The final teams race through Rio de Janeiro and Miami, and one dynamic duo wins the $1 million
Amazing Race Zev Justin

Rio de Janeiro is a lusciously beautiful coastal metropolis populated by some of the most ungodly beautiful human beings to have ever walked on God’s green earth. It occupies a political and financial center of the world’s eighth largest economy, and sports a classic emerging-world disparity incredibly poverty and incredible decadence. The Brazilian capital city is also the biggest movie star of 2011, with starring roles in the CGI animated film Rio and the steroid-engine ballet that is Fast Five, a film that I have recently become unhealthily obsessed with. (See here, and here, and here.)

The final four teams in this season of Amazing Race were all very, very happy to be sent on their way to Rio — the snows of Western Europe had not been very kind to any of them. Team Globetrotter was in a particularly good mood; Big Easy joked with Mallory about how “Some of the girls in Brazil are men, so check the neck!” There was a minor bit of airline drama at the Switzerland airport — Team Zinger and the Globetrotters both booked onto an early flight that would’ve arrived at 7:30 in the morning, while Team America and the sisters were initially booked on a flight that wouldn’t have gotten in until the late afternoon.

It would’ve been a massive lead. Unfortunately, the Globetrotters happened to swing by their opponents’ travel agency. Mallory asked, “Did you find an earlier flight?” Flight Time looked at the floor. Big Easy looked at the ceiling. They mumbled something about not finding an earlier flight. No one believed them. (Mallory did a funny impression of Big Easy trying to tell a lie.) It’s interesting to note that out of all the four remaining teams in this Race, there weren’t really any hardcore strategic people left. In fact, you could argue that one team in particular was injured in this last leg by a lack of strategy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Rio, the Globetrotters got a slow cabbie, which meant they were left behind by the train that carried the other teams up to Escadaleria Selaron. That put Flight Time and Big Easy a full half-hour behind the other teams. All three leading teams found the clue, hidden behind a tile, and made their way for the day’s first challenge. Blessedly, this was a costume challenge. Unfortunately for one adorably uncoordinated player, it was a dance challenge. Zev stepped up, since he wanted to equalize with Justin on roadblocks, but he admitted, “I have whiteboy rhythm.” Zev gamely stepped out in his costume, looking for all the world like a desperately uncomfortable fratboy pledge who had to dress up for an Aztec party. Alas, that was pretty much what he danced like, too. Justin, always Mr. Positive from the sidelines, noted gamely, “I have seen him dance, but not sober. But luckily, we have a lead.

That lead started disappearing almost immediately. Mallory stepped up for the Samba challenge and knocked everyone dead. “I love that stage! It’s where I belong!” she exclaimed. She led her impromptu parade, and all of Rio de Janeiro seemed to bend around her, as if she were starring in a South American remake of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Samba Matriarch was charmed. “Sim!” she exclaimed, with signage. She was less impressed with Zev, sending him back to the training octagon. Kisha joined him in the training area, and the Globetrotters weren’t far behind…

NEXT: The vibe! The vibe!

Justin did his best to cheer on his partner from the sidelines, attempting to offer helpful hints. “The vibe! The vibe, Zevvy!” he screamed. “Treat it like a dance, not a Roadblock!” Kisha finished off her Samba while Zev struggled. Meanwhile, Gary and Mallory were the first to arrive at one of the funniest challenges all season: Both members of every team had to suffer through a Brazilian wax, a painful fifteen-minute process. Mallory had plenty of experience and giggled through the pain, while Gary made squealing noises that sounded a little bit like Krypto the Super-Dog whimpering through a kryptonite sandwich.

The Globetrotters arrived at the Samba station, and Big Easy made short work of the dance competition. That meant Team Zinger had gone from first to worst. I was worried that Zev might get overly frustrated, but he seemed to actually manage to enjoy himself despite the tension — when he finally nailed the heel-kick, he smiled from ear-to-ear. Unfortunately, the Zinger boys got lost on the way to the Waxery — a bad time to have cabbie trouble.

Kisha and Jen laughed their way through the wax challenge. Flight Time had an even sunnier attitude, flirting relentlessly with his waxtress and planting a kiss on her when she was done torturing him. The Detour options focused on the tropical-paradise side of Rio, which is understandable, although part of me hoped that one half of the Detour would send the Racers jumping over rooftops in the favelas and perhaps also involve some sort of elaborate bank heist. (I told you, I’m obsessed.) In “On the Rocks,” teams had to make 100 Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail, a softer-edged step-sibling of the Mojito.

