'They Were Some Big Balls.'

Last night's Amazing Race finale had a lot to love (zip lines! flailing!) and a lot to drum one's fingers through. If it's still sitting on your DVR, let me compact it for you:

Start and Transportation

Some other Racers were here, now they're not, and those remaining get orders to go to Belfast, all on the same ferry.

Roadblock

One teammate must bog-snorkel 100 yards in under four minutes. Bates sighs that, though he's not doing the task, the hardest part for him is "trying to squeeze [Anthony's] junk into that wetsuit." Hee. The bog itself is...you know. Boggy. The Racers' snorkel masks quickly become useless, and there's a lot of falling off piers and bumbling into reeds; the locals haul the Racers out of the bog with what looks like a gaffing hook.

And then there's Country Blonde Jen, who hates the cold, dirt, swimming, and life, and when she doesn't make the four-minute cut-off and has to do it again, she goes back to the change tent; she's quitting. Caroline manages to persuade her to get her head right, after they pray on it (...don't even) and after Caroline coaches her through every single aspect of the swim, which really isn't that hard, compared to the...

Detour

Watch, starting at the Roller Moms' arrival. It's Tray It (go to the shipyard where the Titanic was built; serve a five-course meal, in the correct order and according to the passengers' selections, at a first-class tent some distance from the kitchen) or Spray It (replicate a graffito).

Hockey Bros, Newlyweds, and Rollers all pick Tray It, but you can skip ahead 'til the Rollers arrive, because it goes on for a while -- the Rollers don't understand that they have to serve the oysters first, which takes them an hour and a passing comment from Anthony to figure out; Anthony can't figure out what "chartreuse" means, so he sends Bates down with the wrong desserts about a dozen times and almost gets killed; people tip over trays and sweat in people's food and it's every reason I could never waitress in one extended sequence.

After getting wrong directions from a shopkeeper and Caroline melting down in the front seat, the Blondes arrive at Spray It, and complete the task without much drama. (In the background, a kid racks himself on his dirt bike. Heh.)

First Pit Stop

The Newlyweds roll in first with the Hockey Bros right on their heels, and despite the best efforts of the editing (and the sweetly disbelieving sobbing of the Rollers), it's obviously the Roller Moms in third. Satisfying result for me personally, but also predictable, and we're only halfway through, so let's move on to...

Start and Transportation

All teams are dispatched to London to find a pub and order a pint for their next clues. Again, they've all bunched together, and again, there's a lot of camera-talking about What It Means To Make The Final Three. Aside from Max's hopeful "Do you want to finish our beer?" and Katie's typically boner-killing "...No," not much to see here.

Then it's off to the final city on the Race, Washington, DC -- and what's pitched as a photo op with President Obama at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. Only one team, the Rollers, takes the wrong-address bait; they all think, thanks to the fog of Race fatigue, that the prexy has time to meet with them personally. But their "Secret Service" escorts bring them to the ground floor of a mall for trick shots at a passport-photo place. If a task is going to take this long, you need to produce an actual member of the executive branch, producers. Ditto the...

Roadblock/Switchback

It's the Spy Game task: find an agent who responds to your code phrase, then use the code he gives you to open a briefcase, based on the order in which you finished in three different legs. 1) None of the agents is a lady, in 2013. 2) Race tasks that basically make you turn over every card = boring; it's edited to look like Max is miles away from the others and screwing up massively, but I don't think he is on either count, and all the teams, having watched the show for years, took excellent notes on everything they did, and how. The Amazing Race has tried its best to switch things up based on the parameters, but the Switchbacks don't really work; the show may need more radical changes to stay essential (once again I will suggest a Race entirely within a single city).

I will also suggest to Katie that not everything is Max's fault.

Task

Teams head to Nationals Park, where one of them will zip-line over the infield and try to drop a ball into the glove of his/her partner...who is dressed as a giant baseball. So many of my favorite things in one task -- National-League baseball! Zip lines! People in mascot costumes, thrashing about while the Presidents (the Nats' version of the sausage racers from the Brewers' park) patronizingly cheer them on! Love. Could not stop laughing. Katie sucks at aiming the ball and yells at Max for...not realizing this? But then it takes the Rollers forever to complete the task, and as "Ride of the Valkyries" is cued on the soundtrack, Beth asks Teddy Roosevelt how her butt looks in this baseball. Brilliant.

Final Challenge

One Racer plunges into a ball pit of globes, marked with the countries they visited on the Race. Find 'em all, put 'em in order, next clue, blah -- but everyone thinks the globes are much more buoyant than they are, and sinks rapidly to the bottom. Great slapstick.

Not much tension, though, as by that time a healthy lead belongs to...

Finish Line

Watch the Hockey Bros, my favorite team, who finish first and graciously. Max and Katie pull in next, and Max's "let me get started on never hearing the goddamned end of this" face is so telling. Rollers are third, and seem more glad to be finished than anything else. We get an update on Dave's leg, and the strong implication that he and Connor intend to return and thrash the Race as the universe intended, and I look forward to it.

Verdict

Fabulous physical comedy and a likable winning team on the plus side; on the minus side, TAR finales are an exercise in impatience. You just want to know one way or the other, and if you don't watch them live, there's often little point in sitting through the whole episode later on. S22's ender didn't depart from that.

As a season, it's compulsively watchable at times (mostly thanks to Bates), superfluous at others. The lack of real villains may have worked against this cast, and see my previous comments re: the Race's essential structure. After over a decade, Van Munster and Co. might consider translating the concept to another venue, or making some other substantive shift in the Race that throws contestants -- and viewers -- conditioned to expect a certain layout off their games.

Phil's still great, though.

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