In the 16th season finale, the Models, the Cowboys, and the Brothers race through the City by the Bay

By Darren Franich
Updated May 10, 2010 at 03:55 PM EDT
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Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
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San Francisco might be the most adorably weird city in America. As a culture, it’s part geek-decadent web dollars, part hipster-bait enviro-fascism, plus a generous helping of gay pride and boomer nostalgia. Public transportation is a joke, and there’s five hills every two blocks. (When I lived in San Francisco, I literally had to walk up and down a hill to get to work… which was around the corner.) But the food is incredible, and the people are kind, and brother, is it beautiful. SF is an American city that feels a bit like Europe and a bit like Asia, depending on which direction you’re looking. In short, it’s the perfect place to end another season of The Amazing Race.

The final episode kicked off at 2:37 a.m. Shanghai time, with Brent and Caite leading the charge back to America. Now, I have to admit something. I badly misjudged Team Superficial. I fell into the eternal trap of Prejudice. I made terrible assumptions without any basis in fact. Just because Brent and Caite were the two prettiest people on earth, and just because they couldn’t go five minutes without insulting each other, and just because every time Caite giggles it causes a star in a faraway galaxy to implode and die — for all these reasons, I assumed that Brent and Caite were dimwits.

They weren’t. I’m not sure if you can call their gameplay this season ”smart,” but there was clearly some kind of black magic conjured up by the deadly combination of Caite’s hotness and Brent’s majestic forehead. I was pretty excited to see them in a showdown with the Cowboys. Last night, I called that fight Good vs. Evil, but it was more like ”Conviviality vs. Bitchery.”

But then, madness. During the long Shanghai morning, as Team Superficial and Team CowBro were sleeping on the floor with their backpacks as pillows, in slipped Team JorDaniel to make things messy. I figured that the brothers were done after their shoddy showing last week, but instead, they were energized. Dan humbly noted that he and his brother perfectly combined ”athletic talent and brain power.” (Fun fact! If animals were named after the sound they make, Dan would be called ”I’mDoingThisForJordan.”)

This led to an aggressive game-changing event that can only be called…

Backpack-Gate

How you feel about Jordan’s actions probably depends on how serious a crime ”cutting” was when you were in kindergarten. Arriving at the airport, with a couple hours to go before the ticketing booth opened, Jordan set his backpack down in between napping Cord and the models. When the booth opened and Jordan slipped into the second position, Cord lightly commented, ”Y’all were there six hours after us.” Jordan said nothing, although he did flash an unreadable glance at the camera. (I thought he looked just a little bit guilty.)

NEXT: It’s all about the Benjamins. Or the Ulysses…es…

It wasn’t so hard to read the expression on the Cowboys’ face. I don’t think we’ve seen these two get angry once in this entire game, until now. They couched their anger in brutal hilarity. Cord: ”I don’t think you can actually grab his backpack and throw him…you might get in trouble for kicking his teeth in.” Jet, ever the gentlemen, simply noted, ”They wanna drop the gloves, I can drop the gloves.” I was hoping for a duel, Barry Lyndon-style.

Jordan was losing hero-points by the second. He dug himself deeper: ”I have obviously annoyed the cowboys.” Jet and Cord were disgusted: ”These people don’t care about people. They just care about money.” Cowboys learning tough truths about the modern era? I felt like I was watching an old Sam Peckinpah western. Dan said cynically: ”No one’s gonna help anyone right now. Those days are gone.” The only God is Money! Buy! Sell! Trade!

Now, viewers, I must note that the only reason Team Linecutter isn’t still trapped on the wrong bridge in Shanghai is because of another team’s kindness. But in all fairness, I think Dan made the questionable line antics a bit moot with some nifty mid-flight diplomacy. While the cowboys slept, and while the models stared blankly into space, Dan talked to a stewardess and somehow managed to slip into first class.

I can’t believe that they managed to pull this off without slipping the flight attendant a few grinning Ben Franklins, or at least a couple frowny-faced Ulysses S. Grants. (Seriously, the man looks constipated.) But that was smooth move. It meant Dan and Jordan were halfway to the Presidio before the other teams were even on American soil. Said Cord, ”It’s on like Donkey Kong.” (Pause for DK Rap.)

Don’t Call It Frisco. No. Don’t.

The first clue sent the teams out to Battery Godfrey, a line of artillery in a far corner of the Presidio, with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Battery Godfrey was built to defend against possible attackers from the Pacific. It was never actually used. (Except, of course, during the bloody Merman War of 1903.)

JorDaniel were the first to arrive at the Battery. The CowBros were close behind them, and they had the cab driver with the sunniest disposition: as he approached the Presidio, he said, ”Almost somewhere now here.” (”That sounds like my whole life,” said Cord.) The clue was something about ”my insides are lined with murals… I was built in 1933.” A passing cyclist pointed the Brothers to Coit Tower. Jordan: ”People who ride bicycles are smart.” But you know who’s smarter? People who read books! Turns out Cord had purchased a guide to San Francisco back in Asia. Hooray for literacy!

