Though Ronald and Christina had the lead and Donald had the work experience, Rachel and TK win after she solves the most confusing roadblock ever
Credit: Robert Voets

As he always does, Phil began this season of The Amazing Race with the words ”The world is waiting.” Well, the world finally got what it was waiting for, and it was another couple of hippies: TK and Rachel won. And it wasn’t just another hippie who emerged victorious, but another two-initial-named hippie, à la BJ. At this rate, H.R. Pufnstuf will walk away with the million bucks next season.

Ron and Christina, who had evolved into this season’s strongest racers, seemed to have it all locked up in the beginning of the finale. They could do no wrong: They left the Taipei pit stop 45 minutes early, and when they were at the airport — booking flights to Anchorage, Alaska — Ronald thought to ask if they could use the airline’s lounge for Internet access. This just proved that Amazing Race contestants are given special consideration at the airports: Ronald — flying coach — gets access to the magical platinum club just by asking nicely? Coach fliers don’t get that kind of freebies: Hell, when I just ask for a tiny bag of pretzels, the stewardess looks like she’s about to Taser me for my hubris.

Upon arriving in Anchorage, the teams had to stop at a camping store to get a bag of supplies and then take a cab to the Ship Creek boat launch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Phil called it ”S— Creek” and then said to myself, ”I sure hope they have a paddle!” But no, it was Ship Creek. Ironically, however, Nicolas and Donald did end up on the other creek after they somehow forgot to pick up their supply bag and had to go back and get it when they arrived at the next clue empty-handed. ”You read the clue, but you didn’t understand it, so we’re f—ed,” Donald grumbled at Nicolas. And he should know: In between mining for gold and driving a truck in the late 1960s, Donald spent two years being professionally f—ed.

The detour at Ship Creek was either ”Cut the Cod” (disembowel a giant fish, looking for a tiny clue in its guts) or ”Grab the Crab” (wade in a tub of 500 live giant crabs, searching for one with a tag on its claw). The cod thing looked truly disgusting: When Donald (who — go figure! — had done this before) and Ronald sawed through these enormous beasts, out popped a pinata’s worth of innards. It looked as if the producers had hollowed out these fish and stuffed a couple of cows inside.

I was surprised at what a relatively easy time the teams had finding the thimble-size clues, but I was also stumped as to how the producers got the clues inside. When the fish were alive, were they fed the clues? Or were the clues just poked through their skin after they died? Either way, it gave me pause: I’m the farthest thing from a vegetarian, and I don’t think twice about eating meat, chicken, or fish, but I do draw a moral line at using dead animals for reality-show competitions. One can rationalize killing an animal for food: It’s the cycle of life. But reality TV isn’t part of the cycle of life. (Well, maybe indirectly. When, say, American Idol makes gobs of money, much of it goes into the pockets of the Beelzebubian Simon Cowell, which allows him to afford his steady diet of baby kangaroos. Did you know that’s what gives him the magical ability to spot the X factor?) Look, as an animal, it’s bad enough to be killed. But to not even be used for food but rather have your insides tossed around like party favors by someone searching for a tiny note that some producer shoved in your colon? That’s just rude.

The ever-humane TK and Rachel opted to try to fight the crabs, who, with their constant pinching, seemed to have learned an important lesson from their poor humiliated cod brethren: Don’t go out without a fight. I’m not sure, but I think just before Donald sliced into his cod, I heard it whisper to the crabs, ”Earn this.”

From there, after what looked like an exhilarating speedboat ride, the teams had to scale a glacier with ice axes and crampons. (Come to think of it, I heard the phrase ”up Ship Creek without a crampon” once on an edited-for-television movie on AMC.) I think Ronald was getting addicted to personal-breakthrough moments: After many episodes of him talking about how he was trying to be a better father to his daughter, he now tried out the old ”I am afraid of heights, but I must conquer my fears” chestnut. Jeez, what’s next with this guy? Thank goodness this was the end of the series: One more episode and he’d be droning on about world peace and how he realizes that we’re not so different after all.

NEXT: A random roadblock

Up until this point, it looked as if Ron and Christina had the race locked up. Even with various editing tricks (making it seem like the other teams were right behind them on the glacier even though we never saw anyone ascending at the same time as Ron and Christina), it was clear they were running a good race and, barring any slipups, would be the victors. And then came what I like to call the Most Poorly Worded Challenge Ever.

The final roadblock involved picking 10 items encountered on the race out of a group of 15, based on a list of highly confusing criteria. I played Phil’s instruction over multiple times, and it still came out sounding like a Zen riddle. (”If it sounds easy, think again,” said Phil. Okay, Phil, but what do I do if it sounds like the rantings of a dyslexic carnival barker?) The rule that really broke me was to pick ”One item of transportation resembling the shape of a stick.” I dare you to diagram that sentence. That sounded like the producers wrote what they needed and then had it retranslated in every country along the route and finally back to English.

Among the 15 items to pick from were a goat, a chicken, and a Japanese man wandering in circles, pretending to be cleaning a train station à la the Osaka clue dispenser. These guys should call their agent: Do you really want a gig where you have equal billing to a pair of stilts? The only way this job could have been more demeaning would have been if Bertram van Munster had shoved tiny clues up each of their asses and then told the contestants to go find them.

This confounding puzzle was where Christina stumbled. She seemed to be on top of it, but as often happens in this type of game, when she got one item wrong, she began rearranging everything, making it worse. It was a sign of how badly this was rattling the usually calm Christina that she kept saying ”frickin’,” channeling the ultimate panicker, Jen. If this had gone on much longer, I fear she would have slipped even further into Jennitude. Perhaps she would have turned to the Japanese train-station worker and snapped, ”You’re a cleaner — you’re supposed to clean up my problems! Or did you leave your scrotum in your other jumpsuit?”

And then, out of nowhere, Rachel finished the puzzle first, and she and TK were off. Christina eventually finished it, and the final dash was played out as if they were neck and neck. But as we all know by now, if you never see two teams in the same frame together, they’re not notably close. And once they’d stopped by the Salmon Hooker (yet more ignominy for the underwater kingdom!), it was TK and Rachel who sped onto the mat, past all their previously vanquished competitors. (Oh, Ari and Staella, we hardly knew ye…and that was probably for the best.)

As for Nicolas and Donald, they came in third, but we’ll never know how far behind they actually were. We never saw Nicolas solve the puzzle: The last we saw of him at that challenge, he was in the background, tugging on a donkey, and as we learned in episode 1, that never ends well. I suspect that Nicolas never finished but the producers huddled together and said, ”Every minute we wait here is another minute the Goths will say, ‘We like the mat because it sounds like ”bat,” which likes the dark, just like us!’ ” Five seconds later, a PA was likely dispatched to the roadblock to yank the donkey reins out of Nicolas’ hands and send him and Donald straight to the mat.

I kind of wish Christina and Ronald had won, and I think the producers had their hearts set on it, too, considering how the show was so loaded with quotes about what a better father Ronald had become. Though in their eagerness, they left in one too many: In the final tearful (and touching) moments, Ronald said, ”For once in my life, when I say the words ‘I love you,’ I mean it.” When I heard this, I said, ”Wait a minute, that seems retroactively really crappy,” but my wife told me to leave him alone, it was a sweet moment, and he’d just misspoken. Well, I’m just sorry she doesn’t like the real truth flavor.

What did you think about the finale, the winners, and the season as a whole? Post below!

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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