I said it on the very first week of this "Amazing Race" season: When you start with a watermelon in the face, there's really nowhere to go but down. I didn't expect that prediction to be *quite* so prescient, but indeed it was.
 
"The Amazing Race" wrapped up its 17th installment on Sunday (Dec. 12) night with a finale that only continued the prolonged fizzle of recent weeks. 
 
Yes, "The Amazing Race" made "history" (I'm hesitant to call anything that happens on a reality show "historic") on Sunday night, but at what cost? Drama, alas.
 
Full recap of the "Amazing Race" finale after the break...
 
The first thing I want to say is this: Nat & Kat were deserving "Amazing Race" winners. They were worthy in every possible way, becoming the first all-female team to win America's "Amazing Race" with a combination of intelligence, positivity and acceptable physicality. More than anything, they avoided ever making any sort of major mistakes along the way and that's a sign of a champion at a game that penalizes even the smallest of errors harshly. Nat & Kat seemed friendly and likable and other than possible criticisms that they were *too* amiable, it's doubtful that anybody anywhere had a reason to root against Nat & Kat.
 
Congratulations to your "Amazing Race" champions!
 
But when you get right down it, leaving aside their performances thought the first 11 legs of the Race, Nat & Kat won the million dollar prize on Sunday night for one reason and one reason only: Somehow they got out of LAX and into a cab faster than Team Watermelon (Brook & Claire) and Team Last Penis Standing (Jill & Thomas). 
 
And for that reason, Sunday's "Amazing Race" finale was a fittingly disappointing end to a largely disappointing season. When it comes down to giving out a check for a million bucks, I want to give it to somebody who performed some task with excellence. I want to see three teams going head to head and I want the performance on one task or two tasks to tangibly impact the win. That wasn't the case on Sunday.
 
Nat & Kat got off the plane from Seoul in first and they were in first at the LAX cab-stand. 
 
They were in first getting to Long Beach, where the teams had to do a 150 foot bungee swing. This was where I immediately knew that the leg was in trouble. We spent between 10 and 15 minutes on a mandatory task performed by both players on each team and there were only two possible excuses for that distribution of time: Either somebody's fear of heights caused delays and directly impacted the progress of the Race, or nothing else interesting happened and the editors were forced to cobble together drama where none really existed. Yes, Nat was really nervous about the bungee swing, but for all of the tears and eyes-closing, she never hesitated. She grabbed Kat's hand and they plunged. You don't get points for style or for keeping your eyes open, but so what? As soon as Nat & Kat took their plunge, lead preserved, I knew both that the Race was over and that nothing interesting could happen from there. Because if there had been tension elsewhere, that bungee task could have been on-screen for two minutes.
 
So Nat & Kat were the first team to the LAX cabstand, the first team to the bungee and then they were the first team on the helicopter to the Rose Bowl, where they faced the episode's only established challenge, a Roadblock. In the Roadblock, a player had to decorate three segments of a Road Parade float. Nat did it. She made a minor mistake. It didn't matter. Nat & Kat were the first team to the LAX cabstand, the first team to the bungee, the first team to the Roadblock and the first team through.
 
Team Last Penis Standing, in second at the cabstand and then at the bungee and then at the Rose Bowl, looked like they might be in trouble. They'd been planning all season so that when it reached the last Roadblock, Thomas would be able to do it, because he's a man and he went to Notre Dame. Little did they realize that in this Pre-Ordained Season of the Woman, the last Roadblock would be one requiring neither strength or brains, but floral decorating skills. Thomas wailed that he wasn't crafty! Jill wailed that this was a task she should have done, because she didn't have a penis! Brook & Claire, in third at the cabstand and third at the Rose Bowl, arrived at the Roadblock and everybody celebrated Brook's pageant background and her lack of penis, as if the Rose Parade Queen and Princesses construct the floats themselves. Would Brook's femininity triumph over Thomas' penis? Well, no. Thomas started the Roadblock in second and ended the Roadblock in second and even if he lost a few minutes on Brook, it hardly mattered.
 
