Amazing Race ends with high notes but still has unfinished business of fixing its broken self

The Amazing Race concluded its 18th season and second all-star season with two back-to-back episodes that ended in the Florida Keys with the $1 million prize going to sisters Jen and Kisha Hoffman. The Globetrotters came in second, followed by father/daughter team Gary and Mallory. Friends Zev and Justin were knocked out in the penultimate leg.

Jen and Kisha won having performed consistently, if unmemorably, this entire season. They’re the second all-female team to win, which is remarkable because after 16 seasons with no all-female team wins, we’ve now had two back-to-back. (Kisha, by the way, is another openly gay cast member who producers have closeted.)

While I’m perfectly content with Jen and Kisha’s win, which was all too perfect for Mother’s Day since they emotionally talked about helping their mom who did so much for them, I was disappointed that Gary and Mallory lost, or at least had no chance of contention, because of a bad cab driver.

That the race has come down to cabs in many past seasons is not an excuse. If anything, this final leg was the perfect opportunity to let teams drive themselves: They went from Miami to the Florida Keys, a long drive on one road with very little room to get lost on individual islands. That the producers forced the teams to be in cabs is yet another example of how they’ve failed to recognize how broken their show is.

Mallory was this season’s biggest surprise for me. Her positive, upbeat attitude in the face of adversity was a lesson to both all of the teams who whine, cry, and fight their way through problems. It was also a lesson to me, because I can’t imagine I’d have reacted the same way she did when faced with the uncommunicative, hopelessly lost cab driver. Mallory let their problems affect her in only the most positive way, and they never gave up–and even caught up, though not enough.

Speaking of catching up, the Old Seven Mile Bridge bike ride gave the producers the chance to show an actual foot race/bike race, which would have been cool, except since the Globetrotters were so far behind Jen and Kisha, we didn’t ever see them both on the bridge at the same time. (By the way: They did not bike the entire seven miles, which is impossible, because the majority of the old bridge has been disconnected to the east of Pigeon Key, which is where the finish line was. So, the span they biked was to the east, and just over two miles. Here’s a map of Pigeon Key that shows the break to the left and the old highway they biked to the right.)

As to the leg’s other challenges, moving a boat with a forklift had the potential to be good, but was basically directed by a forklift operator so there was little suspense. The best part was the challenge that replaced the quiz that usually ends each season. Having to reconstruct a campground .. Even though she kept looking off-camera for a cue from a producer about whether or not to approve the teams’ work, she was a total trip.

The first hour/episode (CBS simply smashed two episodes together) was actually stronger than the second, and gave me hope for the series. There was nothing new, but what they did do worked pretty well. And it was best because it had a lot of comedy, especially from Justin and Zev, who went out on a high note. “He was the race, and I was the Amazing,” Zev said.

The Detour once again was imbalanced, though most of the teams recognized how difficult it would be to sell bikinis to people on the beach, and opted to make drinks instead. Zev and Justin made the wrong choice before switching. They also got screwed by the waxing challenge, which was entertaining but significantly unfair to Justin and Zev, who had far more hair to remove. I’m no waxing expert, but the women doing the waxing didn’t seem to be experts either. And while I don’t condone violence, nor do I think Justin was serious, it was hilarious when he cried out in pain, “I swear to god I’m going to punch you in the face” and then asked, “What’s the penalty for knocking her out cold?”

The entire episode showed that the race still has some life in it, if only the producers would stop being so damn stubborn and fix several major things that wouldn’t be all that difficult to fix; most wouldn’t even cost money. A few weeks ago on Survivor, one cast member was sifting through maggot-infested rice to pick out the good pieces. That’s what The Amazing Race has turned into, with loud music and fast editing acting as sauce the producers keep ladling over the maggots to hope we won’t notice.

But there is good stuff left, so maybe there’s some hope of its survival. And maybe some day it’ll even thrive again.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.