The Amazing Race finale recap: 'It's Just a Million Dollars, No Pressure'
Four worthy teams, a three-way puzzle showdown, two final legs, and $1 million
When you can imagine any one of the remaining teams heading into the Amazing Race finale — Team Xtreme, Team Yale, The Indy Boys, and Team Big Brother — participating in an All-Stars season, you know it’s going to be a good final two legs. And when those legs are taking place in season 30, and the name of the game is mega-competition, you know the TAR challenges are going to bring the heat (and the death-drops, and the puzzles, and the hustle, and the bustle). And when you know that the final three teams raced through nine countries, 21 cities, and more than 29,000 miles to get here…well, you’ve probably been listening to Phil, and that’s a good thing. The man is full of wisdom; he taught me that fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco tonight!
I would have been happy with any of the remaining four teams winning as we entered Wednesday night’s finale. As they cruised through the two hours, laughing, crying, and occasionally beating the crap out of old TVs with baseball bats, I found myself rotating who I was rooting for constantly. At times, I wanted Yale to win because nobody else wanted them to win and they have overcome so many obstacles. At times, I wanted Indy Car to win because they’re very lovable, and who would have seen the coming from the jump? At times I wanted Big Brother to win, because I didn’t know Big Brother contestants could be so likable (I don’t watch! Don’t get mad! We can talk Survivor anytime you want to!) and I find the speed with which they established their soul-mate status inspiring. At times, I wanted Team Xtreme to win because they are incredible women whom I want to…teach me stuff…about being a woman…and being incredible at everything.
And at any given moment it seemed like any one of those teams could have won! When watching the TAR finale I’m always thinking about what to ask the winners in my post-finale Q&A, and this time I have a full list of questions for every single team in the final three, because it seemed that credible that any one of them could have come in first throughout the entire final leg of the race. (This time, I’m actually not interviewing the winners until after the finale airs, so if you have any questions for the recent millionaires, drop them in the comments — and keep an eye out for the Q&A tomorrow afternoon!)
Since the suspense was so thick for two full hours, on the off chance that you didn’t watch — what are you doing, GO WATCH! — I won’t reveal the winner until the Phil-lady sings in the final, unbelievable moments of this rrrrrace around the world. Let’s get down to it:
The remaining four teams travel from Chiang Mai to the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, and since everyone has flown together all season long (that’s weird, right?), they all arrive at the same time and head straight to Victoria Peak. Since last week was a non-elimination leg, Yale has to compete a Speed Bump, and everyone is pretty vocal about hoping it takes them forever because Big Brother, Indy Car, and Team Xtreme are all hoping they’re in the final three together. To be fair, it only seems to motivate Yale to go faster, plus their lucky taxi driver’s name is Henry, and since Mandarin is one of the 17 languages OG Henry speaks, they stand a chance.
At Victoria Peak, all of the teams have to take a picture overlooking Hong Kong that’s printed out as their next clue; they’re all impatient with how long it take, but I like to think they’re glad to have it now. Henry and Evan cruise through their SPEED BUMP: LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE where they have to light and hang 40 Chinese lanterns. Taxi Henry cheers them on. I love Taxi Henry. I also love Original Henry. I just love The Amazing Race. (Recap continues on page 2)
All four teams are pretty close on each other’s tails, with Indy Car leading as they head into the DETOUR: HAIRY CRAB vs. GRUB GRAB. I do love a Detour that can completely shuffle the leaderboard order, especially when it’s because a team chooses wisely. As soon as Phil explains that Grub Grab is basically a game of Other-Language-Telephone — where one teammate has to take the order of a table full of Honk Kong restaurant goers in Cantonese and relay it back to his other teammate in the kitchen, who then has to choose the from the dishes labeled in (simplified) Cantonese — you know this is a Detour for Yale. And as soon as I personally hear the description for Hairy Crab — where teams must secure 50 individual live crabs with string while being pounded with typhoon-style fake rain — I know that is not Detour anyone should be doing.
I can understand that Grub Grab would sound difficult, but anyone can write down words phonetically; even Conor, once he nearly gets his finger pincered off and Indy Car switches Detours, only takes a little while and a few bouts of self-doubt to get the hang of it. He just listens to the last two sounds the diners make in their order and reports that back to Alex. Henry writes every word down near-perfectly and gets his orders right on the very first try. O, Henry (pun!). Which puts Yale overcoming a Speed Bump and heading toward the ROAD BLOCK: WHO WANTS TO GET SMASHED in no time flat, because Team Xtreme and Big Brother are having a nightmare time with the crabs. I mean…they’re live crabs. And they have to wrap them up with string like Thanksgiving turkeys. In the rain! Luckily, these people are tougher than I am.
And good thing, because at the Road Block, one member from each team is participating in something called “Rage Art” where they beat up a bunch of electronics with a baseball bat until they find the two halves of a clue hidden inside. Henry and Conor both do a good job, Cody does a cyborg job, and poor Kristi has a tough time. I think Kristi’s single human flaw is that she’s not particularly detail oriented — and also possibly doesn’t know the best pressure points on which to swing a bat at an old TV — and so she thinks she just has to keep beating the stuff up until someone tells her to stop, and it kills her arms. Finally, she re-reads the clue, find the two pieces to their new clue, and Xtreme is the final team headed to Lan Kwai Fong, the heart of Hong Kong’s nightlife, for their last task.
