite. The Gay Brothers rushed in, pointed and were all "Dude. You're that guy." And Wayne Newton had to introduce himself. That's humiliating. I'm guessing Brian and Ericka just knew who he was. 
 
*** As a big brother myself, I got a bit misty when Sam said, "You know you have a great family when you look up to your younger brother." It was also sweet that the Poker Girls still clearly are in love with the Gay Brothers.
 
*** The episode's best moment may have been when Phil told Brian & Ericka that they were the third team to arrive and Brian let out a loud and faux amazed, "What?!?"
 
*** [Added after-the-fact.] And yes, we were all disappointed that Mika & Canaan weren't in the finale so that Mika could face her ultimate phobia: French-Canadian circus clowns.
 
 
So was the finale satisfying for you? Did the right team win (the only answer here is "Yes")? What'd you think of the 15th installment of "The Amazing Race"?