From there, in the episode's lone nice twist, the teams had to answer three questions to know they were headed to Quixote Studios, Griffith Park, Stage Seven. Nat & Kat solved the questions with some proficiency and headed to the destination where they solved the Season Memory Puzzle, which asked them to identify the season's 11 greeters from among 48 videos of people with hats. Nat & Kat are smart and they took notes, notes which were useful in what was apparently an open-book test. They arrived at the quiz first, left first and arrived at the Pit Stop first, winning "The Amazing Race," a just reward for getting the first cab out of the airport and not screwing up.
 
Yes, there was a shakeup behind Nat & Kat. Although Team Last Penis Standing had been ahead of Team Watermelon through the Roadblock, Team Last Penis Standing was unlucky enough to get a cabbie who not only couldn't help them answer their questions, but also couldn't help them find a place with Internet and, in fact, couldn't distinguish between his car's GPS and the Internet. Jill & Thomas wasted way too long trying to argue with their cabbie, but even if they'd been speedy and their cabbie had been helpful, they still wouldn't have moved ahead of Nat & Kat. Before making that big mistake that pushed them into third, they'd already made their fatal mistake: Letting Nat & Kat beat them to the LAX cabstand.
 
Team Watermelon had the sense to pull over and use a hotel Internet connection. For that degree of sense, they deservedly finished second. If they had somehow won, they too would have been worthy champs, but they'd already made their fatal mistake for this leg: Letting Nat & Kat beat them to the LAX cabstand.
 
Congratulations to Nat & Kat: First to the cabstand, first to our hearts.
 
 
Some other thoughts on Sunday's "Amazing Race" finale:
 
*** I didn't want to spoil the finale with my recap image and I didn't want to run another Phil Keoghan picture, so I took this one last chance to pay tribute to Team Watermelon. I think the finale should have had a watermelon component to see if Claire was ready to face her fears. It didn't. Oh well.
 
*** You figure Francis Ford Coppola ever regrets using "Flight of the Valkyries" for the helicopter scene in "Apocalypse Now"? Or, rather, that he ever tires at the homages? 
 
*** Sancho Panza's identity is NOT a piece of obscure trivia. With six people, several of them college educated -- one of them a Notre Dame grad! -- you'd think ONE person would say, "Don Quixote." I don't care if that piece of information is totally useless to you out of context. It's not hard. Also not hard? "Seven Year Itch." So that leaves the middle question -- the Griffith Park answer -- as the one which could justifiably have flummoxed each team. But finding one piece of information is always easier than finding three.
 
*** As Embalmed Replicas of Famous People go, the Embalmed Corpse of Bob Eubanks was far less creepy than the Embalmed Corpse of Wayne Newton two seasons ago. [Note: PLEASE don't tell me in the comments that this was really Bob Eubanks and that was really Wayne Newton. I know that.]
 
*** An All-Star season is next. There are several places online that have spoiler lists for the competing teams and a few of the teams featured in the closing montage weren't on that list. I don't know if the montage was meant as "These are the types of teams that will be competing" or if the spoiler lists were missing a couple names. Either way, Team Quitter wasn't on the list I saw and if Nick & Vicki are in an All-Star season, I'm gonna be wicked irked. I liked the last "Amazing Race" all-star season, at least up until the finale, when the fabricated team that never should have been competing ended up winning. After this somewhat personality-lite season, I'm really looking forward to next season. I'm hopeful!
 
*** The game show style representation of the greeters for the final challenge was actually a good one. However, with no teams ever at the board simultaneously (and no evidence that either team that got there made any mistakes), it accomplished nothing. It was just another minor delay.
 
*** Leaving aside the overall lameness of the season, I still want to end this recap by repeating that I'm content with Nat & Kat winning. They were a good team and they're good winners. Huzzah, I guess!
 
What'd you think of the finale?