“The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business” was the first “Amazing Race” season to air in high definition, so perhaps Sunday’s (May 8) finale was an appropriate one: No, it didn’t wrap up with a winning team who particularly represented the season as a whole, but the real winner ended up being viewers who got to watch in HD. The finale was beautiful, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying.
Actually, I take that back.
[More after the break, just so I don’t spoil anything…]
The winning team declared early in the episode that they were doing this for the single mother who raised them and when Kisha & Jen reached the final Pit Stop in first, they announced their intention to help their mom start a business.
“She did everything for us and it’s our turn to pay her back,” Jen declared.
So if “The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business” was going to air its finale on Mother’s Day, it actually got the most appropriate winner possible.
As for Jen & Kisha themselves? Well, Flight Time gave them credit by calling them the season’s most consistent team and looking at the record, he may have been correct. The 12th Leg of the Race was the only one that Jen & Kisha completed in first, but they were second three times, third twice, fourth four times and fifth and sixth once apiece in early legs. No, they never won a Leg, but they were also never in any real danger of going home on any particular leg and they were reliably close to the top. So no, this wasn’t a dominating season for Kisha & Jen, but it was a season where they were in contention every step of the way and then, when they reached a final leg that required no particular achievement, but only proficiency and a little luck, they were ready to capitalize.
Part of me feels like if you win an “Amazing Race” season, you probably ought to have had at least one memorable moment for three months of television. I don’t think Jen & Kisha did anything even vaguely memorable over the whole run, but this “Amazing Race” season was almost conspicuously designed to prevent memorable moments. That’s what I have to surmise from a finale that lacked any sort of cumulative challenge of any kind. So it’s also appropriate that a team you barely remembered participating in the Race won in a season no contestant was required to remember any portion of the race.
It was also a two-hour, two-Leg finale episode in which the first hour/Leg was easily the more dramatic and entertaining leg, but complaining about anti-climactic Race architecture is almost beside the point by now. We’ve had three or four consecutive seasons of largely faulty Race construction. That ship has sailed.
So let’s look at the two hours and the key factors in getting Kisha & Jen to the end in first.
Hour One – Rio De Janeiro
I came into Sunday’s finale prepared to be OK with any result, but rooting for Justin & Zev. Alas, they were the first team sent packing and, unfortunately, they were eliminated due to a few factors, including: A bad cab driver, a stupid Detour selection and an entire Leg seemingly designed just to torture them. There was no drama to their departure, only sadness because of how well they competed throughout and how gamely they participated in this Leg From Hell.
After leaving Switzerland for Brazil, the leg began with a Roadblock that asked one contestant to learn the samba and lead a samba squad on a one-block dance-march, keeping the rhythm throughout.
“I’m not a good dancer at all. I hate dancing, cuz I have White Boy Rhythm,” Zev observed, but he was stuck doing the Roadblock (and doing the Roadblock last week) because Justin had taken a disproportionate number of earlier tasks. Zev tried and he participated gamely — even enthusiastically smacking a dancer in the butt at one point — but he couldn’t figure out the dance and although Justin & Zev got to the Roadblock with a solid lead, they were passed first by Gary and life-long dancer Mallory and then by Kisha & Jen. Sadly, Zev squandered small leads over those two teams, but also a more substantial lead — at least 30 minutes — over the Globetrotters. But for all of the lead-squandering, Justin and Zev were still very close heading to the Detour.
But before the Detour, there was a catch: All of the teams had to stop and get a 15-minute Brazilian Wax.
“I can do that. I already get ’em anyways,” said Mallory (whose Leg was as smooth as Zev & Justin’s was bumpy [not a waxing reference]) proudly, before adding, “It’s funny to be waxed beside your dad.”
Although Justin & Zev left the Roadblock slightly ahead of the Globetrotters, they got to the waxing after them because of a weak cabbie. But they had a bigger problem once they arrived: The Globetrotters and Gary were all men I’d describe as “average” on a hairiness scale. Justin & Zev are men of a nearly Robin Williams level of hairiness.
Justin made the obligatory “40 Year Old Virgin” reference to Kelly Clarkson, but also got off properly hostile one-liners to his waxer like, “What’s the penalty for knocking her out cold?” He was not pleased. And Zev, concerned mostly for his nipples, wasn’t much happier. Fortunately, it wasn’t a “task” that required a certain level of hairlessness. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a “task” that required a certain level of hairlessness. That meant Justin & Zev got to depart after 15 minutes. It also meant that they left with some really impressive partial waxing.
Ultimately, for all of that struggle, they were really sent home because of a dumb Detour selection. The choice: On the Rocks or On the Beach. In On the Rocks, teams had to mix a caipirinha and then prepare 100 to the satisfaction of a strict bartender. In On the Beach, teams had to prowl a beach with a circular rack of bikinis and get women to try on bikinis and buy $60 worth.
