And we’re back! Phil recaps not just the episode this time but the entire season, reminding us that over the course of eleven previous legs, the happy sparkly friendly Tumblrvinstagramchat generation was gradually whittled down to perpetual bickerfest Dana and Matt, barely competent but adorable and lucky Sheri and Cole, and five-leg winner Tyler and Korey. Who will win the million bucks? Let’s find out!
We pick up in Shenzhen, where everyone is told they’re getting a first-class flight to Los Angeles for the final leg. Which cuts out all the question of jockeying for the best seats, at least. Everyone is on the same flight, as per usual, and Tyler takes the opportunity to say that despite the other teams’ best efforts, they are going to win the entire thing. So that’s them out of the running, then. Dana and Matt talk about their relationship needing to not be a trainwreck for once, and Sheri and Cole just admit that they could use the money.
Everyone takes their respective taxis to Angelus Plaza, which was recently renamed from Angel Plaza after having sex with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and get the first Roadblock. Matt takes this one, which is your standard “welcome to the Race, hope you’re not afraid of heights!” challenge. This one is pretty spectacular even by Race standards; the clue is suspended in mid-air between two buildings, you’re strapped into a harness, and you get to jump off the building and try to grab the clue. Fail, and you’re lowered to the ground and have to start from scratch (with a slightly closer clue).
Sheri takes the Roadblock for her son, despite being afraid of heights, and Tyler…and Korey manage to miss the clue box, climb up to the top of the building, and have to come back down before taking the Roadblock in third. (Tyler is the actual jumper, and takes the opportunity to pretty mercilessly hit on his rigger.) But by the time he even gets started on the rigging, or the macking, Matt has already grabbed his clue out of the air and his team is taking a helicopter ride to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. When they get there, they have to grab their dinghy (yes, I know, quit snickering or you will be asked to leave the room) and hunt for a boat called the Theresa Ann.
Charmingly, Dana and Matt cheer Sheri on as they get into their helicopter, reminding us that even though some teams have not gotten along well among themselves, they’ve all gotten along astonishingly well with each other. Not that it helps, because Sheri is 130 feet of the ground and preparing to jump into open space. This is one of those moments when a little freaking out is totally understandable. She makes her first attempt, which is frankly more than I might have managed, but reflexively grabs her own rope harness for support and doesn’t even come close to the clue. She has a good cry, but Cole reminds her that she just jumped off a freaking building and clearly has gonads of fucking steel.
Tyler also fails his first attempt, and Korey and him bond over their failure and their clear attraction to Brandon the rigger, who is taking the blatant gushing with wonderful grace and good humor regardless of his sexual preference. This gives Sheri the chance to get the clue on the second try, and they head out to the heliport as well. Tyler fails a second try as well, with the clue literally slipping through his fingers, but Attempt #3 yields a success. They head out not far behind the other teams, and…
Okay, this is a moment I want to highlight, because it’s exactly the reason why this is a great season despite not always having the best challenges or the most intensity. As they’re riding in the helicopter, Tyler apologizes for having difficulty with the Roadblock, and Korey says, “It’s okay. Put it all behind you and let’s have fun.” Tyler, in what is probably the closest he’s come to defeatism or argument this whole season, says, “Oh, that’s what you say when you think we’re going to lose.” And Korey responds with, “You know how many times I’ve said that and we’ve won? Five.” And Tyler gets a big old grin and says, “Then let’s have fun!”
I’ve said on occasion that moments like this in the Race reveal character. And what we’re seeing, in this moment of stress and frustration with a million bucks on the line, is that these are people who really enjoy their friendship and prize it more than anything. They’re supportive, they’re caring, and they really are determined to have fun. Win or lose. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen a lot of this season, and I’d rather see that than the Green Team and the Paparazzi bickering and wailing every time things don’t go their way and a lot of the times they do. I’d see Tyler and Korey back for an All-Star season any day.
So, back to the Race. Matt and Dana take a taxi from the heliport to the harbor, taking the opportunity to borrow the taxi driver’s smart phone to do a little research (intelligent) and releasing the taxi when they arrive (very much not so). They provide what has to be the best comedy moment ever when they get into their dinghy, start the motor, look at the camera and say, “We’re now preparing to search the harbor and hopefully not run into any…we’re still attached.” Seriously, it’s just perfect comedy.
Once they get their dinghy moving (yes, yes, get it out of your system) they have very little trouble finding the boat. They have a lot more trouble finding a taxi, running several blocks before they can get someone to even call a cab for them. This gives Sheri and Cole the chance to get to their dinghy…but they don’t realize that the Theresa Ann is a boat. They motor around looking for a museum, which is in surprisingly short supply in the harbor.
This means that everyone is considerably closer by the time they get their clue and get to their next destination, Gibraltar Rock. Matt and Dana are still in the lead, though, as they take on the next challenge, which is synchronized mountaineering. For those of you wondering, “Just how batshit crazy is that?”, it’s pretty batshit crazy. One team climbs along a zipline horizontally, which pays out line that allows their teammate to descend vertically. So they can’t go too fast, or they’re pretty much just dropping their teammate off a cliff. At the far end of the zipline is one half of the clue, and at the bottom is the other half. Once both halves are collected, the zipliner has to go back…and I’m sure you can guess what that means. They have to literally haul their partner up as they go along.
It’s grueling, arduous work, and Matt and Dana finally wrap it up just as Sheri and Cole arrive. Tyler and Korey are only minutes behind, so everyone is definitely in a position to catch up as they approach the final Roadblock at the Grassini Family Vineyards. As per usual when there’s two Roadblocks in one leg, this one has to be taken by Korey, Cole and Dana. And as per usual in the final leg, it’s a memory challenge. Teams have to put signs onto wine barrels, starting with the Twitter hashtag for each leg in order (and CBS’s target audience of elderly NCIS fans begins frothing in rage…now) and following it up by spelling out the capital city of each destination in order.
This is usually the point where the final leg amps up the tension to absolutely unbearable levels, as the memory challenge, always a great equalizer, turns whatever lead any team possessed into a grueling deadlock as each Racer struggles to remember tiny details from previous legs. But for all that I have given Dana shit over the course of this Race for her stumbles, I have to say, she absolutely nails this task. She moves like a whirling dervish, slapping hashtags into position and spelling out cities with absolutely no missteps. She gives the other teams absolutely no chance to catch up, because she hits it perfectly first try, and after that kind of performance, I really can’t find fault with the placing here as their clue tells them to head on foot to the Finish Line on the vineyard grounds.
There’s a token attempt to generate suspense, as Matt and Dana search the grounds while Cole and Korey arrive and start their challenges, but it’s unquestionably Matt and Dana’s race to lose. And they don’t. They win the million dollars and the Amazing Race, despite whatever challenges they made for each other. Sheri and Cole take second, which carries some prize money and not a small amount of bragging rights, and Tyler and Korey accept third with quiet dignity and grace. (No, not the ‘Young Frankenstein’ kind.)
And then, as always, everyone comes together one last time to celebrate their experience together. They pat each other on the back, cheer each other on, congratulate each other, and generally show that win or lose, going on the Amazing Race is the trip of a lifetime. It may just be my imagination, but the congratulations seem even more natural, more welcome, more genuine than usual. These are people who made friends along the way, and every time the Race closes out like this, I always think it’s the perfect way to go out.
And if it’s not, well, I’ll see you back here for Season 29!