After a season that left me frustrated more often than it left me exhilarated, "The Amazing Race" completed its 19th run on Sunday (December 11) night.
 
The response written in my notes after watching the finale and seeing how the results shook out? "Yeah, I can live with that." 
 
Given how infuriating large chunks of the season were, that's about as much as "The Amazing Race" could hope for this time around. The finale was solid and satisfying and the team that won was certainly worthy enough of the million dollar prize, especially after they turned around and immediately expressed their charitable intentions for the money.
 
How did the "Amazing Race" season conclude? Click through...
 
When Tommy & Andy were abruptly and surprisingly eliminated last week, I saw more than a few comment regarding how the Snowboarders were really the only team that could deserve to win this season and that Ernie & Cindy, Marcus & Amani" or Jeremy & Sandy would be subpar winners at best.
 
I don't disagree that Andy & Tommy were the most dominant team in this "Amazing Race" season, but being dominant doesn't mean you always win. That's the thing about "The Amazing Race." The best illustration of the show's unpredictable nature was the first All-Stars season, in which Rob & Amber won the first three Legs in such ridiculously effortless fashion that it looked like they were heading for "Amazing Race" history. Instead, they bombed out on Leg Four. It happens. All you have to do to win is make sure that at least one team makes more mistakes than you in every Leg.
 
Yes, Andy & Tommy won six Legs. Awesome for them. The team that ended up winning on Sunday only won three Legs. But they also added three second place finishes, two third place finishes and they weren't worse than fifth for the entire Race. Even Meghan & Cheyne and Nick & Starr, the recent benchmarks for "Amazing Race" domination, had three sixth place Legs between them. 
 
Are we going to talk about Ernie & Cindy as one of the all-time great "Amazing Race" teams? Perhaps not, but they definitely worthy winners. In fact, there were at least two or three Legs in which minor mental errors prevented Ernie & Cindy from reaching Phil Keoghan in the lead. In the finale, as we watched both of their rivals fall victim to blunders, Ernie & Cindy were gaffe-free. And that's how you win "The Amazing Race."
 
We started off in Panama and the teams got the clue saying they were heading for Atlanta for the last Leg of the Race. Instantly, Jeremy & Sandy and then Ernie & Cindy freaked out that they were going to Marcus & Amani's hometown, a home field advantage that even Marcus celebrated. We spent at least five minutes on paranoia that the Dirty South would give Marcus & Amani an edge. 
 
It didn't.
 
Instead, the teams had to rush out of the ATL airport and head to Flight Safety International, where they were tasked with landing a plane from 25,000 feet in an awesome, high tech Learjet Flight Simulator.
 
We could take a few minutes here to discuss how and why all three teams decided to reenforce gender roles by having the men serve as pilot and the women serve as co-pilot, especially given some of the results. But I won't. You can draw your own conclusions.
 
With Jeremy at the wheel, Jeremy & Sandy shot through the simulation in one shot.
 
With Ernie at the wheel, Ernie & Cindy struggled on their first go -- it was Cindy's fault, something about wind speed -- but made it through successfully on the second shot. 
 
Jeremy & Sandy arrived at the task at least a few minutes ahead of Ernie & Cindy and they departed 15 minutes ahead. 
 
That time is only interesting for perspective when you know that Marcus & Amani required 12 landings before Marcus was able to keep the plane on the runway. Before that last attempt, we saw lots of Marcus punching the ceiling and lots of Amani having the patience of a saint. It's easy to imagine that the simulator put Marcus & Amani at least an hour behind. They were never a factor again.
 
It was a two-team Race from there and it ended up hinging on that all-important question: Who can you trust?
 
The clue told them to go to the former residence know as The Dump, which specifically referred to the house in which Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone with the Wind."
 
Jeremy & Sandy asked a stranger for instructions and he told them where to go.
 
Ernie & Cindy called Information and somebody presumably used Google and gave them instructions.
 
There was nothing wrong with that Jeremy & Sandy did and to his credit, the stranger told them exactly how to get to The Dump. But there was a catch: The Dump is also the name of a vast furniture story in Atlanta. "The Amazing Race" ended up being a great commercial for that version of The Dump, because Jeremy & Sandy rushed there and walked up and down all of the aisles looking at the inventory trying to find ways to justify the "residence" part of the clue, the one piece the random stranger hadn't factored in. If The Dump is smart, they'll update their website tomorrow to read: "The Dump... We Determined 'The Amazing Race.'" Because they did. By the time Jeremy & Cindy gave up their fruitless search for a clue box and used somebody's smart phone to find the correct destination, the early advantage they'd had was gone. And more.
 
