Michelle Crowe / CBS

The Amazing Race Hits The Second City To Crown Its First-Place Finishers

Teetering on the brink of cancellation, the show takes its best shot at going out on a high note, but fails in more ways than one.

Up To Speed, Racers

Eleven episodes ago, twenty-two strangers met at the starting line of The Amazing Race and picked teams. Then Shamir hurt his balls! Vanck and Ashton rubbed people the wrong way! Mike and Liz called each other names! Floyd nearly died! Scott told Brooke to shut up about the damn ladder!

And now, intones Phil, three teams remain. Scott and Brooke seem to be coming into the final leg on the upswing of a redemption arc: "Scott overcame his fear of heights, while Brooke overcame ...everything," says Phil over shots of Brooke crying, falling down, and arguing with her partner. (I'd rank this a Watch if the Brooke breakdown supercut were about four times as long. Come on, editors! You had the material!) Joey and Tara have drive and teamwork. London and Logan have great attitudes. And soon, one of these teams will also have a million dollars.

NASCARred For Life

Phil sends the final three off in style: they've gotten a Premium Class upgrade to their final destination of Chicago.

Once they're on the ground, Scott and Brooke -- who have seen an episode or two of the show in their lives -- have cleverly gate-checked their backpacks so that they don't have to deal with baggage. (Apart from the metaphorical kind, of course.) Arriving at Chicagoland Speedway in first place, they find a two-part Roadblock of sorts: one racer has to change the tire of a stock car in under forty seconds; then the other will have to drive the car and complete a lap around the track in under 48 seconds. The cars are, naturally, decorated with Amazing Race colors and logos spanning the show's sixteen-year run.

Brooke, playing the role of pit crew, requires several tries to perfect the tire change, but with some coaching from her partner (Scott calls out "grab your nuts" like he's Jeff Probst or something), she nails it on her third try, and they've still got a comfortable lead as Scott takes the wheel.

Postcards From The Edge

It takes everyone a couple of tries to complete the driving half of this task, but Scott's the first person to manage it, with Tara relatively close behind. Before receiving their next clue, they have to go to "Victory Lane" and celebrate for a moment. It becomes clear at this point that Production was pretty sure this would be the last season of the show, because they've dipped into the merch box to give the racers free Amazing Race logo baseball hats as part of their "celebration."

The next task involves a mini scavenger hunt through downtown Chicago via the El train. In rapid succession, teams are shown borrowing phones and googling their way to answers, which is always dynamic, exciting television. The Old Chicago Water Tower, a structure with an impressive Gothic spire, is the first stop. "That's where they went in Season 9!" Scott exclaims, in a rare on-air acknowledgement that this show has had previous seasons. (It was Season 6, actually, but kudos for nerding out anyway, Scott.) They're also directed to the Buckingham Fountain and the Wabash Avenue Bridge, and at each stop they collect a postcard that contains a piece of the clue to their next destination.

Once Brooke and Scott have all three clues, Brooke starts to lag a little, and you'll be shocked to learn that the combination of fatigue and pressure causes her to react emotionally. Scott offers to give her a piggyback, which she declines, because she doesn't want to be carried across the finish line. "I don't want to let you down!" she sobs, clearly foreshadowing a scenario in which she either does not, or does in a fairly epic way. The Brooke and Scott fan in me is hoping for the former, but the lover of good television in me sort of swings toward the latter.

Top Dogs

Next up: deliver hot dogs to a group of Cubs fans hanging out in bleachers next to (but weirdly enough, not actually in) Wrigley Field -- a crowd which includes Amazing Race 19 winners Ernie and Cindy. Phil points them out to the viewers, which is good, because not even Scott the alleged superfan acknowledges that he knows who they are.

Tara and Joey have interpreted "Gothic spire" to mean a church of some sort, which knocks them back to third place for a moment, but when Logan and London find the one cab driver in Chicago who doesn't know how to get to Wrigley Field, Team Mom and Dad retake the runner-up position. As they drop off their hot dogs, Joey can't resist screaming "Go Red Sox!" at the crowd, and he's summarily booed out of the...non-sanctioned seating area that may or may not be an actual Thing. Okay, in fairness to the show, it's not like they just rented a vacant lot near the stadium and hoped nobody would notice -- teams do, in fact, have to go inside Wrigley Field next.

When they do, they're presented with a memory task wherein one team member has to sit in the press box and use a one-way radio to direct their partner, across the field, who'll change the scoreboard based on their placement in each leg. Scott's a little concerned that he won't be able to talk back to Brooke, so if she begins to melt down, he can't soothe her. On the other hand, he won't be able to stoke the flames of her fury, either, so this could go either way. They seem to pull it together pretty well, all things considered.

Brooke and Scott finish and call for a judge. Are they right?

Winding Down In The Windy City

...They're right! And now it's time to do some second-grade math to determine the section where their clue is located. There's an attempt to inject some suspense into this bit -- Tara and Joey gain ground on Scott and Brooke while they search the bleachers for their clue -- but ultimately, it's not remotely close.

Brooke's melting down in the back of the cab, but this time, the tears are happy tears, because they're about to win a million dollars. And, indeed, there’s no cab-related funny business -- just a straightforward sprint to the mat, where Phil proclaims them the winners. Scott chalks the win up to their passion and complementary skills.

Tara and Joey finish strong, of course. It's pointed out that Joey was the last person to finish the very first task, but Tara saw something in him that compelled her to select him early in the partner draft. (It's not pointed out that he failed the task because of a lack of attention to detail, even though a lack of attention to detail was his team's undoing in the end, and that's some pretty delicious irony.)

Some time later, Logan and London meander up to the final mat and seem semi-relieved to be done racing. Everyone shares hugs and talks about how much they've grown as people.

Verdict

It's a peculiar quirk of this show that the first episode and the last episode of every season are usually the least interesting by a long shot. In every finale, one team generally takes the lead and stays there, and this season was no exception. Old school fans of the show will have a (Wrigley) field day spotting all of the references to seasons past, and it's nice to see Production embracing its history for once, but the tasks themselves come up a little dry, and the total lack of suspense is a little bit of a mood-killer.

Taken as a whole, though, the season's pretty Watch-worthy. The winners' story arc is nearly poetic, and while nobody went into this season expecting this strangers gimmick to be any good, this turned out to be one of the stronger casts in recent years. The sheer force of these personalities was enough to squeak out a renewal for The Amazing Race, at any rate, which even Phil probably didn't see coming, so I guess I'll see you back here for Season 30.

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