After dominating most of the race, Nick and Starr come in first and win the grand prize, while Ken and Tina finish a close second and win a second chance at their marriage; Dan and Andrew pulled up the rear, possibly a surprise to no one but them

By Josh Wolk
Updated December 08, 2008 at 06:08 AM EST
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
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So Nick and Starr won. I had a hard time putting words to my own reaction, but all I could come with was that it was the exact opposite of the words “yay” or “boo.” I didn’t just have no reaction, I experienced complete and utter indifference. It was as if someone rushed in and yelled excitedly that the results of the “What’s your favorite part of the tire?” poll were in from, and it was lug nuts by a nose.

Nick and Starr’s win was also the only result that made sense. They had the best record of anyone, consistently finishing at the top of the pack, barring one or two bad legs. I mean, they began this last leg three and a half hours before the second place team. Ken and Tina were fine racers, despite all their bickering, but they didn’t have the record to support a win. And Dan and Andrew? They kept saying that if they pulled this out, it would be one of the biggest upsets of The Amazing Race ever. Yes, on the negligible chance that this happened, it would have been a huge upset, and it also would have rendered the entire season moot: If you can dunderhead your way through the Race, narrowly escaping elimination each week just because you suck an iota less than one other team, and then randomly win the final leg, then skill means nothing. It would be like me hopping into an Olympic swimming pool wearing water wings during the butterfly finals and nabbing the gold because everyone else randomly got an arm cramp.

As another advantage, Nick and Starr had something that (cue Huey Lewis!) the other two teams didn’t have: The Power of Love. I had to keep reminding myself that they were brother and sister, what with their exchanges of “I love you,” backseat cab cuddling, hand-holding, and affectionate touching of foreheads. Was this The Amazing Race or Flowers in the Attic? Their parents must be either very proud, or incredibly creeped out.

As the episode started, everyone was on the same final flight from Moscow to Portland, Oregon. Side note: When Starr and Nick were looking up flights online, and I saw that the trip took just over 15 hours, it hit me just how messed up Race contestants’ systems must be, what with these long-ass flights. And more importantly, can you imagine how many crappy in-flight movies they must see in one season? Instead of endgame quizzes about their various challenges and pit stops, they should get tested on plot points from Kevin Costner’s Swing Vote.

This early in the leg, the frat guys were still feeling cocky. “For people who think we’re gonna be chicken feed” for the other teams, said Dan, “they’re mistaken.” Or could it be that they’re right on the mark? Dan is the kind of guy who says, “It’s crazy but it just might work,” but it’s always ends up just being crazy. And not even crazy in an interesting way; more crazy like a guy who keeps maintaining that Robert Prosky was in Law & Order when he’s really got him mistaken with George Dzundza.

NEXT: Dan and Andrew’s continued bad-cabbie luck

I enjoyed the moment when they were comparing flights, and Andrew suggested taking one with a connection in Barcelona. Dan sneered patronizingly and snickered, “It’s a smaller airport,” like Andrew was the dumbest man alive. Which, granted, he may be; I haven’t seen his test scores. But I wouldn’t judge someone’s IQ by his knowledge of international airports.

As soon as they landed in Portland, the gods that are in charge of cursing the frat boys recovered from their jet lag and sent Dan and Andrew the last in their series of bad cab drivers. Their consistent back luck really has been remarkable. I noticed that Andrew was wearing a new pair of sandals during this leg; I think it’s because on the way to the airport, he stepped in every single pile of dog crap in Russia.

We knew their cab driver would suck even before they did, as the producers added a foreshadowing slo-mo effect to the crazed-looking driver as he fastened his seat belt. It stopped me cold, because this nefarious editing is the same one you see in movies when the hero steps into a car that a hit man is driving. But it turned out that this cabbie wasn’t evil, just completely clueless about Portland’s surrounding area. I got a kick out of Andrew helplessly watching as he passed a sign for their destination town, but with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction. If I ever work as a cabbie, and I happen to pick up Dan, I think I will drive straight to, and then off of, a bridge. Sure, I’d die, too, but it would be worth it because the last thing I’d hear would be the familiar whine of Dan saying, “Oh, of course this is the cabbie that I get.”

The first detour (which was neck and neck between Ken-Tina and Nick-Starr) was a choice between two logging exercises, and everyone picked the ropes-course walk over logs 30 feet up in the air. Tina was the most nervous, snapping at Ken’s encouragement from the ground. Wasn’t it just minutes earlier when Tina had said that she could now trust Ken again because he’d clearly changed? Apparently that re-found love and respect only held true at low altitudes.

