And there were the final three: The cowboy brothers, the non-cowboy brothers, and the models (models is such a kinder identifier than “nitwits,” isn’t it?), all pitted against each other in a final dash to the finish line. The cowboys had been the favorites since the beginning; every stumble or near-elimination they suffered along the way felt like orchestrated drama just to make their victory not seem like a complete inevitability. They were the Amazing Race’s Crystal Bowersox. Really, who could beat them? The brothers, who only lasted this long because they were always able to stay two steps ahead of the one team slightly worse than them? Unlikely. And the models? Please. And yet
The brothers won. It had a certain logic, considering that Jordan has seen every season, and every moment that he wasn’t saying that being on the Race was his dream was a moment where Dan was saying it for him. So one would assume that he would have an advantage; yet, why were they constantly just on the brink of elimination? Well, if their strategy was “always stay one place ahead of the losers,” then logically it was mathematically bound to pay off this way in the final leg. So while you couldn’t be mad at their victory, per se — they certainly did their homework — it just didn’t seem right that they should win it all.
The final leg began in Shanghai, where the teams were sent to San Francisco. With the airline’s ticket counter not opening up until 10:45 a.m., all the teams camped out on the airport floor. The brothers arrived three hours after the cowboys, but Jordan plunked down his backpack behind first-in-line Caite and Brent. Apparently Jordan believes that the Race should be run by the same rules that elementary-school students use when saving seats for the bus. This led to a kind of tense moment that seemed yanked from an eighties action movie where the laconic fish-out-of-water cowboy quietly puts in their place some snooty city folk who think they can get one over on the rube. Standing behind Jordan, the cowboys had this interchange:
Cord: What are you thinking, Jet?
Jet: You know what I’m thinking.
C: Yeah, but I don’t think you can actually grab his backpack and throw him backwards in an airport; you can get in trouble for that.
J: Like I’d get in trouble for kicking his teeth in.
It was so laid-back and tense, it felt like a trailer for The Cowboy Way 2. Jet and Cord probably were planning to start throwing punches, but then the producers told them that they couldn’t afford the music rights to “Sweet Home Alabama,” and really, without that on the soundtrack, what’s the point?
Though any grousing you might have about the brothers’ unethical and childish move was moot, as it ended up having little effect on the outcome. What decided the game was their persuading a flight attendant to ferry them up to first class. Throughout the entire leg, they seemed exactly as far ahead of the cowboys as they’d been the moment they left the plane first.
The first clue led them to a military outpost in the Presidio. The models’ cabbie got lost, leading to apoplectic groaning from the back seat. “Why are we in America, and no one can speak English?” moaned Brent as the cabbie continued to lose his way. If Rod Serling was going to plan a Twilight Zone episode about a former pageant contestant who races around the world after making an international fool of herself trying to answer a question about why Americans can’t read maps, don’t you think the final twist would have her trapped in a cab with a driver who can’t read a map? Well, either that or she wakes up and her head has been turned into a globe.
The tension of being lost in America led to Brent and Caite exchanging such sweet nothings as “Shut up!” and “Stop being an ass, I’m gonna punch you in the face!” Meanwhile, the cowboys zipped past them, following the brothers to Coit Tower. The clue to the Tower was presented in riddle form; the brothers had accosted a biker, who solved it for them. “People who ride bicycles are smart,” said Jordan. “It’s a general rule.” (The converse to that rule, interestingly enough, holds true for both unicyclists and tricyclists.) Cord, on the other hand, had bought a guide to San Francisco in Shanghai, and on the plane had read fun facts about Coit Tower that made it instantly identifiable. This would be considered a shrewd move, except for the fact that while he had his nose buried in a guide book, Dan and Jordan were sneaking their way into first class, one section closer to the million dollars. In other words: Sneakiness 1, Fodor’s 0.
After a quick jaunt up the side of the Coit Tower, courtesy of the Race’s favorite impractical gadget — the mechanical ascender — the teams were sent to Lucasfilm, where every day is Comic-Con. The players were greeted by lumpy temps stuffed into storm-trooper outfits and led to a virtual-reality center, all to the tune of Darth Vader’s theme, “The Imperial March.” This seemed a pricey brand-name musical choice by Amazing Race standards, which led one to believe that George Lucas threw in the tune free as long as the show gave him a good plug for the animation style behind The Clone Wars. And so it went: One team member donned the kind of motion-capture suit that we’ve seen in every Making Of … promotional show on HBO from The Polar Express to Beowulf to Avatar. The Racer was directed by his or her partner in the other room through a virtual world. This involved having the besuited Racer shuffle in extremely tiny steps to get through the two levels; imagine if Avatar technology was used to make a movie about an old-folks home. Yet as slow-paced as it was, it was still only marginally less adrenaline-soaked than The Phantom Menace.
