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Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Season 21 Finale - 'Take Down That Million'
Which team made it to Phil first and won the big prize?
There's something to be said for dominance.
The 20th installment of "The Amazing Race," which aired last spring, culminated in bickering married couple Rachel & Dave winning the million dollars and finishing first in an astounding eight of 12 competitive Legs on the Race.
They were the New York Yankees of "The Amazing Race." They dominated from start to finish and there was almost no suspense. In fact, they were such an obscenely strong team that they screwed up the final task of the season, ran through the finish line, were corrected, went back and completed the task and ran through the finish line a second time, as if to mock the other teams.
You looked back on Season 20 of "The Amazing Race" and you said, "Well duh. No other team possibly could have won and it was really cute that Rachel & Dave let the other teams travel with them around the world."
But the Yankees don't win the World Series every year, no matter how high their payroll happens to be.
Some years, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals or the 1987 Minnesota Twins win the World Series. Sometimes, a team does exactly enough to make the playoffs and then exactly enough to win a series or two and then, on the biggest available stage, that team does exactly enough to come out on top. If you look at the 2006 baseball season, the Cardinals were only the best team in baseball on October 27, but that was the last day of the season, so that's the only day that counts.
There probably wasn't a New York Yankees for the 21st installment of "The Amazing Race." Abbie & Ryan thought they were going to be, but multiple travel gaffes in Germany sent them packing. Several teams won a couple Legs. One team won three Legs. But if you want to talk about the importance of finishing strong, the teams in this season's "Amazing Race" Top 3 finished 10th, 9th and 7th in the season-opening Leg. So maybe the final results on Sunday (December 9) night were appropriate. If no team was going to be able to win "The Amazing Race" and claim unquestioned supremacy, maybe this was exactly the correct result for this season.
More after the break...
Were Josh & Brent the best team on "The Amazing Race" this season?
Ummm... No. I think we can say that with reasonable confidence, right?
The Beekman Boys aren't the first team to win "The Amazing Race" without winning a Leg before the end. One need only look back to Season 18, when Kisha & Jen came out in first. But Kisha & Jen won as the climax of an amazingly consistent season that say them finish second in the last three Legs and never finish worse than sixth. And that was against All-Stars competition.
Season 21 was not an All-Stars season. It was, in fact, an impressively weak pack. Look back at the six teams that were eliminated first and that's a lot of filler and yet Josh & Brent never finished higher than third until the last Leg and were saved by a Non-Elimination Leg, by a team losing a passport and by a strategically deployed U-Turn. They repeatedly got lucky and capitalized on the poor luck of others.
You can make the argument that they're the weakest team to win "The Amazing Race" and I'm not sure what argument could be made to counter that.
On the other hand, one Leg after another, they overcame adversity EXACTLY enough to survive. They may not have won trips to the Mexican Riviera or Hawaii or won cars, but those are just cutesy little gifts to keep Travelocity and Ford happy. Teams play to win the million dollars and style points don't count. Almost from the beginning, they were in perpetual jeopardy and while I'd like to say they never hung their heads, they hung their heads constantly. As late as the very last Leg, they whined and pouted and placed blame. They must have mentally packed their bags each and every week heading to the Pit Stop and each and every week, they were spared and talked about their underdog status. And as the younger and stronger teams bonded and helped each other, the Beekmans went from being subtly bullied to being actively ostracized and derided by other pairs. No matter how many times Josh & Brent quit on the inside, they never literally quit and ultimately that's what counted.
So I guess that's what the Beekmans taught us: Literally, don't quit. You never know what's going to happen around you. And while you'd think that on a 12 Leg race around the world, mathematical probability would prevent fluke wins, it probably stands to reason that if you play two seasons per years over enough decades, eventually you're going to get at least one winner-by-attrition. It's the 1000 monkeys in a room with 1000 typewriters for 1000 years theory: EVENTUALLY you're going to get one season like this one, even if it never happens again.
