With history on the line, the final three teams head to Los Angeles for the big finish

Amazing Race 17 Finale
Credit: John P. Filo/CBS(3)

Niceness is extremely underrated. Sadly, in our debased modern age, the word “nice” has come to indicate blandly inoffensive normality. (Saying that someone is “nice” is sort of like saying, “Well, they breathe. Oh! And they have opposable thumbs.”) But “nice” doesn’t have to equal “boring.” Sometimes, it’s actually pretty cool to be the person who always says “Please” and “Thank you,” the person who can maintain a healthy and happy perspective on life even in the midst of extreme tension. It’s easy (and fun, and fashionable) to be a douchebag, but it takes real inner strength to be a nice person. Especially because nice people almost always finish last.

But not today, viewers! All hail Nat and Kat, the sweet-tempered pair ‘o docs who cheerfully grinned their way across the world and were rewarded for their labor with a cool million dollars. As reality show personalities, they had less zazz than their competitors, but I can’t be the only person who watched their happy victory hugs and thought to myself, “Wow, those people seem really, really cool.” Aren’t doctors supposed to be all tense and prone to emotional breakdowns? Has Grey’s Anatomy been lying to us? (And don’t say that anesthesiologists aren’t real doctors: Have you been to med school?)

The final leg of the race got off to an early start in Seoul, as Jill and Thomas departed for the airport around 4 AM. The Amazing Race doesn’t tend to play the “Villain” card like other reality shows, but the Prince of Darkness was the de facto bad guy…because, well, he’s a guy. He didn’t help matters by proudly saying stuff like, “We’re gonna keep that streak of no all-female teams winning. I could care less about history!” (I know some people don’t like Thomas, but man, wouldn’t you want to hang out with someone who said things like “I could care less about history”?) Brook and Claire, for their part, had their eyes on the prize: “We need to beat Thomas. He’s just so hungry. We need to be more hungry than Thomas. And I’m starving!” Me too! Team QVC broke out some Cheetah pants for the last leg, which from what I understand is the girl version of wearing rocketship underpants.

And so the final three teams were off to Los Angeles, my friends! La-La-Land! Hollywood! The Dream Factory! The Traffic Kingdom! Cherish the glamour, the incredible music stations on the radio, the freakishly good-looking people pretending not to notice you noticing them, the ever-present smog hovering over the freeways! “I’d rather be in L.A. traffic than Bangladesh traffic,” said Brook. Nat and Kat got a little bit ahead of the other two teams, as they raced to the Port of Long Beach for their first competition.

NEXT: I could fly higher than an eagle, ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings Teams had to ride an elevator up to the top of one of the dock’s cranes and then plummet 150 feet down to the water on a bungee swing. I don’t really like Race‘s bungee competitions. They’re just not that interesting, and bring out the show’s worst Bruckheim-ian instincts: quick cuts and swooping helicopter shots and exciting music, oh my! But with the added drama of Nat’s fear of heights, this was the rare freefall competition that was actually very compelling. Nat was clearly doing her best not to think about it, but when she got up to the crane, she looked like she was seriously falling apart. Kat held her hand tight: “I’m right here, okay Natty?” Awwwwwwwww! (Oh hell, viewers, I cried a little. Nothing makes me tear up more than friendship, which is why I’m a total mess during Stand By Me.)

Success! Nat took the jump and hugged dry land: “I’ve never loved asphalt so much!” As they raced off to the next leg, the other teams took their jump. Brook, for her part, exploded into a torrent of loud gibberish. I re-watched it a couple times, and here’s what I think she said when the boat picked them up: “Never been so happy! Dingy! Boat! Scuba Steve! WHAAA!” Teams got to ride in helicopters to their next location. Now, as we all know, helicopters are the single coolest transportation device ever invented (besides maybe the old-timey motorcycle sidecar), but the Race producers gifted us the best non sequitur of the night by playing a little bit of “Ride of the Valkyries” on the soundtrack. Um, sorry, was that a freakin’ Apocalypse Now reference? Incredible. Even more incredible (if you’re a college football fan, at least): The teams’ destination was the Rose Bowl stadium.

