The ”Amazing Race” finale: The winning philosophy
Allow me to begin this Amazing Race TV Watch with a quote from the Five Man Electrical Band, if you will. It comes from their 1971 hit ”Signs,” and it goes, ”And the sign said, ‘Long-haired freaky people need not apply.’ ” Needn’t they, generic establishment bigot? Needn’t they? Well, it took 35 years, but the long-haired freaky people of the world finally proved in the Race season finale that their application is at least as valid as short-haired dummy frat boys, and that was a big step indeed.
When the finale began, I didn’t think the hippies were going to win. My doubts arose when they repeated an earlier mistake by being too leisurely at an airport and they got boxed out of the flight to Tokyo. How could they ignore the hippie philosophy: Those who forget the past are condemned to bogart it. But I should not have had such little faith: Like a Jefferson Airplane refrain, they came back around.
Before I get too deeply into the racers, however, I must comment on the show’s latest product placement: The T-Mobile Sidekick, which was incorporated into a stop where elephants handed over PDAs that displayed the next clue. I’m not a marketing expert, but I can’t figure out how being linked with giant elephants was good positioning for a product that advertises itself as small and light. That was like Bally’s gyms hiring John Goodman as their spokesman. Plus, an elephant metaphor might make shoppers assume the device gets tons of spam: ”The Sidekick: Get ready to clean up mountains of crap!”
Anyway, this week the show really kicked off when everyone got to Japan, which was a huge coup for the hippies, as Tyler spoke the language. The producers, on the other hand, spoke the international language of stereotypical music cues. How many times did we need to hear the opening chords of ”Turning Japanese”? After this display of cultural ignorance, I expected the detour to be a choice between two tasks: Wax on, or wax off.
It didn’t surprise me that the hippies warmed so much to Tokyo. I’ve never been, but from what I saw, it seemed just like BJ and Tyler: simultaneously future-looking and retro. For example, the sleep capsules in the hotel looked like something out of a sci-fi novel, while one of the receptionists to whom the hippies dropped off a package wore a porkpie hat just like Boy George’s in the ”Karma Chameleon” video.
I haven’t mentioned Ray and Yolanda yet because they were consistently such a non-factor, both competitively and charismatically. Ray spent the whole leg as he did the whole race: repressing all his anger and packing it into a hot, dense little ball that will slowly burn a hole in his pancreas. It’s a wonder that every time he stepped out of the driver’s seat he didn’t yank the steering wheel with him, so tight was his angry grip on it as he fantasized it was Yolanda’s neck. The only time he showed a smile was when the tollbooth operator patted him on the ass.
And no matter how many times they caught up to the other two teams at airports, they always ended up trailing as soon as the planes touched down. What happened, did they keep getting waylaid at the duty-free shop? You’d think with $1 million at stake, they’d realize that they could get giant Toblerone bars later.
No, the rivalry between the hippies and the frat boys was the only real competition. The first half of the episode concluded with a paddle-boat race between them that was about as exciting as a race in swan-shaped vessels could ever get, and I really mean that as a compliment. It was a testament to the producers that they could eke that much suspense out of such a foolish vehicle. I wonder if they’ll push their luck and next season have teams doing footraces while strapped in to Romper Stompers, or maybe just put them on the open road in a couple of Big Wheels.
As the game got more competitive, the mind games escalated, even though none of them had any effect. The hippies convinced the Japanese hotel clerks not to tell the frat guys about the hotel’s Internet service, but ultimately BJ and Tyler used the exclusive Web only to stupidly book a later flight. The best part of this con job was watching the clerk snickering when Eric asked him if they had online access. Forget the race, the frat guys should have just stayed behind and challenged the clerk to a game of blackjack. With a poker face that bad, he would have lost over a million dollars in far less time than it would take to fly to Alaska.
Back and forth the teams switched, until it came back to where it started: Denver. The frat guys had a lead going into the flag roadblock, but I knew they were in trouble when Jeremy said Eric should do it because ”he’s the brains.” When you’re hanging your hat on Eric’s intellect, you might as well just hit yourself over the head with a Red Rock.
BJ remembered more flags than Eric, and off they went to the finish line to be greeted by Browsie himself. (The testi-Phils wanted to be there to knock against each other to create applause, but they still hadn’t descended after their time freezing in Anchorage.) The hippies gave a victory speech about how they won by being open to new people and new things and blah blah blah hippie crap blah. But their earnest declarations were quickly swept aside by the major mat revelation of the night: It turned out that the frat guys were not frat brothers at all but rather college dropouts! This season-long misconception seemed to irk Jeremy: We’re not frat guys, dammit! We’re dumb guys! Don’t worry, Eric and Jeremy: To paraphrase the Five Man Electrical Band again, everybody saw the signs.
What do you think? Did the best team win? Did you have any rooting interest at all? And are you going to apply the hippies’ philosophy to your own life’s journey?