Okay, nobody’s going to have MENSA beating down their door for correctly guessing the winners of The Amazing Race season 23. If you’d heard rumors about which teams from this season had been asked back for the upcoming all-stars season, you could narrow it down a little. And the second the scuttlebutt hit the internet that a big cast party was being planned in Providence, the writing was on the wall.
But even if you hadn’t heard any of that, the editing was pretty clear with the roles it assigned the racers: the Afghanimals were there to have fun, the doctors were there to implode, Tim and Marie were the skilled villains who got their comeuppance, and Jason and Amy were the good guys who steadily maintained a position near the front of the pack until it was time to break away.There is an ineffable rightness to Jason and Amy’s million-dollar victory.[/caption]
They weren’t total powerhouses, and they weren’t underdogs, but there is an ineffable rightness to Jason and Amy’s million-dollar victory, and not just because they clearly had a gigantic lead on everybody else when they hit the mat. (Jason said he thought about an hour and a half.) They may have started out boring, but the editors wanted us to want them to win by the end, and on me, at least, it worked. It wasn’t just the good guys who won – Jason and Amy took good to a whole new level. They radiated goodness. They were good racers, good to each other, good to other teams. Probably TOO good to other teams.
I have long said that helping other racers has a time and a place, and I’m probably a little conservative in my assessment of how often those times and places crop up. Teaming up makes sense when racers can both turn in the same result, as with the navigation task in Portugal, in which everyone had to come up with the same number. It makes less sense when everyone has to have their own submission – a plate of dates, an assembled musical instrument, or a cardboard robot. But in Tokyo, Amy continued to do what she’s been doing for several legs now: she helped her alliance partner, even as it slowed down her own race.
Meanwhile, directly next to Amy and Nicole, Marie, who had long ago abandoned the notion of any kind of alliance, kicked it into beast mode and threw that robot together like she had the instruction manual in front of her. She neither needed nor offered help. (For me, this was the point at which I stopped finding Marie purely entertaining and actively wanted her to beat the odds and win.) And on the other side of the task, Leo was perpetually failing to understand that his robot’s torso was backwards.
I do have to wonder what would have happened if Leo had figured out what he was doing wrong in a timely fashion. Would Amy and Nicole have continued to work together, or would one of them have broken away? Amy is nice – after last night, I can honestly say she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – but come on, there’s a million dollars on the line. As with the last time Amy stayed back to help Nicole, they knew there was yet one more team behind them, but they were cutting it close. It ended up making little difference in the end (and I’m sure they knew that in most final legs, everyone winds up on the same flight anyway), but I’m not sure I’d have done the same thing in her shoes.
I do have to give everyone credit, though – by the time they hit Alaska, we did NOT see anybody helping anybody. Finally, probably later than we would have liked, it was every team for themselves. Nobody was offering or taking help on that final puzzle.
But let’s back up for a second and analyze our final two downfalls of the season, starting with the Afghanimals. It looked pretty good at first – they took a gamble on a flight that gave them a ten-minute lead (about the amount of time they needed to knock out their Speed Bump, I think). Back when Chester and Ephraim did it, this was a riskier move, especially with two transfers in the mix. But now it makes more sense. The closer you get to the finish line, the more stops you need to pull out. Ten minutes is a lot more currency when you only have three other teams in the mix.
They effortlessly human-bowled a strike and caught the human rhino, and they were clearly having fun doing it all, which made it actually a little sad when Leo hit a snag on the robot Roadblock. It was just one tiny detail – but the more he overthought it, the more the pressure mounted, and the more pressure he felt, the harder it was to clear his head and look at the robot objectively. Leo’s not the first person on The Amazing Race to develop tunnel vision around one tiny detail, and he’s definitely not going to be the last.
A superficial analysis of the following leg might yield the suggestion that it was also a Roadblock snag that did in Travis and Nicole. I submit that it was far more complicated than that. Nicole, like Leo, was caught in a negative feedback loop, but from the looks of things, it didn’t originate with 21 bags of flour in an airplane. No, hers started much earlier in the season and picked up speed somewhere around Indonesia. And it sounded a lot like Travis.
I get that it’s frustrating to watch your chances of winning slip away due to something you can’t control. That is a tough position to be in. Travis has every right to be tense in that situation, and even irritated. But assigning blame is no way to handle it, especially when you have any intention of maintaining a healthy relationship with your alliance partner after the race is over. Throughout the race, he was the opposite of supportive, and after a while it seemed like Nicole was not racing hard for a million dollars, she was just racing hard because she was afraid of disappointing Travis. It does very little good to belittle your partner in the heat of competition. She’s aware of how much is at stake. Reminding her makes it worse. Reminding her how much better you think you are at things than she is just makes you look like an ass.
Look, Nicole was far from dead weight. She was a sharp strategic thinker and powered through most of the tasks. Better men than Travis have been more patient with less competent partners. Chuck was more supportive of Wynona. Hell, Zach was more supportive of Flo. And even the racer on this season who was supposed to be the meanest was perfectly happy to give credit to her partner (albeit snarky credit sometimes) when he succeeded and more or less supportive if he appeared to be struggling. (Marie might call Tim an idiot from time to time, but she doesn’t actually mean it. It’s practically a pet name in her world. And she never appeared to regret that he was her partner, even if he WAS just the person who happened to be sitting next to her on application deadline day. She made sure he knew he totally earned that 40% cut of their winnings.)
As they hit the final mat, Travis’s sentiments echoed the very first elimination of the season, which provides a little When Hoskote and Naina were eliminated first, HB’s assessment of why they’d been eliminated started and ended with Naina. If she’d just let him take the reins, he said, they’d have been fine. “Father knows best,” HB concluded. Travis’s critical, paternalistic attitude at the end quite neatly bookended the season. It’s a good thing we had a lot of interesting stuff in between – Chester and Ephraim’s early exit, the beards’ enthusiasm, Tim and Marie’s snark, and even the Afghanimals’ goofiness contributed to what was, on balance, an upper-50th-percentile season.
The atmosphere at Jason and Amy’s finale party was not quite the same as being drunk and rowdy among all the diehards at TARCon, but it was its own kind of fun. When the winners hit the mat, the entire place erupted like the Patriots had just won the Super Bowl. Thirteen racers from this season, and a few assorted alumni, were on hand to celebrate.
As we close the book on another great season of Amazing Race coverage here at Rob Has a Website, I have to devote a paragraph to offering up acclaim to many different people. First off, to Rob himself for his continued awesomeness. I can’t imagine any other podcasting co-host being half as fun, and it’s an honor and a pleasure to write for his site. Thanks to Jessica Frey and Scott St. Pierre for everything they do behind the scenes. HUGE thanks to all the Racer alumni who took time to visit our little corner of the podcasting universe: Zev & Justin, Brook & Claire, Max & Katie, Uchenna, Ryan, Bates, and Brett & Holly.Thanks to all the racers this season for being so supportive – it is unbelievably flattering to hear that you enjoy our coverage and it makes me even more excited to keep on bringing it. (Especially to Jason and Amy for inviting me to their finale party.) And finally, the biggest thanks to all of you who tune in to the podcasts and keep on reading my ramblings.
That’s mostly it until February. (I say mostly because I might have one or two extras to bring you during the hiatus. MIGHT. If you’re good.) Happy holidays, everyone!