Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Finale - 'Beacon of Hope'

Which pair took home the million dollar prize

<p>Mona and Beth of &quot;The Amazing Race&quot;</p>

Mona and Beth of "The Amazing Race"

Credit: CBS
Well, that was an exhausting two hours of "Amazing Race" stupidity. 
 
In an ideal world, an "Amazing Race" finale will be a lengthy validation of the team that ultimately takes the million dollars or, at the very least, it will be a lengthy descent into madness for teams who have the million within their grasp and squander the opportunity.
 
That wasn't really the case on Sunday (May 5) night. The team that won "The Amazing Race" probably deserved to win, but the finale gave me more to ponder regarding the strangeness of their victory than regarding the achievement that led to them reaching Phil Keoghan in first.
 
And, more than anything, Sunday's finale left me scratching my head at the sheer amount of stupidity displayed by the various teams at the end of the exhausting Race.
 
[More after the break...]
 
Things various "Amazing Race" teams didn't know on Sunday night:
 
1) How to read a menu.
 
2) What consomme is.
 
3) What color "chartreuse" is.
 
4) The address of the White House.
 
5) The shape of Indonesia.
 
6) Whether nor not they went to South America during the Race.
 
7) That Barack Obama probably isn't going to participate in a Leg of "The Amazing Race."
 
8) When you make alliances with professional athletes in a competition with a healthy physical component, you may run into trouble eventually.
 
 
It's that last one that should be the most important lesson for all future teams on "The Amazing Race."
 
Very early on in the season, several teams -- John & Jessica, Team YouTube and the Derby Moms -- decided that Hockey Brothers Bates & Anthony represented too big of a threat and they wanted to target them. When they made that decision, I wasn't convinced that they were doing the right thing. Bates & Anthony hadn't seemed all that dominant to that point. But the mistake was just that the Anti-Hockey Alliance was premature and not that it was wrong. By forming too early, the ATA put targets on themselves instead of on Bates & Anthony, in an important reminder that if you're an underdog, you should never give the cool kids the chance to mobilize as a clique. Someday -- Today, probably -- Max & Katie and Caroline & Jennifer are probably going to have to ask themselves why, exactly, they decided to work together to pick on weaker teams and to help protect one of the strongest teams in "Amazing Race" history.
 
Bates & Anthony won "The Amazing Race" because they worked reasonably well together, they avoided too many mental gaffes and because they possessed a ridiculous amount of physical strength in a season that may have favored physical strength more than your typical "Amazing Race" season. By winning five Legs and coming in second three times, they were absolutely this season's top team and I won't take anything away from them. But they also won because other teams liked spending time with them and liked helping them and didn't make any effort to obstruct them. Caroline & Jennifer actively aided and abetted the Hockey Brothers, without any awareness that they were eliminating any [miniscule] chance they might have had of winning. Max & Katie may not have actively aided the Hockey Brothers, but they definitely abetted them and didn't kick into winning form until the very end, when maybe if they'd joined forces with a couple other teams to work against Bates & Anthony, they might have coasted to the million. 
 
And as for Beth & Mona, the Roller Derby Moms were the only team to make the finale that recognized the Hockey Threat appropriately, but they turned in two hours of non-stop cringeworthy performance on Sunday night. At some point early in the episode, Bates & Anthony called the Derby Moms their biggest competition, but nothing in their performance for any part of the season gave any justification for that claim.
 
Through the season, Bates & Anthony dominated because they could do things no other team could do, whether it was sprinting up a snowy mountain and hauling cheese by the armful or throwing 100-pound barrels on their shoulders and running up hills or just any circumstance in which we were reminded that their combination of strength-speed-endurance was unparalleled. The show has had athletes before, but not like Bates & Anthony, who seemed not to have any notable drawbacks. I would kind of hope that "The Amazing Race" avoids this kind of thing in the future. Having an athlete with a less dominant spouse -- like Marcus & Amani -- or an athlete with limitations -- Big Easy's size caused problems more frequently than being a Globetrotter gave him advantages -- is one thing, but this verged on unfair. If Anthony & Bates hadn't been such genial guys, we'd have hated them for winning, but both men were so self-deprecating and friendly that they got a pass.
 
Wow. I've rambled a lot already without saying much about what actually won Bates & Anthony the million in this specific finale.
 
The first Leg of the finale saw the teams equalized with a ferry ride to Belfast and then the Bog Snorkeling Roadblock was designed to keep things close. In Bog Snorkeling, you have to get dressed in a wetsuit and swim laps in an Irish bog. Whee! And several teams had made a point of complaining about there cold weather previously, so we knew this wasn't pleasant. To finish the Roadblock, you had to prepare and then swim 100 yards of bog in 4 minutes. Yes, Anthony did it faster than anybody else, but Mona and Katie also finished on their first attempt, meaning that Anthony's Professional Athlete Advantage wasn't more than a few minutes. Only poor Jen had true problems, at one point quitting, before Caroline was able to talk her into continuing. The Roadblock was good TV, but it probably wasn't what determined the results of the Leg.
 