The roadblock, unfortunately, didn’t have anything to do with football. Instead, teams had to help decorate a tiny portion of a Float that will appear in this year’s Rose Parade. (Grumpy Interlude: Now look, I’ve been to the Rose Parade, and the floats are definitely cool, but c’mon, people, this is the season finale! Couldn’t the competition have been more, I dunno, kinetic? Like, I dunno, something that doesn’t involve flowers? End of Grumpy Interlude.) Nat and Brook both happily volunteered to work the float. Claire actually said, “this is what Brook usually does in her free time,” which sounds like an expensive hobby. Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t read the fine print, so he was stuck working the floral arrangements next to the ladies: “I’m not very crafty. This was probably a better thing for Jill to do.” It was their first mistake…but it wouldn’t be their last…. SCARY MUSIC SEGUE!

NEXT: The Prince of Darkness makes his last mistake.Nat polished off the floral arrangements very quickly. (She dropped a Nuclear Bomb of Niceness when she spoke to the Floral Director: “Hi! May I have my work evaluated by you, please?”) That meant Team Doctor got their clue. It was a three-way riddle: “I am Sancho Panza’s Master,” “I am the place to hear the ‘Symphony in the Glen,'” and “Monroe’s Year of the Itch.” Again, this was kind of a silly challenge, since the solution was just “Ask Google,” but the three-way riddle proved to be one team’s undoing.

None of the teams had heard of Don Quixote, yet more proof that the American education system is broken. Nat and Kat raced into one cab and lucked out: Their taxi driver was happy to loan them a phone, and Nat phoned a helpful information person who didn’t seem to mind talking to a crazy lady asking about Sancho Panza. (Brook and Claire didn’t think of using a smartphone, and instead opted to to use a hotel’s internet connection. I think it’s fair to say that that might have cost them the whole game, although it seems like the Doctors might have already had a commanding lead at that point.)

But poor, poor Thomas and Jill. First of all, let’s be nice and try to imagine this from the cabbie’s perspective: Two people run into your car, flop-sweating like a couple of cartoon characters. The man’s hands appear to be covered in blood (Thomas didn’t wash his hands after the float challenge, apparently.) And then the man asks: “Can you call someone who is close to a computer?” If I were that cabbie, I’d say, “I’m pretty sure I saw this movie, and I’m pretty sure it was called Eagle Eye, and I’m pretty sure it was terrible.”

Instead, the taxi driver unhelpfully drove around in circles. When Thomas said, “We need a computer!” the cabbie said, “GPS! I have GPS!” They tried stopping the cab and running into a random store, but no one would help them. At one point, Thomas yelled at a random person on the sidewalk, “Do you have an internet that we can use really quick!?!?!” He sounded like a computer junkie from some Philip K. Dickian dystopic future, screaming, “Please, sir, let me use your internet! Just a little bit, man! Just one Google search, I swear!” The poor fellow. Sing a song of woe for the Prince of Darkness, viewers, but please, cherish with me the single best line from this season of The Amazing Race. The camera was close-up on Thomas’ face, and his voice sounded positively Jack Bauer-esque, and he told the taxi-man the following, sounding like the most serious man in the world: “I just need to know who Sancho Panza’s master is!!!!”

After a long time spent trying in vain to communicate with their cabbie, the sad couple were left with one conclusion: “This is more of a language barrier than when we’re out of the country.” Put that on a billboard, America! (Although honestly, don’t all countries have an internal language barrier? I bet if you showed Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels to the Queen of England, she’d be just as confused by the Cockney accents as we are.) There was nothing left to be done. The game was lost, and they knew it. But perhaps, just perhaps, winning wasn’t the important thing. (Just like in Rocky.) Maybe the really important thing was triumphing against the odds. (Just like in Rocky.) Jill was sad, and Thomas did just the right thing: He kissed her on the cheek. And he didn’t even snark off! Awwwww!