That's my way of saving that it would be absolutely wrong to say that Brent & Josh were "undeserving" winners. They finished not-last every single time it counted. If you do that every Leg, you're guaranteed to finish first or second for the season. Well, unless there's a double-eliminations. But in a Race filled with Equalizers and Non-Elimination Legs, weird things can happen.
How did the weird things happen? Let's actually talk about Sunday's episode.
The first thing I want to say is that even if "The Amazing Race" got a weird winner this time around, it was a decent season. There were some good challenges in some good cities and as we got to the Final Four, I had at least one team I was rooting for and at least one team I was rooting against.
The penultimate Leg, which took up more than half of the episode, was spoiled from the beginning. It was the Ford Presents Ford Has a New Feature Promotional Episode and after learning the glories of the Ford Escape's no-hands automatic trunk, Jaymes & James announced that they hoped they'd win a car and James told the story of his mother, a special needs teacher who lives and works without an automobile of any kind. No other team shared a story about their desire or need for a car. No matter what happened with the editing for the next 60 minutes, I never had an iota of doubt that Jaymes & James were going to win the Leg and that James' mother was going to get her car.
And guess what? They did! Good for them, I suppose.
As for the results at the back of the pack, through the episode, the three Non-Beekman were determined to go to the Final Three and they didn't care if the Beekmans saw them conspiring and plotting.
Since the editors weren't going to give us suspense on the team finishing first, they concentrated on the back of the pack, specifically the adversarial relationship between Twins Natalie & Nadiya and the Beekmans. It's bizarre that for 12-ish episodes, The Twins never called the Beekmans "The Gays" once, but suddenly in the last two episodes, every word out of their mouth was about Josh & Brent's sexuality. The first hour of the finale was all about Natalie & Nadiya calling the plucky underdogs "The Evil Gays" and tearing into them for their alleged treachery. Josh's ankle was hurt, but suddenly he could run! What a criminal! [Never mind that James was an invalid in Russia, but sprinting himself.] Josh speaks a tiny bit of French! Oh, the deceit! How dare a team suck up pain or have any sort of basic intelligence? That seemed to be the World According to Natalie & Nadiya, whose Speed-Bump for finishing last last week was tying up a corset, a task that delayed them only long enough for the other three teams to get lost, despite Josh's nefarious French skills.
That Leg's Detour was the choice between Plow and Chow. In Plow, teams had to hitch up a horse to a plow and plow four lines. In Chow, teams had to debone and chop up two barrels of meat for a team of French hunting dogs, who apparently eat far better than most of the human population in nearly every country the Racers visited. [Yes, recalling the poverty in Indonesia and Bangladesh, I'm not sure if I approve of a task that asked teams to pour heaping piles of prime cuts of meat onto the ground.] Plow looked like it should have been hard, practically begging for a repeat of the all-time classic "My Ox Is Broken" task. Nope. It was easy and the Chippendales and Team Longhorn finished fast. Chow wasn't much harder, but it gave the Beekmans and Twins the chance for a lot of trash talk, that was cut so that we were only rooting for Josh & Brent. Editing is magic. Or the Twins were just losing their minds.
The Roadblock was a good one as well, albeit not a determining factor in any way. One player from each team had to run into a mushroom cave and pick 10 mushrooms from three types. The caves were dark and labyrinthine and there was a lot of fumbling around. Team Longhorn finished ahead of the Chippendales, but they got back directions and James' mother will get her car. And the Twins finished ahead of the Beekmans, but they got back directions and ended up going home.
So it was yet another Leg that was decided by vagaries of transportation and direction, rather than by exceptional in-task achievement. But it was that kind of season. Bad cabs, bad boats, bad airline connections and, in this case, bad local directing are part of the game. The Twins took total responsibility and called themselves idiots, etc. It's all just part of the Race.
That left the finale, which was simultaneously really fun and really infuriating.
Fun included the challenge of making teams first go to a specific location in Coney Island and recognize a fairly camouflaged clue within a Harry Houdini sign. I wish it had been more relevant to the end of the Race.