The Detour was much better. The choice? Tray It or Spray It. In Tray It, teams had to find the dry-dock where the Titanic was built and then they had to correctly deliver a five-course meal to various dignitaries sitting in the dry-dock. In Spray It, teams had to go to a skate-park and spray-paint a portion of a graffiti design on a door.
 
Tray It was psychically devilish. One player had to assemble trays of dishes, but then the other player had to deliver that tray down flights of stairs and across nearly the length of a dry-dock that was, as you might imagine, titanic in size. But then, there was the intellectual challenge, that some teams -- Mona & Beth, really -- found baffling. See, there was a five-course menu, but only two of the courses contained choices. The seating chart only mentioning the courses in which choices were made, which makes sense, because in the other three courses, everybody got the same thing. It wasn't really complicated, until Mona & Beth kept serving the second course over and over and over and over again, because they couldn't count to five. Then there was a problem with teams not knowing how a barley soup and a consomme look different. And then dessert specified serving peaches served with a chartreuse jelly, but there were some trays that had a red jelly and if you didn't know what "chartreuse" is, that could be a problem. Anthony's inability to identify "chartreuse" had Bates impressively frustrated at his brother and it seemed to lead them to a second place finish for the Leg. 
 
And Jen & Caroline were eliminated because... It was hard to tell, exactly. Yes, Jen's trouble at the Roadblock hurt, but how much? Given that Mona & Beth kept failing at the Detour over and over again, it seems more likely that Jen & Caroline were hurt by bad directions to The Thing with a Ring in Belfast or else by the travel to the Spray It Detour, which they performed pretty well. There was no way for the editors to properly illustrate determining factors and tomorrow's exit interviews won't shed much light either. So the answer is probably just, "There were lots of little factors."
 
As for the Final Leg? Well, teams were equalized several times before flying off to Washington and heading to the Lincoln Memorial. Here, they got instructions to go to 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue and told they were going to be photographed with the President. For some reason, all of the teams were all, "Nice! President Obama is taking time out from his busy schedule to be a prop on a CBS reality show" and they were all unreasonably psyched, including staunch Republican Max, who at least acknowledged that Obama had been legitimately elected.
 
Guess what? They got their pictures taken with... nothing. They posed and were CGed into pictures shaking Obama's hand. It was pointless and lame except for how disappointed the teams were when the leader of the free world wasn't really hanging out with them. Oh and then there was the confusion from Mona & Beth, who decided that even though the clue said "1100 Pennsylvania Avenue," if they were being photographed with the President, surely they were supposed to go to the White House. Yeah. Different location, but the confusion basically ended their shot at the million.
 
I guess the whole thing really came down to a Roadblock/Switchback that rewarded... nothing. In a callback to a previous Roadblock, one player from each team had to meander around the tidal basin shouting espionage slang at extras holding briefcases. The right extra would hand the players a briefcase and tell them that the combination to the case was the order they finished in New Zealand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Since players were just going around yelling code, there wasn't any strategy. Max got there first, but it just so happened that Bates found his briefcase first. He didn't do anything right and Max didn't do anything wrong. Pure chance. And as for the combination, if memory had been required, it could have been tough, but players seemed to have been encouraged to take and use notes this season, so... Yeah. Easy peasy. 
 
From there, teams went to Nationals Stadium, where one player had to take a zip-line and crop a baseball to be caught by their partner, who was dressed up as a giant baseball. Oh. Well that's worth a million dollars. Again, it's not like Bates & Anthony had a prohibitive advantage *because* they were professional athletes -- neither is a professional giant baseball or a professional zip-line baseball dropper -- but being professional athletes minimized their chances of disastrous failure. 
 
They held the lead to the Cumulative Season-Ending Challenge and by that time, the editors knew there wasn't any real point in attempting to create tension. And it was a decent cumulative challenge. One player had to root around in a Chuck E. Cheese-style ball pit full of globes, each with highlighted countries. You had to find globes featuring the 10 countries visited this season and then the other player had to put them in order. In a perfect world, you have three people in the pit going nuts and throwing globes around willy-nilly. Instead, Bates & Anthony were all alone. They arrived alone. They left alone. And they won't the million dollars.
 
They deserved to win, but that didn't make either the finale or the season as a whole especially satisfying. This wasn't an awful "Amazing Race" season, but it was a season without a grand, building narrative. Oh well.
 
Other thoughts from Sunday's finale:
 
*** Dave & Connor got the bulk of the non-Finalist screentime at the finish line. I guess that's appropriate. I guess.
 
*** After tonight's "Amazing Race," the name "Titanic" will always be associated with disaster.
 
*** Bog Snorkeling versus Shemozzle Racing... Debate!
 
*** Snooty This Is Not What These People Ordered Waiter versus Spritely Irish Step-Dancers... Debate!
 
*** You have no idea who Matt & Daniel are. You couldn't pick them out of a lineup. You saw them at the finish line and you said, "Who the heck are those people?!?"
 
*** The Nationals' mascots got lots of screentime, but I really wanted Bryce Harper to show up to deride Mona & Beth for some of their clown. decisions, bro.
 
Anyway... Your thoughts on the finale or the season as a whole? Any pressing questions for my quartet of exit interviews tomorrow?
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Daniel Fienberg
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A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.
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