Tina had an inordinate amount of trouble with her helmet, which kept slipping off, and she couldn’t get it unfastened to just toss to the side. What kind of safety crew (a) let’s someone take off their helmet when 30 feet above the ground, and (b) affixed it so crappily in the first place? I can only imagine how carefully these people checked the contestants’ safety lines: “Yes, ma’am, it is perfectly safe. While I don’t know any knots per se, I did make sure that the bunny went around the tree at least three times, so that’s gotta be good for something.”

From there it was off to a 2,000-foot zip line, but it was all just an excuse to cut back and forth between Nick-Starr and Ken-Tina, who were remarkably close. Only occasionally did they cut over to the trailing Dan and Andrew. We did get to see them finish the logging challenge, and there was a hilarious shot of Andrew being slowly lowered to the ground. Even after an adrenaline-pumping challenge at great heights, he still looked like he had no joie de vivre. The way he descended, his body weak and limp, it looked like someone had just gone to the superstore Shlubs ‘R’ Us and asked the guy in the cherry picker to get one of the old models off of the top shelf.

NEXT: Ken and Tina start anew

After the zip line, the teams faced an elaborate what-have-you-learned challenge in which they had to search among 150 clue boxes for pictures of events from various stops in the Race. The challenge itself wasn’t all that interesting: There is no drama in watching people try to solve what is essentially just vacation trivia. What partially rescued it was the back and forth between the two leading teams; one minute Ken and Tina were ahead, then Nick and Starr pulled in front, and back and forth it went. They still seemed neck and neck after finishing the game, when they had to find a Russian food cart in the city. Starr got the Russian flag mixed up with Italy, saying, “Red, green,and white, that’s Russia!” Replied Nick, “That’s Italy, Starr.” I suppose this might have been an excusable error had these people not just finished a race around the world. Starr traveled thousands of miles, and she still only recognizes what she’s seen at a Sbarro?

After finding the Russian food cart, the teams were directed to find a store with the bawdy slogan, “The magic is in the hole.” Since it was a doughnut shop, you’d think that the ideal mystery solver would have been a cop, but Nick and Starr found the next best thing: a pudgy slacker. Pudgy slackers know three things: how to bum a smoke, why all movies today suck, and where to get a good doughnut come munchie time.

The doughnut shop having been found, Ken-Tina and Nick-Starr both searched for a cab to no avail. Ken even tried to pay a passenger $50 to give up his cab. The driver would have none of it, yelling, “This is a customer!” and speeding away. Living in New York, I was shocked to hear a cabbie so staunchly defending the passenger-driver contract. In New York, the cabbie would have yelled, “You’ll give him 50 bucks to get out? Tell you what, for 40 bucks, I’ll kick him out!”

Ultimately, as close as the producers made it seem, when Nick and Starr arrived at the final mat first (to be cheered on by the old hippies, the divorcées, and Browsie), Ken and Tina weren’t visible in the background. Phil asked Nick and Starr what they wanted to say to each other, and I was very relieved that Nick didn’t take that moment to propose. The emotional moment came with Ken and Tina, as he tearfully pulled out the wedding bands that neither had been wearing and asked her if she wanted to start over. Her eyebrows quivered, which is a seismic occurrence for her, so clearly she was swept away by the emotion. Then they kissed. It closed in on being a touching moment, but never entirely made it there, as we had just heard her snipe at Ken all the way through the final challenge. Perhaps these two crazy kids just may make it…providing they never collaborate on anything ever again. Oh, and separate houses may help.

Finally, the frat boys arrived. I was surprised they weren’t slowly lowered in by a crane of sadness, only to be deposited into a mud puddle. In Dan’s final words, he said that “any frat guy watching would be proud of our performance.” I can say without a doubt that the frat brothers of America are mortified. I have a feeling that after this, fraternities everywhere may change their names from Greek letters to emoticons, just to further distance themselves from Dan and Andrew. And during rush season, you’ll hear this: “Fraternities? What are those? Nope, we here at Smiley-Face Winky-Face Winky-Face are what we call a ‘Brother Club,’ and nobody in one has ever, ever gone on The Amazing Race, so you must be thinking of something else. And no, I’m not crying, I’ve just got something in my eye.”

What did you think about the finale? Are you glad Nick and Starr won? Or are you just glad it’s over?

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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