The other option, “On the Beach,” seemed dangerously impossible — teams had to carry a raft of bikini tops around a local beach and convince locals to buy from them, but only after trying them on in a ridiculous quick-change tent contraption. Understandably, the lead three teams all opted for the Caipirinha challenge. Gary and Mallory had a difficult time at first, but they managed to find a good rhythm. Jen had some bartending experience, so the sisters sped right through.

Meanwhile, my beloved Team Zinger continued to struggle. After hearing about the wax challenge, Justin noted wryly, “These challenges were not made for us today, buddy!” Indeed, the pair were veritably grizzly men when stripped down to their skivvies, and so Race briefly transformed into a horror-comedy, as they screamed and screamed and screamed through their waxing. Maintaining a modicum of dignity, Justin managed a scream-reference to Forty-Year-Old Virgin: “Ahh! Kelly Clarkson!” Throwing his dignity out the window, Zev cried, “Just do it already!” They screamed like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, like Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith. It was horrible.

NEXT: Requiem for a Zinger

Justin and Zev knew they were a distant last place. They had only one chance — a roll a dice on a decidedly unfavorably Detour. They tried desperately to sell bikini tops, but the cruel beauties who lurked upon the lush beach were not buying what they were selling. Meanwhile, Gary and Mallory sped off to the pit stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art, coming in first place. Kisha and Jen followed soon after them. It was down to the Globetrotters and the Zingers, the old allies.

Quite a few commenters have expressed minor to major disgust about all the alliance-ship that occurred in this season of Race, specifically in the couple of instances when the Zingers appeared to outright carry the Globetrotters. I can respect Justin and Zev for playing a friendly game, and you certainly can’t say that the Globetrotters weren’t plenty in these past few weeks competitive, but I do wonder how different this season would have turned out if Justin had been less generous with the length of Liechtenstein. (Put it this way: something tells me the Cowbros would’ve been about as good at the Samba as Zev was.)

In any case, Zev and Justin finally gave up on selling bikini tops. They knew they were far behind in the Caipirinha challenge, but they finished it regardless. The Globetrotters had long since gone, sped off to a third place finish. The Zingers finished their hundredth drink and poured a couple out for themselves. They went down still slinging zings. Justin, on the beautiful tropical beach that was their Waterloo: “This would be romantic, if we were a couple.” Zev, wrapping it all up: “He was the Race, and I was the Amazing.” Who can argue with that?

The show’s second hour began with the three remaining teams heading home. Or at least, home-ish — they returned to America by way of lovely Miami, site of the classic ’80s TV series Miami Vice and the fascinatingly bad 2006 movie remake, of the same name which would have actually been incredible if co-stars Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx could have even pretended to like each other for a second. Teams had to make their way to a boat dock.

Unfortunately, Gary and Mallory almost instantly fell out of the Race due to a lost cab driver. A few commenters on our after-show post last night expressed serious anger at the crushing unfairness of it all — to lose in the final round because of a lost cabbie! The sad thing is, that kind of thing happens all the time. It happened last season, when the Prince of Darkness and his beautiful fairy queen got lost in outer Los Angeles; it happened when the Ginger Cheer Squad had to suffer through a cabbie refueling in Hawaii. There’s no getting around the fact that Cabbie Karma still plays a uniquely huge role in the Race — and, after 18 seasons, it doesn’t seem like the show’s creators are in any rush to remedy that fact. (I say again: Why not just make them travel in balloons?)

NEXT: Under the sea! Under the sea!

At the dock, Kisha and Flight Time had to park some boats, transporting them to a storage rack by using an awesome vehicle that looked difficult to navigate. Flight Time had an upper hand — Big Easy noted that his family “owns a fish farm, so he has experience with tractors and stuff like that” — but Kisha didn’t have any problems with the boat, either. They finished the task right neck-and-neck, and while Gary and Mallory were still lost in Cabbieville, they sped off to the next challenge, which was easily the most surreal thing you’ve seen on a CBS reality show in a very long time.

Grandmaster Phil explained that, at the end of World War II, “Miami become famous for its Underwater Mermaid Shows.” History! Cut to mermaids playing the saxophone and the xylophone and generally just hanging out underwater, very occasionally taking drags of oxygen straws. (Actually, that job looks pretty fun. What’s the benefits package like?) One teammate had to go underwater in a high-tech personal submarine that resembled something out of BioShock and search for a clue among floating treasure chests that appeared directly imported from Super Mario 64. (For the benefit of non-gamers, replace those last two references with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and DuckTales, respectively.)

Since Kisha took the water challenge back in episode 1, Jen took this challenge for the sisters. She explained that she had a bit of underwater anxiety, but it was totally justified: “I just panic at appropriate times. If you’re drowning, you should panic!” That makes sense. It’s the same reason I panic when I’m above the tenth floor of a building, because falling from a great height can kill you, or when I don’t have a night light, because science has proven that the monsters under the bed invariably come out in absolute darkness.

