It's odd that an "Amazing Race" season that began with some people, myself included, suggesting this could be the most blandly likable assortment of contestants in Race history ended with a two-hour finale that left me, and a few other people if Twitter is any barometer, searching desperately for anybody to root for. 
 
It was a deserving Final 4, but it was also a Final 4 that people seemed to approach in the conditional tense.
 
"I could like Jason & Amy *if* Jason were a bit more memorable and a bit less macho."
 
"I could like Travis & Nicole *if* Travis weren't so sanctimonious and condescending when Nicole struggles."
 
"I could like Tim & Marie *if* Marie were somebody else."
 
"I often like teams like Leo & Jamal and I think I could like them *if* they were completely different."
 
I've seen desires for a Tim & Amy super-team pop up in comment sections and on Twitter and I think I would agree that that would be a more appealing matchup, but even before Sunday's (December 8) finale made it explicit, I already had a hunch that without Marie, Tim's chances of having any interest in doing "The Amazing Race" would be nil. Without Marie, there is no Tim on this show and it's possible that a goodly portion of what we all liked about Tim was his attitude in the face of Marie anyway.
 
I'm not sure that I've ever gone into an "Amazing Race" finale with so little rooting interest, so in lieu of wanting any one team to win, I quickly found myself just wanting the team that won to be deserving, to perform in such a way that I could go, "OK. I can buy that after 12 Legs, this was the pair that earned the million bucks.
 
And?
 
Full recap after the break...
 
Yup.
 
Absolutely. 
 
Jason & Amy deserved to win "The Amazing Race" this season. In 12 Legs, they finished first or second eight times. Before the season started, Jason & Amy told me they had Rachel & Dave-style aspirations (8 firsts and 2 seconds). Instead, as the final Leg began, Jason was boasting that they'd tied for the most second place finishes in the show's history, which is a bit of a come-down. Still, it's a pretty great performance and they mostly did it with big smiles.
 
And yet, it was hard to be fully rooting for Jason & Amy, because the finale began with a first hour that drained whatever tiny modicum of support you might have felt for Nicole & Travis, made Jason look like a bit of a boor, transformed Marie from the season's villain into a plucky underdog and sent the Afghanimals packing.
 
Let's look quickly at what went down in Tokyo. 
 
Well, first, Leo & Jamal made a risky travel move in order to at least have the opportunity to get a 10 minute lead traveling from Indonesia. In this case, I like their gamble a lot. You know you're starting off with a deficit because of an impending Speed-Bump and you know that the other teams are all working together for the express purpose of getting you out. Getting any time advantage is smart, but taking your team out of the equation and hoping the other teams turn on each other? That's just sensible.
 
The Tokyo Leg started with a Detour - Knock It Down or Call It Up. In Knock It Down, you had to go to a Japanese game show set and get dressed in a funny costume and ride down a bumpy orange hill and attempt to score a strike on giant bowling pins. In Call It Up, you had to dive into a water-and-goldfish-filled phone booth, dial a number, listen to a remarkably simple message and relay it to a judge.
 
By "Amazing Race" Detour Logic, there's no question that Knock It Down was the one to do, because it had all of the wackiness and cultural fetishizing that the show loves.
 
By any actual game logic, Call It Up was one of the easiest Detours I can remember, assuming you were able to hold your breath for a very short period of time and then remember exactly five words: "Welcome to Tokyo. Wasabi Taberu." The cameramen loved that Amy did the challenge, because it became all about the beauty queen straining and diving in a revealing bikini. Travis did the task as well and he was almost totally ignored. Without any question, it took longer for the participants to change into their bathing suits than it took to do the meat of the task.
 
Knock It Down wasn't that much harder. Leo & Jamal elected to do that one and struggled a couple times because they used bowling strategy and tried to start from the left or right and curve in. No, you had to just go down the middle.
 
Tim & Marie, who were in a three-team pack, but left the other two teams at the park, also struggled once, but realized that Tim's side offered a potential for force that Marie could never provide. Fair enough.
 
Leo & Jamal's travel gamble paid off in that they got to Tokyo five minutes early and finished the Detour early enough to pull another of their pointless tricks -- the folded their costumes and left them in place so that it would look like they hadn't been there -- but they still got temporarily bogged down at a Speed-Bump that was too stupid to even discuss. While it was more of a task than such famous Speed-Bumps as "Eat an ice cream cone" or "Sit in a sauna bus for 10 minutes," it reinforced what I've said multiple times: The show's entire Non-Elimination process and punishment system needs an overhaul.
 
The Leg came down to a Roadblock that Nicole and Amy started first, followed by Leo, post-Speed-Bump. Marie arrived last. The task was to build a big robot statue using a pile of pieces and modeling it after a tiny sample. It was basically a giant puzzle and Nicole and Amy started doing it together. Leo came in and Marie came in and they did it separately. Basically, the pieces were supposed to fit together in one correct way, but they could fit together in many wrong ways. Nicole and Amy got shoulders and hips confused and kept being wrong. Leo had the chest backwards and didn't notice. And Marie came in late, worked completely on her own and was a tiny warrior, making up a ridiculous amount of time and helping Tim & Marie win the season's penultimate Leg. 
 
