I suppose that in order to talk about the twenty-fifth season of The Amazing Race, you have to start with the epilogue. After basking in one of the more unpredictable seasons in recent memory, viewers of the long-running show had this to look forward to:
Talk about letdowns. FIVE "blind date" teams? ALL "dating couples"? It forces fans to embrace TAR25 that much harder, as TAR26 could be either a dud waiting to happen (at best) or the beginning of the end of the critically-acclaimed series (at worst).
The "silver anniversary" season was worth celebrating. It featured one of the most talented teams in the show's history (dentists Misti & Jim, winners of five legs), another pair that redefined "calm" ("Soul Surfers" Adam & Bethany . . . yes, the Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm to a shark over a decade ago), and a duo (Brooklyn cyclists Kym & Alli) whose elimination will lead to an inevitable berth in the next "All Star" or "Unfinished Business" season. Add to that mix Brooke & Robbie (wrestlers who were the show's villains at their worst), and the unlikely "Sweet Scientists" Amy & Maya, and you had the makings of one heckuva season.
Sure, the show had its downsides. For one, Brooke whined her way throughout the race, coming off like Flo from the third season, only with more muscles. Jim's refusal to blink in interview segments was distracting. And newlyweds Adam & Bethany were too perfect at times; their faith in each other and God was stronger than anything I might have. Also, the "Switchback" task of herding an ox to find a clue couldn't match the insanity from the fifth season, as seen here (start at the 1:36 mark):
So what went right? Well, Amy & Maya proved to be the ultimate underdogs, even as their 4.50 leg placement average approached that of TAR21 winners Josh & Brent. Kym & Alli sought out fun wherever they went, from dancing outside a pub to making fun of the Dentists (as seen here). Yet another stuntcasted couple from Survivor went out early, as Keith & Whitney went out after five legs, while TAR alumnus Natalie Anderson wound up winning Survivor: San Juan del Sur (avenging her fallen "Twinnie" Nadiya, who was voted out first in the "Blood Vs. Water"-themed season.) Most notably, the more dramatic teams were sent packing before the Race heated up . . . particularly Miami realtors Lisa & Michelle, who swiped a pen out one of the Firefighters' hands (as seen here) at a sign-up board; and the combustible mother/daughter pair of Shelley & Nici, with the latter having a Pit Stop meltdown and the former getting into a verbal fight with Keith. Also: there was the "cupping" Detour option, which may have scared Amy & Maya off massages for life. Warning: hysterical pain, pixilation and unflattering camera angles ahead . . .
(and the clip doesn't include the skin scrapping or application of heated cups on their backs)
What was the turning point? That's easy . . . Kym & Alli electing to go to a surf-based Fast Forward, a task seemingly made for Adam & Bethany. The Cyclists were forced to go back to the regular route, and they were eliminated. If they stuck to the route, they probably would have beaten the Scientists to the Pit Stop, eliminating Amy & Maya. Instead, the Scientists wound up clinging for life, eventually winning the final leg and earning $1 million. Oh, and Maya mounted host Phil Keoghan like a koala bear on a tree (skip to 0:44 for that) . . .
Granted, they were bailed out by a non-elimination leg in the season's penultimate episode, forcing four teams into the final leg for the first time . . . in retrospect, this was a bigger bailout than Flo & Zach surviving the first consecutive non-elimination leg way back in TAR3. After Brooke & Robbie (who finished in first heading into the final leg heading to Los Angeles) were eliminated, it came down to a three-way showdown between Amy, Bethany and Misti at the final Roadblock. Eventually, it was a gimpy Amy that deciphered the clues correctly, allowing her and Maya to advance for the win, their only victory in a leg throughout the season, a feat that had been pulled off three other times in the show's history. I will admit it . . . I never expected the Scientists to win. Worse, my mother told me that they could win, and she will never let me hear the end of it. Still, it was an impressive win. It's a pity that we might not have an impressive TAR26 to build upon such good feelings.
PS: As long as I got TAR on the brain, I might as well post a picture of me with the Twinnies from TARCon 21 two years ago. This was the first time I would get to meet a Survivor champion, past or future. Natalie is the one on the right . . . I think. I have them marked in my album from that TARCon, but I can never remember which "Twinnie" has the nose stud and which has the nose ring.