When Cord arrived at his “directing” cubicle and heard Dan giving Jordan directions, he began shouting out random instructions (“Hop! Skip! Ballet move!”) to psych out Dan. (Watch the video below.) It was an amusing move, and it looked like the cowboys were finally ready to play hardball. But later, when Jordan was spinning in place so Dan could read the final spiraling clue in his background, Jet found himself right up against him, trying to get by to get through his final “gate.” Considering their aborted standoff at the airport, this seemed like the moment when Jet (complete with cowboy-hatted avatar) would actually physically move him aside. But no, he just stood politely, waiting for Jordan to stop spinning. Where was the killer instinct? Hell, where was the “Excuse me?” But again, that all said: the sight of one guy in a unitard waiting patiently for another guy in a unitard to stop spinning? Slightly more entertaining than Attack of the Clones.
The brothers finished, and it took a while for Cord to figure out how to read the clue, which seemed odd considering that Jet had just spent about ten minutes standing one foot away from a spinning Jordan. Even Brent had the common sense to copy the cowboys once they’d figured it out. Suddenly, the trailing two teams were neck and neck … right up until Brent and Caite left Lucasfilm only to discover they’d forgotten their money, and they were never heard from again until they arrived at the finish line. You know a team is a non-factor when the producers can’t even be bothered to edit them in for false tension.
From Lucasfilm it was off to a restaurant called Tonga, where teams picked up a trunk and then dragged it to the Great American Music Hall. Inside were posters representing each of the eliminated teams and the three non-elimination rounds; teams had to hang them up in the right order as they happened in the game. This has been a staple final challenge of the Race for years (though not last season), so every team should have done as Jordan did and kept track of the legs in a notebook. It was a smart move, even if it did remove all doubt over who was going to win this thing. At this point, there was only one unanswered question left to ponder for the end of the Race: Would Carol and Brandy be just as spiteful after the jet lag wore off? The answer: pretty much.
When Dan and Jordan arrived at Candlestick Park to the cheers of all who had passed on before them, the lesbian partners celebrated their victory with a stilted high-five that had all the natural ease of Karl Rove rapping. When the cowboys arrived in second place, the women again applauded. But when Brent and Caite arrived, oh, Carol and Brandy showed them! Carol did the slow clap, while Brandy did no clap at all. Advantage theirs!
Phil asked Caite, “Was there anything that you wanted to prove coming on this race?” as if he hadn’t been paying attention over the last eleven weeks when she volunteered that very information at every possible moment. More likely, he asked just because he knew the answer — “I mainly just wanted to prove that I’m an intelligent person” — would make Brandy snap. He wasn’t happy with just inciting eye-rolling, though, so he went on to prompt Caite to apologize to the women for the U-Turn. Before she could even start: not accepted! “I don’t want to hear sorry from you,” snapped Brandy. “You purposely whacked us. You wanted to be the only woman left standing and you are. Logically you turned teams that were stronger … You can’t seem to think logically.” Remarkable! Even up until the last minute, Brandy proves able to make us feel sympathy for the most mockable team on this race. Not fifteen minutes after Caite left their money in the Lucasfilm locker room, we find ourselves wanting to say, “Now wait a minute, Brandy, she’s not that dumb!” Honestly, if Caite wants to keep showing the world that she’s not that stupid, she should skip the reality TV and just hire Brandy to follow her around, shouting petty comments.
Caite did get the final word: When Brandy said, “I’m sorry you can’t handle it,” she retorted, “I can handle it. Obviously I’m the one standing here, not you.” Check and mate! And that ended things on an even more victorious note than Dan and Jordan’s victory. That is, provided that right afterward Caite and Brent didn’t lose their backpacks, get bad directions out of the stadium, and end up sleeping under the nosebleed seats, waiting for the football season to begin when someone could lead them out of there.
EW.com’s Darren Franich notes that “How you feel about Jordan’s actions probably depends on how serious a crime ‘cutting’ was when you were in kindergarten.”
HitFix’s Daniel Fienberg was not happy that the producers gave so much screen time to Brandy’s wrath at the end: “They decided that in lieu of a heroic winner, they’d focus on a loser.”