NEXT: Caite, Brent: Chill. We all want to punch you in the face.

Meanwhile, somewhere far behind, Brent and Caite were slowly collapsing in on themselves like a pyramid of smashed champagne glasses. When their cab driver had some difficulty finding Battery Godfrey, Caite charmingly noted, ”This is why I [expletive] wanted somebody who could speak English.” She then explained to her partner, ”Brent, stop being a [expletive] or I’m gonna punch you in the face.” And on it went:

Brent: ”Don’t even talk right now! Cause all you’re gonna do is cry!”

Caite: ”You’re not helping.”

Brent: ”YOU’RE not helping.”

Caite: ”I wanna punch you in the face.”

JorDaniel arrived at Coit Tower for the first challenge. The Cowboys were right behind them. Using a mechanical ascender, one person from each team would have to rise up the outside of the tower. (Dan and Cord did the ascending.) I thought this competition was a bit perfunctory, kind of like a tourist visiting Coit Tower: you have to do it, but once you’ve seen the view, that’s pretty much it. (Although, fun fact, the Coit Tower parking lot is the number one nighttime hangout for high school boys who really want to impress high school girls with their new driver’s licenses.)

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The next competition was one of the coolest, albeit most helplessly geeky, competitions in Race history. The clue sent Jordan and Dan on the hunt for the Yoda Fountain at LucasFilm HQ, home to special effects company ILM. Darth Vader, some awesome-looking stormtroopers, and those awful clone troopers from the prequel trilogy greeted the contestants silently and marched them into the competition zone.

The competition went like this: one player was dressed up in a motion-capture suit, also known as ”Sam Worthington’s Pajamas.” The Mo-Cap contestant then had to walk out into a blank greenscreen room. In another room, their partner was seeing a digital location, the inside of a starship, through a video camera on their partner’s head. They had to ”direct” the Mo-Cap contestant through the ”starship.” (For our benefit, all the Mo-Cap players had digital avatars with identifying markers. Jordan’s avatar had a bandanna; Jet’s avatar had a black hat; Caite’s avatar had a skinny neck and soullessly authoritative blank eyes.)

”I’m not a real videogame guy,” Dan explained. ”More of a Boston sports guy.” Nobody’s perfect, Dan. But as crazily dorkish and seemingly low-energy as this competition was, I’d say it was just about the perfect Race competition. Also, if your hearts hadn’t already gone Cowboy in the wake of Backpack-gate, then this exchange had to seal the deal:

Jet: ”Will these guys talk to us?”

Cord: ”No. They’re stormtroopers.”

By the time the Cowboys got started in digi-land, the Brothers had a lead. Cord, one desk over from Dan, practiced some old-school CIA misinformation by yelling random directions into Dan’s mike: ”Hop and skip! Crawl to your right! Ballet move! Ballet!” Jordan was confused. Dan looked angry. So angry he could practically punch a taxi driver. Cord settled down and told his brother, very soberly: ”We gotta find the blue star marker.” When the aliens attack earth, I want Cord to be my rebel general.

Listen, I understand if there are some Race fans out there who are a bit disappointed that the main challenge in the season finale wasn’t more, well, physical. But this was totally brilliant. The key, I think, was in the showdown between the Brothers and the Cowboys: Jordan reached the magic blue star marker first. Words were circling around Jordan’s avatar; on Dan’s screen, they just looked like a blur. Meanwhile, in the real world, Jet was walking up behind Jordan, just a couple feet (in the digi-world) from the blue star marker.

NEXT: Team Cowboy struggles

It was a curious détente. Jet had no clue what he was doing, but Cord kept telling him to walk forward. (”Give Jordan a wedgie and tell him to get out of the way.”) Jordan had no idea what he was doing, but Dan kept telling him to spin around. (”He’s gonna throw up, Jet.”) So, two grown men were wearing jumpsuits covered in ping-pong balls, and two other grown men were screaming orders at them from another room. We are officially living in the weirdest dystopian future ever.

Dan figured out the trick: Jordan had to spin around, in step with the spinning text. The text sent them to the world-famous Tonga Room, one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. (I assume that, like me, you measure the quality of a restaurant by how many fake rainstorms occur during dinner.) Cord, unfortunately, had a tougher time figuring out the reading trick. (You’d think that Jet might’ve told him that Jordan was spinning around.) The time Cord lost on figuring out the text gambit allowed JorDaniel to build up a huge lead.

It also put Team Cowboy just one step ahead of Team Superficial. But wait! As Brent and Caite pulled away in their taxi, Caite asked, ”Where’s our money and stuff?” Brent: ”You had it!” And back they went. This close to the end of the race, don’t you just give the taxi driver the shirt of your back and tell him you’ll pay him double in about an hour, when you’re a millionaire?

I think we can all agree that this little ILM adventure is definitely the best thing Star Wars has done since the Ewok song.

Remember? What the Dormouse said?