NEXT: Curse of the Hat PeopleFar in the lead, Team Doctor made their way to Stage 7 at Quixote Studios. (Nat instantly knew that the Marilyn Monroe question referred to The Seven-Year Itch, because she is wonderful.) They were greeted by Bob Eubanks, host of The Newlywed Game and a true king of the reaction shots. Bob took them into the game-show-ish stage, where they had to pick out the 12 Hat People who greeted them to each new Pit Stop throughout the race. Again, this wasn’t a very kinetic challenge, but it was pretty nifty to see that Nat and Kat have been keeping copious notes of their journey. They gave Bob a big hug, and he flashed a hilarious “What, Me Worry?” look to the camera. It’s good to be the king.

It feels like there was something deeply symbolic about the final competition of this season of Amazing Race, which was literally: “Survive Los Angeles Traffic.” It’s the perfect epilogue to a fast-paced race around the world: Sitting in the terrible writhing pit of bored humanity that is the Los Angeles Freeway. While Nat and Kat sat in traffic, Brook and Claire stormed into the games how studio and braingasmed when they met Bob Eubanks. “You’re, like, our idol!” said Brook. “You’re mine too,” said Bob. I love how, in stark contrast to Team Doctor, Team QVC basically just guessed their way through the Hat People challenge — and they seemed to wrap it up even faster than the Doctors.

Unfortunately for Team iCarly, the Doctors’ lead was just too great…and so, as the eliminated contestants cheered, Nat and Kat raced onto the final podium. They were screaming, and dancing around, and clearly had taken some victory-hug lessons from Brook and Claire. History has been made, people! Hooray for women! Hooray for being classy! Hooray for the medical profession! “You really are my sister,” said Nat.

The fun kept on rolling when Team QVC ran into the finish line. One of the a cappella boys actually did a high kick when he saw her. Claire said, “We laughed our way around the world,” and it’s really true. I know that some people weren’t crazy about this season, but to me, Amazing Race 17 played like a reality TV ode to pure, unfettered joy. And that has a lot to do with how Team QVC ran the race: These ladies just never seemed to run out of energy. I’d be intrigued to hear what you viewers thought about Brook’s closing line (“The idea of being a strong woman either means that you’re a grumpy boots or this really masculine tough chick…”), and I’m sure there are some people who look at Team QVC and see a couple of airheads, but yeesh, they sure delivered this season. (Now, please please please, CBS: Sign Brook to some sort of host deal immediately.)

That left the Prince of Darkness and his Angelic Consort looking very disappointed in third place. In the post-game confessional, Jill was feeling emotional. “Why are my eyes raining?” she asked. “We call those ‘tears,’ my beloved,” said Thomas. “They appear when you’re feeling sad.” “I’ve never felt sad before!” exclaimed Jill. (As we all know, they don’t have emotions in Fairy Land.) “What a tremendous new adventure this ‘Sadness’ shall be!” It was just like in Enchanted, kind of. And then the Prince of Darkness collected her tears and drank them, and the darkness was purged from his soul forever, and now they live in a castle in the clouds. No joke, it all happened!

And that’s it for Amazing Race 17, viewers! I’ve had a lot of fun covering this season and hearing your thoughts about the show — I hope you’ve been enjoying the recaps! Looking back, how do you feel about the season overall? More importantly: Are you excited about the new, HD-powered All-Stars season coming in February? I thought the teaser was kind of confusing, since alongside past contestants like the Globetrotters and Mel and Mike White, it featured seven or eight teams from this season…and clearly, not all those teams will be in it. Right? Who would you like to see from this season, viewers? My votes would be for Team QVC and Team A Cappella (that high-kick really won me over.) Mallory and Gary were so prominently featured that you have to figure they’ll be back. But would they really bring back Team Tattoo? Could Phil really be that cruel?

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Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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