Task-wise, the Amazing Race season finale was everything I wanted out of this season’s finale, possibly excepting the fact that there was no memory task, but frankly, there’s a lot about this season that I’m trying to forget. So, I suspect, is everyone involved with this utter fiasco of a season.visually interesting[/caption]
To wrap up Amazing Race: All-Stars in Las Vegas, a city that’s basically chock-full of things that are cheap and fake, seems apropos for a season filled with financial corner-cutting on the part of the producers and repetitive sniping on the part of the contestants. But the course itself was actually halfway decent for once, providing ample opportunity to mix up the order and ratcheting up the suspense at the final mat. David Copperfield’s contribution was at least visually interesting (even if he wasn’t really selling the illusion quite as hard as he could have), the Mirage combined precision with the wooziness of heights, and the final skydiving task wouldn’t have been out of place on an old-school TAR season. I don’t believe this was the hardest finale ever, but I am perfectly satisfied with the difficulty level.
If you’re skeptical, contrast this with last season’s final leg, when Jason and Amy pulled ahead pretty much the instant they all landed in Alaska and never relinquished that lead. Jason and Amy were great (well, competent and non-controversial) winners, all things considered, but there was absolutely no suspense. At least this time around, everyone was neck-and-neck for most of the last leg. All three teams took the lead at various points, and even after Brenchel was out of contention, you couldn’t be completely sure who was going to land first.
Brenchel was undone by the exact same mistake that knocked them out of contention on their first go-round, and the same mistake that keeps them out of the conversation about best racers of all-time despite the fact that they are, weirdly enough, the only team to make the finals twice. They are physically strong, strategically sound, and competent at tasks, but they frequently miss a tiny detail and it absolutely screws them. Okay, fine, locating the employee entrance to a building where you used to work is probably not exactly a tiny detail. They screwed up big, and as a result, the world is spared Brenchel babies for a few more years.
Last week, I pointed out that likable teams are almost always gracious and enthusiastic, and this has always been one of Brenchel’s fatal flaws. Brendon and Rachel were neither of those things by the time they got to the final stretch — berating their cab driver, losing their composure, and playing the Hypothetical Baby card (I didn’t even know that was a card you COULD play!) over and over. Sure, a lot of the unfavorable circumstances were beyond their control, but they should have been in control of how they responded to their circumstances. Thus, in the end, they came out looking like the same old Brenchel people either loved or hated in two seasons of Big Brother and one other Amazing Race season, plus a really epic Wedding Channel special, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Were we too kind to them this season? Maybe, maybe not. It’s absolutely true that most of their Race was a vast improvement over their previous showing, and that was the perspective from which most of my Brenchel praise originated. Had I been covering Season 20 for Rob, the Brenchel Army would probably STILL be sending me death threats.
But in the end, Brenchel was, all things considered, a non-factor this leg. The real race was going on between Dave and Connor and their alliance partners, Jen and Caroline. Take off your tinfoil hats, kids. I don’t believe there was anything hinky about the win. I’m sure producers were thrilled when they got the U.S. franchise’s first parent/child winners, that they’re a good-looking and wholesome pair, and they have an incredible comeback story. Off the race, as I’ve said before, they’re fantastically nice guys.
I believe the editors’ intention this season was to show Dave and Connor as beating adversity at every turn, whether it’s defeating cancer, recovering from a game-ending injury, or coming out on top despite getting U-Turned. And of course if you already didn’t like Brenchel, and/or you already really loved Dave and Connor, that might be exactly how it played out to you.
On the storyboard, Brenchel were the villains for U-Turning an old man, and Dave and Connor were the heroes for deploying their own U-Turn with class, forging a warm fuzzy bond with Jen and Caroline, and then powering through to the very end. The central problem with this was that the editors didn’t make their villains evil enough to justify rooting for the other guys in the whole kerfuffle. Brenchel had enough redeeming moments that it was possible to root for them, and the fact that other teams were shown making fun of them only made them seem more sympathetic. I didn’t want to root for Brenchel either, truth be told, but in light of the fact that they were the butt of everyone’s jokes, it was hard to be super-psyched about anybody winning a million dollars out of this bunch. Round about the time everyone started yelling at each other about dirt and holes, I might have even turned off the TV had I not been a) in a bar with RHAP fans, and b) covering the show for you all.
Jen and Caroline probably came out looking the best thanks to their perpetually sunny outlooks and the fact that they were perceived as underdogs, but their game up to that point was so uneven that a win from them might have seemed unsatisfying. I say “might,” because they definitely kicked it up a notch for the finale. When they were at the top of their game, they were as good as any other Racers this season. I just wish we’d seen more of the Jen and Caroline we saw last night.
Overall, I’m just glad to close the book on this season. I will give the cast credit – I went in utterly dreading the return of most of these people, and by and large, they improved on their legacies. A lot of teams I wasn’t looking forward to seeing contributed memorable and entertaining moments. But even the most delightful personalities on the planet couldn’t make up for a lackluster course full of uninspired tasks. In order to make a great season, you need both great personalities AND great destinations. Otherwise you might as well watch the Travel Channel, or Big Brother, whichever suits your fancy.
I don’t know what they were expecting us to think when they decided to cut back on the travel in a show about travel, but if The Powers That Be thought they could gloss over all of that without anybody noticing a decline in quality, they were sadly mistaken. It’s possible that this season was always designed to be a sandbox of sorts, where the big characters of the All-Stars could carry the show while Bertram & Co. experimented with the race formula underneath them. But even if it wasn’t, I hope they’ve learned something from this season that they can actually use to keep the show sustainable AND entertaining as we head into Season 25. There have to be ways to cut corners without sacrificing everything that makes this show, well, Amazing.