The 14th installment of "The Amazing Race," which got off to a superb start, flagged for a few episodes, but then delivered one of my all-time favorite endings just last week, reached its conclusion on Sunday (May 10) night.
Titled "This Is How You Lose a Million Dollars," the finale wasn't as exciting as perhaps it could have been, something the producers presumably realized as they cut together an episode that included maybe only 40 minutes of racing (including commercials) once you took away the extended opening clip package and the triumphant hugging and tears at the final Pit Stop.
At the very least, though, I hope we can all agree that the right team won...
[Recap, with results, after the break...]
To my mind, there were three main storylines running through Sunday's finale, beginning with the one I already mentioned.
The Right Team Won
The season's Third Leg was possibly its best episode, as the teams rushed through Romania, with siblings Tammy and Victor getting lost in the hills of Transylvania because of Victor's stubbornness. It was brutal television as Victor became increasing unhinged as the competitive fire in his eyes was extinguished and Tammy had to watch her older brother break under pressure.
Tammy and Victor finished eighth in that leg, only surviving because Brad and Victoria made a plain error of epic proportions.
If you take out that one leg, though, Tammy and Victor never finished lower than third at any other time. In the race's first 10 legs, they won four and finished second three other times. While last season's winners, probably the series' most dominant to date, Nick and Starr, won more individual legs, they also had three different legs where they finished fifth or worse.
Tammy and Victor were smart. Tammy and Victor were reasonably physically gifted. And Tammy and Victor got to spend several legs on near-native soil in China at the end of the Race. That last factor had next-to-nothing to do with Tammy and Victor winning the whole thing, but it wasn't unhelpful.
From what I've been able to measure, the general "Amazing Race" fandom liked Tammy -- funny, happy, eager-to-please Tammy -- and really disliked Victor, who sometimes (often? [always?]) came across as a domineering force. Most of that attitude came in the early episodes, while Victor was fairly innocuous in the season's home stretch and there wasn't anything wrong with his vocal, aggressive coaching of Tammy in the Maui Luau Challenge which briefly seemed poised to be the determining factor for the entire season.
Instead, the season was really decided by Victor's memory and his ability to keep his head while the other competitors were losing theirs in the Climactic Roadblock, which asked players to find surfboards with images associated with stops and tasks on The Race and then to put them in order. In the Roadblock, Victor came from behind to win, leading me to Subplot #2...
The Amazing Choke
Luke and Margie had the Race won.
The finale had the look of a one-note rout.
Luke and Margie were third coming out of the airport and arriving at the Luau challenge, which asked teams to season a 145-pound pig, carry it 200 yards and then correctly prepare it for a fire pit which, heaven-willing, will never be used, because two of the three pigs will be sandy and icky and washed clean of any seasoning. Luke and Margie arrived third, but they passed both teams on the 200-yard march and completed the fire pit without the palm frond error that waylaid the other two teams.
They were way ahead at the task requiring the use of a jet-ski to find a clue on a distant buoy.
They were way ahead getting to the surfboard Roadblock, because their cabby knew where he was going and didn't get caught behind a slow car in getting there.
By the time Tammy and Victor got to the Roadblock, Luke had seven surfboards in the correct order and the lead couldn't have been more prohibitive. The only thing slowing Luke down was his swim trunks, so he stripped them off. Margie kept talking about how much effort Luke had been putting into remembering ever aspect of the season and it certainly appeared that he was nailing the task. Then he got stymied on the last two surfboards, ironically having the least-clear memory of the events that happened most recently.
It was "Chekhov" all over again, as we were forced to remember that Luke handles success pretty well, but he's pretty dreadful at handling adversity. As Victor caught up and passed him, Luke got increasingly frustrated and by the end, he was just propping up random surfboards in the hope of getting approval of the patient wahine.
Luke may never have finished, if not for Subplot #3...
The Redemption of Jaime
The "Amazing Race" editors hated Jaime. In the clip package showing how the teams made it to the Top 3, we saw the positives and negatives for Luke & Margie and Tammy & Victor, but if you trust the editors, Jaime & Cara were notable only for Jaime's yapping and rudeness. I don't want to commit to attributing this to pure sexism on the part of the editors, that they had no interest in validating any kind of skill to a Top 3 team, but that sure was the undercurrent.
And, as happened with some frequency, Jaime validated the editors' hatred by being unflatteringly impatient at Cara's weakness in the swine-carting, yelling mostly insults in contrast to Victor's litany of inspirational slogans. Cara's slowness knocked them down to third.
Things got worse when they ended up with the latest in a long string of inept cab drivers, a slow and disinterested driver who couldn't get them to the Roadblock and was gifted with an equally useless dispatcher, who told Jaime off with a curt dismissiveness that I assume earned cheers in several households.
You know what? I hope that dispatcher's boss watched this episode and fired her. Running a taxi cab company is a customer service based industry. It's bad enough that Jaime and Cara's cabbie didn't know how to get to a destination that the other two teams' drivers didn't have any problems with, but the job of a dispatcher in that circumstance is to get the customers where they need to go and the explanation, "I don't have the time to be looking for this place for them" is inane. That's her job. Yes, Jaime was as rude as could be, but she wasn't wrong.
And Jaime apologized to the cabbie later, took responsibility for her impatience and praised the speed with which he refueled, even as their chance at $1 million was vanishing.
Then at the Roadblock, Jaime again fell victim to the wrath of the editors. The editors focused on Jaime's initial confusion with the dummy surfboards featuring illustrations with no connection to The Race. Never mind that by the time Jaime arrived at the task, both Luke and Victor were nearly done, so there were very few accurate surfboards and mostly dummies. Her job was statistically far more difficult. And yet we never saw her figure out what she was doing. We never saw her nailing down the task and somehow catching up and nearly passing both Luke and Victor. If any other contestant had started from that far behind and made up that much time, the editors would have cut it together as exciting and heroic. With Jaime, it was just something that happened.
Then, when Victor finished, both Jaime and Luke essentially quit, until they decided to help each other. Luke quickly reminded Jaime that she'd forgotten the very first leg, allowing her to complete the task. Around American, a nation of Jaime Haters assumed that Jaime would ditch Luke and rush off and the editors made it look as if that were a distinct possibility. But no. She stayed, even with a million bucks at stake, and made sure that Luke finished.
Then, as they drove to the end, Jaime took full responsibility for their impending defeat, which she also did when they got to the Pit Stop and Phil Keoghan asked why they lost. There was no hesitation and no blaming Cara for the big debacle, which she could have done.
I've always liked Jaime, but I hope a few additional viewers came around to her side.
So that was the finale. The correct and deserving team won. Overall, twas a solid season and I can't wait for "Amazing Race 15."
And y'all? What'd you think of the final results? And how about the season as a whole?