TV Recap

Taxicab Confusions

On the season finale of ''The Amazing Race,'' models Tyler and James edge out Rob and Kimberly in a competition between New York cabbies

FRONT-RUNNERS UP The models' victory was a tad predictable
Image credit: Tyler and James: Robert Voets/CBS
FRONT-RUNNERS UP The models' victory was a tad predictable

The ''Amazing Race'' finale: We have a winner!

The tenth season of The Amazing Race could have ended one of three ways: annoyingly, improbably, or predictably. By its very definition, things ended predictably, with the models taking home the million. Usually the word predictable is pejorative, but not in this case: It's really the only outcome that anyone could feel comfortable with. If the 'Bama moms had won, I would always suspect that it was the result of some shenanigans by the producers to get an uplifting ending. (Like the way no one can talk about Uchenna and Joyce's victory over Rob and Amber without saying, ''Although there's no way in real life that a plane would come back to the gate to pick someone up.'') And if Rob and Kimberly had won, there would be a bad taste in my mouth that a flamethrower wouldn't be able to remove. So that left the models: They might not have been the most interesting of competitors, but they had the best record, so let's call it a congratulations with a side of feh.

This was a crackling finale, though. I mean, it was no hall-of-famer like season 2's Chris and Alex vs. Tara and Wil delight, but it had plenty of suspenseful moments, and only a few of them were contrived. What's more, it showed us a different side to all the teams. First, we saw Rob and Kimberly acting calm — stopping even to snuggle — when they got the only seats on the first flight to Paris. I have to say, it kind of creeped me out. Watching Rob at ease was like seeing a priest flirt: It just didn't look right. And then the models, usually so even-keeled, had a nice little bickerfest when they had to take the later flight. James said he had suggested looking on the Internet for tickets when they'd first arrived, and Tyler...well, Tyler was just angry that James had allowed himself to be ignored by Tyler.

As for 'Bama, their new side was revealed later in the program. Well, at least it was a new side for Karlyn. Throughout the race, her facial expression has never varied from two settings: stone-faced gaze or angry scowl. But when she leaped out of a plane, she actually smiled. I didn't know her face could do that. Were it not for the loud rushing of air, we might have heard the sound of tiny muscles in her jaw tearing.

But I'm skipping ahead. Before Karlyn's brief flirtation with joy, 'Bama had a coup as they left from Spain on the latest flight but got to the Eiffel Tower first. I hate to diminish their achievement, as it was entertaining to watch them leapfrog over the cockier teams (the last time that they would be able to pull it off, sadly), but when Lyn said, ''Now that's thinking,'' after they pulled into first, I begged to disagree. They learned that Orly Airport was closer to the tower than Charles de Gaulle after they'd bought their tickets; it was more a happy accident than foresight. Taking credit for it would be like if the cameraman who happened to catch the delightful shot of Kimberly crashing into the clue box behind 'Bama took credit for setting it up. Oh, why am I dragging him into this? I shouldn't be questioning him; I should be praising him to the high heavens for giving me such a delightful visual. Watching Kimberly try to extricate herself from a metal pole made me realize how much funnier America's Funniest Home Videos would be if it only featured people who bugged me. Instead of some random guy getting hit in the balls with a golf ball, what if it were Andy Rooney? Now that's entertainment.

Meanwhile, Rob quickly reverted back to his tense self when he realized everyone had caught up to him. And it seemed like such a delightful kick in the pants when he and Kimberly left the train station to go change money, only to find out that their train had arrived early and left without them, carrying the two other teams. It looked like the greatest screwup in Amazing Race history, especially with all the ''We're not going to miss the train!'' foreshadowing. But after all the careful setup for that disaster, the couple got the next train and caught up with everyone at the transfer station, rendering the previous five minutes of tension moot. It really bothered me, like I'd had the ultimate tease and now was being sent back to the couch with a huge case of reality-TV blue balls. This was the equivalent of watching a porn movie in which a deli delivery man stops by a sorority house filled with nymphomaniacs who drop endless double-entendres about how they can't wait to wrap their lips around a juicy, foot-long hero, and after ten minutes of them tugging suggestively on their lingerie straps, the delivery guy hands over their order, they tip him fairly, send him away, and then actually wrap their lips around juicy, foot-long hero sandwiches, careful not to drip any mayo on their lingerie.

This mislead was unnecessary because there was so much legitimate tension throughout the episode. The challenges themselves might not have been that innovative: making a jacket isn't exactly gagging on bugs, and as for skydiving, well, when you're strapped to someone else who is jumping out of a plane whether you like it or not, it kind of takes away the fun of someone chickening out. But the closeness of all the teams and the constant flipflopping of leads made it quite exciting.

(One note: How about Rob moping that he didn't get to skydive? It's not like he didn't get to hang glide off the Great Wall of China or something geographically specific. He just wanted to jump out of a plane, a pastime that is readily available anywhere in America. This is like being furious that he didn't get to try a Coke in the Ukraine.)

The neck-and-neck nature of the race was reduced by 33 percent when the teams left France, though, after 'Bama didn't get on the first flight to New York. My disappointment in seeing them fall out of contention was offset by my gratitude that the editors didn't try to make it look like they were right on the other teams' tails. No, there was no more false suspense: 'Bama just vanished from the show, and it became a two-team race. But I have no illusions: If this had been the usual two-hour finale, the time-space continuum would have been tied in a square knot just to give the impression that they were right behind Rob and Kimberly.

I am wondering how Rob and Kimberly talked themselves onto that full plane. Unlike the Joyce-Uchenna situation, this turn of events didn't make me suspect the producers had pulled some strings. It would have been stupid for them to do so, as (a) Rob and Kimberly aren't a particularly popular team, and (b) there was no guarantee the models would get on, too; if they didn't, it would have been a dull finale, with Rob and Kimberly two hours ahead of everyone else until the end. So the two talked themselves onto that full flight legitimately, just by saying it was worth a million dollars? Do airlines always reserve two seats just in case desperate game-show contestants show up?

I wonder if this is going to be bad for airline ticket agents, who are now going to have to deal with people using the ''I'm on a reality show, and I could win a million bucks!'' gambit to weasel their way onto closed flights all over the world. Hell, I'll use it even when I'm already on the plane. ''Excuse me, ma'am, I need an extra bag of pretzels because if I can get my salt level up, it's worth a million dollars!''

In the end, after a thrilling car chase (leave it to a New York cab driver to actually be up for trying to lose another cab), it was the models who crossed the line first. After all that, though, I was less interested in their victory speeches than I was mesmerized by the odd parade of eyebrows. Of course, there was James' dad, whose brows looked like they were yanked off a wizard. And then there was coal-mining David. Am I the only one who freeze-framed his brief appearance because of something that looked off? At first I thought he had waxed his eyebrows and made them too short, but when I stopped the video and looked closer, it looked like he had actually had an extra set of brows sutured on. Yes, the man had four eyebrows. I had feared that once those two small-town folk got on TV, they'd get suckered into the showbiz life, and sure enough, Phil sent him to one of them fancy Hollywood salons — the one he takes Browsie to — and David got himself an extra set of eyebrows. I can't stop thinking about them; I know when I go to sleep tonight I'll have nightmares that they're chasing me. But I'll say this: If David and Mary do end up on the all-star Amazing Race, as has been rumored, and I find out two months from now that those extra brows were just an editing trick, I'll never forgive myself. Fool me once, Van Munster...

What do you think? How do you rate this finale compared to previous seasons'? Would you be happier if another team had won? And who do you want to see on the all-star edition?

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Originally posted Dec 11, 2006