Ernie & Cindy got to the desired version of The Dump, where the Roadblock clue asked, "Who gives a damn?" For no good reason, Ernie & Cindy decided that Ernie gave a damn, only to discover the task involved typing. One player from each team had to successfully operate a Remington 3 and type up the clue for their next destination. Yes, we've reached a point in history at which the mere use of an old-fashioned typewriter has become a challenge. An added wrinkle was that the typewriter didn't have a "1" key, so the competitor had to figure out that they should use a lower-case "l" instead. 
 
This portion of the episode was structured to make it look as this this whole process was a massive imposition for Ernie, who had told us all season long that Cindy was the brains of the operation. We kept cutting back and forth from Ernie making typos to Jeremy & Sandy getting closer and closer to giving up. I'm not sure how long this really took him, especially since Jeremy & Sandy got the smart phone before Ernie appeared to finish and rushed to Margaret Mitchell's house after Ernie & Cindy were already gone and quick research tells me that the two versions of The Dump are less than 15 minutes away from each other. 
 
Regardless, that was the Race.
 
From The Dump, teams had to figure out that the numbers 44-715-74 related to Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron -- his uniform number, his record-breaking home run number and the year in which he broke The Babe's record -- and directed them to Turner Field. It wasn't an impossible clue to decipher, but it required at least moderate Google research. From there, the players had to do a big rock-climbing-wall-style map charting their "Amazing Race" journey. As cumulative end-of-season tasks go, it was a decent one, requiring not only memory, but also physical strength and some amount of map awareness. Cindy ended up doing it almost entirely by herself. Jeremy did the physical part, while Sandy helped him with the mental part. 
 
But Ernie & Cindy were already done and gone by the time that Jeremy & Sandy arrived, they were already following the clue to the Pit Stop at The Swan. Their advantage was large, but the editors ginned up a little drama by implying that Ernie & Cindy's cab driver was screwing up with his GPS, while Jeremy & Sandy had a smooth journey.
 
It didn't matter. Ernie & Cindy reached Phil Keoghan first, with Cindy emitting high-pitched squeals and Ernie doing his best to avoid crying. They said all of the right things about how this was pre-marital counseling and Cindy announced that they wanted to use the money to start some kind of charitable organization. I'll follow-up on that when I talk to them tomorrow morning.
 
Jeremy & Sandy got in second. They sweetly talked about how they'd learned how to communicate on The Race.
 
Finally, who knows how much later, Marcus & Amani reached the Pit Stop in third. Marcus vowed never to fly a plane again, while Amani said that they'd set a good example for their four kids.
 
Marcus definitely had the most surprisingly heartwarming Pit Stop words, when he said of his wife, "She's smarter than any quarterback I've played with and tougher than any linebacker." 
 
Seriously, I have no idea why that made me misty, but it really did. 
 
So congratulations to Ernie & Cindy. They made mistakes. They got really lucky last week. But they ran a flawless Final Leg and deserved to win what otherwise wasn't a great "Amazing Race" season.
 
 
A few other thoughts on Sunday's finale:
 
*** Did you know Marcus used to play football? It's almost like as the Race progressed and he got more and more exhausted, he lost the ability to speak without sports metaphor, repeatedly calling this his Super Bowl and observing things like "We're playing at home and the ball is on the 10 yard line and we have four plays to get it in." That being said, I really liked the way Marcus & Amani ran the Race and I look forward to talking Colts and Andrew Luck with Marcus tomorrow.
 
*** Marcus loved the sports metaphors, but perhaps why I liked best about Amani was how tolerant she was all season. After the disastrous flight simulator experience, Marcus grumbled, "I feel like that was a pass in the end-zone I dropped." And Amani replied, "I still would have thrown you the pass if you were in the end-zone. You'd have been my target." Seriously, y'all. AWWW. 
 
*** So yeah... Gender roles. Men fly planes. Women are supposed to type. I don't know how that's where the finale took us. It was a little awkward. And somewhere Laurence was watching going, "See? I told you!"
 
*** Don't we usually hear Race summations from more than one previously eliminated team at the last Pit Stop? Tonight, only the Snowboarders outside of the Top Three got to say what The Race meant to them.
 
*** Yeah. Lackluster season. Too many Non-Elimination Legs too early. Too many bland, copacetic couples. Too many bland, copacetic couples who, predictably, got along too well. This season fell short on both the conflict between teams and the conflict within teams. Conflict equals drama and that meant that this was an "Amazing Race" season with very little drama. That's basically a product of casting and sometimes "The Amazing Race" is marvelously cast and other times? Season 19. It wasn't awful TV. It just wasn't the kind of season we hope for from an Emmy-winning juggernaut.
 
What'd you think of the finale? What'd you think of this season's results? And, as a whole, what'd you think of this season?