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'Amazing Race' finale: Despite the wind, it does not look like the brochure

May 09, 2011|Louis Bayard | Los Angeles Times

Ooh, they're sneaky petes, those 'Amazing Race' producers. All season long, sisters Jen and Kisha have been the most stubbornly overlooked and under-dramatized team in the pack. Sure, they had back story (raised by a single mom). They had wingspan, they had determination. But aside from Kisha's woodpecker laugh and Jen's habit of dropping expletives under duress, there was little to distinguish them from the other racers, and in retrospect, it seems clear they liked it that way. Never once did they capture a leg; never once did they finish last. They merely persevered, which is as good a prescription as any for success in this wacky orgy of blood and sweat and tears and montage and product placement.

And, more than anything, fate. Who but Aeschylus could explain why Gary and Mallory should pin their hopes on the most terrified-looking cabbie I have seen in many seasons of "Race" worship? Again and again, father and daughter pleaded with their driver, exhorted him to find a way to the Rickenbocker Marina, cast their eyes heavenward. Again and again, the camera cut to the cabbie's face: shrunken, slack, sweaty with the prospect of nationally televised humiliation. (And for all that, he signed the release form. Everyone signs the release form.)

Greek tragedy aside, "The Amazing Race" can make an equally compelling case for free will. Which is to ask: "Zev. Justin. What in Nietzsche's name were you thinking?"

I mean, trying to sell bikini tops on Rio's Copacabana beach? That's like vending Botox injections at the Oscars. The market is glutted, guys. Move on. Maybe you were just too disoriented by your Brazilian wax job, which had the feeling of an outtake from "Marathon Man," although Justin found a less unnerving cultural allusion from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." "Kelly Clarkson!" he bellowed, before calmly assuring his personal torturer: "I swear to God, I'm going to punch you in the face."

The whole arc of the Rio challenges -? samba, depilation, wheedling money from hot chicks -? suggested that someone in the "Race" squad had it in for straight white lunks. By contrast, the penultimate challenge of the Miami episode -? re-creating the decor of a trailer-park frontyard, right down to the miniature picket fence and the condiments on the table -? was like something lifted from George Wallace's presidential playbook. The sight of Galway Bay's good ol' boys and girls chortling at our (mostly) African American contestants passed beyond local color into creepiness. Nothing, though, prepared me for the sight of Miz Rawls, a pint-sized white-trash Martha Stewart with hair that even hurricanes steer clear of and a way with gentle reproofs: "Despite the wind, it does not look like the brochure."

Other highlights: - Zev's encapsulation of his season with Justin: "He was the race, and I was the amazing." - Big Easy wading through the Florida ocean and hoisting up his striped basketball shorts like a Gay '90s bathing beauty. - Mallory, trailing Freud-fumes from Vienna: "It's funny to be waxed alongside your dad." - The nymph at Jules' Undersea Lodge whose obstructive actions prompted Jen to snarl: "Um, hello? Little Mermaid?" - Jen, explaining her aversion to swimming: "I'm not afraid of water, I just panic. You know, at appropriate times when someone should panic."

So another season is done, and the votes are in. Mine, anyway. I hereby declare "Unfinished Business" to be the best idea "Race" has had in a long time. Indeed, so emotionally satisfying is it to give beloved TV characters a second chance that I'm already looking for ways to backdate it. Can't we lock Rob Lowe in his "West Wing" office? Glue Shelley Long to her "Cheers" bar seat? And, for the love of all that's holy, send Trapper John back to Korea?

A final note to Mallory: If you think Zev and Justin are the hairiest guys you've ever seen, I know just the bar to take you to.

See you next season, "Race"-ers!

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