Amazing Race Finale Recap: Stealthy Choice

After five continents, 23 cities, 40,000 miles, some ridiculous kangaroo suits, plates of greasy wiener schnitzel, and Kent’s unbelievably terrifying eyebrows, The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business reached its conclusion Sunday night with an intermittently tense, occasionally emotional finale.

The opening hour took the competitors from Switzerland to Rio de Janeiro, where the field was winnowed down from four teams to three. The leg started out poorly for Flight Time and Big Easy, who missed a train connection thanks to a sluggish cab driver, giving a 30-minute head start to the three remaining teams. But things quickly went Cape Horn-level south for Justin and Zev at a Road Block where the latter buddy had to apply his self-described “white-boy rhythm” to learning the samba, hip-swaying his way through the streets with a team of festive locals, and winning the approval of a dancing expert at the end of the route.

I’ve got to admit I’m always a little wary of challenges that have a subjective element to them, but I can’t blame the Brazilian party queen for holding up at “Não” sign to Zev’s “Tin Man sans oil” moves, while quickly giving her approval to Mallory, who performed the entire routine with an open-mouthed grin of pure joy. (I know a lot of folks get exhausted by Mal’s hooting enthusiasm, but I think she’s delightful.)

Unfortunately for Zev and Justin, their cab driver strayed off course on the way to the next task, a spa trip with a mandated 15-minute Brazilian waxing session for every contestant, and it was a deficit they would never overcome. And while I sympathized with Mallory for having to get side-by-side hair removal with her dad (!) — “not something you ever think you’re gonna experience in your life” — it was a far worse task for the hirsute Justin and Zev. “These challenges are not made for us,” sighed the former conteatant, shortly before the aesthetician pushed his writhing buddy’s head down to the table and ripped his armpit hair from its roots. It all started getting a little torture porn-y, though, watching a screaming Justin get the 40-Year-Old Virgin treatment. “What’s the penalty for knocking her out cold?” he asked, looking up at his spa-employee tormentor. By the time the 15 minutes was up, about a third of Justin’s chest hair was missing, creating an unfortunate, patchy pattern that’ll remind him of what he did to try to win a cool million for many months to come.

After a failed attempt to make up lost time on the Detour by selling bikinis to local beachgoers, the team who had won four previous legs followed Gary/Mallory, Kisha/Jen, and Flight Time/Big Easy teams to a cocktail-making challenge. As their rivals wrapped up and headed for the pit stop, though, Justin became philosophical, mixing Caipirinha No. 101 and splitting it with Zev on the cab journey to their elimination. “This would be romantic if we were a couple,” joked Justin, as they walked the beach to the Pit Stop. “He was the race, and I was the amazing,” chimed in Zev, and with that, the second half of the finale kicked off with a noticeable decrease in comic relief.

At this point, I should’ve guessed that Kisha and Jen were on their way to victory when they kicked off the second hour talking about wanting to use their prize money to give back to their single mom. I mean, hello, the episode was airing on Mother’s Day, and also, why try to create a sense of the warm fuzzies around the season’s nice-enough-but-kinda-dull ladies unless it was absolutely vital to a happy season-finale ending? Then again, credit has to be given to Kisha and Jen, who may not have won any previous leg of the Race, but who had also never really made a major tactical error or flirted with elimination.

Thankfully, Gary and Mallory finished the penultimate leg in first — and scored themselves a Mediterranean cruise in the process — seeing how their choice of cab at the Miami airport pretty much knocked them out of contention from the opening moments of the final leg. Speaking of which, don’t you wish that the show’s producers had forced the contestants to drive and navigate Miami themselves? I mean, seeing a team get wiped out of their chance at a million dollars due to sheer bad luck isn’t nearly as satisfying as seeing ’em fall behind due to navigational error, right?

Anyhow, the tasks in the leg ranged from “looks challenging, but made easier by expert supervision” (using a fork lift to move boats) to the “looks ridiculous, and pretty random” (a one-man submersible treasure hunt at Jules’ Undersea Lodge that made me think of Cougar Town, because its lead character is Jules Cobb and she lives in Florida). I did appreciate hearing that Jen took swimming lessons specifically in preparation for the Race, and chuckled at her suggestion that she only panics at the appropriate moments — like when she’s on the verge of drowning.

Another cabbie malfunction — the Globetrotters’ guy went temporarily AWOL — gave Kisha and Jen a short lead heading into a (not very exciting) walk cross ocean shallows to Horseshoe Island, then off to a trailer park to create the exact “trailerscape” from a kitschy postcard scene in brutally windy conditions, judged by a brutally coiffed woman named Miss Rose. Kisha and Jen again completed their task first — after figuring out they hadn’t correctly set their outdoor table — then headed with an insurmountable lead toward an adult tricycle race across Seven Mile Bridge. The producers tried valiantly to mask the distance between Kisha and Jen and the Globetrotters, but the fact that the competing teams were never shown in the same shot was pretty telling.

I have no idea why, but I got a little lump in my throat when Big Easy realized the sisters were too far ahead, and encouraged Flight Time to “take it all in, baby.” And, of course, who doesn’t get a little misty eyed at the end of the race, when all the vanquished teams gather together to cheer the top three past the finish line? Kisha and Jen, they did it for their mom, and even though they did it so stealthily that they never really captured my reality TV-addictied imagination, on a Mother’s Day season finale, how could I possibly object to the outcome?

What did you think of The Amazing Race season finale? How did you feel about the all-star edition overall? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.