The ''Amazing Race'' finale: Answered prayers
How did the Weavers wind up in third at the end of the family edition of The Amazing Race, behind the winning Linzes and second-place Bransens? After all, they clearly had God on their side, right? He may work in mysterious ways, but sending them an equally pious taxi driver seemed downright direct. And yet, though they started the episode in first place, they fell behind. Perhaps all their prayers to win were offset by the viewing audience's collective prayers that they wouldn't. Whatever the reason, it leaves us with this theological conclusion: If you put your faith in God, he may not fix it so you win or place, but he will do his darndest to make sure you show.
And so the family edition mercifully comes to an end. They tried to whip up some final-minute frenzy by having the teams go international oooh, Canada! However will they deal with the culture shock! but it was too little, too late. The clue locations were as dull as usual, with Phil trying to make mounting five flights of stairs seem like climbing Kilimanjaro. And challenges like going for a motorboat ride were the stuff of tourism-bureau promotional tapes, not a race. Sure, the Niagara Gorge adventure looked like a lot of fun for the contestants. Tune in next season as the players get to go on a roller coaster while you hold all their cotton candy!
That said, the finale was slightly more exciting than the other episodes this season. While watching people search an entire stadium for a clue isn't the most visual competition I can think of, at least it was hard. And the final puzzle challenge, in which Wally and a Linz boy (I still have no idea who is who) battled to reconstruct Central and North America, was nail-biting, even if it did give me the uneasy feeling that this whole season I had been duped into watching an educational program on geography. Sure enough, as soon as the final credits ran, a report card slid into my mail slot. That bastard Van Munster only gave me a B- in Amazing Race. I guess next season I'll have to pay more attention during the hot-air-balloon ride.
But let's sum up the trajectory of all three teams during this final stretch. First, the Linzes. They always seemed to me to be the favorites, even if they were shaky at the beginning. But they persevered and succeeded through a mixture of athletic ability, a good attitude, and the brothers' engaging in every bit of stereotypical male-bonding behavior short of the elephant walk. I'll admit it was also kind of heartwarming to see how they looked out for their sister, although I wonder if she needed hormone treatments when she got home, because I would imagine that when you're treated like a six-year-old for 25 straight days, the body gets confused and starts going along with it.
As for the Bransens, I was surprised and, yes, touched, to see Wally get choked up over his daughters, and vice versa. Up until the end, we'd only seen Wally the lugubrious punch line, and then bam! he became the revered daddy. Especially since just one day earlier, he was moping up and down the stadium steps, muttering, ''Shut up,'' and ''I'm gonna kick somebody's ass.'' Granted, both of these complaints seemed wildly out of context, as did many quotes this episode. In an effort to spice up this excitement-free season, the producers seem to have chopped up dialogue to create moments that simulate tension. This entire finale epitomized that approach, with altercations so artificially patched together that they made no sense. Like when the Linzes scraped golf carts with the Weavers: Somebody called somebody else ''thunder thighs,'' but you couldn't tell who, and then there was a lot of grumbling dialogue that sounded like it had been lifted off of old Big Brother tapes.
But really, this season was for better or worse all about the Weavers. In this final leg, knowing it was their last moments on TV, they went out of their way to reinforce every stereotype they'd made for themselves. First, there was their insularity, as Rolly pronounced Montreal as ''Montel.'' Yes, Rolly, your family's dream has come true: The next leg of the race entails sitting in Montel Williams' audience. It was a relief that we never had to see them navigate the America puzzle: Considering that one of the daughters confessed they didn't know what ice was, there was little chance of them figuring out where Indiana went. (On the chance that God has their back, I'm playing it safe by blaming all of this on insularity and not stupidity. The last thing I need right now is to turn into a pillar of salt, especially with the holidays coming up.)
And then there was the rampant praying, which seemed even more abundant than usual. Did God send them Ted, the pious cab driver? With the way they constantly praised him, it looked like the Weavers found a new religion. If they'd just loop pine air fresheners around their necks in place of cross necklaces and sing the hymn ''Nearer My Fare to Thee,'' they'd be practicing Teddists.
But not even Ted could keep their spirits up during the stadium challenge, when they almost quit. One daughter petulantly explained that ''by not doing this, it's not like I haven't accomplished something...it's just stupid.'' Gee, that sounds downright lazy, and there's someone who was against that. Who was it again? Was it Bob Barker? No. Tito Puente? No. Oh, wait, I've got it: It was God. Perhaps that's when they lost the Man Upstairs' helping hand. Hypocrisy, spite, and being a pain in the ass may be sins, but once you cross into deadly sins, you're on your own.
And now, thankfully, we're all on our own, freed from the pleasure-free habit of watching the family edition. Judging from the promos for next season, The Amazing Race should be back to normal. Phil seemed to put a little extra oomph in his voice when he stressed that ''teams of two'' would be competing. Just as long as there aren't three pairs of footprints; I've had about all of the copiloting I can take.
What do you think? Did you favorite team win? Why did the Weavers suddenly choke? And can we learn any religious lessons from all this?