JorDaniel arrived at the Tonga Room and found a giant treasure chest. They had to carry it to the American Music Hall. They asked a typical San Franciscan where that was. This woman was a typical San Franciscan for two reason: 1) She was wearing a hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with the name of a famous university. 2) She had no idea where the American Music Hall was. Fortunately, JorDaniel got pointed in the right direction, and were off and running up and down (and up and down) the hills of San Francisco.

The final challenge was a callback to the city’s history, and also to the events of this whole season. Back in the 1960s, SF was the heart of what Phil Keoghan referred to as ”the psychedelic music scene.” The challenge was simple: teams had to listen to psychedelic music for more than a minute without the aid of hallucinogens. No, no, the real challenge was: inside of the treasure chest were eleven psychedelic posters, showing the eliminated teams and the non-elimination legs. They had to be put in order, from what-was-their-name through those Big Brother people to (sniff!) the Savage Detectives.

Jordan was the picture of delight. This is what he had spent his life studying for. ”I’ve watched Amazing Race for 15 seasons,” he reminded us, ”and there’s always some type of memory challenge.”

When he said this, it totally clicked for me where JorDaniel fit into the schema of Amazing Race teams. Follow for a second. In my opinion, Jet and Cord were the very best at world-traveling this season. They were adaptive, they could charm the citizens of foreign countries, they were equally adept at the athletic challenges and the detail-oriented challenges. But JorDaniel had them beat: They might not have been as good at traveling, but they were machine-bred in a factory to be the best team at being on The Amazing Race. I have no way of proving this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a vast swath of the brothers’ conversation had to be edited out because Jordan kept on discussing strategy gleaned from 15 seasons of obsessive viewing.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: Jordan lined up the eliminated contestants in about a second flat. And, always careful, he took down the posters after they got the clue. The clue was so simple that I almost thought it might be a trick: ”Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the…” Golden Gate Bridge? Alcatraz? Nope, Candlestick Park, home of my beloved 49ers.

I had some minor hope that Jet and Cord might make a comeback. Jordan and Dan were having some trouble tracking down a taxi. (Fun fact: there are no taxis in San Francisco, except for the ones that are out of service.) It looked like a close call, as the two teams sped down the 101. It was Brothers versus Brothers, the noble Oklahoma boys versus the devious Rhode Island kids.

NEXT: And the winner is…

But no: Phil and the eliminated contestants were waiting in the center of Candlestick park, and in ran Jordan and Daniel. Brandy and Carol looked so happy. Jordan was beside himself. ”This is my biggest dream come true.” Michael cheered in the background, but his shirt left me with an eerie feeling: the word ”KARMA” was written prominently on the chest.

Good for JorDaniel, but give me Jet and Cord, who came skipping in for second place. I thought I could maintain my critical distance, but when they started praising each other, the waterworks started. ”He’s a good man. He’s my best friend. He’s my brother.” I felt like I had just watched the final scene of Rain Main and the final scene of Red Dawn. (Anyone with a brother knows what I mean.)

But wait! This wouldn’t be a season of The Amazing Race without some low-level Shakespearean awkwardness to bring it all back to reality. Brent and Caite raced onto the field. Brandy noticeably refused to clap. (Jordan, by the way, screamed ”Nice job, Peach!” All these Nintendo shoutouts! I guess that Brent is Mario, and Brandy is Donkey Kong?)

Caite, you just came in third on a race around the world. How do you feel? ”I proved that I’m an intelligent person,” she explained. She tried to giggle her way through a slight apology to Brandy and Carol. Carol grinned and looked offscreen. Her galpal would not be satiated: ”I don’t wanna hear sorry from you! You purposefully whacked us! The cowboys should’ve been U-turned!” No, Brandy, no! You’re giving her the high ground!

Caite got the last word: ”Maybe you’ve should’ve treated people nicer.” Viewers, I have to say, this plotline was positively Victorian. I mean, however you feel about the validity and morality of Brandy/Carol’s insult to Caite, you have to admit that it’s an awful tiny thing to lead into an entire season of utter hatred. On the other hand, I’ve been a Brandy apologist all season, and her performance last night was the epitome of sour grapes. (The fact that she basically insinuated that the Cowboys should have been eliminated just made her seem like a fun-killer. Brandy then went on a Care Bear killing spree before telling every child on earth that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.)

And so ended season 16 of The Amazing Race. Chaos reigned. The cowboys talked about walking away with their ”integrity intact,” and you knew exactly what they were talking about. Jordan achieved his greatest dream, but at what cost his soul? Brandy hated Caite. Caite hated Brandy. Brent turned back into a mannequin. Jeff swore off reality TV. Louie’s mustache grew three sizes that day. There was profuse hugging. There may have been a rodeo. When no one was looking, Phil Keoghan ducked into an alleyway, put on his Bat-suit, and drove away into the night on a gun-mounted motorcycle. While JorDaniel swam through a pile of greenbacks, the Cowboys rode off into the sunset, searching restlessly through godless NorCal for some red-blooded American steak.

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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