And another season of ‘The Amazing Race’, the Light Side counterpart to ‘Survivor’, has now entered the books. This was advertised as the “Silver Anniversary” of the Race, and while that isn’t true from a strict chronological standpoint, there was definitely a sense that they were pulling out all the stops to make this a good one. As far as I’m concerned, they succeeded; this was quite possibly my favorite Race ever. Why? Follow me below the spoiler tag to find out!
1) Top to bottom, this was one of the best lineups I’ve seen in the Race. There was a ludicrous abundance of competent teams that got along well with each other and with the other teams, with the only notable exceptions being wrestlers Brooke and Robbie (who played the whole thing with the kind of gusto that made them almost seem cartoonishly evil instead of actually mean) and Lisa and Michelle (who went out in the first round). It was the first Race in a long time when I wasn’t rooting for people to get eliminated each week simply to make the episodes more watchable, and I have to rate that as a good thing.
2) The challenges were great. I don’t know if it was the Silver Jubilee aspect, but it really felt like they took the gloves off for a lot of this season. The first episode had a treasure-hunting task that felt genuinely hard, the sheep herding task was pure awesomeness (the Race cannot go to the well often enough when it comes to “make recalcitrant animals do shit” tasks, as far as I’m concerned), there were plenty of tough detail-oriented mental tasks like the tea pouring and parklet challenges, and there was some really good physical stuff too like the tightrope challenge and the bike race. (And the “running along the greased pole and jumping for the flag” task, which was awesome even though the smart thing to do in just about every case was to switch Detours.) Oh, and the go-cart driving challenge, and the massage, and the stunt diving, and…
3) The camera-people were freaking on. There were a ton of classic shots and great moments captured perfectly, from Brooke and Robbie walking right past the man wearing a sandwich board with race colors to Tim and TeJay shouting, “Hi Mister Phil!” as they ran past him to pretty much every single facial expression Maya had during the entire Race. This was just one of the most watchable seasons in years simply in how great a job they did at catching all of the fun bits.
4) There was some good, genuine, Race-based drama. The best episode of the season, which may be by extension the best episode of the series for me, was the one where Kym and Alli contested Adam and Bethany for the Fast Forward. There was so much exciting, smart strategy going on there; the other teams conspired intelligently to remove Kym and Alli with the Double U-turn, they cleverly decided to use the Fast Forward to avoid the Double U-Turn, and then Adam and Bethany pulled out the big gamble once they found out it was a surfing challenge. (And by the way, for those of you who love competence porn, watching Bethany do that surfing challenge was freaking spectacular.) And then Amy and Maya realized that the only option was to U-Turn the surfers and the bikers to ensure that someone who was eliminated wasn’t them, and then the wrestlers not only didn’t understand why they needed to do it but then decided to lie to the scientists in a fit of pique that almost knocked them out of the Race, and…just a great episode, tremendously exciting, and all based in actual competition and not “drama” bullshit. I so approve.
5) It ended just the way I wanted it to. If there is a complaint that someone could level at this season, it’s that the last three episodes all featured the same four teams due to the non-elimination leg falling immediately before the “surprise, we’re taking four teams into the final this time” double-leg. But I didn’t have a problem with that, because Bethany and Adam were so sweet and kind and competent that only a Replicant could root against them, and Jim and Misti were exactly the kind of competent, intelligent, and just a little-too-boastful team I wanted to see come in second, and I wanted Brooke and Robbie to have the kind of humiliating finish that could only come from getting to the final leg, winding up utterly lost and bickering the way they did the whole season long, and having Phil just walk up to them and say, “Y’know what? Never mind. Just go home.” And Amy and Maya…
I admit it. Huge. Freaking. Crush. They were smart, they were funny, they were game for everything and never fought or bickered even when things went lousy for them. Everyone else in the Race thought they weren’t worthy competition and they knew it (Jim’s dismissal of them as “low-hanging fruit” was the only time we saw it overtly, but you could tell) but they just kept hanging in there, taking the punches, being adorable and enthusiastic and oh my GOD was Maya cute as hell when she squeed, until it all came down to one last memory challenge for all the marbles and who was it who aced it? Amy. My favorite team ever won, and even though I know that unfairly colors my opinion on this season I don’t freaking care. Best. Season. Ever.
And next season, we get what could be the most terrifyingly trainwrecky twist of all…five teams who are meeting for the first time at the starting line. I cannot wait.