Let’s get one thing straight, right out of the gate: I don’t have a problem with Bates and Anthony. I may not have picked them as the winners, and I may have been a little rough on them all season, but I’m not bothered by their victory. I don’t think they were undeserving winners or raced poorly. I’m certain none of us wrote them off as definite non-winners. To the contrary, I think their win was the most predictable outcome, and I, for one, will always hope for an unpredictable outcome. But in a relatively rote season with so few shocking moments, perhaps I was overly optimistic. Still, even though their win wasn’t exactly a shocker, we can learn a lot about Race strategy by examining the factors that got them to the finish line first.
Can we chalk their win up to the fact that their professional-athlete status gave them an unfair advantage? I don’t think so. Not only are they far from the only professional athletes ever to compete on the race, they weren’t even the only ones on THIS race. Connor’s a professional cyclist. In previous seasons, we’ve had professional sailors, golfers, basketball players, soccer players, and snowboarders, and that’s just off the top of my head. Out of that list, how many winners did we have? None. I’m sure the strength and discipline helps, but you need not be a pro athlete to be in Amazing Race shape, especially not this season. A guy on crutches scored two consecutive first-place finishes this season—that should tell you something. (By the way, I had a great chat with Dave at TARcon and am happy to report he’s made a full recovery from surgery and is back to biking and running.)
Was it because the final leg was in a city where Bates had lived for awhile as a Washington Capital? Back in the very first season of the show, Frank and Margarita thought they had the final leg in the bag, considering that it was leading not just to the city where they lived, but the actual borough. Then the convoluted back-streets route Frank made his driver take ended up putting them minutes behind Rob and Brennan, the very much non-New-Yorker winners. In the much-hated season 8, the Schroeder family was eliminated in their own hometown of New Orleans, shortly after opining that it wasn’t even fair to the other teams to have the leg there. So winning a leg in your hometown is not a given, especially since navigation has proven to be one of the hockey bros’ weaker points. Home court advantage probably counted for something last season when the Beekman Boys won. I don’t think it was necessarily a key factor for Bates and Anthony.
No, Bates and Anthony’s win can’t be chalked up to one huge advantage, natural or artificial. It was a lot of small things, and also three big ones: unflappability, self-awareness, and luck.
In Belfast, around the same time their Race girlfriends the country singers were stuck in the snorkel bog trying to get a handle on their emotions, Bates and Anthony displayed, for the first time, some mild irritation with one another as they puzzled out their meal-serving Detour. It’s certainly true that some people just express their emotions more freely than others, and certainly in earlier legs Jen and Caroline were able to get it out of their systems and continue, but at this critical juncture of the race, it’s an interesting study in contrasts. Bates and Anthony were stressed out and exhausted, to be sure, but at no point did you see either one of them throwing up their hands and proclaiming the impossibility of the task. They never stopped moving and they never let emotions take a front seat to completing the task. And they almost never lost their self-deprecating humor, even in the most stressful moments.
All along, the hockey bros had a real knack for knowing what tasks they’d be good at, and for finding a way to compensate for things they’d be less good at. They coattailed constantly—they knew they weren’t great navigators, so they made friends with a team who had a knack for it, and whenever they had a chance to let someone else get them to their next destination, they took it. I may have blasted them for it now and then, but it obviously helped them a lot on their race by eliminating their need to rely on what might have been subpar navigational skills. They rarely got tripped up on actual race tasks. In fact, the only task apart from “Tray It” that seemed to give them any major trouble, the Balinese fruit-stacking, was the Detour option they didn’t even want to do at first, suggesting they had a pretty good idea where their strengths would be best used throughout the race.
As for luck, they may have had a run of bad luck in Germany, but the hockey bros just happened to be at the right place at the right time for the Switchback Roadblock in the final leg. They found “their” spy in minutes, which enabled them to pull ahead of Max and Katie. None of the final three teams seemed to overly struggle with either of the two ball-related tasks that followed, and nobody appeared to get too terribly lost on their way to either, so Bates and Anthony held onto their lead until the finish line, and that, as they say, was that.
In general, Season 22 won’t go down as a particularly memorable season OR a particularly disappointing one. We had a few great characters, a genuinely emotional farewell in Dave and Connor’s exit, a great moment of comeuppance in John and Jessica’s elimination, a relatively likable final three, and an injection of new blood into Amazing Race fandom with Joey and Meghan’s legion of social-media-savvy fans, some of whom might even stick around to catch a future season or two. We’re sure to see at least one of these teams a couple of years down the road whenever they get around to casting another All-Star season.
I’ll end my column with a few more tales from TARcon, because while this season may have been a little lackluster overall, this was definitely one of the more fun TARcons in recent memory. In general, if you find yourself in the NYC area during an Amazing Race finale weekend, there is no better way to spend your Sunday evening than at TARcon, and I hope I can convince more of you to make the trip in future seasons!
All of the racers were incredibly gracious and very easy to talk to. Jamil and Idries had both taken swimming lessons, but the open water proved to be much tougher than the pool at the Y, and they think if just that one task had been different, they would have gone much farther. Pam and Winnie were hilarious and charming, and said they were happy to meet so many fans because they’d gotten a bit of backlash around the time they were eliminated. Max and Katie reported that they were alternates for several seasons in a row prior to this one, to the point of being packed and ready to go on at least one occasion. They’re overall happy with how they were eventually portrayed on the show—Max says he doesn’t believe in editing, because they can’t air it if you didn’t say it.And I ended up not chatting to the derby moms beyond briefly shaking hands with them, because later in the evening I completely forgot they were there, but I heard from everyone that they were much stronger racers than they got credit for in the actual show, and that there were a lot of great Derby Mom moments left on the cutting-room floor.
As always, I’ve had a fantastic time covering the Amazing Race for Rob (and for all of you), both in the blog and the podcast. Don’t be a stranger during the hiatus!