There are several things that have to be discussed in this recap of Friday (December 19) night's "Amazing Race" finale, but I want to get this out of the way:

I don't think Brooke was wrong to be pissed off to see The Candy Girls arrive at the Manila airport after the last Leg and I don't think Adam was wrong to say that he was frustrated.

When I talked to Phil Keoghan about the rash of episodes in which teams didn't go home this season -- Four out of 11 episodes -- he said that people were universally excited by the ending of the last Leg, because it was something they had never seen before. 

True. What they hadn't seen before was a team get spared from elimination at the end of what was, for all intents and purposes, a Leg despite finishing last, only to be immediately rewarded with an Equalizer at the airport, heading into what was, for all intents and purposes, a Leg in which they faced no penalty.

So when Brooke complained that everything they'd done in the previous day was for nothing? Well... She's not wrong. It was a pretty good Leg, with some tough challenges. It asked a lot of the teams. And there was nothing that was gained from it. Brooke & Robbie only got to Phil in first one time in the Race and they got nothing for it, neither a prize nor a single second of time advantage. Everything they did in last week's episode amounted to nothing. And everything Amy & Maya did to struggle, coming in last, amounted to nothing. 

I saw a couple people say that Brooke & Robbie were being sore losers, because hadn't they just survived a Non-Elimination Leg themselves? Sure they had. But that was a real Leg, one that earned Jim & Misti a trip to Vietnam and one that caused Brooke & Robbie to face a Speed-Bump penalty. Was the penalty hard? No. But it was a thing they faced. And since both Legs were in Manila, a time difference remained in place from the previous Leg. 

To me, this was a bad structural decision from the "Amazing Race" producers and I don't buy its value or necessity at all. 


Three cheers for The Candy Girls!

Before the start of the Leg, I tweeted that they were my favorites to win. That doesn't mean that they were the most deserving winners. Clearly, taking the whole season into account, they were not the most deserving winners. Misti & Jim won five Legs for the season, while Adam & Bethany won three Legs and finished second a ton. Over the course of a season, they were both better teams.

But that's not what "The Amazing Race" is.

Kisha & Jen won an All-Stars season, Season 18, without winning a single Leg before the end. They also had a trio of second place finishes leading up to that finale and they finished third twice as well. So that's five Top 3 finishes before a win.

In Season 21, Josh and Brent also won without winning a pre-finale Leg. In fact, for the entire season, Josh & Brent had only a pair of Top 3 finishes and didn't finish higher than third before the finale. 

And now, in Season 25, we saw Amy & Maya win "The Amazing Race" in a season in which they only had two Top 3 performances, a second and a third. 

I think we can take Kisha & Jen out of the "least dominant winners" sweepstakes. With five Top 3 finishes and four more fourth place finishes, they were consistently strong in a very evenly matched All-Stars season. They were, realistically, stronger than a number of teams who maybe won a Leg or two before the finale.

Let's expand to Top 5 finishes pre-finale. Amy & Maya had seven, including four fourth places. Josh & Brent had eight Top 5 finishes, but their plurality was four fifth places. Amy & Maya finished eighth and seventh once apiece, while Josh & Brent finished seventh twice. Josh & Brent were saved by a formal Non-Elimination Leg, after which they faced a Speed-Bump, while Amy & Maya... You know.

So when it comes down to Least Dominant "Amazing Race" winners, I'm going to say that it's a push between The Beekmans and The Candy Girls and I'm not going to try to split hairs anymore. 

Even if Amy & Maya weren't dominant, or even especially good, I grew to really like them by the end, because they weren't the strongest Racers. In fact, they were almost certainly the weakest Racers, physically. And even if they may have been the smartest Racers in this pack, I can't think of any challenges for the majority of the time that rewarded their actual skill-set. Heck, The Surfers won three Legs, but one of them was the result of the completion of a Fast-Forward that asked them to successfully... surf. I can't even conceive of a challenge that would have been comparably in Amy & Maya's wheelhouse. But they kept going and they had fun everywhere they went. Maya had a particular amount of fun, celebrating every completed task like it had a million bucks attached to it. Amy was a good deal less enthusiastic, probably in part because she was nursing an injured leg the entire time and it also seemed like whenever a real pain-in-the-butt Roadblock came into play  -- the exhausting Manila market Roadblock last week led her to dehydration -- she got it. 

So perhaps it's fitting that Amy also got to be the hero for The Candy Girls in a Final Leg that had a few really good things going for it, even if it started with the initial flaw that I chronicled.

First and foremost, it wasn't a finale determined by cab drivers. Last year's finale was a cab driver finale, for example. When I talked to Phil about it, he claimed people loved the finale and didn't think it was a weak challenge, but if you'll recall, the only aspect of the finale that took "skill" was changing lightbulbs. The million dollars was determined by arriving at an airfield and getting on a plane first. 

