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Amazing Race 34’s winners prevail after an extremely tight final leg in Nashville

Amazing Race 34’s winners prevail after an extremely tight final leg in Nashville
Emily Bushnell and Molly Sinert, Luis Colon and Michelle Burgos, and Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss begin the final leg of The Amazing Race 34, racing to be the season's $1 million winner (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

The Amazing Race 34 has its $1 million winners after its second pandemic season—which was also a strong and fun season with three terrific teams in the finale: Big Brother’s Derek and Claire, separated twins Emily and Molly, and couple Luis and Michelle.

After “23 days, eight countries, 16 cities,” as Phil Keoghan said on the finish line, would the show have its first all-female team of winners for the first time since 2014? Or would another Big Brother couple win just four seasons after the last Big Brother couple won?

“This is the only leg that matters,” Claire said, and they ran it like that. It was a navigation-heavy leg, with the teams racing in cars and on foot.

Thankfully, and likely due to pandemic restrictions, they were not dependent upon cab drivers; I don’t ever want to return to a final leg of The Amazing Race where teams’ fate is out of their own hands.

In the end, the teams’ strengths and weaknesses emerged to help them. Emily and Molly struggled with navigation and directions, falling into third place twice. “We’re making mistakes, like always,” one of them said. Meanwhile, Derek and Claire used their skill sets to get ahead.

Phil Keoghan introduces The Amazing Race 34's first finale challenge
Phil Keoghan introduces The Amazing Race 34’s first finale challenge (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

The final three teams began the final leg in Lynchburg, Tennessee, outside of Nashville, where they had to label, tag, and pack 30 bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey to get their clue.

Michelle’s and Claire’s bottles were being repeatedly rejected because of badly-placed labels, so Molly and Emily finished first and left in first place, driving to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge for their next clue.

Derek and Claire left right behind, literally following behind them, with Luis and Michelle five minutes behind them. They all stopped to get directions at the same gas station, and Molly and Emily again left first.

Emily and Molly pointed out they’re the shortest, oldest, and “the most female-ist” team, and they were solidly in first place. But on their way to the bridge, passed the designated parking area. Navigation, not Emily’s knee, once again emerged as their Achille’s heel. “We keep making these little mistakes, Em,” Molly said.

Derek rappels from a bridge in Nashville on The Amazing Race 34's finale
Derek rappels from a bridge in Nashville on The Amazing Race 34’s finale (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

There was no Detour in the final leg, just one final Roadblock: walk up the side of the 300-foot bridge’s arch, get a clue, and rappel down. As night fell, the team members

Michelle fell behind, because she climbed instead of walked, and then waited for Emily to go first, even though they could have rappelled simultaneously. Luis said they were once again five minutes behind Derek and Claire.

Despite getting ahead, Emily and Molly got lost yet again, and fell into third place yet again.

At the Gibson Garage, teams had to pick up and then carry guitar cases through the streets of Nashville, delivering them to three bars on a crowded street. Derek and Claire were outside looking at a phone to get directions as Luis and Michelle went inside, so it was once again close.

The bar street was super-crowded, where “every single tourist in America seems to get drunk,” Derek said, so Claire employed another one of her strategies: screaming “EXCUSE US EXCUSE US” at the drunks—I mean, tourists.

The other teams employed a similar strategy, which is smarter than what I would have done, which was whack slow people with the guitars.

The teams didn’t have to go into the bars, thankfully, but just got wristbands outside when they dropped off the guitars.

Their final Route Info and version of the classic final challenge involved John Keane’s Amazing Race theme song: they had to play it by pressing keys on a giant piano, with each note corresponding to a different location they’d been to.

Incredibly, despite the navigation and other issues, all three teams ended up at the final memory/piano challenge, working on it at the same time.

They had 11 seconds to play 11 notes, which was especially challenging considering the large size of the keyboard. What a fantastic challenge, and such a creative twist on the traditional finale memory challenge. Even the setup was terrific, with the orchestra on the top of a cube above the teams, with each on one side.

Derek has played piano, of course—we keep learning about Derek and Clarie’s hidden talents!—so they used the actual key names (C, F, G, C, D, et cetera) to memorize the order, but struggled with the time. They ended up playing “zone defense,” Derek said, dividing up the keyboard.

Luis and Michelle missed half the keyboard at first, not realizing the black keys also had pictures/notes associated with them, which effectively made it a race between Emily and Molly and Derek and Claire, with a split screen showing them both making failed attempts at the same time.