Fun then included the first of two Roadblocks, in which one player had to recreate a Houdini stunt by escaping from a straight-jacket while dangling from a crane at 15 stories, leading to a bungee jump. I'd have loved some more freaking out and drama and I wish it had been more relevant to the end of the Race.
Fun even included sending the teams to a pizza parlor and getting them to deliver 10 pies to three different locations, getting the correct orders and destinations. Both Team Longhorn and the Chippendales did the task right the first time, while the Beekmans made two mistakes, which Brent blamed entirely on Josh. I wish it had been more relevant to the end of the Race.
So that brings us to the "infuriating."
The final task, set at the United Nations, required one player from each team to hoist nine flags with the correct local translations for "Hello" and "Good-Bye" attached. As each player quickly remembered, Phil Keoghan and the local greeters always made a big show of emphasizing that bit of language. But nobody paid attention. "I just thought they were being cordial," Jaymes said. So what we were left with for a million dollars was the need to put 18 words in the correct places on nine flags. Everybody knew Spanish. Everybody knew French. Nobody knew anything else.
The way the editing was presented, Josh was given the chance for redemption and, by making a math challenge out of it, he eventually completed the task after three hours. Lexi, meanwhile, had a melt-down and bonked her head on the flags and was a crying wreck. Somehow, James finished the task in nearly the exact same time as Josh did, but it was barely discussed. They had to at least somewhat pretend that Josh had a process that he was going through, so as to validate his win.
Josh and James were playing a process-of-elimination guessing game for a million dollars. And you can decide for yourself if you think that's a good ending for "The Amazing Race."
To me, it's better than losing because your cabbie didn't have an express pass. And because the task made Lexi cry, it was much more dramatic than some memory based tasks we've had in past seasons.
But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't have been much more satisfying if any one of the three players had gotten to the task and said, "Yes! I was paying attention!" and proceeded to astound the competition by nailing a quiz that probably could have been done in 10 minutes.
Instead? Process-of-elimination for a million bucks!
And Josh finished and The Beekmans won.
It was probably exactly the end the season deserved.
This recap is running long, but some additional thoughts:
*** Things couldn't have played out better for the Beekmans with the tasks and languages and geography of the closing Legs. There were intellectual challenges, farming and horticultural challenges, a foreign tongue they spoke and a closing stretch in their hometown. Despite those myriad advantages, I don't think that's why they won, but that may speak even less kindly to their victory. They should have romped to victory and instead, it was a squeaker.
*** The Beekmans said the appropriate heart-felt things at the mat, including an attempt to make their win a win for anybody disenfranchised or disempowered. Fair enough. The degree to which they're underdogs in life is... questionable. They have a reality TV show. Josh has written four best-selling books. Brent's a doctor, a business owner and buddies with Martha Stewart. They've had struggles, but they've also had success and high-profile success.
*** My favorite part of any "Amazing Race" finale is seeing how teams react to the eventual winners. Abbie & Ryan's excitement for the Beekmans as they ran into Gotham Hall was so genuine that it made me want to be happy for them as well.
*** Lexi's paranoia about having to potentially eat pizza for a challenge was disturbing. Who hears they're going to the oldest pizzeria in NYC and says, "Oh my gosh, I hope I don't have to eat pizza." Then again, she also selected their horse for the "Plow" Detour in the basis of "prettiness." And the cringe-worthy sign-off with Lexi saying, once again, that she's ready to take things to the next level and Trey avoiding eye contact was just sad.
*** Million bucks aside, Jaymes & James came out of this as clear winners. Nearly everybody liked them. They got James' mother a car. People on Twitter were able to pass around this AWESOME video from Jaymes' musical career. And they're virtual locks to get an invite next time "The Amazing Race" goes down an All-Stars path. I do hope that Jaymes' father is OK.
Enough rambling from me... What'd you think of the finale? What'd you think of the Beekman win? And what questions do you wanna make sure I ask all four teams tomorrow in exit interviews?