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.
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.
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.
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.
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.