This year, the teams had to arrive at LAX and they had to get themselves downtown. If you know LA, this is a bit of a test because of traffic, but the actual directional part of getting downtown really isn't that bad. You take the 405 to the 10 to the 110. That's about all there is to it. North to East to North. 

And that's what eliminated The Wrestlers. They stopped and asked for directions and then I'm pretty sure they misinterpreted or misrecorded the directions. I might not have been paying enough attention to what the rental card guy told them and maybe he gave them a bum steer, but it didn't sound like it. You had to go from LAX to City Hall to get a film permit approved and then you had to go to a warehouse. The Candy Girls and The Surfers were swift. The Dentists went the wrong way initially, but turned around. And the Wrestlers just went the wrong way. By the time they got to the warehouse, Phil arrived to tell them they had missed their call and they were too late, which was a disingenuous way to end the episode, since I don't remember being told there was a time limit. But maybe I missed that as well. So Brooke & Robbie finished first in a Leg-that-wasn't-a-Leg and then were eliminated for getting lost on the next Leg, which sucks for them, but at least it was something that was in their control. Or was it? I really don't know. Would they have been allowed to do the Roadblock if they'd arrived in fourth, but five minutes after the other teams? I don't know. The editors did a very bad job of indicating how time was or wasn't a factor here. 

Bye, Brooke & Robbie. You were my least favorite team by a lot, but at least I took your side on something!

The first Roadblock was fun, but not really a challenge. You had to get a couple seconds of training from a stunt person and then you had to crash through a prop glass window -- Sugar glass, the Candy Girls correctly noted -- onto a pad. Nobody gained or losses time except that Maya initially forgot to take off her stunt costume, which dropped the Candy Girls from first to second. No biggie.

From there, teams had to go and participate in a Coast Guard search-and-rescue exercise. The Surfers, who moved into first because of Maya's small gaffe, built on that lead and talked about how they were in their element, but while I worried that The Candy Girls might struggle with 185-pound dummy Oscar, they didn't even mention the difficulty.

So that meant that Bethany & Adam had a reasonable lead -- 10 minutes, Jim suggested as they swapped from driving themselves to cabs -- going to the final Roadblock which was, thankfully, an arduous and cumulative task. The person who didn't participate in the easy stunt Roadblock had to go and find nine marked containers in a maze of stacked shipping containers. The containers were marked with locations they went to during the Race, along with colored numbers corresponding with the colored vests they were wearing. Without taking notes, the players had to memorize both the numbers and the cities and put them in Race order. 

So it was a needle-in-a-haystack task mixed with a memory task mixed with a cumulative game memory task. That's a worthy challenge to conclude on and it came down to Amy, Misti and Bethany, who spent a long time wandering through the containers trying to find them all and remember as they went along. 

Amy got her nine numbers first, put them in order correctly first -- Bethany messed up her numbers twice, while Misti had them in the wrong order once. And even though their taxi driver said he didn't know where they were going for that last Pit Stop, they used a smart phone and got there first.

Whether or not Amy & Maya deserved the "Amazing Race" win based on the season as a whole, they absolutely deserved to win this Leg based on their performance in the Leg. And, as we always say, you only need to win the last Leg. 

"Look what scientists can do. Look what scientists can be, especially women scientists," Maya said at the end, after jumping into Phil's arms and doing a victory lap around the other contestants.

Damn skippy. I can get behind that as a message, even if there was nothing scientific about the way The Candy Girls won their million.

Some other thoughts on the finale:

*** As we heard several times, Amy & Maya were the third all-female team to win, following the previously mentioned Kisha & Jen and Season 17's Nat & Kat.

*** Adam & Bethany were the other team I was rooting for and they were consistently cute and winning throughout. They managed to avoid any of the adversity that you might have worried about for them and they were never anything less than appealing as a couple. The next time "Amazing Race" dips back into the All-Stars well, they're guaranteed to get a call. 

*** I fear The Wrestlers will also get an All-Stars chance, in big part because of Phil's misreading of their support. They fought and complained for their segment of this Leg. But I've already said that they were right that they could have been treated more "fairly," relatively speaking, here. 

*** I can't help but feel that probably Jim would have finished that closing Roadblock faster than Misti if he'd had the chance. We'd seen Misti struggle with memory-based Roadblocks earlier in the season. Things were tight enough at that point that if two people had finished the Roadblock correctly at the same time, it would have been a straight-up cab race to the Pit Stop. I'm glad it wasn't.

*** I don't get how the next "Amazing Race" season is "Amazing Race." It's really "Lost." And no, not the Damon Lindelof "Lost." The other "Lost" that premiered the same year as "Amazing Race," but failed at least in part due to 9/11. We'll see if that's interesting. We saw what happened with Mark & Mallory last season. Strangers or near-strangers doing The Race might be fun, but it won't be "The Amazing Race."

*** I didn't do regular exit interviews this season, but I will be talking to Amy & Maya on Monday, so if you have questions, lemme know.

What'd you think of the finale? And are you OK with Amy & Maya winning even if they weren't especially great on a week-to-week basis?

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.