And boy, is it a doozy. At the Road Block, the teammate not beating up desktops had a briefcase handcuffed to their wrist with a 3-digit numeric code required to open it, where teams would find the clue to their second-to-last Pit Stop of the season. To crack the code, teams have to wander through designated streets in drunken, bustling Lan Kwai Fong — have I mentioned this entire leg takes place at night??? — searching for three unspecified symbols that represent different legs, and the numbers of the three symbolized legs will make up the 3-digit briefcase code.
If it sounds confusing, it is, mostly because the symbols are so random and hard to find. One of the symbols, a fez hat representing Morocco, is a red neon light; the bull representing France is the clearest, as a red and yellow sign; and the Washington Square Arch representing New York City didn’t even appear to be red and yellow, it was just a white arc on a black marquee board. It’s the arch that trips teams up the most because most of them recognize it but think it’s the Arc de Triomphe from France, so they don’t get the corresponding digit (1 for NYC) correct. Yale gets all three digits; Big Brother and Xtreme get two digits and just start fiddling with the lock until they get inside the suitcase. And Indy Car…
1: YALE: I was really happy for them (especially since no one else was)! Phil tells them that only two other teams in TAR history have ever completed the Speed Bump and won the leg, which is pretty crazy.
2: BIG BROTHER
3: TEAM XTREME
ELIMINATED: THE INDY BOYS are appropriately disappointed that they don’t even make it to the mat before Phil has to come find them amongst the drunkards who keep telling them to look at the arch and inform them that they’ve been eliminated from the race. I personally hope Conor doesn’t get his own place and they make, like, an IndyCar reality web series or something. (Recap continues on page 3)
With the final three intact, it’s on to a 7,000-mile business-class trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Once off the plane, it’s straight to AT&T Park to locate the Willie Mays “Say Hey Kid” statue for their next clue. That clue tells them they’re going to be fishing baseballs labeled with numbers from McCovey Cove (where the Giants’ home run balls make a “splash landing”) in order to show an umpire the correct digits for how many home runs Willie Mays hit in his career. The answer is 660, and Team Xtreme does the smart thing by asking a passerby to Google it before they head to the San Fransisco Bay. Everyone else just…gets in their kayaks and hopes for the best? Yale and Big Brother apparently assumed the only numbers in the water would be the correct digits, but when they realize they’re wrong, Big Brother paddles to the boardwalk to ask someone, and Yale paddles over to listen in on the answer.
From there, it’s over to the next ROAD BLOCK: THE ASCENSION & THE ABYSS. The Bay Bridge has a giant center anchorage that one member of each team has to pull themselves up 200 feet and then free fall into the center of. The pulling rig involves a horizontal handle that you push upward, then use your feet and legs to push up and meet your hands, in a kind of vertical frog-jump maneuver. It seems incredibly demanding physically, and poor Evan — who seems like no slouch herself — gets an already delayed start against physical specimens Cody and Kristi. At the end, she estimates she’s 14 minutes behind Cody, and 11.5 minutes behind Kristi.
Luckily, fortune cookies prove to be somewhat of an equalizer. The next clue shows the teams a series of symbols that tell them they’re going to some sort of factory near the Golden Gate Bridge. A pancake? A cracker? Cheese? No, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company! Where both members of each team must assemble 50 perfect fortune cookies, which involves scalding your fingerprints off while grabbing hot fortune cookie dough, slapping a fortune in it, and bending it just so before it dries. Xtreme cruises through, but both Big Brother members struggle, and Yale is just about able to catch up with them, as all three teams head to…
The location of the final mat at the USS Hornet! But not so fast — this is season 30 after all, and first, Phil says the teams will have to compete in “the season’s most difficult test of both physical endurance and mental strength.” Of course. Each team has to search the over 1,000 compartments spread out over seven decks of the ship to find twelve pieces of a large model plane. Once found, one member of each team must assemble that plane. The trick is, there are only six necessary pieces, and 12 parts they have to find. All of the pieces have at least two different symbols on them, representing each of the 12 legs from this season. When the plane is fully assembled, the six correct pieces will display all 12 symbols with no duplicates.
Basically, it’s a very challenging, very large puzzle. There’s really no explaining the tension that mounts during the hour-plus timeframe over which Jessica, Henry, and Jen are all attempting to put their planes together. At first it seems like Jen has a handle on the situation, and a methodic approach, but after five incorrect tries, it’s clear this is anyone’s game. And then when Henry swoops in with a pretty big time deficit from taking a while to locate all their pieces, it really seems like he might crack it before either Jessica or Jen, who have been moving pieces around for a long time without him. But alas, it’s just as hard for a Yale grad. Of course, then there’s the moment when the editors show us that Henry has all 12 symbols correct, but isn’t calling for a check…and then switches a piece. That’s going to be hard to watch — because that’s the moment Jessica makes a breakthrough: She has two helmet symbols on the plane. She makes the switch, calls for check, and finally…
BIG BROTHER is clear for take-off! Jessica wheels the plane that’s bigger than she is over to Cody as fast as she can, and they sprint together toward the eight previously eliminated teams, Phil, the Final Mat, and the $1 million prize. Once they’re on the mat, Cody whispers, “Did we do it?” like he really can’t believe it. Phil is pleased to tell them that did, and they’re pleased to say a million sweet things about each other like always. They also seem pleased to have $1 million with which to start a life together, and an official CBS reality win under their belts. And I will be pleased to ask them about their — gasp — engagement in that winners’ Q&A you’ll be looking out for tomorrow.
That means Yale crossed the Final Mat second, and Team Xtreme in third. A truly worthy final three to round out a truly stellar 30th season. As always, thank you for watching along with me in this rrrrrace around the world — please do drop your questions, observations, and best TAR fortune cookie wisdom in the comments!