After eight countries, 20 cities, and more than 26,000 miles, a deserving winner is crowned.

By Jodi Walker
Updated December 20, 2014 at 02:00 AM EST

There’s simply nothing like a good underdog story, and practically out of nowhere, that is what the 25th season of The Amazing Race delivered. In the beginning, the Scientists didn’t exactly seem like underdogs—they were kind of more of a non-entity. The two #SweetScientists seemed more destined to become one of those teams on the final mat that you’re positive were never even on the show in the first place (hey, remember Miami’s most successful realtors?). For the first half of this season, Maya was just the little one with a lot of energy and Amy was the one with the running style that no one could quite decide if it was inappropriate to mock or not.

But then we found out that Maya was, in fact, an unabashed spazz, and Amy had gotten so excited about training for the race that she had injured her hip (in what is seeming like a potentially irreparable way…sorry, Ames, but at least is was worth it, girl). Sure, when compared to the shiny Dentists, or the angelic Surfers, the Scientists didn’t seem like Race behemoths, but throughout each leg, there was nothing that could hold the Scientists back. They may not have been the biggest (they were not the biggest), and they may not have been the strongest (they were not the strongest), but dammit, they’re smart! And only the third all-female team to win The Amazing Race, ever.

Yes, this was truly a victory of the minds: Maya and Amy have two big ol’ brains and they know how to use ’em. Though I’ve rooted for the Surfers as the most appropriate next-in-line for the TAR crown all season, I realized before the finale, that any one of the Final 4 teams would be deserving. The Dentists have won more legs than any other team, the Scientists are encouraging, patient players, and the fact that the Wrestlers are even still there at all is some sort of Phil-sponsored miracle. Or as they would say: “We’re wrestlers—we don’t give up.”

Okay, but the Wrestlers do kind of tend to give up, whereas the Scientists never even consider it. When Amy almost died with a string of coconuts around her neck, she kept pushing until she made it to the Pit Stop. When Maya should have, by all means, flown straight off of that high wire by even the smallest gust of wind…well, she didn’t. So, I’m happy for the Candy Girls, and I think you all will be too, because you’re such a sensible, lovely bunch. (No, I wasn’t blushing at the kindness on the comment board last week, you were!)

So let’s get into how the Brains beat the Brawn, and the other Brawn, and the Beautiful Souls: After finding out that they would be the first ever fourth-place finishers in a final TAR leg, the Scientists set out from Manila to Los Angeles with the secret manila envelope that Phil delivered to every team in the last leg. When Maya and Amy arrive at the Manila airport and the other teams see that they’re still in the game, they respond accordingly to the personalities they’ve established thus far:

Adam: “It’s kind of frustrating that they weren’t eliminated.” (The meanest thing he’s said to date.)

Mrs. Wrestler: “It’s disgusting.”

NEXT: Talking cars, candy window, and lost Wrestlers…

The Wrestlers are pretty peeved that the Scientists are still in, but Jim tells them to look on the bright side: knowing that Phil will be popping in to Phil-iminate someone during this leg makes having a “low-hanging fruit” team in the mix to take that bullet a good thing. I’ve come to like Jim, if for no other reason than how unwittingly wrong he is all the time—it’s kind of endearing. Contrary to his predictions, the Scientists are the first team to shoot out of the airport when they make it to L.A. where they’re to find their Ford Explorer Sports and use the voice command feature to receive their next clue. This means lots of hilarious clips of Jim talking to a car in the way that an elderly person might speak to someone who they assume doesn’t the same language as them: “LISTEN. TO. TEXT. MESS-AGE.”

The robot living inside the car tells the teams that within their secret manila envelopes is a film permit that they’re to take to City Hall for their next clue. Everyone gets lost almost immediately except for the Surfers, and at first I think they must just be being careless, but then the man who the Wrestler’s ask for directions quickly reminds me why all the confusion: “Take the 405 to the 10, to the 110, to the 101…and you’ll see it right there.” Oh, that’s right—they’re in L.A. The Surfers and Scientists arrive first to City Hall to get their permits approved, and are then sent to the Southwest Marine Warehouse to find the film’s Assistant Director.

**Side Note: At this point, I was really hoping this whole finale was going to end in some really hokey film. Alas…**

When the Scientists exit City Hall they immediately sprint to some people with a smart phone to get directions because they’re smart like that; the Surfers drive off firt and then stop at a firehouse where the fireman recognizes Bethany and says his daughter loves her because they’re just beloved like that. Bethany’s all, “That’s super neat, but I’m in a race, so I better motor.” And motor they do, to the first Road Block, where the Scientists have already arrived. In ACTION HERO, the teams train with a stunt coordinator in order to prepare for a film scene where they grab a satchel with their next clue in it and jump out of a warehouse through a fake second story window.