Tim was, of course, proud of Marie. Jamal was stressed out by Leo's slowness, but he was consistently supportive. And Jason and Travis spent the whole available time insulting and expressing angry, vocal frustration at their respective partners. It was ugly and unappealing. Travis kept talking about how weak Nicole was. Jason kept admiring Marie and at one point called her a woman and referred to the other two female competitors as girls. Jason kept turning around in anger and pacing. Travis kept hanging his head in resignation. It was about as far from encouragement as it gets. Other than telling Amy to shut up at one Pit Stop, getting frustrated with her the previous time she lingered at a task to help Nicole and a couple moments of minor cultural ignorance, Jason had been boring-but-decent, but for at least one episode, he looked like the latest in a string of bullying alpha male contestants, even pushing the former Miss Rhode Island at one point to get her to go faster. I didn't come away from the first hour hating Jason, but he was an impediment to rooting for their team.
 
Anyway, Tim & Marie finished first, Amy & Jason were second and Nicole & Travis were third. Leo & Jamal were eliminated and Leo was stuck feeling responsible because of a backwards torso. Oh well.
 
On to the final Leg.
 
Off to Alaska and we had a Final Leg that was more arduous for the competitors and beautiful for viewers at home than it was exciting as a climax to a season.
 
Alaska was gorgeous. Or, to paraphrase a popular Cornell/Ithaca t-shirt, it was "gorges." They flew helicopters. They kayaked across vast bodies of water. They traversed crevasses and dug in walls of ice and they kept expressing awe. And who could blame them? 
 
Let's not ignore, though, that Jason & Amy won the million dollar "Amazing Race" prize because Amy dropped a bag of flour from a bush plane onto a target faster than Marie or Nicole did. That was the Leg's Roadblock and it was done by all three remaining women, perhaps because they thought a second Roadblock was coming. Amy successfully dropped her bag of flour onto the target on only her second try. That gave the New England couple a lead that was never in jeopardy for a second. Marie struggled for a bit and she didn't hit the target until her 12th try. She was disappointed with herself, but Tim & Marie never relinquished second. 
 
Nicole struggled. Because Nicole struggles under pressure, which isn't what you want to see from an ER surgeon. And as bad as Travis was in the previous Roadblock, he was even worse this time, pacing and ranting about Nicole's various failures and how she cost them the million dollars. He actually made three or four references to the costing of the million. And as much as you hate to say it, you can't exactly disagree. Nicole was really, really bad in three separate Roadblocks in the second half of the season and any one of those performances could have gotten them eliminated. If Amy hadn't helped her in two of them, I have no reason to think Nicole ever would have finished on her own. That Travis was right doesn't mean he shouldn't have been cheering Nicole on and that he shouldn't have greeted her after each struggle with a hug and words of encouragement, rather than silence and distain. 
 
That was it. The Roadblock determined the rest of the Leg, which was sightseeing. There was a final challenge that looked hard, with the construction of totem poles spelling out the different currencies of the countries they visited, but the editors couldn't find a way to craft drama around the task, so they quit. The teams finished in the order they arrived.
 
Jason & Amy reached Phil Keoghan at the Pit Stop first and Amy was probably one of the giddiest winners I can remember. She was smart, tough and her only weakness really was her generosity to Nicole. And, really, Jason wasn't all that bad. I just can't say that I'd cheer hard for him.
 
Tim & Marie finished second and I loved Marie's story about how she came to choose Tim as her partner -- nobody else was around and it was the day before the application was due -- and of the contract she made him sign giving her a 60-40 split. And I also loved the spontaneous chants of "Tim! Tim! Tim!" from the other teams at the end.
 
Travis & Nicole finished third. I don't know what happened to Nicole. I don't know if the Race wore her down or if Travis wore her down or what, but Nicole was awesome for the first half of the Race and an albatross for the second half. Travis got choked up telling Nicole that the only reason he's so hard on her is that he's come to expect the extraordinary from her. I'll leave it to you to decide if you buy that.
 
 
A couple other thoughts from this episode and the season:
 
*** Nicole & Travis never finished worse than fourth in 12 Legs. That's a good achievement. No other team this season can say that. Heck, Rachel & Dave can't say that. The last team that reached the end without finishing worse than fourth was Art & JJ in Season 20. And before that, it was Margie & Luke in Season 14. It's fairly uncommon. Respect should be given. None of those three teams actually won, though.
 
*** Nicole's best moment in an episode of awful moments? She dropped one of her two climbing axes in the glacier and she made it up with one. You might have hoped Travis would be cheering for her and excited. You'd have been wrong.
 
*** Best exchange? Phil to Marie at the penultimate Pit Stop, "You're almost in love with him right now." Tim replied, "She did the Roadblock, so she's in love with herself." They're splitting the two trips that they won, apparently. At the end, Marie admitted, "In some weird friend-kinda-way, of course we love each other." Awww. Kinda.
 
*** I like the Roaming Vending Machine, but it's no Monkey on Stilts.
 
*** Bottom Line: It was an average-to-slightly-below-average "Amazing Race" season. There were some memorable moments and a few likable people, even if they were eliminated way too earlier. There's a version of this season in which Chester & Ephraim and Brandon & Adam make it way, way further and the season ends up much more enjoyable. But there were some good locations and I personally got a kick out of all of the travel wackiness in the first handful of episodes. I like travel wackiness, though. 
 
*** We have another All-Stars season coming up next and if you dig around online, you'll find the list of contestants, which only partially lines up with the pictures they showed at the end of the episode. Several of the returning teams I'll be perfectly happy to have back on my TV. And at least three or four of the teams, I'm actively annoyed at having to experience again. 
 
What are your thoughts on the finale? On the season as a whole?