Losing a fan-favorite team at the last minute thanks to one or two tiny wrong moves is not a good time — but the underdog team swooping into the finale in a nearly unbelievable fashion — is good TV. I was really rooting for Burnie and Ashley; they were level-headed, kind to each other, and obvious fans of both the race and what it represents. If they had unexpectedly lost in the final moments to — I don’t know — Dana and Matt, that might have been enough for this betting recapper to turn off this totally unpredictable season…
But Sheri and Cole?! SHERI AND COLE?!?! Those two need to get themselves to a Chinatown, Alabama gas station the second they get back home (presumably with the million and Phil’s personal cell phone number in their pocket), buy a Powerball ticket, and cash that sucker in, because their luck is simply unbelievable.
You have to admit, that even if Team Alabama hasn’t made it to the final three on sheer strength… or skill…o r even street smarts… they have made this far by being entirely themselves. They face every leg of this rrrrace around the world as exactly what it is: a huge, almost insurmountable challenge. And then, somehow, they surmount. Whether it be because of their own luck, or someone else’s misfortune (pouring one out for the Gamers as I type), and definitely due to an unlimited supply of pluck, Team Alabama has made it through. I’m not saying that’s a winning approach. But it is an endearing approach. Here’s how they did it:
Cole says it himself at the top of the episode as the teams head from Bali to Shenzhen, China: “We just aren’t really up to par with the rest of these teams.” But when everyone keeps ending up on the same flights, the definition of up-to-par gets a little bit broader. The first clue is located in the departures hall of the Shenzhen airport, and though Team Torey finds it first, they try to play coy with Team Alabama, then the Gamers as they all exchange their currency. When Burnie figures out that they lied about already having the clue (even though they were really trying to lie to Sheri and Cole, not Burnie and Ashley), it creates the first bit of real animosity this season has seen (other than Dana’s near-constant evisceration of Matt).
Team Torey has apparently always gotten along really well with the Dancers — they can get along with others! — so they decide to team up as much as possible on this leg. It’s a strategy that proves very useful in the ROAD BLOCK: IT’S A SMALL WORLD. The teams find their next clue at Window of the World, an enormous Shenzhen theme park with miniature versions of 130 of the world’s most iconic landmarks. One member from each team must solve six riddles which lead them to six landmarks, collecting stickers as they go for a provided passport. Once they’ve gotten all six, they get their passports stamped and move on. I will say that it’s a little hard to keep up with who’s confused by which landmark riddles and for what reason.
Dana and Tyler get a quick lead by working together, and have four of the landmarks on lock, but struggle with the Colosseum and Taj Mahal clues. Burnie is clearly very bright, because everyone is intimidated by the fact that he’s competing in this Road Block, but it’s also exhausting having to run around the park if you’re not positive of a riddle’s correct landmark, and the Burnster is in a bit of a mood once he discovers Dana and Tyler are working together: “Good, a couple of jackasses working together,” he mutters while cruising past some tiny Egyptian pyramids. But it’s no matter, Burnie still completes all the stickers correctly first, with Dana and Tyler just minutes behind him.
And then…there was Sheri. Sheri looks like she’s about to cry as soon as she reads the clue: geographical knowledge—me?! But there is something very special about watching the way Sheri often seems to doubt her abilities, and whether she pulls through in grand fashion or not, she always pulls through and keeps on truckin’ all over that huge park with her tiny little legs. Cole’s advice: “You’re awesome mom! Don’t cry! Stay calm!” And she does. She guesses; she asks for help; she gets a holy calling from the miniature Vatican; and eventually she makes it through. Very eventually. I get the feeling they were a good 30 minutes behind the other teams heading into the… DETOUR: COMMUTER CYCLE vs. MASTER OF ARTS.
NEXT: The art of commuting…