Jumping from the platform onto the padding below during practice is the first time Maya has shown even an ounce of fear all race, but after a few hesitations, she pulls through on the real thing; and much to her delight, the fake glass is made of sugar.

Amy: “Was it hard candy?”

Maya: “It was hard candy!”

Adam jumps out of the window right after Maya, and the Dentists quickly show up for Jim to discover a second career in stunt work. You may be wondering where the Wrestlers are at this point; well, so are they. They’re desperately lost and blaming the stranger’s directions, though I would assume it’s probably due more their interpretation of “take the 405 to the 10, to the 110, to the 101,” than the man’s ill will for wrestlers competing for a $1 million prize on reality television. They make it to City Hall about the time that the other three teams make it to their next Detour: SEARCH & RESCUE.

Working with the local Coast Guard, the teams have to test their skills in an open ocean search and rescue simulation. The Surfers are about to pee in their wetsuits they’re so excited to get in the ocean; unfortunately, the Scientists realized halfway through their run to the ocean that Maya didn’t remove her stuntman gear before they left the last Road Block, so after backtracking, they arrive at the same time as the Dentists. The teams have to swim out to an Oscar dummy, set off a smoke flare, and bring Oscar back to the rescue boat; because CW-superhero-looking Adam and barrel-chested Jim keep talking about how heavy the Oscar dummy is, I’m a little concerned about pint-size Maya and broken-legs Amy being able to get them back, but apparently Amy is so happy to not be running that they totally smoke it and all three teams finish at nearly the same time.

NEXT: Only three teams can continue, only one team can win…

Which only leaves the Wrestlers. They’ve just made it to the stunt Road Block and as they watch the example jump, Phil pops out from behind some crates. Normally, any Mr. Phil sighting is a joyous occasion, but today he’s wearing his Serious Situation Black Button Down and that’s never a good sign. The Wrestlers are eliminated, and despite some occasional obnoxious behavior, I must agree with their self-assessment: “You might love us; you might hate us; you’re never going forget us…like ever.” Like, ever.

Not even knowing that they’re one step closer to the win, the other three teams arrive by taxi to ConGlobal Industries—the home of 15,000 shipping containers—for their final Road Block: A NUMBERS GAME. ConGlobal is huge, and the task is similarly overwhelming. The team member who didn’t complete the stuntman Road Block must run through all of ConGlobal’s shipping containers to spot the nine containers marked with cities they’ve visited throughout the race. On each marked container is a color-coordinated number (each of the three teams is assigned one color) which Amy, Misti, and Bethany have to remember and report back to the Yard Foreman in the order that they visited the nine countries.

Even sweet, laidback Bethany is concerned: “I felt the weight of the race come down on me.” And it’s true—the $1 million is ultimately won and lost in this final Road Block. In addition to the mental challenge of remembering which number goes with which city, and what order they visited those countries in, the shipping yard is huge. This is like some nightmare hybrid of last leg’s sweaty coconut deliveries, and the Road Block where they had to remember all of the gross sandwich orders.

Somehow, all three women arrive back from finding each marked crate and memorizing their numbers at almost the exact same time. And then the hard part begins. Bethany has been singing the city-number combinations to herself, but misses on her first try with the Foreman, switching two numbers, and Misti does the same. Her “knickers [have been] in a twist” out of nerves from the beginning, you see. But Amy—Amy, who has struggled all race with the physical challenges; Amy, who has been overshadowed by Maya’s superhuman enthusiasm; Amy, who nearly died by massage a few weeks ago—hobbles over to the foreman and nails the nine-digit combination in one shot.

The Dentists finish after two more tries and though their hope that “they get lost and we go fast” is warranted, it’s ineffective. Maya shows up sprinting to the Pit Stop mat with Amy trying her damnedest behind her, and the other teams who underestimated them cheering them on from the sidelines. Maya jumps on Phil, Amy collapses on the mat, and it’s just a good, happy finish. The Dentists gracefully finish second, and the Surfers are happy to win bronze and the Happiest Couple Award: “I mean money is nice, but to know that our love is intact…I wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars. Okay, but a million would be nice, I have to say.” The Scientists certainly agree that $1 million is nice, but mostly they hope that they “continue to grow, and learn, and become even better women.”

And with those eloquent words, it’s time to sign off from the 25th season of The Amazing Race—I certainly had fun, and after a kind of “eh” start, I hope you came around to this rag-tag bunch, as well. Let us never forget that this was the season that a woman peed of a boat, a man fell off a wire 56 stories in the air, and another woman gave birth to a cake on a bike. Also, Bethany.

So, what did you think of this season of The Amazing Race finale? Was there any love lost with an extra team in the finale? Did the right team win? Make sure you check out Phil’s behind-the-scenes photos from the last two legs, and check back on on Monday for a Q&A with the Scientists. For the last time for a while, I thank you for reading with me, and ask you (like I even need to ask) to sound off in the comments!

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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