What the The Amazing Race 32’s finale lacked in intrigue or actual racing, it made up for by just being an overall joyful delight. That was true of this entire season, too: imperfect but thoroughly enjoyable.
While I feel bad for the teams that had to wait two years to see their season (and to get paid!), it was wonderful to be able to watch people travel around the world, unencumbered by fears of infection or travel restrictions, every Wednesday.
That may be why I’m more forgiving about parts of the season that frustrated me, including the design of this final leg. “It’s going to be neck and neck this entire leg which makes it a lot more exciting,” James said at the start of the episode. Alas, it was neither.
That’s because it was another check-the-boxes series of tasks, and the airport taxi ride is what screwed Riley and Maddison, who were immediately and permanently behind. The king cake challenge was the only real opportunity for some movement, since it combined skill and luck, but the teams left in the same order they arrived.
The editing did almost convince me that the beard brothers would pass Hung and Chee during the globe puzzle challenge, but Hung and Chee placed a solid second.
But since the very first episode, watching such joyful pairs—who grew closer together as partners, but also grew closer to other teams, even while competing against each other—made the season continually enjoyable.
The three-team alliance races for the finish in New Orleans
The big letdown was the alliance. TAR 32 is the first time an alliance has ever carried teams into an Amazing Race finale, Phil Keoghan pointed out. Hopefully, it’s also the last, though its success probably means alliances will be back, unless the rules or structure changes to prevent or discourage information-sharing.
Yet it’s also hard to be mad at teams for, you know, getting along and helping each other because they bonded. One team admirably recognized and owned the role implicit bias played in creating some of those bonds and excluding other teams.
While there were moments of friction, from the very beginning of the season, this has been the most universally amiable, happy Amazing Race cast I can remember. That continued through the episode—Hung swinging through the air under a bridge, yelling, “I got it Chee, I got it!” and her husband responding, “I’m so proud of you!”—and right up to the finish line.
Will and James’ moments certainly got attention during the season, and those people who are turning them into villains need to ask themselves why they’re reacting so strongly to Will and James but not to the beard brother, and then go back and watch a few seasons of The Amazing Race for examples of truly repulsive behavior.
Will and James certainly had friction, and could be annoying or get annoyed: In the finale, James did a Jim Halpert look at the camera and said under his breath, “Oh my god” as Will regurgitated beignets; as they left the restaurant, James thanked the staff saying the beignets were “delicious” and Will gave him shit for delaying them.
But their relationship—like all of those this season—never seemed fraught. On the final mat, James said, “Thank you for being patient with me because I have so many crazy moments.”
After 11 countries and more than 33,000 miles of travel, Will and James won The Amazing Race 32 and $1 million. Many of the teams seemed thrilled for them. At the finish line, Leo said to Will and James, “I could imagine loving a team—that U-turned us—more.”
A disclaimer: I am not a fan of marriage proposals (“This is no way for two grown humans to make a major life decision”), and particularly loathe public ones, when one person puts the other on the spot in front of people— even when the outcome is obvious, as it was here. I also married someone who feels the same way, so we made gagging noises when Will pulled out a ring. But that’s us.
I am truly thrilled for James and Will and their happiness, and I did love the way the editors changed “boyfriends” to “engaged” afterwards the end.
They’re quite deserving winners: they practiced challenges from previous seasons! James repeatedly read the actual clues, especially during this final leg. They used the race’s mechanisms to their advantage. They were in the top four every single leg except the second leg, and they placed first three times and second three times.
And what actually got me emotional was James’ story of going from 11-year-old reality TV fan watching a show on his couch to winning $1 million with his race partner and life partner. That’s an amazing journey, and a nice cap to a show we probably won’t see back for a while.