The orchestra started playing the theme song live as Derek and Claire got it right, and then left first, heading to Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Old Opry’s former stage, but Emily and Molly were close behind. Luis and Michelle, it seemed, were out of the running.

All credit to The Amazing Race’s editors for making the final race between Derek and Claire, and Emily and Molly, seem neck-and-neck, with them both outside the building at the same time, though of course it was probably not really at the same time.

Amazing Race 34 winners Derek and Claire talk about the final leg of the race in an interview after winning
Amazing Race 34 winners Derek and Claire talk about the final leg of the race in an interview after winning (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

In the end, it was Derek and Claire who won, embracing before Phil Keoghan declared them the official winners. Derek joked about proposing, which was thankfully revealed to be a joke before the bile came up in my throat, and I really appreciated the joke.

“This really feels like one of the most-competitive seasons of The Amazing Race,” Claire said.

I think I agree, at least in terms of recent seasons, but I’m definitely sure it’s been one of the most enjoyable seasons of The Amazing Race ever, in that the teams were just so fun to watch.

They had a blast even when in dire situations—or even while losing! Emily and Molly were crying happy tears when they came in second, and Luis and Michelle were as buoyant as ever.

What an incredible season and story for the second-place team, too: Emily and Molly didn’t even know the other existed a year prior to the race, and now they’re learning about each other and bonding while also being one of the more functional and successful teams. And they did that despite an injury that may have taken other teams out.

Season 34, too, was a lot of fun overall: it had some weak legs and repetition, but also some exceptional challenges.

There were firsts, too, from a team eliminated after one person got COVID to the introduction of the scramble, which I’d love to see more of in the future, especially in later legs. I didn’t miss the lack of social elements (the U-Turn, for example), in part because teams find their own ways to strategize.

The Amazing Race is not the same show or competition it once was, like in its very first season 22 years ago, but thanks in part to COVID restrictions, it’s found its way to a refreshed, satisfying version, one that I hope continues for many seasons to come.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

Discussion: your turn

I think of writing about television as the start of a conversation, and I value your contributions to that conversation. We’ve created a community that connects people through open and thoughtful conversations about the TV we’re watching and the stories about it.

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Happy discussing!

Bubba

Friday 9th of December 2022

I liked when you used to interview participants of various shows and when it came to endings, you gave the real story how close it was. Emily and Molly seemed to me like they finished way behind despite editing making seem close, as always. Do you what the time between the final 3 actually was?

Andy Dehnart

Friday 9th of December 2022

Emily and Molly estimated about 15 minutes between them and Derek and Claire—including some minor delays we didn't see.

NinjaWarriorFan

Friday 9th of December 2022

Any idea why Rex Ryan and his partner weren't part of the welcoming party at the end?

Maybe they were there, but I didn't see them at all.

Andy Dehnart

Friday 9th of December 2022

Tim said in an answer to a comment on this Instagram post that it was "Covid related."

Antonio

Friday 9th of December 2022

I enjoyed it. Luis and his partner didn't win but I really enjoyed watching him on the show. I was happy Derek and Claire won. They seem like normal people and it's amazing they were on that horrible dumpster show Big Brother which I watch religiously. The sisters were handicapped since the one injured herself. They almost won. Wow. Good for them for never giving up.

AK

Friday 9th of December 2022

I gave up on "The Amazing Race" more than a decade ago, but came back to it this season after reading your raves of the last one. I was skeptical at first about how scaled back the format is now, yet it eventually won me over, week by week, with a truly lovely group of teams and a few really strong legs sprinkled in later on.

One thing I'm curious about: How many of those 23 days were they actually racing? As best I could tell, it was only ten, as not a single leg lasted more than one day and some seemed to be over in a matter of hours. Is this something you might be able to report on a bit more? I'd really like to know what the actual production schedule for a season is like now. I rewatched the earliest seasons during the pandemic (what a joy!) and was surprised to remember that they were about six weeks long (!), with some legs lasting two or three at a time. What a different experience!

Andy Dehnart

Friday 9th of December 2022

That's a good question, and I'll see what I can find out. The one-day legs has been a fixture for a while now, and I think that's primarily budgetary: it allows them to control costs in a way that having multiple crews and teams spread around the world does not.

Chuck S

Thursday 8th of December 2022

I thought Derek's attempt at a fake, on the mat, proposal was VERY funny! It was perfect for both of them. A first, it's a Big Brother couple I actually liked during AND after their season. It was a great ending and nice that it was very tight race.