Big Easy was the first to find the treasure-chest clue, which send the Globetrotters out to the Mile Marker 29 on Big Pine Key. Jen struggled a little bit longer — “Little Mermaid, get out of my way!” — but she persisted. That meant the two teams were still essentially neck-and-neck. (Meanwhile, Gary wrapped up the boat challenge and Mallory descended underwater for the treasure chest hunt.)

Out at Mile Marker 29, the two teams in the lead had to walk across the shallow stretch of ocean to Horseshoe Island, where they had to find the tallest tree on the island for their next clue. It was sort of a silly challenge, I guess, but it sure looked great in HD. Kisha and Jen were the first to find the clue, so they were the first team to hop on a high speed boat ride over to the Galway Bay Mobile Home park.

Within what Grandmaster Phil referred to as “the kitschy confines of the trailer park,” teams had to create the perfect vision of Florida Trailerhood by matching their trailer’s look with a brochure image. Unfortunately, the wind struck almost immediately, blowing over tiny white picket fences and blowing away tarp covers. The trailers were being judged by Ms. Rose, the picture of calm in the midst of bad weather, whose massive hair was not unsettled even a little bit by the gale force wind. “Despite the wind, it does not look like the brochure” she said to teams over and over again, sounding like a robot programmed with the good of the community in mind. (Meanwhile, a local onlooker giggled at the Race teams’ problems: “When they do something stupid, we think its funny!” Bully for you, local onlooker!)

NEXT: The Finish Line

Kisha and Jen had a near-perfect trailer. All they were missing was a tiny detail — their table wasn’t perfectly set. (I believe they had their ketchup in place, but they were missing their coca-cola cover. Who knew there was so much arcane etiquette in trailer communities?) Once they realized that, Ms. Rose gave them the clue, which pointed them to Seven-Mile Bridge…and, from there, to the finish line. After they ran off, Flight Time and Big Easy gave their perfect trailer a once-over…and, realizing that they had also neglected to perfectly set the table, finished up their last few details. They had to literally hold up their picket fences against the wind, but Ms. Rose let them go.

It was clear now that Team America were out of the running — undone by a taxi-man, the oldest trick in the Race book. It became, now, a two-way race between two very different teams. Kisha and Jen haven’t exactly hovered under the radar this season — they’ve put up great numbers in every leg, and have never notably fallen behind. But merely by virtue of not having a readily definable trait — compared to the Cowboys, the Goths, or their final competition — they seemed like a pair of stealth assassins, quietly rising through the ranks.

No one could ever accuse the Globetrotters of being quiet, but they played an equally successful form of the Race — boisterous, energetic, they’re the kind of Racers who invariably get cabbies on their side almost immediately. I know there have been quite a few complaints about this season — I don’t think Unfinished Business angle was ever as exciting as Grandmaster Phil made it out — but this was a legitimately exciting race to the finish, here at the end of all things.

Kisha and Jen struggled to ride their bike the seven miles down the bridge. The wind was blowing like crazy, and they were both tired out very quickly. It seemed like the Globetrotters weren’t that far behind them. But, in the end, only one team came down the turn and saw the eight eliminated teams awaiting them. Zev was wearing silver pajamas. Luke wore a hilarious shirt that said “The Sinister Deaf Kid, TAR 14.” They all cheered as Kisha and Jen stood victorious. Phil noted that this was only the second time in Amazing Race history that an all-female team has won. (It’s also the second time in a row. Time for a comeback, male gender!)

Some might quibble over the fact that Kisha and Jen didn’t win a first-place leg until the very end. But that’s a fine strategy that stretches all the way back to Odysseus: He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, handsomest, or luckiest Greek, but he was a little bit of everything, and check the great histories to find out which Greek made it out alive from the Trojan War and all that came afterwards. (Hey, we finally have a nickname for Kisha and Jen: Team Odysseus! Anyone?)

That left the Globetrotters in second place. Flight Time joked, “We got beat out by a couple girls, but that’s okay.” Good for them — they’re a great couple of dudes, and they certainly make for exciting television. Mallory let out a few more barbaric yawps and thanked her Dad for two great back-to-back races. Cord rounded out the season by throwing his heroic white hat into the air.

And that wraps up The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business! I’m intrigued to hear your final thoughts on the season, fellow viewers. Were you happy to see Kisha and Jen win the big prize? Were you hoping the Globetrotters or Team America would carry the day? Anyone else as sad as I am that Team Zinger couldn’t make it into the final round? Hit the comment boards with your final thoughts on the season, and follow me on Twitter for an ongoing explanation of the many ways in which Fast Five makes Tokyo Drift look like 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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