On the Rocks was unquestionably the better task, one that allowed teams to control their own destiny. Even in a country known for exhibitionism — this episode set an “Amazing Race” record for pixelation — you can’t count on wandering a beach convincing women to change into skimpy bathing suits for you and your camera and then have them pay you for the privilege. It’s especially hard when you don’t realize that people in Brazil speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Justin’s Spanish was totally fine, but he was getting a lot of blank stares. Justin & Zev were the only team to think On the Beach was a good idea and by the time they quit and returned to On the Rocks, they were too far behind to do anything, since it was a mechanical task which the other three teams did at roughly the same pace.
It was farewell to Justin & Zev, but at least the first hour was entertaining, featured a couple decent tasks and offered gorgeous photography.
Hour Two – Miami Beach
The teams were equalized on a flight back to Miami Beach, but one team was eliminated almost immediately upon leaving the airport. The Globetrotters and Kisha & Jen all got cabs quickly and found cabbies capable of quickly taking them to the site of the first Roadblock. Gary & Mallory, who began the Leg in first, did not. They got Sterling. Sterling didn’t care they were in a race and wasn’t about to pause to call to ask for directions. Entirely due to poor cab luck, Gary & Mallory fell out of contention at the very start of the Leg and they never caught up. From there, it was a two-team race to the end.
How did Jen & Kisha win? Well, it didn’t have anything to do with either of the tasks.
The first Roadblock asked one player to use a huge fork-lift to carry a boat to a loading dock. Although several contestants professed to some prior experience with fork-lifts, it didn’t matter. The machinery was so complicated that the whole job was being backseat coached by pros. Flight Time finished a little ahead of Kisha, but not much.
The teams were neck-and-neck to a surprise second Roadblock at the Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, where teams had to use a bob dive — an individual submarine suit of sorts — to wander underwater, past a mermaid musical act, to find a clue at the bottom of a treasure chest. The bob dive suits were cool and the mermaid show was awesome, but the task itself was very slow and very methodical. You basically moved forward and opened the first chest you got to and then moved on to the next. There was no skill and there wasn’t even any luck. You just kept moving forward. Big Easy finished the Roadblock first, but all praise to Jen, who had a hydrophobia that reared its ugly head the first time they did “Amazing Race.” This time, she told us that she’d taken swimming lessons and while it wasn’t like she plunged through the water like an otter, it was nice to see a contestant in an All-Star Season who took pains to overcome previous handicaps.
And here’s where first place was determined: The Globetrotters’ cab driver paused to ask for directions heading to their next destination. Jen & Kisha’s driver knew where he was going. And that was that.
Kisha & Jen got to the next route marketer in first and navigated a shallow stretch of ocean on foot first and took a high speed boat to their final challenge in first.
And that final challenge? Nobody was asked to put Roadblocks or Detours or Pit Stop Greeters in order. Instead, the teams had to go into a 55+ trailer park community and set up a trailer based on a picture from a brochure. Easy enough, right? Wrong. They happened to be attempting to complete a task that featured many small, light parts in the middle of a near-hurricane. When they thought they had set their trailer up perfectly, they had to get approval from Miss Rose, a stern woman with a beehive hairdo and exacting standards. Jen & Kisha finished this first and were just a seven-mile bike ride from the million.
It was a gorgeous last bike, but it wasn’t suspenseful, because despite a plethora over overhead shots, there was never an overhead shot showing the Globetrotters and Jen & Kisha in the same frame, so there was never an illusion that the Globetrotters night catch up.
“They’re too far ahead of us,” Big Easy said, when the reality of their deficit set in.
So congratulations to Jen & Kisha. They had more memorable moments in their first season, but they have a million bucks to show for this second time racing. That sounds like finished business to me.
Some other thoughts on Sunday’s finale:
*** That’s two straight wins for all-female teams after zero for the first 16 seasons. I’m sure that’s notable. In some way.
*** Line of the episode: Mallory popping up from her Brazilian wax, looking over at her father and giggling, “Oh, memories!” Mallory survived two consecutive Races without having a full-on mental break. And the Pit Stop father-daughter moment with Gary got me just a little misty.
*** Justin and Zev also had a very touching send-off on the beach in Brazil. “This would be romantic if we were a couple,” Justin said.
*** The bartender wasted a TON of booze rejecting improper caipirinha. I’d have consumed all of them. Justin and Zev appeared to be the only team to score a caipirinha for the road, since they finished that Detour knowing they were done.
*** There was a minimum of fighting this season, so most of the defeated teams in the final gauntlet looked happy for Jen & Kisha, even Luke & Margie, who might not have been so friendly at the end of their original season. The gauntlet mostly raised one big question: Who the heck were Amanda & Kris and why were they participating in an All-Star season?
Anyway, this recap is too long anyway…
What’d you think of the finale?